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Hanne (Kjeldberg) Christersson

Red Deer

Description

Life and Work


Hanne Christersson came into the world with a love of horses and a dream of owning a piece of land on which to raise them. When she and her husband realized they could never own a farm in Denmark, they came to Canada. In 1955, her husband drowned, leaving her alone with two young children. Unwilling to let her dream die, Hanne bought a quarter-section in Bearberry and turned it into a ranch. To stock her ranch, she captured wild horses and trained them, gaining a reputation for selling well-trained and gentle horses.

-By Edna Bakken

Memoirs


Memories of Hanne Christersson by Frances McKillop

My first memories of Hanne Christersson are seeing a very beautiful young woman, a single parent with two children to raise. She was a very capable and hard-working lady with few luxuries that this west country had to offer, her love for the outdoor life put her in contact with catching wild horses and training them. She has found an abundance of opportunities for trail work.

Hanne was very capable of whittling a home out of her bush quarter and lives there still today. She has been a strong family support and has her daughter, granddaughters and great-grandchildren hear her to enjoy in her golden years. Hanne is and always has been active with horse breeding and breaking and also operating a cattle ranch for a living.

Hanne is a very efficient at hunting and fur trapping and has qualified as a crackerjack shot, a talent she has earned since her arrival in Canada, I'm sure.

She has many leathercrafts that she has made as well as many things made for her homespun raw wool that she has raised on the ranch.

She is a good neighbour and friend and her beautiful smile is always forthcoming.

Memories of Hanne Christersson by Edna Bakken

Hanne Kjeldberg (now Christersson) was born with a love of horses and a dream of owning a piece of land on which to raise them. Her life began near Copenhagen, Denmark on December 20, 1927. While still a toddler, she made her passion for horses known to everyone, including the King of Denmark. When Hanne was three years old, she and the family maid met the King riding his magnificent white horse through the streets of Copenhagen. Hanne, who stretched out her hands to the beautiful horse while ignoring the maid's efforts to make her curtsy, drew a smile from the King.

"I come by my love of horses honestly," Hanne laughs when she tells of her lifelong companionship with these patient and intelligent animals. Her parents, Asgar and Sigrid Kjeldberg, taught school in the city of Copenhagen, but preferred to live in the country where they had contact with horses. Some of Hanne's aunts and uncles were veterinarians while her grandparents and other relatives owned or worked with horses.

Hans Christian Andersen's stories and philosophy were a beloved part of Hanne's childhood. During her teen years she devoured books by Zane Grey and Jack London. Life in the North American wilderness seemed wonderful to the young Danish girl enclosed in a very populous, orderly society. The freedom of such a life was especially attractive during WWII when Denmark was occupied. Many a school day while she waited for lessons to be over, Hanne sat in her desk dreaming of far away places populated by herds of wild horses.

When she graduated from high school, Hanne put aside her interest in medicine and refused several opportunities for furthering her education to seek work on nearby farms. She didn't mind how dirty or hard the job was as long as it involved horses. Not long after leaving high school, Hanne married a young Swedish farmer who was attending agricultural college. Hanne and Per Christersson began looking for a farm of their own. It was a difficult search since all the farmland in their well populated countries was already taken. Of the few farms that were for sale, even the smallest ones were too expensive for the young couple. Still, they continued to dream of being landowners while they worked for established farmers. Meanwhile their family was growing. In 1947, Linda was born and two years later Steve arrived.

After WWII, when Canada began recruiting European farmers, Hanne and Per were incredulous to learn they could own 160 acres of land just by working it! Emigrating to Canada seemed a sure way to make their dream a reality, so Per took a job with a grain and seed farmer in Olds.

Six months later, in December 1951, Hanne, Linda and Steve, followed him to Canada. The winter voyage was very rough and Hanne marveled at the huge waves towering over the ship. As she leaned way back to see the wave tip, she was afraid that all that water would crash down on top of her, but to her amazement, the ship climbed the huge wave then slid down the other side into a deep trough. Over and over the ship climbed and slid its way through the churning Atlantic.

Most of the passengers were so seasick during the stormy crossing that they couldn't eat. Hanne was not affected by the rough seas, until one day she sat down to dinner, glanced at a bowl of hard boiled eggs and felt her stomach turn over. That was her last meal aboard ship, since she now shared the misery of her fellow passengers' seasickness. Everyone was very thankful when the ship sailed past the Statue of Liberty into the calm waters of New York harbour. When they could walk without lurching from side to side. Hanne and the children took a train to Montreal, then west to Calgary, where a few days before Christmas, Per met them.

He had bought a car in which he proudly drove his family to their new home in Olds. Even though the -40 degrees Fahrenheit (-40 degrees Celsius) cold was a shock, Hanne found the wide open spaces and untouched forest a wonderful sight. For the next two years she and her husband worked on farms in Central and Southern Alberta, all the while planning for the day when they would have their own place. In 1953 Hanne accepted a job with Max Collins, who lived on the Plumb place in the Bearberry valley.

Getting to Bearberry was an adventure in itself. There were no real roads, just muddy trails that wound over the hills and along the creek. While Hanne helped Max Collins with his farm work, Per worked on other farms around the district. Hanne fell in love with the Bearberry, recognizing it as the wild country she had read about as a young girl. Life would be wonderful if she and Per could get a piece of land somewhere near Bearberry.

Before Hanne's hopes were realized, tragedy struck. In 1955, Per drowned, leaving Hanne on her own with two young children. Although she was far from her family in Denmark, she found her neighbours and friends more than willing to help out. Over the years, Hanne has returned their kindness by helping people and animals whenever she finds them in need.

Hanne stayed on at Collins' until she could buy from Max the southeast quarter of 32-33-7-W5. Then she and the children began the hard work of turning their land into a ranch. Hard work it was, but Hanne loved it. Through the years, to help the family survive, she took whatever jobs were available: cooking, outfitting, horse logging and farming. She trapped beaver and coyote and hunted elk, deer and moose to supplement her income and food supply.

Once the bare necessities were in place, Hanne set about stocking her ranch. She obtained a permit, to catch wild horses and slowly built a herd by capturing mares and stallions that roamed the west country. More hard work in getting their horses ready for sale faced Hanne and her growing children. As always, they persevered and gained a reputation for producing healthy, well trained, gentle horses - a reputation which continues to this day.

Just before December 25, 1969, Hanne lost another member of her family when Steve was killed in a car accident. "Christmas has never been the same since." Hanne says sadly of his death. But life goes on. Hanne, never one to feel sorry for herself, worked even harder to improve her place and her horse herd. Through the years, she has added cattle, goats, sheep and birds to the ranch. Peacocks, pheasants, geese, turkeys and a variety of chickens have strutted and scratched around the barnyard. Recently, a Norwegian Fjord stallion and two fillies have joined her herd. She remembers these animals fondly from Denmark where they were used to pull cars and trucks in the "gasless" days of WWII.

Hanne loves caring for animals. "You never feel lonely or bored when you have animals. They always want you," she says. "There is more work than one person can do in two lifetimes. You can't be bored or sick when you know that tomorrow there are so many jobs to do. It isn't easy. The work is darn hard, but you just have to knuckle down and get at it. Life isn't always smooth, but suffering hardships makes you strong and compassionate. When things, get bad or you're feeling low, get up and do something: shovel manure, repair a fence, chop wood. Soon you'll see thing's aren't so bad and be able to say, "We'll get this fixed. We can do It. If you believe it will get better, it does."

It isn't just ranching and domestic animals that engage Hanne, she loves the wilderness and wild animals, too. Nature is her church. Riding or walking in the bush is almost a religious experience for her. A day in the forest on horseback nourishes her soul. Trees and animals bring her peace, remind her of how thankful she is to live here and of how little it takes to be happy. When it is time to leave this life, Hanne wants to die in the place where she has always found pleasure. She would rather jump on a green horse, ride into the bush and bash her brains out on a frozen poplar tree, than linger useless and horseless in a nursing home.

From the vantage point of her 69th year, Hanne has no regrets about the life she has chosen. Her dream is as strong as ever and the energy to make it happen comes from loving what she does. Her good health allows her to continue riding, driving and training horses. She still works to improve her place and make it a "really pretty little ranch." Hanne is pleased that her daughter, grandchildren and great-grandchildren share her love of horses. She would like to see her offspring accomplish more than she has by building on the foundation she has provided. "If you really want it, you can do it," Hanne says. With her ability to "stick to it," this strong, determined outdoorswoman of the Aspenland has proven that to be true.