A look at the history of the Sveinson/Swainson family

On the morning of Aug. 16th, the Sveinson/Swainson family of Central Alberta are to be awarded the prestigious Golden Furrow Award at the Sunnybrook Farm Museum. This award is given to a family, still active in farming, who have contributed a great deal to the community over the years.

The Sveinson/Swainson family are one of the oldest, most prolific and well-respected families in the area. Settling in this district 115 years ago, they have faced many hardships and adversities. Nevertheless, they have contributed enormously to the development of Central Alberta.

The family’s roots go back to Iceland. In 1876, they moved to Gimli, Manitoba to start a new life. Tragedy struck shortly after their arrival. The patriarch, Sveinn, passed away leaving a widow and eight children.

In 1879, the family moved to Pembina, North Dakota where they hoped to start anew. Unfortunately, the land proved to be very poor. Hence, they moved to a new farm, just north of Mountain, North Dakota.

Life remained hard. Consequently, one of the sons, Johann and his wife Steinun Thordarson decided to move to the Burnt Lake district west of Red Deer. There were many Icelandic families already in the area and the land was lush and fertile. Johann was able to secure a homestead in the fall of 1899.

The following spring, Steinun and family arrived in Central Alberta with a team of horses, 10 head of cattle, and a new six-foot binder. Once off the train, they rented a team of horses and headed west to their new home. The bridge across the Red Deer River had been washed out, so they were forced to use the old Red Deer Crossing where Fort Normandeau had been located.

A log house was built for them by Steinun’s brother-in-law, Henry Reinholt. A lot of hard work followed to get the new farm started. However, the Sveinsons were good farmers and made steady progress. Steinun’s father, Jason Thordarson, moved from North Dakota and homesteaded the next quarter. The family was also able to buy a quarter section of land from the C.P.R. for $3 per acre.

The family continued to grow until there were twelve children. On two occasions, the Sveinsons won the prize for the largest family at the Red Deer Fair. They won a 45 kg bag of flour and a family photo by a professional photographer.

The family continued to build up an excellent mixed farm. As an indication of the importance they gave to proper and up-to-date farming practices, the eldest son Swain (Swainson) became part of the first graduation class at the Olds School of Agriculture.

In 1919, Swain married Struna Sigurdson, the sister of a classmate, Tom Sigurdson. Swain’s brother Ellis also attended Olds College and married Struna’s sister Ena. Other siblings married members of other area families such as the Einarsons, Trimbles, Hepworths, Strongs, Bells, Johnstones, Petersons, and Ross’s.

The tradition of having large families continued. Moreover, there was also a strong commitment to community service. Johann served on the Burnt Lake School Board for 15 years and the Alberta Farmers Association (later the United Farmers of Alberta). Steinun was active with the Red Cross. Members of the family have been active with U.F.A., F.W.U.A. Unifarm, Rural Electrification Association, Burnt Lake Community Association Burnt Lake Women’s Institute, Red Deer Co-op and several other organizations including a number of sports teams. Stan was a chair of the Red Deer Health Unit and councillor with Red Deer County. Bryan was president of the Red Deer Chamber of Commerce and is a member of the Lindsay Thurber High School Hall of Fame. Jack served as the president of the Alberta Conservations Tillage Society and as a member of the Soil Conservation Council of Canada.

This list is only illustrative. There is not enough space in this column to list all of the family members and their many accomplishments. Thus the Sveinson/Swainson family are very worthy recipients of the Golden Furrow Award.

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