The shaping of a person's character begins long before his or her first choices are made. For Lillian, some of that shaping began a very long time ago. A look at several of her forefathers gives us some real insight into who she would become. Like Lillian, so many of these people were not only physically and mentally hardy, but were also strong individuals and leaders.
Norwegians are proud to be able to trace their history back hundreds of years before the birth of Christ. The first written record relating to Norway was some three hundred years B.C. Norwegian Vikings first landed in England and Ireland at the end of the eighth century and by the early eleventh century, Leif Ericson had discovered the American continent.
They are a proud, industrious, resolute people who are inclined to keep both their thoughts and their emotions to themselves. Garrison Keillor, noted humourist, is proud of his Scandinavian heritage. He loves to talk about the Scandinavian community in which he was raised, sometimes poking gentle fun at their values of austere living and frugality. One of the familiar maxims he has had fun with is "Life is what you make it; make the best of it." This is Lillian's heritage and many of the values she was taught.
Emil Torkelson, Lillian's father, was born in Norway on February 11, 1876, at the Grottumsbraaten farm, about fifteen miles from Oslo. His parents were Maren Hansen and Ole Torkelson. The Torkelsons had been farmers for some fifteen generations. Ole, however, must have had some yearning for adventure, because as a young man he went into the merchant marines for a while, and then also spent some time as a deep-sea diver. Eventually he went back to farming, settling on what later proved to be his father-in-law's farm, where he met and married Maren. Emil was their first born and when he was four years old they left Norway for the United States, settling in Minnesota.
Emil and his siblings used the surname Olson (son of Ole) for seventeen years after they emigrated. But in 1897, all eight children decided to change their surname to Torkelson in order to conform to the American custom of having the same surname as your father. Lillian remembers, as a child, seeing an autograph book of her father's that contained a message from his sister. She could see that it had first been signed Marie Olson but with the Olson somewhat erased and Torkelson written over it.
In 1905 Emil homesteaded at Anamoose, North Dakota, and three years later, on July 1, 1908, he married Hulda Elvira LeGrand . She was born in Northwood, North Dakota on July 1,1883, the first of her family to be born in America. The four children older than Hulda, who were born in Sweden were at least partially educated there; Hulda was not so fortunate. Because they were such early settlers, there was no school in the district until she was ten years old. And then, even more unfortunately, she had to end her formal schooling two short years later, when she was only twelve. She was needed to help at home.
But Hulda was very intelligent, and with her meager Grade Three education she managed to learn two foreign languages, one of them as a Swedish child living in a Norwegian community. Her Father taught her to read before she went to school, and her two years of formal schooling were in Norwegian. Hulda's children are proud of their mother - proud that she read and wrote as well as, or better than, most high school graduates, and proud that she was the wise, intelligent, caring Christian lady that she was.
Hulda's parents, Joseph Alfred LeGrand and Anna Christina Lindstrom were of Swedish and French descent. The LeGrands were sheep farmers in Sweden, while the Lindstroms were hunters and trappers. While they had come to Minnesota as homesteaders in 1881, they really were not very interested in farming but the promise of land was enticing. Most of them eventually branched out into other enterprises.
In Sweden, Hulda's father, Joseph, had been a bookkeeper and teacher. John Lindstrom, her uncle, was well educated and involved in civic and political life. After the move to Minnesota, although he was neither a lawyer nor a doctor, he was from time to time called upon to act as both. Trained professionals were often few and far between. John's opinions were often sought because he had done so much reading that he at least had the book knowledge about such things, if not the training and experience.
Hulda's great-grandfather LeGrand had moved to Sweden from France at the invitation of Prince Bernadotte. Jean-Baptiste-Jules Bernadotte was a celebrated French marshall who had done a spectacular job for France during the Napoleonic Wars. Originally from a middle class family of old and noble lineage, Napoleon had rewarded Bernadotte's bravery by making him a prince.
The aging King Charles XIII of Sweden, whose only son had died in 1810, needed an heir. He had been an ally of Napoleon's and asked for his help in finding someone suitable to be the King of Sweden. In a short time, Bernadotte was chosen and had moved to Stockholm. The king adopted him and made him Crown Prince of Sweden; he became King Charles XIV John in 1818. Somehow, Bernadotte managed to switch allegiances completely, contributing to the downfall of Napoleon's forces in 1813/14.
Bernadotte was keenly interested in improving Sweden, so he hand-picked some people from his old homeland, France, to come and help revitalize the country. He is well known for the great economic and social reforms he ushered in during his reign as king. The present royal family are his descendants.
Lillian's great-great-grandfather, Yoseph LeGrand, was one of those invited to move to Sweden. The Swedes had limited knowledge about farming and animal husbandry at the time, so Yoseph's task was to be the manager of a sheep farm. His son, Ludwig, was born in France, but his grandson (and Lillian's grandfather), Joseph Alfred was born in Sweden.
Religion and morality played an important part in the lives of Lillian's ancestors. The Torkelsons were religious people and had strong ties to the Norwegian Lutheran church. The LeGrands, on the other hand, didn't seem quite as interested in formal religion, but did have a strict moral code.
Lillian's memories of her grandparents are sketchy. Her grandmother Torkelson died before she was born, but Lillian remembers the photograph they had of her when she was a small child. She also remembers how stern and unbending she looked! Grandfather though, according to Hulda, was kindly and considerate, and Lillian concluded that her father must have inherited his sternness from his mother. She did know her Grandmother LeGrand and loved to go and visit her in North Dakota, especially at Christmas time.
It was in 1910 that Emil found out that homesteads were being offered in Saskatchewan. So he left North Dakota and headed north looking for greener pastures. He homesteaded close to what is now Beaubier, Saskatchewan and by February of the following year, he had horses, cattle, and machinery shipped by rail to Ambrose, North Dakota. From there Emil transported them to his homestead, two days journey away. The machinery and furniture were loaded onto a wagon; Emil and the animals walking alongside. In April, two months later, he came to Ambrose again, this time with a horse and buggy to pick up Hulda and their children, two-year old Elvin, and baby Lillian, six months old.
The day they arrived at their homestead was Hulda's twenty-eighth birthday and what a day it was! It was a bleak and cheerless sight that greeted her. Shortly before the family arrived, a wild prairie fire had blackened the whole countryside; she thought that she was coming to a desolate and lonely land indeed.
Prairie fires were always something to be feared on the prairies. Occasionally, fires were started by lightning, more often by carelessness. Sometimes fires could be seen approaching for as much as a week before they arrived; other times they moved swiftly and erratically. A fire was the most feared of all prairie disasters and horror stories were common. No one took a grass fire casually! In 1910, the year before the Torkelsons arrived, settlers described an appalling fire that completely scorched the landscape from Estevan all the way to the borders of Alberta.
The blackness that greeted the Torkelsons that day was broken only by white rocks dotting the landscape. They were soon to find out that those rocks were going to have to be picked by hand before any ploughing could be started. Not a very auspicious beginning to a new
life. But they were young and full of hope and the promise of better things to come in this new world.
Published in The Old Paths Archive