A look at the Swedes of Central Alberta

A look at the Swedes of Central Alberta

The Burnt Lake area began attracting Swedish settlers in the 1880s and 1890s

One of the events of the early Yuletide/Christmas season is the traditional Feast Day of St. Lucy (Sankta Lucia) on Dec. 13th.

It is generally celebrated in Scandinavian countries, particularly Sweden, as well as in Swedish communities across North America.

One of the enduring symbols of the celebration is a young woman, with a wreath or crown of candles on her head as she carries gifts of food and drink.

Hence, the Sankta Lucia celebrations have become one of the festivals of light that are popular during the long, cold winter nights of the Christmas/winter solstice season.

What is sometimes overlooked are the significant Scandinavian pioneer settlements of West Central Alberta at places such as Markerville (Icelandic), Dickson (Danish) and Burnt Lake and New Hill (Swedish).

The Burnt Lake area began attracting Swedish settlers in the 1880s and 1890s.

There was good soil, lots of water and many groves of trees. This made the area ideal for the raising of livestock, particularly sheep and dairy cattle.

So many Swedish families settled in the Burnt Lake area that by the mid-1890s, the Federal Department of the Interior (Immigration) began to refer to the district as Swea Colony.

In 1903, the Red Deer Land Company established the townsite of Stockholm on the Burnt Lake Trail between Red Deer and Sylvan Lake.

A store and post office opened in the new hamlet.

As the hamlet continued to grow, a number of houses were constructed. A new schoolhouse, a stopping house (small hotel), blacksmith shop and cheese factory were also built.

Soon, an annual agricultural fair was started in the community.

The Swedish settlers were generally religious. Before long, three churches were built in the community – Lutheran, Swedish Baptist and Mission Friends, also known as the Swedish Mission Covenant Church,

Stockholm suffered a severe setback in 1911-1912 when the Alberta Central Railway (later part of the C.P.R.) decided to build its rail line to the north, bypassing the hamlet. Several of the residents relocated to other communities such as Sylvan Lake.

While Stockholm faltered, the surrounding rural district continued to prosper. However, with so many new settlers continuing to come to the area, people began to venture farther west to find new land for homesteads.

Many settled in the area between the Medicine and Raven Rivers.

One of the districts became known as Nya Bachen, a Swedish phrase meaning new land or hillside. However, when a post office was established in the district in 1908, the postal authorities decided to name it New Hill instead of Nya Bachen.

Over time, the Swedish farmers and business people spread across Central Alberta.

One person who particularly prospered was Emanuel Pettersson. He initially homesteaded at Burnt Lake in 1893. However, he soon added Cronquist to his surname because the post office kept mixing up the mail for the Pettersson families in the Burnt Lake district.

Over the succeeding years, Pettersson Cronquist expanded his farming operations and launched various business ventures. After the turn of the last century, he began to buy land on the southwest side of Red Deer, in what is now the West Park subdivision. Eventually, this farm grew to nearly 800 acres.

In 1912, Pettersson Cronquist decided to build a huge brick residence in West Park.

He chose a site that would maximize the house’s visibility. It stood near the high riverbank, so that the house could be seen across the Red Deer valley. It was also located next to the old Calgary-Edmonton Trail (now part of 43rd St.) so that travelers would notice it as they passed by.

Hence, the house not only provided a wonderful new home for the family, but also provided a visible reminder to the community of how well the Pettersson Cronquist and other Swedish families had prospered in their new Central Alberta homes.

Because the house became such a valued landmark in Red Deer, when West Park Estates was developed, the Cronquist house was preserved and moved across the river to the Bower Ponds Park in north Red Deer.