Lone Butte Cemetery

Lone Butte Cemetery, where the tall grass grows and the prairie wind blows. What a lovely place to explore!

On a recent trip to Calgary for a dental appointment – I know, “dental appointment” is the kind of hook that keeps the reader wanting more – we discovered Lone Butte Cemetery located on Secondary Highway 570 east of Dorothy, Alberta.

Here’s a map of the area that we drove through on our way. We came south down Highway 884 from Youngstown and Big Stone, and turned west onto Secondary Highway 570.

Listen to me read this post:

What I loved the most about this cemetery is that it appears to have been established on virgin prairie, unbroken land never gouged by a plow blade. Tall prairie grasses blow softly in the wind in this final resting place and meadowlarks sing that closing hymn. The graveyard feels exposed to the prairie elements but so were its silent residents when they lived in that open, lonesome land. Somehow that makes this cemetery feel appropriate. These folks worked with the land and now they’ve joined it, two old friends. Well, mostly friends except when the land was trying to kill them with drought and snowstorms, mercifully not at the same time.

In 1913 the Dorothy Improvement District No. 246 was created and in 1932, it was incorporated into the Municipal District of Lone Butte. The Lone Butte Cemetery serves this M.D. Lone Butte joined the Municipal District of Berry Creek in 1933 and, in 1936 the M.D. of Berry Creek became part of the Special Areas.

I found the Everybody Has to Be Somewhere blog while researching the Dorothy/Finnegan area and found that the author had posted some beautiful photos of Lone Butte Cemetery in what looks like early spring. Also as I snooped around the internet, I found a very nice history and photo blog of Finnegan that made me want to visit. Maybe I will someday and I’ll bring my camera.

This corner of Alberta is often overlooked because it is so sparsely populated, but it is full of history and of a peace that is difficult to come by these days.

This is a very touching, western-themed monument. Note the horseshoe-filled cross, the empty saddle, and the cat on the white cross. This one tells a story.

These three Clyne graves are tucked away from the wind and snow in a stand of Caragana bushes. When exploring Canadian the prairies you can always tell where a homestead once was by the continuing existence of Caragana and rhubarb!

Wildflowers bloomed among the native grasses during our late June visit. I had only my phone with me to photograph this place. It was a drive-by photo shooting.

“Waiting Patiently” Together forever, but not quite yet. It looks like they shared a full life and that he is fondly remembered.

This is the view looking south to the entrance of the graveyard between two clumps of Caraganas. See the survey stakes and the twine in the foreground?

This welcoming bench in memory of Edna Pugh is situated in the shade of the Caragana stand that also provides shade to the Clyne family.

I’ve always enjoyed exploring graveyards but recently reading Remember Me As You Pass By has caused me to stop the car this season instead of drive by a roadside cemetery.

Rarely have I seen grave sites so lovingly adorned. I really like these weathered crosses reminiscent of the cemeteries in old western movies.

I love history. If there’s a family history project that you’d like me to help you write, please get in touch. Thanks for visiting my blog and I hope you enjoyed the Lone Butte Cemetery tour! Take care and enjoy life. ~ Lori

Merna United Church and Cemetery

Merna United Church, currently under the care of the Merna Cemetery Maintenance Society. These folks have done a great job in the upkeep of this building and of the cemetery.

I love visiting cemeteries, especially the older ones that tell their own stories of the people who came before and of their struggles and triumphs, their lives and their deaths. The other day we went to Big Knife Provincial Park in east-central Alberta, about an hour and a half’s drive from our village. On the way back we stopped at Merna United Church and cemetery in Flagstaff County, 27 kilometres east of Forestburg.

The little white church stands right where it was built in 1907. It was dedicated on Sunday, July 29th, 1908. In the half an hour or so that we wandered around the cemetery, I located the oldest grave as cited in the article from “Heritage Barns of Flagstaff.” According to the post’s author, this earliest marker belongs to Mary Winfred Stewart who was born in 1871 and died in 1905. The updated stone tells her story a bit differently:

Mary Winnifred Stewart, first wife of [William?] H. Stewart was born in 1871 and died in 1908, the year after the Merna church and cemetery had been established. I really appreciate that both wives are listed here along with their husband and that the original stone is topped with a new marker.
Archibald Brown died October 29, 1909, aged 58 years. “Blessed is the Peacemaker”
I see now that William Charboneau also died in 1919. That’s not why I photographed his monument, though. I was fascinated by how they kept two pieces of the original stone and set between them the updated marker. It’s a beautiful way to preserve history.

When the Merna district school closed in 1969, its bell was removed and placed in the brand new bell tower of Merna United Church in 1970. I’m so glad that bell got to live on and serve its purpose elsewhere in the community. I didn’t spot the bell in the enclosed tower when I toured the church the other day, but I assume it’s still there waiting to ring.

If you enjoy exploring cemeteries or cemetery history or both, Remember Me As You Pass By is an excellent book full of mostly Alberta cemetery stories and history. Here is my review of it.

This stained-glass transom window is above the church’s front door.
I just had to capture this gorgeous replacement plate belonging to the grave of a Mason Lodge member, John Nicol. There were other [brass?] plates like this in the graveyard, but no others that I saw featured the Masonic symbol.
“In affectionate remembrance of Marion McPherson beloved wife of D.L. McPherson Died January 1st 1917. Aged 65 years. To be with Christ is far better.”

If you’re exploring the countryside this summer, drop by a cemetery or two. I’ll do the same. They’re peaceful and contemplative places where physical distancing is not an issue. Thanks for reading and take good care. ~ Lori

A Kind Of Resurrection Story

Grandma and Grandpa
Grandma & Grandpa all dressed up, just the way Grandma liked.

Here’s a re-post of a family history story I wrote a few Easters back now. A lot has changed since then but a lot has stayed the same, too. Take care and thanks for reading. – Lori

My grandma didn’t like living on the farm. Well, not most of the time. I don’t know exactly why this was. It might have had to do with her glamourous sisters and one sister in particular.

My great aunt Esther trained to be a nurse in Edmonton and then moved to California. Once there, and being a beauty, she landed a couple minor roles in the movies. Meanwhile, my grandma described to me working as a janitor in the local one-room schoolhouse and later in life, milking cows on the farm as the animals swished their “poopy” tails in her face.

Hear me read this post:

I can imagine how she sometimes felt about her life comparing it to the excitement of Hollywood. But everything that glitters isn’t gold. Grandma would have reminded me that cow poop doesn’t glitter. I would’ve liked to tell her that her life lived simply was equally as valuable as a Hollywood life, just different.

Grandma loved cut flowers in crystal vases, paved sidewalks, pressed linen tablecloths, and elegant clothing.

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Daffodils in a nice vase were something Grandma enjoyed more than she enjoyed dead calves or milk cows.

My grandma did not like gross things. That’s why I was really surprised when she shared the following story with me.

It would have been about this time of year, late March or maybe a bit on into April. Grandpa’s Hereford cows were calving, and this kept my grandparents busy day and night. One morning, Grandma headed out to the barnyard to find Grandpa. On her way across the yard to the barn, she saw the body of a newborn calf stretched out in the weak early-morning light.

As Grandpa emerged from the barn, he nodded at the lifeless calf and said, “Born last night. Didn’t make it.”

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Not Hollywood. Not even close.

She wasn’t particularly an animal lover, my grandma. They never had pet cats or dogs. Grandpa loved horses, but they were his interest, not hers. I don’t know what compelled her to do what she did – and to spend so much precious time doing it.

For some reason, my grandma wasn’t convinced that the calf was beyond hope. She fetched a tattered woolen blanket, laid it over the red and white form of the calf, and slowly, methodically, she began massaging its limbs and its body.

My grandpa had work to do. “Leave it alone, Emma. It’s dead,” he told her impatiently and headed off to do his next task. But she didn’t leave it alone, that goo-encrusted calf.

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A one-room schoolhouse similar to the one Grandma cleaned.

“I dragged it right into the sunshine where it was warmer, and I kept rubbing and rubbing that calf with that old blanket.” I remember her chuckling here and shaking her head in disbelief. “And you know, after a couple hours, that calf kicked and snorted and stood up. Clifford couldn’t believe it!”

My favourite stories are the ones that show a totally different aspect to the people I’ve loved and thought I knew. Even if the stories aren’t sweet, I like to delve into the complexity of people. I like to move beyond the pretty and into the messy. That’s where it gets interesting.

I wonder to this day why on earth my grandma, who didn’t like getting dirty or bloody or sweaty, would’ve rubbed that calf for two hours on her knees out in the chilly barnyard. All she told me about it was, “I thought if I didn’t give up and just kept on rubbing, that calf would come to life.”

Apparently, she was right.

 

Grandma and Grandpa
Clifford and Emma Knutson

Kids Survive the Darnedest Things

Hi there! Here’s a post I put together for the Amisk-Hughenden Historical Society all about a lost child and the dream a man had that told him exactly where to find her.

Kids Survive the Darnedest Things

Little nine-year-old Ethel Thorpe, caused a stir in the community that old timers will never forget. July 13, 1915, she and her little dog left as usual about 4 p.m. to bring home the cows. Her family waited, and waited in vain, for her return. It started to rain and her frantic parents, knowing she had on only a light cotton shirt and overalls, lighted a big bonfire on top of a high hill, hoping she would see the light and come to it.

They notified neighbours, who in turn passed on the word that a child was lost and soon the entire countryside from Wainwright to Provost to Hardisty was organized into a huge search party. Men searched on horseback, in buggies and on foot, through rain-soaked brush and trees, through grain fields and rolling prairie thunderstorms encumbered them, they searched doggedly on. But after four days and nights of searching, hopes that she would be found alive were at low ebb.

Westside Main Street 1912
The west side of Hughenden’s main street, 1912

The morning of July 18th dawned clear. The sun shone brightly for the first time in days. Its warmth and brightness seemed to give renewed vigor to the enormous crowd that turned out to make one final effort to find little Ethel.

Two bachelors, Jim Murphy and John Black, felt confident that today they would find her. They knew just where to look, for Jim Murphy had dreamed a dream that night. In the dream he saw the child and recognized the terrain.

They lost no time in getting started that morning. When they reached the approximate spot of Jim’s dream, he got out of the buggy and said, “I’ll walk around this side of the bush, you drive around the other. She is here somewhere.” And there she was, just as he had known she would be, huddled down in the tall grass with her little dog clutched tightly to her breast.

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A summertime view from Hughenden’s countryside.

Ethel’s first impulse on being found was to run and flee. It took a lot of coaxing on the part of the men, one of whom was a friend of the family, before she could be persuaded to go with them. It is thought that through exposure to wet and cold, and the fright of being lost, she had been in a sort of fevered stupor much of the time, for she told of how she would run and hide whenever she saw men or teams approaching.

She had lived on berries and slough water, and no doubt her dog, cuddled close to her, helped keep Ethel warm. A doctor pronounced her quite all right but rather weak after her ordeal.

~ written by Mary Burpee, from The Lantern Years


Regarding The Lantern Years: Buffalo Park to Neutral Hills

Lantern YearsThe Lantern Years is a book that covers the span of history from 1867-1967 in Hughenden, Amisk, Czar and surrounding districts. The book was compiled and edited by the Hughenden Women’s Institute. In 1967 it was published by Inter-Collegiate Press, Ltd., Winnipeg, Manitoba, and then this Centennial project was marketed and sold.

Here is the first note of appreciation from the front of the book:

In Appreciation

The Hughenden Women’s Institute Book Committee wish to express their sincere thanks to the following:

  • Our families for their understanding and tolerance when our work on “The       Lantern Years” seemed to have precedence over all but the most essential tasks.
  • All clubs and organizations and individuals who have given us their financial support.
  • The newspapers and broadcasting companies who helped to tell their readers and listeners about “The Lanterns Years.”
  • To all those who so willingly showed their faith in us and “The Lantern Years” by buying anywhere from one to a dozen books in advance of publication. And to those same people we say thank you too for all the kind words of interest and encouragement expressed both verbally and by letter. There were times when they meant more to us than you could ever guess.
  • To Mr. Dick Brouwer for his help and co-operation in the matter of the old pictures.
  • To everyone who has helped in any way with “The Lantern Years” we say “thank you.”

Mary Burpee

Tena Parke

Viola Wight

Ester Mellemstrand (our helper from Amisk)


Whenever I’m doing local research, The Lantern Years is often open on my desk as it is right now. This book offers a unique take on the history of this area. The book is a goldmine of stories often told in the voice of the storyteller. There are old photos throughout the book, and an especially good collection in its back pages, including these great pictures:


Here’s another note of appreciation found in the front pages of The Lantern Years from Mrs. H. H. Carson on behalf of the district:

In Sincere Appreciation

Our sincere appreciation is extended to Mrs. Clarence Burpee, Mrs. L.S. Parke, Mrs. I. Mellemstrand, and Mrs. H.S. Wight for the devotion, time and effort given to the writing and assembly of material for this history so that it might be an authentic record of the pioneers of this district.

A grateful thank you is extended to each and every member of the Hughenden Women’s Institute who have contributed to the history and promoted the sale of books.


Hughenden PicnicTowed Behind Horse

Thanks for dropping by! If you’ve enjoyed this little bit of history, please consider sharing it. Have a really good weekend.

~ Lori

 

 

The High Cost of Dying

It’s something many of us are curious about, but it’s a difficult topic to find information about and a sensitive subject to bring up. That’s why I brought out the funeral invoice I had on hand and shared the costs with you in this post. In the second part of this blog, I wrote about embalming and cremation, and how I feel like I have very limited options when it comes to dying.

Traditional Funeral Costs in Saskatchewan

In December of 2018, my father-in-law passed away. He was from Kindersley, Saskatchewan, but had been in the hospital in Saskatoon following an emergency hip replacement operation. That necessary surgery proved to be too much for his 92-year-old body.

The total cost of his memorial was $11,070.00. The funeral home my husband and his sister used is Kindersley Community Funeral Home and Crematorium Inc. Here’s a breakdown of the costs, taken from the funeral invoice, along with an explanation of some of these costs:

Mileage from Saskatoon – $480

My father-in-law’s body needed to be transferred from the University Hospital back to Kindersley, SK. Only ambulances and hearses are permitted by law to transport human remains. The distance between Saskatoon and Kindersley is 200 km. That’s $2.40 a kilometer. An ambulance pick-up and transport within Saskatchewan costs between $245 and $325. I reviewed the provincial government’s website and found no information about the availability of transport of deceased persons by ambulance.

Decedent Care and Identification – $665

This includes identifying the body as my father-in-law’s and moving his remains from the hospital morgue to the hearse.

First Call and Local Transfer – $575

I don’t know what this is unless it’s a charge above and beyond the rental of the hearse for the funeral. It could be the cost of bringing the body to the church and then to the cemetery.

Vehicles – Funeral Coach – $600

This is for the hearse rental for the day of the funeral.

Casket – $2,945

This casket is described on the invoice as the Imperial Casket Ashton Woodbar. A similar casket from Costco is $900, but the substantially cheaper one is made of poplar, not ash, and it is not quite as ornate.

Ashton Woodbar Casket

Walker Casket Hilltop

Cemetery Open and Close – $682

This amount covers opening and closing up the grave. Also, it likely includes the cost of the rough box/grave liner.

Second Inscription – $380

My husband’s mother passed away in 2006. At that time, a headstone was engraved and erected. My father-in-law’s date of death needed to be inscribed on the pre-existing stone.

Cosmetology – $125

Dressing and Casketing – $195

Equipment for Church and Cemetery – $190

Food for Lunch – $86.55

Church Fees – $600

The minister of my father-in-law’s church performed the service and the family rented the intimate church hall for the lunch following the funeral.

Jamac for Obituary Etc. – $56.70

This seems to be the cost of submitting the obituary to the newspaper and online. I looked up the term “jamac” and found out that it’s an acronym for Joint Aeronautical Materials Activity, but I don’t think that’s what’s being referred to on the invoice.

200 Inserts @ .10 Each $20

Legal Attendance and Administration – $445

Local Notices – $60

Overhead: Building and Staff – $1,145

There was a time on the evening before the funeral during which friends and family could view the displayed body at the funeral home. An attendant from the home was hired to be there. I think the viewing was open for two hours.

200 Printed Service Cards – $300

Staples lets you create funeral cards and prints them off for you. It costs $158 to print 200 of them.

Regulatory Fee$50

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The cemetery at Kindersley, Saskatchewan in December.

Staff for Traditional Service – $525

I think there were two people from the funeral home in attendance at the church. The service was half-an-hour long and the burial took about the same length of time.

Universal Precaution Supplies – $60

Funeral Arrangements – $425

Goods and Services Tax – $459.25

Payment Interest Information:

“In most cases, estate funds can be released to look after funeral accounts, even if there is need for probate. Interest at 1.5% per month will be charged after 30 days (19.6% annual rate).”

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The Tradition of Embalming

Listen to me read this post:

Human beings have experimented with preserving dead bodies for thousands of years. It was President Abraham Lincoln who made the practice of embalming in North America popular during the American Civil War. Lincoln became acquainted with Dr. Thomas Holmes when, in May of 1861, the doctor offered to embalm the body of Lincoln’s friend and colleague, Colonel  Ellsworth. After that, Dr. Holmes embalmed thousands of Union soldiers’ bodies so that they could be transported back home.

Surgeon Embalms CW Soldier's Body
 
A surgeon embalms a soldier’s body during the Civil War. Everett Historical/Shutterstock.com

On May 24th, 1861, Colonel Elmer Ephraim Ellsworth, a close friend and colleague of President Lincoln, was killed while removing a Confederate flag from a hotel in Virginia. Dr. Holmes went to Lincoln and offered to embalm Colonel Ellsworth’s body, free of charge. The Colonel then lay in state at New York City Hall so soldiers could pay their respects.

~ From Fit For a President: The History of Embalming

Then, in 1865, when Lincoln was assassinated at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C., his body was embalmed and transported by train for public viewings. Here’s a great article written by Brian Walsh, Assistant Professor of Communication Design at Elon University in North Carolina, all about the tradition of embalming and how it has become a part of the funeral industry.

After researching the practice of embalming, I know this for certain: I don’t want it done to me. I have made this very clear to friends and family members. At this point, my only other option is cremation. The average cost of cremation in Alberta ranges from $1,100 to $1,300 with no funeral service. There are, however, less expensive direct cremation options.

Traditional-Bamboo-Caramelize-2000x2000-Clear
Traditional Bamboo Urn passagesonternational.com

If you want a funeral service along with a cremation in Alberta, this will run you between $2,800 and $3,800.

Ideally, I would prefer that my body is left alone after I die. I don’t want to be stuffed in a high-heat oven and rapidly burned or have my blood replaced with chemicals. To me, it all seems, at best, undignified and, at worst, gross. Also, the dear folks left to mourn me are also left to pay for all this indignity that I don’t even want.

You know what would be nice? I would really like for my body to be cleaned up, dressed up, and wrapped up in a homemade quilt or placed in a willow basket casket, and buried in the local cemetery. I don’t even need (or desire) an ornate headstone. A natural field stone, large enough to inscribe my name and dates of birth and death on, would be fine by me. But I don’t have a lot of choice. I feel like my inevitable death has been commandeered by the traditional funeral industry.

Willow Casket by Passages International
Willow Casket by Passages International passagesinternational.com

I like the concept of green burials but not strictly for environmental reasons. Sure, it’s better for all the poisonous chemicals not to leak out of my body and into the soil, but in the sparsely-populated Lakeview Cemetery, my embalming fluid probably won’t make that big a difference. What I like is the decreased cost to my loved ones and the increased dignity to my remains. I’m okay with decomposing naturally like other unpreserved organic material, not like the romaine lettuce and avocado skins in my compost bin.

Thanks for reading and listening! I hope you have a very pleasant weekend wherever you are. ~ Lori

 

 

The Hughenden Fire of 1932 – Updated

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Thanks for dropping by to find out about the fire and suicide that happened in Hughenden in May of 1932 – as if the 1930s in Alberta weren’t difficult enough. I chose not to make any commentary on the five articles presented here giving three perspectives on the fire that began in the Whyte and Orr hardware store on the morning of May 22nd. I’ve presented these as information for the researcher and fodder for the thoughtful. When I finished compiling these articles and images, I have to say that I felt a little sad yet I’m still glad to have put these details of this tragedy together.  ~ Lori Knutson

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History Books $100 for a two-volume set.

The following is excerpted from the Amisk-Hughenden-Rosyth history book, Memories and Milestones, 1905- 2005. This article was submitted by Hughenden author Mary Burpee (1918-2008) and in it, she tells the story of her firsthand experience of the fire’s aftermath. On the day of the fire, Mary was 14 years old. She published four books, all written after she was 80 years old. Mary also edited a 5th book of her father’s memoirs, called Dublin to Dunboy.

Mary’s Recollection of the Fire

Listen to what Mary Burpee wrote about the 1932 fire:

It seemed incredible that living as we did, just four and a half miles from town, no one in our family had seen flames shooting skyward the morning of May 22, 1932. Nor had we noticed even the tiniest smudge of smoke on the horizon.

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Hughenden’s main street years before the fire.

It wasn’t until our buggy was clattering down Hughenden’s main street that my brother Jimmy and I, on our way to a Sunday morning confirmation class at the Anglican Church, realized that something was dreadfully wrong. There was furniture piled haphazardly all along the upper section of the main street as if it had been dropped there from outer space and abandoned. Further on were huge, blackened craters where, yesterday, business establishments had been crowded cheek to jowl along the side of the town’s main business block. Now there was nothing but ashes, smouldering ruins, total devastation.

Hughenden Mainstreet After Fire
Hughenden’s main street Sunday morning following the fire. Photo courtesy of the Provincial Archives of Alberta.

People, faces streaked with soot, sweat and tears, clustered in tiny groups. Stiff with shock and disbelief, most stared silently at little wisps of spent smoke and the occasional flicker of a persistent flame struggling to escape from the mounds of smouldering ashes.

That fire whipped by strong winds, destroyed most of Hughenden’s downtown business section on the north side of the main street. It started at the Whyte and Orr hardware store when the operator, Elmer J. Swensen, went into his store early in the morning of Saturday, May 22nd , and shot himself with a high-powered rifle. From there, the fire raged on to burn Joe Martineau’s Imperial Oil office, John Hovde’s Harness and Shoe Repair Shop, Dave Coutts’ General Store, Gee Sam’s Chinese Restaurant, the Pool Hall and Barbershop, John Jackson’s house, plus a shed used by R. Kropinski to store his Rawleigh products.

Burning 1932
Here’s a photo of the blaze in progress on that Sunday morning. I currently live at the top of that bald hill at the end of main street.

Thanks to heroic efforts by volunteer firefighters from Hughenden and Amisk, plus three chemical fire engines from Czar, the fire was brought under control, but not before it had scorched the west wall of what used to be called the Wellwood Block. (At the time of the fire it was probably known as the McDevitt building.) If the fire had burned that building, it almost certainly would have destroyed Fred Lang’s drugstore, Art Lawley’s hardware store, Jack Cochrane’s real estate and telephone exchange offices, before jumping the street to burn homes in the adjoining block.

Jack Cochrane was so sure the fire would burn the McDevitt building and his real estate office and telephone exchange building, that he had the cables connecting Hughenden’s telephone exchange switchboard to long distance lines cut, so that the switchboard could be carried outside and saved.

Smoking 1932 Fire
Here’s a photo of the smoking ruins.

Bob Rideout, who roomed above the Whyte and Orr hardware store, got out with his life but lost all his possessions in the fire. Daniel Glockzin and his son James, who along with G.C. Hobbs were part of the Czar fire brigade, received burns to their hands but received prompt medical treatment. Miraculously, no one else was hurt.

Men and women, children too, had raced to help carry out whatever they could from the doomed buildings and pile it on the far side of the street. By doing so they were able to save 20 percent of the stock from Dave Coutts’ store and 10 percent from the restaurant. Nothing was saved from the other buildings.

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David Coutts’ ad in the May 26, 1932 issue of The Hughenden Record.

Thanks to having so much of his stock saved, Dave Coutts immediately ran an ad in the Hughenden Record, “Business as usual in the McDevitt building. If we haven’t got what you want we’ll get it for you.” In the same May 26, 1932 paper was this news item, “Joe Martineau is already building his new office to take the place of the burned one.”

But not everyone could bounce back so quickly. It would be years before the empty spaces left by the fire were all filled. Some are still waiting.

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These next articles are from the May 26, 1932 issue of The Hughenden Record. This is not the entire write-up. I excerpted from it to avoid repetition of details. I did include the complete coroner’s jury testimonies. Thanks to my husband, Doug, for doing the audio recording for two of these testimonies.

 Fire Destroys Part of Hughenden Business Section

E.J. Swensen Dead

The greatest catastrophe Hughenden has ever known took place on Sunday morning, May 22nd when fire destroyed a large portion of the business section of the town and E.J. Swensen, manager of the Whyte and Orr hardware store, lost his life.

The fire broke out in the rear of the Whyte and Orr store about 8 a.m. Bob Rideout, who rooms above this store, and Theo Hall, were the first to see the smoke and immediately gave the alarm. It was not many minutes before quite a number of the residents were on the scene, but nothing could be done to quench the flames.

Best Headline

Every effort was made to save the surrounding buildings and it was only the hard work of everyone, and especially the timely help from Czar where a large number of helpers got together and under the direction of Daniel Glockzin loaded their three chemical fire engines in a truck and rushed to Hughenden, G.C. Hobbs bringing along extra chemicals to recharge the engines, that the fire was stopped, and if they had been a few minutes later, it would have been impossible to save anything on that side of the town.

Unfortunately Mr. Daniel Glockzin and his son James were both badly burned when a bottle of sulfuric acid for the fire extinguisher, broke in their hands. They received immediate aid and are now well on the way to recovery.

The fire was not fully extinguished until Monday as a large stock of flour in D.A. Coutts’ warehouse and something under the debris of the restaurant burned on long after the rest of the fire was out and a watch of four men was set and kept all night.

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Details of the coroner’s inquest into E.J. Swensen’s death from the May 26, 1932 issue of The Hughenden Record.

The worst feature of the catastrophe was the death of E.J. Swensen. As the flames subsided a lookout was kept for any possible remains of Mr. Swensen, who had been seen going in the direction of the store just before the fire was noticed and who had not been seen since.

The body was located near the place where the office in the hardware store had been, and it was seen that a rifle was lying on the body. Constable Cottrell, R.C.M.P, was notified and he called the coroner, Dr. Murray of Sedgewick, who after investigating, took charge of the rifle and turned the remains over to Daniel Glockzin, undertaker of Czar, and ordered an inquest to be held on Monday.

 

On the safe of Whyte and Orr being opened on Wednesday, the books, papers, etc. were found in perfect condition, and the accounts, cash and statements, correct to a cent.

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Inquest on the Remains of Elmer J. Swensen

Before Coroner Dr. Murray

The jury was sworn in as follows: Daniel Glockzin, foreman; E.V. Key, D.A. Coutts, Geo. Hall, R.P Stubbs, and Jas. Lees. Most of the evidence was given in answer to questions by Const. Cottrell and the coroner.

John and Peter Hovde Harness Shop
John and Peter Hovde in the Harness and Shoe Repair Shop that was lost to the fire.

JOHN HOVDE was called and gave evidence as follows: I was working in the store on Saturday, May 21st. I did not see anything different in Mr. Swensen. He seemed about the same as usual only he complained of a headache. We were packing goods all day and worked until about 11 p.m. He said he could not sleep at night.

I have been with him since 1918. He had a new set of teeth about Christmas, 1931. There was a high powered rifle in the store, like exhibit. To my knowledge he has not tried to sell the rifle. He has kept his troubles to himself and did not talk to me about them.

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HARRY FEAKE was the next witness: I was in Hughenden on Sunday, May 22nd. I saw the deceased that morning coming down the sidewalk about 10 minutes after eight. He was going in the direction of the store. I am sure it was him. I went straight home and when I came out of my house again a few moments later, I saw smoke coming out of the rear of the Whyte and Orr store.

I rushed down, found the door unlocked but the smoke was so bad that I could not see nothing in the store and did not think it safe to go in. I did not see anyone leaving the store.

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Listen to Bob Rideout’s testimony:

BOB RIDEOUT: I was living over the Whyte and Orr store since last August. I heard someone unlock the store door and go in on Sunday morning about 8 o’clock, heard him walk to the back of the store. I had a wash and noticed smoke coming up from below about 7 or 8 minutes after. About the same time I heard a crash of glass. I am sure there was only one person came in the store.

I heard Theo. Hall shout, “Fire!” and ran out, looked into the store below, found it full of smoke, and went and rang the fire alarm. I told several there was someone in the store and I thought they had gone out the back. No one came out the front.

The fire progressed very rapidly and by the time I got back, fire was coming through the roof at the back of the store. I went upstairs, threw a few clothes into a suitcase, threw it out of the window and jumped out myself onto the roof of Mr. Martineau’s office. I could not say if the crash I heard was the report of a high powered rifle.

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THEO. HALL: I was up at 7 a.m. on Sunday morning, May 22nd. I went out on to the street about 8 o’clock. I went over to the restaurant and back to the hotel, and then noticed smoke coming out of the back of the Whyte and Orr store. I ran to the store, looked in, saw flames and called, “Fire!” and gave the alarm. I knew Mr. Swensen but did not see him. The fire was out of control in only a few minutes after I looked in the store. I was alone. I last saw Mr.  Swensen on Saturday and he appeared the same as usual.

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DR. JONES was called and said: I knew Mr. Swensen pretty well. A few days ago I went into the store and Swenson complained of a headache. He had almost a full set of false teeth. His general health was good, and I was not expecting anything like this. I saw him Saturday and talked to him a little time.

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JOE MARTINEAU: I saw Swensen on Saturday night about 10:30. I did not have any conversation with him at that time. I was in the store earlier in the day and did some business with him. He seemed a little unusual and would not talk. I thought he was not well, and he seemed to act as though he was worried about something. I did not see him on Sunday morning. I was home and saw the smoke downtown. I ran to the back of Whyte and Orr’s store, and it was smoking badly and then it burst out in flame. There was no fire at the part of the building where the body was found. The back of the store was used as storage.

After the fire had settled down I saw the body lying on its back and a buckle of a belt on the front of the body (he used to wear a belt) and saw a rifle lying across the body. The exhibit looked like the barrel which was lying across the body. I did not see Swensen around. I saw Mrs. Swensen come down with Mrs. Cookson and she looked as if she was in trouble.

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W.G. WHYTE: We had a store in Hughenden. Mr. Swensen managed the store. He had worked for us about 16 years. I last saw him in Hughenden on May 11th. I was down on business matters. We were thinking of closing up the business. He was not troubled over financial matters between himself and the store. He had about $7,000 in stock at New Year’s and some of that had been sold since. Outstanding accounts amounted to about $4,000. He would not be held responsible for outstanding accounts.

The foreman, DANIEL GLOCKZIN, then asked W.G. WHYTE: What kind of check would you have on Swensen?

W.G. WHYTE answered: He took his own stock each year and we would have a complete check when the stock was shipped out. He had offered to accept the outstanding accounts for his share of stock held in the company.

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J.S. ORR: I knew Mr. Swensen for 15 or 16 years. His report went through my office weekly, semi-monthly, monthly, and annually. Business has been better than a year ago during the past few weeks. He should have had about $5,500 to $5,800 worth of stock at this time. (The rest of this witness’s evidence was similar to that of Mr. Whyte’s.)

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Listen to Mrs. Adele Swensen’s statement:

A statement was taken from MRS. SWENSEN, JUNIOR and read at this time: I did not hear my husband leave the house. When I saw the smoke downtown, I thought my husband was in the kitchen shaving. I called and no one answered. I knew then that my husband was not at home. He got home at about 11:30 Saturday night from the store, talked a little while, and went to bed. He told me he would be working all day in the store Sunday. I did not notice anything out of the ordinary when he came home Saturday, although he has not been feeling very good. I am sure it is my husband found in the remains of the fire this morning.

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Shortly after her husband’s death, Mrs. Swensen (Adele) held a private household sale. This ad is from the June 2nd, 1932 issue of The Hughenden Record.

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Listen to Constable Cottrell’s testimony:

CONSTABLE COTTRELL: About 9 a.m. on 22nd May, I received a telephone message from Hughenden to the effect that the town was on fire. I hurried down and after being in Hughenden about 15 minutes, it was reported to me that there was a body seen in the debris of the fire. I made an investigation, saw the body and a rifle barrel lying on the body. I at once notified the coroner, Dr. Murray, and on his arrival, with him, viewed the remains, and on instructions from the coroner took the rifle to the blacksmith shop and with the assistance of the blacksmith, the shell exhibit was taken out of the breech of the rifle, and both have been in my possession since. There was no shell in the magazine when it was picked up. I took possession of the body and handed it over to Mr. D. Glockzin and this exhibit is the same body as was taken out of the fire.

In answer to a question by the jury, the witness (CONSTABLE COTTRELL) said the shell had been fired by the rifle and not by the heat as the firing pin mark showed plainly on the cap.

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CORONER (DR. MURRAY): I found the trunk of a human body lying on the back in the remains of the fire. The arms and legs had been burned off, and only the case of the skull remained. The usual thing which happened when a gun or rifle is placed in the mouth and discharged was that the top of the skull is blown off, and apparently this was shattered in this way. I would not have expected to find the skull shattered in this way if the deceased had just been overcome by fire and no shell fired.

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The jury after being discharged retired and on return, the foreman read the verdict: that Elmer J. Swensen came to his death by shooting himself with a high powered rifle while in a state of temporary despondency.

Pool Room Hughenden
Hughenden’s pool room and barbershop were lost in the fire.

The following articles are about the Hughenden Fire. The first is from the May 23rd, 1932 issue of the Edmonton Journal. When I mentioned on Twitter that I was researching this old story, Alan Zakrison from Calgary sent me both of the following articles. I’m grateful he did.

Rifle Is Found Beside Body in $50,000 Hughenden Fire

 Seven Buildings Razed by Conflagration; Aid Rushed From Czar

(Special to Edmonton Journal)

HUGHENDEN, May 23 – Following a $50,000 fire which destroyed seven buildings here Sunday, body of E.J. Swenson, for 14 years manager of the Whyte and Orr hardware store was found in the smoking ruins of the store. Beside the charred remains was lying a rifle, in the breech of which was an exploded shell.

Edmonton Journal 1932 Fire

Police Investigating

While the fire was at its height, no trace could be found of Swenson. He had left his house shortly before 8 o’clock and was heard to enter the store about that time.

His charred remains were found in the ruins of the store, near where the office was located. The ruins of a rifle containing a discharged shell were beside the body. Dr. Murray, coroner of Sedgewick, who had been called hastily and Constable Cottrell, of Hardisty, are making an investigation. An inquest will be held Monday. Swensen had been known to be worried over business conditions here and the intended closing out of the business by Whyte and Orr’s here this month. His wife and aged mother are in the care of friends.

After
When the fire was over, here’s what was left. This photographer is looking east from the alley behind the destroyed buildings. Upper left, you can see the little Anglican Church where Mary’s family was headed that morning.

Sweeping with great rapidity despite the efforts of volunteer firemen operating five chemical wagons, the blaze destroyed that Whyte & Orr store, the pool room, David A. Coutts’ general store, Phillip Pon’s restaurant, a vacant bakery building, the residence of John Jackson, and the Imperial Oil office building. The Imperial Oil warehouse was not threatened.

Coroner’s Jury Finds Swensen Killed Himself

 Death of Merchant in $50,000 Hughenden Fire Investigated

(Special to Edmonton Journal)

Edmonton Journal Suicide

HUGHENDEN, May 25 – Suicide was the verdict of the coroner’s jury investigating the death of Elmer J. Swensen, Monday. Swensen’s charred body was found in the smouldering ruins of the Whyte & Orr general store, Sunday morning, following a blaze which razed seven buildings and did $50,000 damage.

The verdict was returned to Coroner Dr. Murray, Sedgewick, after the six jurymen had considered the evidence, including the finding of a discharged rifle beside Swensen’s body in the ruins of the store.

Jurymen were: D.A. Coutts, R.P. Stubbs, E.V. Key, George Hall of Hughenden, and D. Glockzin, Czar, and James Lees, Amisk.

Had Been Depressed

Mr. Swensen had been manager of the Whyte & Orr hardware store for 14 years, and there had never been any evidence that the books were not in good shape.

It was known, however, that he had been depressed recently. The store was to have been closed shortly, and he was suffering ill health following an attack of influenza.

The remains were sent to Edmonton for burial. He was married four years ago and is survived by his widow and aged mother and a sister, Mrs. Olsen, Daysland. Mrs. Swensen was formerly Miss Adele Stewart, of Edmonton.

No trace has been found of any message, but it is believed that Swensen may have left a note in the safe, which was still too hot to open when the inquest was held.

Adjusters Busy

Insurance adjusters were busy in Hughenden Monday, inspecting the ruins of the different business places and making adjustments. D.A. Coutts, general merchant, and Phillip Pom, proprietor of the Hughenden Café, were making plans to rebuild. Fire smouldered all Sunday night and all day Monday where flour had been stored, as well as in other parts of the ruins.

Close watch was kept and although high winds Monday made flames break out again, they were quickly quenched.

Fire Insurance

The exploding of canned goods, which had been stored in the restaurant pantry, continued for about eight hours. Owners of the stores and residences which seemed doomed to destruction Sunday, before the fire was stopped at McDevitt’s rooming-house, were busy Monday moving their goods back in and replacing them on the shelves.

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Thanks for reading and listening. I compiled these articles as a member of the Amisk-Hughenden Historical Society. You can visit our webpage and blog here on WordPress. If you’re on Twitter, you can give @AmiskSociety a follow.

 

 

On Monday, January 27 at 1:30 p.m., the Amisk-Hughenden Historical Society is sponsoring a Find a Grave workshop at the Hughenden Public Library.

Grave Workshop Ad JPG

 

The Hughenden Fire of 1932

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Thanks for dropping by to find out about the fire and suicide that happened in Hughenden in May of 1932 – as if the 1930s in Alberta weren’t difficult enough. I chose not to make any commentary on the five articles presented here giving three perspectives on the fire that began in the Whyte and Orr hardware store on the morning of May 22nd. I’ve presented these as information for the researcher and fodder for the thoughtful. When I finished compiling these articles and images, I have to say that I felt a little sad yet I’m still glad to have put these details of this tragedy together.  ~ Lori Knutson

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History Books $100 for a two-volume set.

The following is excerpted from the Amisk-Hughenden-Rosyth history book, Memories and Milestones, 1905- 2005. This article was submitted by Hughenden author Mary Burpee (1918-2008) and in it, she tells the story of her firsthand experience of the fire’s aftermath. On the day of the fire, Mary was 14 years old. She published four books, all written after she was 80 years old. Mary also edited a 5th book of her father’s memoirs, called Dublin to Dunboy.

Mary’s Recollection of the Fire

Listen to what Mary Burpee wrote about the 1932 fire:

It seemed incredible that living as we did, just four and a half miles from town, no one in our family had seen flames shooting skyward the morning of May 22, 1932. Nor had we noticed even the tiniest smudge of smoke on the horizon.

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Hughenden’s main street years before the fire.

It wasn’t until our buggy was clattering down Hughenden’s main street that my brother Jimmy and I, on our way to a Sunday morning confirmation class at the Anglican Church, realized that something was dreadfully wrong. There was furniture piled haphazardly all along the upper section of the main street as if it had been dropped there from outer space and abandoned. Further on were huge, blackened craters where, yesterday, business establishments had been crowded cheek to jowl along the side of the town’s main business block. Now there was nothing but ashes, smouldering ruins, total devastation.

Hughenden Mainstreet After Fire
Hughenden’s main street Sunday morning following the fire. Photo courtesy of the Provincial Archives of Alberta.

People, faces streaked with soot, sweat and tears, clustered in tiny groups. Stiff with shock and disbelief, most stared silently at little wisps of spent smoke and the occasional flicker of a persistent flame struggling to escape from the mounds of smouldering ashes.

That fire whipped by strong winds, destroyed most of Hughenden’s downtown business section on the north side of the main street. It started at the Whyte and Orr hardware store when the operator, Elmer J. Swensen, went into his store early in the morning of Saturday, May 22nd , and shot himself with a high-powered rifle. From there, the fire raged on to burn Joe Martineau’s Imperial Oil office, John Hovde’s Harness and Shoe Repair Shop, Dave Coutts’ General Store, Gee Sam’s Chinese Restaurant, the Pool Hall and Barbershop, John Jackson’s house, plus a shed used by R. Kropinski to store his Rawleigh products.

Burning 1932
Here’s a photo of the blaze in progress on that SUnday morning.

Thanks to heroic efforts by volunteer firefighters from Hughenden and Amisk, plus three chemical fire engines from Czar, the fire was brought under control, but not before it had scorched the west wall of what used to be called the Wellwood Block. (At the time of the fire it was probably known as the McDevitt building.) If the fire had burned that building, it almost certainly would have destroyed Fred Lang’s drugstore, Art Lawley’s hardware store, Jack Cochrane’s real estate and telephone exchange offices, before jumping the street to burn homes in the adjoining block.

Jack Cochrane was so sure the fire would burn the McDevitt building and his real estate office and telephone exchange building, that he had the cables connecting Hughenden’s telephone exchange switchboard to long distance lines cut, so that the switchboard could be carried outside and saved.

Smoking 1932 Fire
Here’s a photo of the smoking ruins.

Bob Rideout, who roomed above the Whyte and Orr hardware store, got out with his life but lost all his possessions in the fire. Daniel Glockzin and his son James, who along with G.C. Hobbs were part of the Czar fire brigade, received burns to their hands but received prompt medical treatment. Miraculously, no one else was hurt.

Men and women, children too, had raced to help carry out whatever they could from the doomed buildings and pile it on the far side of the street. By doing so they were able to save 20 percent of the stock from Dave Coutts’ store and 10 percent from the restaurant. Nothing was saved from the other buildings.

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David Coutts’ ad in the May 26, 1932 issue of The Hughenden Record.

Thanks to having so much of his stock saved, Dave Coutts immediately ran an ad in the Hughenden Record, “Business as usual in the McDevitt building. If we haven’t got what you want we’ll get it for you.” In the same May 26, 1932 paper was this news item, “Joe Martineau is already building his new office to take the place of the burned one.”

But not everyone could bounce back so quickly. It would be years before the empty spaces left by the fire were all filled. Some are still waiting.

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These next articles are from the May 26, 1932 issue of The Hughenden Record. This is not the entire write-up. I excerpted from it to avoid repetition of details. I did include the complete coroner’s jury testimonies. Thanks to my husband, Doug, for doing the audio recording for two of these testimonies.

 Fire Destroys Part of Hughenden Business Section

E.J. Swensen Dead

The greatest catastrophe Hughenden has ever known took place on Sunday morning, May 22nd when fire destroyed a large portion of the business section of the town and E.J. Swensen, manager of the Whyte and Orr hardware store, lost his life.

The fire broke out in the rear of the Whyte and Orr store about 8 a.m. Bob Rideout, who rooms above this store, and Theo Hall, were the first to see the smoke and immediately gave the alarm. It was not many minutes before quite a number of the residents were on the scene, but nothing could be done to quench the flames.

Best Headline

Every effort was made to save the surrounding buildings and it was only the hard work of everyone, and especially the timely help from Czar where a large number of helpers got together and under the direction of Daniel Glockzin loaded their three chemical fire engines in a truck and rushed to Hughenden, G.C. Hobbs bringing along extra chemicals to recharge the engines, that the fire was stopped, and if they had been a few minutes later, it would have been impossible to save anything on that side of the town.

Unfortunately Mr. Daniel Glockzin and his son James were both badly burned when a bottle of sulfuric acid for the fire extinguisher, broke in their hands. They received immediate aid and are now well on the way to recovery.

The fire was not fully extinguished until Monday as a large stock of flour in D.A. Coutts’ warehouse and something under the debris of the restaurant burned on long after the rest of the fire was out and a watch of four men was set and kept all night.

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Details of the coroner’s inquest into E.J. Swensen’s death from the May 26, 1932 issue of The Hughenden Record.

The worst feature of the catastrophe was the death of E.J. Swensen. As the flames subsided a lookout was kept for any possible remains of Mr. Swensen, who had been seen going in the direction of the store just before the fire was noticed and who had not been seen since.

The body was located near the place where the office in the hardware store had been, and it was seen that a rifle was lying on the body. Constable Cottrell, R.C.M.P, was notified and he called the coroner, Dr. Murray of Sedgewick, who after investigating, took charge of the rifle and turned the remains over to Daniel Glockzin, undertaker of Czar, and ordered an inquest to be held on Monday.

 

On the safe of Whyte and Orr being opened on Wednesday, the books, papers, etc. were found in perfect condition, and the accounts, cash and statements, correct to a cent.

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Inquest on the Remains of Elmer J. Swensen

Before Coroner Dr. Murray

The jury was sworn in as follows: Daniel Glockzin, foreman; E.V. Key, D.A. Coutts, Geo. Hall, R.P Stubbs, and Jas. Lees. Most of the evidence was given in answer to questions by Const. Cottrell and the coroner.

John and Peter Hovde Harness Shop
John and Peter Hovde in the Harness and Shoe Repair Shop that was lost to the fire.

JOHN HOVDE was called and gave evidence as follows: I was working in the store on Saturday, May 21st. I did not see anything different in Mr. Swensen. He seemed about the same as usual only he complained of a headache. We were packing goods all day and worked until about 11 p.m. He said he could not sleep at night.

I have been with him since 1918. He had a new set of teeth about Christmas, 1931. There was a high powered rifle in the store, like exhibit. To my knowledge he has not tried to sell the rifle. He has kept his troubles to himself and did not talk to me about them.

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HARRY FEAKE was the next witness: I was in Hughenden on Sunday, May 22nd. I saw the deceased that morning coming down the sidewalk about 10 minutes after eight. He was going in the direction of the store. I am sure it was him. I went straight home and when I came out of my house again a few moments later, I saw smoke coming out of the rear of the Whyte and Orr store.

I rushed down, found the door unlocked but the smoke was so bad that I could not see nothing in the store and did not think it safe to go in. I did not see anyone leaving the store.

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Listen to Bob Rideout’s testimony:

BOB RIDEOUT: I was living over the Whyte and Orr store since last August. I heard someone unlock the store door and go in on Sunday morning about 8 o’clock, heard him walk to the back of the store. I had a wash and noticed smoke coming up from below about 7 or 8 minutes after. About the same time I heard a crash of glass. I am sure there was only one person came in the store.

I heard Theo. Hall shout, “Fire!” and ran out, looked into the store below, found it full of smoke, and went and rang the fire alarm. I told several there was someone in the store and I thought they had gone out the back. No one came out the front.

The fire progressed very rapidly and by the time I got back, fire was coming through the roof at the back of the store. I went upstairs, threw a few clothes into a suitcase, threw it out of the window and jumped out myself onto the roof of Mr. Martineau’s office. I could not say if the crash I heard was the report of a high powered rifle.

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THEO. HALL: I was up at 7 a.m. on Sunday morning, May 22nd. I went out on to the street about 8 o’clock. I went over to the restaurant and back to the hotel, and then noticed smoke coming out of the back of the Whyte and Orr store. I ran to the store, looked in, saw flames and called, “Fire!” and gave the alarm. I knew Mr. Swensen but did not see him. The fire was out of control in only a few minutes after I looked in the store. I was alone. I last saw Mr.  Swensen on Saturday and he appeared the same as usual.

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DR. JONES was called and said: I knew Mr. Swensen pretty well. A few days ago I went into the store and Swenson complained of a headache. He had almost a full set of false teeth. His general health was good, and I was not expecting anything like this. I saw him Saturday and talked to him a little time.

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JOE MARTINEAU: I saw Swensen on Saturday night about 10:30. I did not have any conversation with him at that time. I was in the store earlier in the day and did some business with him. He seemed a little unusual and would not talk. I thought he was not well, and he seemed to act as though he was worried about something. I did not see him on Sunday morning. I was home and saw the smoke downtown. I ran to the back of Whyte and Orr’s store, and it was smoking badly and then it burst out in flame. There was no fire at the part of the building where the body was found. The back of the store was used as storage.

After the fire had settled down I saw the body lying on its back and a buckle of a belt on the front of the body (he used to wear a belt) and saw a rifle lying across the body. The exhibit looked like the barrel which was lying across the body. I did not see Swensen around. I saw Mrs. Swensen come down with Mrs. Cookson and she looked as if she was in trouble.

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W.G. WHYTE: We had a store in Hughenden. Mr. Swensen managed the store. He had worked for us about 16 years. I last saw him in Hughenden on May 11th. I was down on business matters. We were thinking of closing up the business. He was not troubled over financial matters between himself and the store. He had about $7,000 in stock at New Year’s and some of that had been sold since. Outstanding accounts amounted to about $4,000. He would not be held responsible for outstanding accounts.

The foreman, DANIEL GLOCKZIN, then asked W.G. WHYTE: What kind of check would you have on Swensen?

W.G. WHYTE answered: He took his own stock each year and we would have a complete check when the stock was shipped out. He had offered to accept the outstanding accounts for his share of stock held in the company.

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J.S. ORR: I knew Mr. Swensen for 15 or 16 years. His report went through my office weekly, semi-monthly, monthly, and annually. Business has been better than a year ago during the past few weeks. He should have had about $5,500 to $5,800 worth of stock at this time. (The rest of this witness’s evidence was similar to that of Mr. Whyte’s.)

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Listen to Mrs. Adele Swensen’s statement:

A statement was taken from MRS. SWENSEN, JUNIOR and read at this time: I did not hear my husband leave the house. When I saw the smoke downtown, I thought my husband was in the kitchen shaving. I called and no one answered. I knew then that my husband was not at home. He got home at about 11:30 Saturday night from the store, talked a little while, and went to bed. He told me he would be working all day in the store Sunday. I did not notice anything out of the ordinary when he came home Saturday, although he has not been feeling very good. I am sure it is my husband found in the remains of the fire this morning.

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Shortly after her husband’s death, Mrs. Swensen (Adele) held a private household sale. This ad is from the June 2nd, 1932 issue of The Hughenden Record.

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Listen to Constable Cottrell’s testimony:

CONSTABLE COTTRELL: About 9 a.m. on 22nd May, I received a telephone message from Hughenden to the effect that the town was on fire. I hurried down and after being in Hughenden about 15 minutes, it was reported to me that there was a body seen in the debris of the fire. I made an investigation, saw the body and a rifle barrel lying on the body. I at once notified the coroner, Dr. Murray, and on his arrival, with him, viewed the remains, and on instructions from the coroner took the rifle to the blacksmith shop and with the assistance of the blacksmith, the shell exhibit was taken out of the breech of the rifle, and both have been in my possession since. There was no shell in the magazine when it was picked up. I took possession of the body and handed it over to Mr. D. Glockzin and this exhibit is the same body as was taken out of the fire.

In answer to a question by the jury, the witness (CONSTABLE COTTRELL) said the shell had been fired by the rifle and not by the heat as the firing pin mark showed plainly on the cap.

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CORONER (DR. MURRAY): I found the trunk of a human body lying on the back in the remains of the fire. The arms and legs had been burned off, and only the case of the skull remained. The usual thing which happened when a gun or rifle is placed in the mouth and discharged was that the top of the skull is blown off, and apparently this was shattered in this way. I would not have expected to find the skull shattered in this way if the deceased had just been overcome by fire and no shell fired.

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The jury after being discharged retired and on return, the foreman read the verdict: that Elmer J. Swensen came to his death by shooting himself with a high powered rifle while in a state of temporary despondency.

Pool Room Hughenden
Hughenden’s pool room and barbershop were lost in the fire.

The following articles are about the Hughenden Fire. The first is from the May 23rd, 1932 issue of the Edmonton Journal. When I mentioned on Twitter that I was researching this old story, Alan Zakrison from Calgary sent me both of the following articles. I’m grateful he did.

Rifle Is Found Beside Body in $50,000 Hughenden Fire

 Seven Buildings Razed by Conflagration; Aid Rushed From Czar

(Special to Edmonton Journal)

HUGHENDEN, May 23 – Following a $50,000 fire which destroyed seven buildings here Sunday, body of E.J. Swenson, for 14 years manager of the Whyte and Orr hardware store was found in the smoking ruins of the store. Beside the charred remains was lying a rifle, in the breech of which was an exploded shell.

Edmonton Journal 1932 Fire

Police Investigating

While the fire was at its height, no trace could be found of Swenson. He had left his house shortly before 8 o’clock and was heard to enter the store about that time.

His charred remains were found in the ruins of the store, near where the office was located. The ruins of a rifle containing a discharged shell were beside the body. Dr. Murray, coroner of Sedgewick, who had been called hastily and Constable Cottrell, of Hardisty, are making an investigation. An inquest will be held Monday. Swensen had been known to be worried over business conditions here and the intended closing out of the business by Whyte and Orr’s here this month. His wife and aged mother are in the care of friends.

After
When the fire was over, here’s what was left. This photographer is looking east from the alley behind the destroyed buildings. Upper left, you can see the little Anglican Church where Mary’s family was headed that morning.

Sweeping with great rapidity despite the efforts of volunteer firemen operating five chemical wagons, the blaze destroyed that Whyte & Orr store, the pool room, David A. Coutts’ general store, Phillip Pon’s restaurant, a vacant bakery building, the residence of John Jackson, and the Imperial Oil office building. The Imperial Oil warehouse was not threatened.

Coroner’s Jury Finds Swensen Killed Himself

 Death of Merchant in $50,000 Hughenden Fire Investigated

(Special to Edmonton Journal)

Edmonton Journal Suicide

HUGHENDEN, May 25 – Suicide was the verdict of the coroner’s jury investigating the death of Elmer J. Swensen, Monday. Swensen’s charred body was found in the smouldering ruins of the Whyte & Orr general store, Sunday morning, following a blaze which razed seven buildings and did $50,000 damage.

The verdict was returned to Coroner Dr. Murray, Sedgewick, after the six jurymen had considered the evidence, including the finding of a discharged rifle beside Swensen’s body in the ruins of the store.

Jurymen were: D.A. Coutts, R.P. Stubbs, E.V. Key, George Hall of Hughenden, and D. Glockzin, Czar, and James Lees, Amisk.

Had Been Depressed

Mr. Swensen had been manager of the Whyte & Orr hardware store for 14 years, and there had never been any evidence that the books were not in good shape.

It was known, however, that he had been depressed recently. The store was to have been closed shortly, and he was suffering ill health following an attack of influenza.

The remains were sent to Edmonton for burial. He was married four years ago and is survived by his widow and aged mother and a sister, Mrs. Olsen, Daysland. Mrs. Swensen was formerly Miss Adele Stewart, of Edmonton.

No trace has been found of any message, but it is believed that Swensen may have left a note in the safe, which was still too hot to open when the inquest was held.

Adjusters Busy

Insurance adjusters were busy in Hughenden Monday, inspecting the ruins of the different business places and making adjustments. D.A. Coutts, general merchant, and Phillip Pom, proprietor of the Hughenden Café, were making plans to rebuild. Fire smouldered all Sunday night and all day Monday where flour had been stored, as well as in other parts of the ruins.

Close watch was kept and although high winds Monday made flames break out again, they were quickly quenched.

Fire Insurance

The exploding of canned goods, which had been stored in the restaurant pantry, continued for about eight hours. Owners of the stores and residences which seemed doomed to destruction Sunday, before the fire was stopped at McDevitt’s rooming-house, were busy Monday moving their goods back in and replacing them on the shelves.

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Thanks for reading and listening. I compiled these articles as a member of the Amisk-Hughenden Historical Society. You can visit our webpage and blog here on WordPress. If you’re on Twitter, you can give @AmiskSociety a follow.

 

 

On Monday, January 27 at 1:30 p.m., the Amisk-Hughenden Historical Society is sponsoring a Find a Grave workshop at the Hughenden Public Library.

Grave Workshop Ad JPG

 

Stories

 

Eino and Grandma (2)
Grandma & her brother Eino

Good evening! It’s been a busy week and it’s only Tuesday. That’s the Christmas season for you. I was looking over my previous posts and I really like this one. It ran in our local newspaper last year. It’s all about family history and the stories we tell to create our identity and to carve out a tiny place in this big old universe for ourselves. Thanks for dropping by.

When she was a child, my grandmother received a locket as a baptism gift. That was in Calumet, Michigan. The family later moved to Hughenden. Then in 1931, my great uncle Elmer died from a ruptured appendix when he was sixteen and my grandma was twenty.

By her younger brother’s graveside in the Hughenden cemetery, my grandma lost that precious locket that she’d owned most all her life. That’s how it goes sometimes. Years later, in 1944, her father, my great grandfather, died. He was buried near his son Elmer, and as that grave was being prepared, the locket bearing my grandma’s initials was dug up.

Listen to me read this post:

Life is comprised of stories. My life is stories and your life is stories. These are scenarios that happened, that might happen, and that are happening right now. I love stories, but hearing the tales of the old folks who came before me leaves me feeling two different ways.

The first feeling is warm and sentimental. The old stories make me feel connected to the people whose blood flows in my veins. I treasure that connection, like time as a railroad track joining our stations along the way.

The second feeling is the stark realization that someday all that will be left of me is stories. And then, after a while, even the most colourful Lori stories will fade into time and eventually disappear. It’s true.

Petersons (2)
Another photo and there’s that locket again.

I like the story of my Grandma Knutson and her newborn baby, Jeannette, on their way home from the hospital following a March snowstorm. When the cutter tipped over in the deep banks, both new mother and new baby were pitched into a snowdrift. Good thing they were bundled up and that babies are typically a bit bouncy.

If you know me, you know I love ghost stories! Sadly, I’ve lost some of the belief in their plausibility. It’s too bad because the possibility of truth made those old stories especially thrilling. In this case, the truth doesn’t matter. I like hearing ghost stories and I like telling ghost stories.

Back in the day Grandma would tell me about the house she and Grandpa lived in on the edge of Hughenden Lake when they were first married.

She’d tell it like this: “Often, late at night, the door at the top of the stairs would slam shut really hard. At first this was terrifying, but after a while, we got used to it. We were startled, but we weren’t scared.”

Even so, my grandparents didn’t live in that house for long.

Grandma and Grandpa
Grandma and  Grandpa looking snazzie!

All the people involved in those stories are gone. The house, long since moved from the lakeshore into the village, stands here in town today. I wonder if the door at the top of the stairs slams hard enough to shake the walls. Does that particular draft, uneven foundation, or angry spirit still haunt the place?

People come and go from houses. We bring stories, we make more, and then we move on.

I always tell the story of Erwin Knutson, my dad’s uncle who was found dead in an abandoned vehicle outside of Wetaskiwin. It was December, 1957. The body had no identification on it, no wallet, and no money. But there was a slip of paper in one of the jacket pockets that read: Erwin Knutson, Hughenden.

My dad told me about him being fourteen years old and traveling to the Hughenden cemetery with his dad, the deceased’s brother, to deliver the rough box used to shore up the interior of that wintry grave.

I held on to that story and it became my novel, Denby Jullsen, Hughenden.

I’m grateful for the stories that connect me to my past and to my ancestors. I’m also thankful for the stories I’m living now, and for the good ones I imagine might happen.

My wish for you is that you remember and share your stories. I hope you’ll make new ones to tell again and again down through the years because, in the end, the stories are all we’ve got.

Did you like what you read here? Consider following my blog either right here on WordPress or through email. See the right sidebar to follow me. It’s easy and it’s free. This way, you won’t miss any of my posts. Thanks for reading! ~ Lori

The Old Stone House

SH by Lori

Hi! This is a reblog of the post I created (with the help of others) for the Amisk-Hughenden Historical Society. It’s all about the stone house that Ed Carson refurbished after it had been abandoned and stood empty for about 40 years.

I recall Ed telling me about starting work on this huge project: “The entire floor was covered in two feet of pigeon sh*t when I first got started.”

So I asked him, “Ed, how did you clean it all out?”

“I shovelled a spot every day. I didn’t think about how much pigeon poop there was. I just thought about the work I’d accomplished that day.”

“Where did you learn to work like that?” I wanted to know. “I would’ve been overwhelmed by the task ahead.”

“My dad,” Ed said, “He always told me that when you first start a big job, break it up into smaller jobs and, at the end of the day, look at what you got done, not at what’s left to do. It was some of the best advice I’d ever got.”

Here’s the link to the article at the Amisk-Hughenden Historical Society’s website. If you’re interested in history, please consider giving us a follow. Also, let others who might enjoy this know about it. The internet’s a crowded place and we don’t want interested folks to miss out on our content just because they didn’t know it existed.

Old Stone House blog post link: The Old Stone House

If you’re local to my area and would like to see a history story written about, send me your idea via this website or in the comments of the historical society website. I’m always looking for new things to write about.

Thanks for reading! I’ll see you again soon.

~ Lori