Marthe Nelson Christianson(Kristensen)
In the quiet country Aldergrove Cemetery, two and a half miles south and two
miles west of Smeaton, in Northern Saskatchewan, July 6th ,1941, marked the end of
the life's journey of a remarkable woman.
Marthe was born on December 8th, 1859 at the Håvestøl farm in the Åseral
parish of southern Norway. She was The first girl of a family of twelve children with
older twin brothers. Her growing-up years in that beautiful, but poor part of the
world provided many interesting stories for her descendants. Her formal education was
negligible, consisting mostly of church and bible teachings.
In 1881, she immigrated to New York City where she found work in a boarding
house, run by another acquaintance from Norway. There, she met her future husband,
Johan August Christianson, a Swedish sailor turned carpenter. They were married in
New York in January, 1887 and established their own home where their first three
children were born. Marthe also kept boarders, mainly from her home Parish in Norway.
Land was opening for settlement in Minnesota in the 1880's and Marthe's dream
was to own land and a farm. She disliked the city where, "whenever you wanted
something to eat, you had to open your purse". So, in 1891/'92, Marthe, with Ernest
(6), Rebecca (4) and Nellie (2) and pregnant with John, set off by train to St.
Clair, Minnesota, where she filed for a homestead in her husband's name. Baby John
was born there while she waited for husband Johan to join her. Johan, however, did
not share her dream, preferring the city life and so ended Marthe's first attempt
Fate took a turn in 1912 when Johan died leaving her a widow. By this time
her own children were grown but Marthe was sharing in the care of the child of her
daughter who was widowed at a very young age. At that time, many Norwegians were
going to Saskatchewan where a whole 160-acre piece of land was available for $10.00.
What an opportunity! With 7-year-old grand-daughter, Ida Gunderson, Marthe (better
known to all and sundry as "Besta") aged 53, arrived by train in Watrous,
Saskatchewan, on a snowy March 17th,1913. Marthe immediately found temporary work
housekeeping for folks in need of help at their new homesteads.
As a widow, she was eligible to apply for a homestead, which she did on the
SE 1/4 of Section 2, Township 30,Range 28, West of the 2nd Meridian. This site was
located on a hill SW of Young, Saskatchewan. Marthe proceeded to set up a home (a
primitive wood structure), purchased cattle, pigs, chickens and a horse. It was a far
cry from New York City, but Marthe proclaimed in her Norwegian accented way that, "I
have never been in a place where I liked myself so well". She preferred outdoor work
and was a very capable farm woman, especially with animals.
Her eldest son , Ernest had developed tuberculosis and was advised to leave
New York for a drier climate. He and his wife Edith came to his mother's home but
unfortunately died here in 1921. Incidentally, Edith stayed on, remarried a local
farmer and became a fine pioneer woman in her own right. Marthe's daughters Rebecca
and Nellie and their spouses joined Marthe and Ida for various periods of time and
some tried homesteading but gradually most of them returned to New York for a more
convenient lifestyle. Each time the family coaxed Marthe to travel to New York, "for
a visit", she always was anxious to return to her beloved "hill" homestead.
Marthe integrated herself into the new frontier and was much in demand as a
midwife. Many birth records in the area list "Nurse Kristiansen" (or Christianson) as
the attending midwife. This, in spite of the fact that she could barely read or write
her own name. Marthe kept her Lutheran Religion and took part in the happenings in
The 1920's were happy years with good times and the marriage of her grand-
daughter Ida and the birth of two great grandchildren. THEN, came the "Dirty
Thirties" with no crops, no money, no water, no firewood, cattle starving and poverty
everywhere. In 1937, another grand-daughter and her husband took "Besta" for
a "visit" to her beloved granddaughter, Ida and family, knowing that Besta could no
longer live alone. That family had moved in the early 30's to homestead north east of
Smeaton in Northern Saskatchewan. Here, "Besta" made her home for 4 years and at the
age of 78, assisted at the birth of a great granddaughter. She passed away peacefully
and quietly at home on July 4, 1941 at the age of 81 1/2 years. Sadly, her beloved
homestead was sold for "taxes" at this time.
It is impossible to estimate the contribution made to the country and to the
world by such as this woman. It is difficult to imagine how a widow of 53 years could
have the courage to leave a comfortable life to face the hardships in a frontier
land. We think of the hopes and dreams that often were fulfilled but of the
disappointments as well. Marthe left 14 grandchildren, 30 great grandchildren and
well into the 4th, 5th, and 7th generation of descendants all over North America. The
dedication of her life to Saskatchewan is priceless.
GOT THIS STORY FROM THELMA LONG.
It was so very lovely to talk to you today. Here are the stories that I wrote about
my great grandmother Marthe Nilsdatter Havestol Christianson and my mother, Ida
Gunderson Eckdahl. Hope that you can open them.
I was the great-granddaughter that marthe helped to "birth" in her story.
I will try to send a picture or two.