Life and Work
Hilda Olson was born June 15, 1879 in Story City, Iowa to Jens and Anna Maria Person. She was baptized Endrine Gunhilda Person at the Salem Lutheran Church in Roland, Iowa on July 6, 1879. Hilda’s parents were farmers who raised their children in a Godly home with daily Bible readings and a weekly Sunday school taught by Jens. Missionaries often visited the family and the children were encouraged to speak to their friends about Jesus.
When Hilda was five years old, the family moved to a farm in Wisconsin, where Hilda, a quiet, serious girl, grew up, went to school, worked on the farm and took part in church activities. As she and her friends talked about their faith, Hilda often quoted John 15:12: “This is my commandment that you love one another just like I have loved you.” Besides her formal schooling, Hilda learned to cook, bake, spin, knit and sew, which were useful skills to have when she married Albert Louis Olson on May 28, 1900 at Cedar Lake, Wisconsin.
The Olsons set up housekeeping on their own farm not far from Hilda’s parents’ home. Two years later, the first child, Mildred Flora Cecelia, was born on May 26, followed by Esther Jeanette May, March 6, 1905 and Helma Alfrieda on December 31, 1906. Just after Esther was born, Hilda’s uncles on her mother’s side began looking for a place to start a Norwegian settlement.
In 1905, Oles and Jonnes Johanneson visited Fallen Timber Creek in Alberta. They liked the area and since it was open for homesteading, they sold their property in the United States and moved their families to Canada. Hilda’s parents came with them to the new settlement. It was named Bergen after the city in Norway from which the Johannesons had immigrated in 1868. In November of 1906, Albert came to visit and found his relatives sitting outside in their shirtsleeves. He fell in love with the country and returned home to tell Hilda that their family was moving to Canada. After selling his farm to his brother, Albert packed furniture, farm machinery and horses in a freight car and headed to Bergen where he claimed a homestead that bordered Jens and Anna Maria’s claim. Hilda, Albert and the children lived with the Persons until their own house was built. On December 16, 1910, Hilda and Albert’s last child, a son, Reuben Bert, was born at home with Grandma Person as midwife.
Working on the farm and caring for her family filled Hilda’s days. The Olsons were an efficient, hard working family. Everyone was content with life on the farm and willingly did his or her share of the work. When Albert was away clearing roads, Hilda and the children ran the farm. Even when Albert went to Didsbury twice a year for groceries, Hilda and the children stayed home. Perhaps the children took their cue from Hilda, a calm, strong, Christian woman who was content with her life and entertained no yearnings to see new places or sample town and city delights. She was a strict yet fair parent, who never raised her hand or her voice. Rueben does not remember ever getting a licking, but when his mother caught him smoking, he received a stern dressing down that he never forgot.
Hilda brought her own religious upbringing to parenting her children. Both her uncles were pastors who held services first in their homes and later in the Bergen school. Bibles, sermons and hymnbooks were in Norwegian. These services continued until the Bergen church was built and a Methodist minister hired. Hilda organized food for the families who came many miles to attend church, while her daughters, who were excellent Sunday School teachers, instructed the children. All three of the Olson’s daughters attended Bible School and spent their lives working for the church. After completing her studies at Three Hills Bible School, Mildred worked as a missionary in the Peace River country. Esther and Helma attended the Prairie Bible Institute. Esther then joined Mildred in the mission field, serving as a cook for the Peace River Bible School. Helma stayed on at the Institute as a care- giver for 27 years. Reuben took a different path. His love of horses kept him on the farm, since he knew his parents would never consent to letting him follow his dream of being a rodeo contestant.
Within her self-sufficient family, Hilda honed the skills she had learned as a young girl. She tended animals, kept house, cooked, baked, made clothes for her children and embroidered beautiful linens for her home. Hilda often made Albert’s favourite cheese by keeping a pot of milk in the warming oven until the whey and curds separated, or it ‘rotted’ as Reuben says. The whey was then cooked all day on the back of the stove in cast iron kettle until it finally thickened. Spices were added and the cheese was ready. The Olsons raised cattle and milked eight or nine cows so they could ship cream at $5.00 for a five-gallon can, which was enough to buy groceries for a week. They grew an acre or so of wheat to provide themselves with flour, kept some chickens for meat and eggs and a few sheep to provide the wool needed for mitts, socks, sweaters, quilt batts and woven cloth.
Producing a finished product from raw sheep’s wool was a family undertaking. On a nice day, the women gathered on the porch to card, spin, knit and weave the wool. Hilda often hosted quilting bees at her home. If there was no cloth available, she sewed flour or sugar sacks together to make a back for the quilts. Hilda passed her sewing, embroidery and quilting skills on to her daughters, who all did beautiful needlework.
Visiting neighbours was a regular pastime in the Bergen settlement, as each family took a turn at hosting their friends. Company often dropped in for supper or Sunday services. Even though there were no telephones with which to arrange these visits, everyone seemed to turn up at the right time on the right day at the right place. Hilda delighted in cooking and preparing for company. Christmas was always a big celebration. Leftsa and lutefisk, accompanied by fresh baked buns or bread and pie, joined roast pig and headcheese on the holiday table.
Although family and farm were Hilda’s world, she was also a vital part of her community and church. She held various offices in the Bergen Ladies Aid, a club started by her mother in 1908. When Anna Maria moved to the United States with Gerhard and his family, Hilda was a major force in keeping the Ladies Aid going. So much so, that when she died, Albert implored the members, “Don’t let the Ladies Aid die.” The Bergen church, too, was central to the Olson’s lives. Hilda thoroughly enjoyed both church and Ladies Aid activities, but frowned on dancing, card parties and other such social events.
In their later years, Hilda and Albert turned their farming operation over to their son-in-law, Clarence Schafer, but continued to live on the land in a small house built near their original home. During this time, Hilda accompanied by Mildred, made a trip to the United States to visit her brother, Gerhard, whom she had not seen for 32 years. Hilda especially enjoyed Gerhard’s grandchildren since at that time she had none of her own. On her return, Hilda busied herself with needlework, community groups and church activities until her death. Since she did not drive, she often walked to visit neighbours and attend church or Ladies Aid meetings as she had done all her life. It seems fitting, then, that she died on her feet as she walked outside her home on January 9, 1962. Albert followed her on April 17, 1963. Both are buried in the Bergen cemetery.