Abigail (Bergen) Fonteyne




Life and Work

Abigail Alvera Bergen was born to Emma Olstad and Nels Bergen in 1906, the third of ten children. Her mother, Emma Olstad, of Norwegian descent, was born in 1882 to Mr. and Mrs. Ludvig Olstad in Minnesota; her father, Nels grew up in Sundsvall, Sweden and immigrated to Michigan in 1888 at the age of fifteen. Nels was ordained as a Pastor in Innisfail, Alberta by the Western Baptist Union in 1899. Rev. Bergen came to Wetaskiwin in 1899 from a posting in Red Deer. Emma and Nels were married on July 24, 1901. However, it is likely that Abigail was born in Wisconsin. Her father accepted an invitation from the American Baptist Publications Society to come to northern Michigan and serve as a Sunday School Missionary, so he and Emma moved there shortly after their marriage. From Michigan they moved to Marionette, Wisconsin—where Rev. Bergen became pastor of the Swedish Baptist Church— sometime before Abigail was born. They returned to Alberta in 1909.

Abigail and her nine siblings (Elinore, Ludvig, Albertine, Viola, Edmund, Laurine, Florence, Bernice and Oliver) grew up in New Norway (Ferintosh area) until the family moved to Wetaskiwin in 1917. Abie attended school at Bulyea, a district just south of Wetaskiwin, and in Wetaskiwin. She met Arthur Fonteyne here and they were married in 1926. The couple farmed northeast of town from 1927 to 1947, until they moved to a house on 47th Street.

Abie and Art had four children: Warren in September 1928, Darol in January 1931, Lorne in March 1935, and Lois in November 1938. Arthur Fonteyne, Abie’s husband, was a Wetaskiwin City Alderman in the 1950s, with Abie assuming the public role of a politician’s wife for a time.

Abie’s mother Emma was a musician who taught piano and was the organist and choir leader at the various churches where Rev. Bergen was a pastor throughout the years. Growing up with music in her life, Abigail was then a student of Miss Florence Kelley in Wetaskiwin. Skilled and gifted, she achieved such a high degree of proficiency that she is mentioned in two articles in the Edmonton Bulletin from 1922. They stated that Abigail was “successful in the theory examinations of the Associate Board of the Royal Academy of Music, and the Royal College of Music of London, England” in the categories of “rudiments of music”, “intermediate pianoforte”, and “higher division pianoforte”. With these prestigious qualifications behind her, she taught piano for over forty years, from when she was in high school until shortly before her passing in 1970. She would also play popular and ragtime music in dance bands in the Wetaskiwin area; members of the band were Marie Novotney on accordion, Bill Bushe on clarinet, Bill McIlroy on drums, and Harold Tofte on violin. Ben and Vi George were part of another group that she played with as well. Abie’s sons Warren and Darol took dance lessons from Jean George, the eminent Wetaskiwin performer and dance school proprietor. The siblings garnered attention by competing in Lacombe and entertaining at the Ponoka Stampede when they were ten and twelve years old, skillfully accompanied by their mother on piano. As a prominent and longtime member of Wetaskiwin’s entertainment community, Abie ably provided music for New Year’s Eve dances and other occasions at the Legion in Wetaskiwin and for singsongs and house parties. She also loved spending time at Pigeon Lake and would entertain her family and friends at Ma-Me-O Beach.

Abigail influenced her children to take up music, too. Warren took violin lessons, Lorne learned the trumpet, Lois completed grade eight piano and also became a music teacher. Darol has made a career out of music; at one point, he recalls, he and his mother were teaching in the same house on different floors. He went on to achieve a university degree in Music and teach Band in school.

Abie was an outgoing, fun-loving, bubbly person with many interests. She curled with different teams in many places including Wetaskiwin, Usona, Ponoka, Camrose, and Red Deer. She also enjoyed bridge and bingo (which she would often play with her sister, Florence, and from which she would sometimes bring home a cash win, or a bicycle). Gardening was a passion, as well as quilting and sewing on her Singer treadle sewing machine. Abigail sewed dance costumes for Darol and Warren including the ones worn for their “When Pa was Courting Ma” number and Ponoka Stampede air force tap performance. She also sewed Klondike outfits for her family to wear to Klondike Days in Edmonton. Her son, Darol, remembers that his mother and grandmother played Chinese Checkers together, and they sometimes had family Scrabble games. Abie was also an excellent cook and made Lefse from a recipe passed to her by her parents. Abigail belonged to the Catholic Women’s League and volunteered with activities like cleaning the church. It is easy to tell from pictures of Abigail that she had many friends and always enjoyed a laugh. Abie’s family fondly remembers that she loved to tell jokes and was a great storyteller. She was a hard-working lady who enjoyed spending time with her family at Pigeon Lake and taking numerous vacations.

Abie passed away in 1970 at the age of sixty-four.

Compiled in 2012.


Sources: Siding 16, Wetaskiwin Times, Edmonton Bulletin, Anna Fonteyne, Darol, Warren, Barb, and Val Fonteyne, Patricia King