Life and Work
Minnie Johnson is a well-known name to the people in Wetaskiwin County as she was the weekly Gwynne correspondent for the Wetaskiwin Times for almost seventy years. Her articles were compelling, informative, and always engaging. As well as being a writer, Minnie was also an avid gardener, care giver, entertainer, and sportsman. Minnie passed away last year and her contributions to the cultural vitality of the community will be sorely missed. Minnie was above all a storyteller and now we have a chance to honour her by telling the story of her life.
Minnie Johnson was born on October 17th, 1915 to Edward and Hildur Johnson of Gwynne, Alberta. Edward Johnson was born in Vissellofta, Sweden on June 17, 1883 and moved to North America as a child. After eventually moving to Canada, he married Hildur Victoria Lofgren of the Nashville District who was born in Ridgway, Pennsylvania on March 17, 1888. The Johnson family lived in the Haultain District until 1917 when Edward and Hildur moved their four daughters Myrtle, Mildred, Minnie, and Mabel to the Roseland District by lumber wagon. Their homestead was located on NW-20-46-22-W4th, which was heavily wooded and had to be cleared. The land was all broken using horsepower and walking plough. It would be here that the Johnsons would continue to expand their family and where Minnie and her siblings grew up. Minnie’s brother Herbert was born in 1918 and he became known as “Doc” Johnson in the Gwynne area for his work as a veterinarian. In 1922, Albert was born and in 1924, Minnie’s youngest sibling, Lorraine, was born. The children attended the Roseland School, which opened in 1903 and for many years served as the community hall for organizations and functions. Minnie attended Roseland School from 1922 to 1930 and was active in several of the school’s programs and sports teams.
Hospitality is very important in Swedish culture, and the Johnsons upheld this tradition with their kind and generous dedication to each other and the community. They were always very sociable and Avis (James) Johnson remembers that they always were willing to visit when people came calling. The family thoroughly enjoyed celebrating the Christmas and New Years holidays at the home and always included people in the community. Community involvement was very important to the Johnson family and they all contributed in several areas. Hildur was part of the Gwynne Sunshine Club, which concentrated on aiding the less fortunate with their sewing and knitting skills. Edward Johnson was a part of the Roseland School Board, was a Councillor and Reeve, and a member of the Wetaskiwin Hospital Board. Minnie herself was the quintessential volunteer, dedicating her time, efforts, and care to many people, causes, and societies. Her job was the maintenance and care of the farm and helping her family. Everything else that she participated in the community was as a volunteer. This was her way of making her life the best that it could be.
When Minnie was young she went to the Gwynne Sunday School led by Johnny Johnson (no relation) and would remain dedicated to the church throughout her life. The Gwynne congregation was an independent church until 1959, when they thought it would be to their advantage to join with other churches. The Gwynne Church was accepted into the Evangelical Free Church denomination in 1965. Minnie went to that church faithfully every Sunday except for the rare occasion that she was sick. She was a member of the Gwynne Mission Circle, which was a volunteer church service organization that raised funds for missionaries. Minnie also often recited one of her poems or stories at church functions, much to everyone’s delight. She would recite her poems from memory and had a different piece for every kind of event.
Minnie was an avid sportsman, and all of the Johnson kids were involved in various sports in the community. While still in school, Minnie and four other girls formed the first Gwynne girls basketball team, and they did so well that they got a chance to play ball at the Edmonton Fair in the late 1920’s. In 1927, Minnie and sisters Mildred and Myrtle became part of Gwynne’s first girls’ softball team, and later Mabel joined the team as well. Minnie continued to play ball throughout her life, teaching her nieces and nephews both the techniques and the importance of good sportsmanship. There were many coaches over the years, including Minnie’s brother, Herb, and there were always fun family games. Minnie was also involved with the Gwynne Curling Club, an organization which spanned over three decades. The many teams Minnie was involved in won several tournaments, but most of all they had fun.
In order to help support the sports teams in the area, the Gwynne Sports Club was formed in 1934 with sixty-one members. The club was organized by a group of ladies that also belonged to the Gwynne Mission Circle and operated out of the Gwynne Curling Rink, which was built in 1952 with funds raised by the Sports Club members. They would raise funds by organizing picnics and by presenting dramatic plays. The club helped the young people of the community organize ball teams, raised money for uniforms, and held ball tournaments and curling bonspiels. Their goal was to generate interest in the local sports activities and their efforts benefited the community for many years.
Minnie was a great entertainer. Her gregarious character was ideal for the stage and she loved to act in plays. On March 11th, 1942, Minnie, Albert, Herb, Mabel, and several members of the Gwynne Sports Club performed the play For Pete’s Sake at the Gwynne Hall to raise money for the organization. The play was a huge success and remained a fond memory in the participants’ lives, so much so that thirty-five years later they had a reunion at the Wayside Inn. It was so enjoyable to the members that they decided to continue to have reunions and in 1992, they celebrated their 50th anniversary with great success. Another successful dramatic adventure happened when Minnie was older. She and her sister-in-law, Avis (James) Johnson, and some other ladies co-wrote a play and presented it two or three times. The first time they presented the play was in Hay Lakes and through phone calls some communication was confused and the organizer from Hay Lakes thought high school students were going to present the play. When Minnie and the other actors got to the place there were a whole bunch of kids waiting in the audience. “We thought, ‘Well, this is kind of odd, you know, that kids are coming to some old ladies play,’” commented Avis in a recent interview. But they carried it off, had fun, and the performance was thoroughly enjoyed by the audience.
Minnie lived on the family farm with her siblings Mildred, Mabel and Herbert and dedicated her life as a caregiver to all of her family. For several years she took care of her mother who suffered from a heart condition, and her father when his health declined in the last five years of his life. Hildur passed away on August 21st, 1950 and Edward passed away on July 9th, 1973. When her brother Albert got married to Avis James from Alliance, Alberta, and they started having a family, Minnie was there to take care of Avis and was like a second mother to the children. When Avis was ill or was really busy, she would send her kids over to Minnie’s. Minnie taught the kids how to skate on a pond and always had fun activities for them. The Albert Johnson home was on the same land as the Edward Johnson Farm and all the family went back and forth between the houses. The Johnson family was all very close and dedicated to each other. Every Sunday, they would have a family picnic, travelling as far as 200 miles for a good picnic spot where they would enjoy a huge packed lunch. If there was a river nearby, the boys would fish while the women would sit around and visit or pick berries.
In any little town there is local news that needs to be told and for almost seventy years it was “Minnie News” or “Gwynne News” by Minnie Johnson for the Gwynne area. From 1932 to 2002, Minnie gathered information on local events and submitted it to the Wetaskiwin Times for weekly publication. Every week, without fail, she would take out her list of names and numbers and start calling as many people as she could to gather local news for her column. Minnie would then compose her thoughts and drive to the Times to deliver her report for the next issue. In the later years, Minnie had developed Familial Tremors and it started to affect her writing. It got to the point where she couldn’t write clearly, so she learned to type and submitted the news that way. Minnie’s talent as a writer also extended beyond the column, and in the mid-1970s, she helped write and research the 1977 publication of Treasured Memories: Gwynne and District history book. She and many members of the community wrote stories and donated pictures for the making of the book, and her fond recollections of growing up in Gwynne were pleasantly nostalgic and engaging.
In her later years, Minnie maintained her love of life and of laughter. Reverend Abe Dubland fondly remembers a hilarious story about a medication mix-up. Minnie’s doctor had prescribed a medication for some physical problems she was having and they were the wrong ones! She ended up in the hospital as the medication’s side effects almost sent her off the deep end. When Reverend Dubland went to visit her, she was in the middle of getting ready to go because she thought the RCMP were after her. Dubland was quite bewildered, but luckily, the medication mix-up had been figured out and Minnie’s sanity was soon restored. Rev. Dubland couldn’t help but laugh the following Sunday when she came back to church and he asked her how she was and she responded, “Well, at least I’m not crazy!”
Minnie Johnson passed away February 1st, 2007 in her sleep, but those who knew her will long remember her laugh and her love.
Compiled in 2008.
Compiled by: Gillian Furuness and Carrie-Ann Lunde
Sources: Avis Johnson, Rev. Abe and Helen Dubland, Barbara Wilson, Miriam Schnee, Treasured Memories: Gwynne and District