Life and Work
Gunhild Kjorlien (nee Pederson) was born to Tollof and Ingeborg Pederson on August 1, 1870 in Iowa, South Dakota. She was born of Norwegian heritage; her father Tollof along with his parents Peder and Gunhild Knutson immigrated to Iowa from the Numedal area in Norway. On her mother’s side, her grandparents, Ole and Sunev Blinsmon originally came from the Hallingdal area of Norway. They immigrated to the United States where Gunhild’s mother, Ingeborg, was born. The Blinsmons were a very wealthy and influential family, as they had a township and a school named after them in South Dakota.
Gunhild married Ole Kjorlien on March 25, 1891. Ole came from Vang, Norway. Together, Gunhild and Ole had three boys, though none survived early infancy. They then gave birth to a daughter, Ida on July 6, 1896. In April of 1898, they left South Dakota and ventured to Alberta to start a homestead where cheap and fertile land was promised by the government. They packed all of their personal belongings into a single railway box car, and left their families and home with $1239 from the sale of their property in South Dakota.
They arrived in the Vang area of central Alberta located eight miles north east of Wetaskiwin. Before they could move onto their own land, they had to move in with Ole’s relatives, the Weflans. They stayed there for the summer while they built a log house on their own property. The land the Kjorlien’s owned was heavily wooded, and had to be painstakingly cleared by hand for a place to build a house. In order to safely make it back and forth from town, the trees had to be marked so as not to get lost in the thick bush. A two room house was built, complete with a sod roof for the first year, until enough shingles had been made to replace it.
Gunhild and Ole had seven more children, five boys and two girls. Oliver was the next eldest and he was born April 24, 1899. Arnt was born April 14, 1902, Bena, the next eldest daughter was born July 19, 1904. Thorval was born December 5, 1906, Clarence on December 25, 1908, Gladys on January 17, 1912, and Gordon on January 29, 1916. Sadly, Gladys passed away at the age of three from an infection. She was buried in South Dakota.
The Kjorlien homestead was proven in 1901. They received title to their farm, SE-20-47-23-W4 of Alberta, North West Territories of Canada on February 19, 1902. At that time, the Homestead Inspectors Report valued the house at $100, the log stable at $40, the granary at $30, the rail fencing for fifteen acres at $40, and ten acres of broken land at $10. The report also states that the Kjorliens were in possession of three head of cattle, two horses, and six pigs. In 1917, a barn was built.
Ole Kjorlien was an experienced blacksmith and harness maker, and would exchange his work for work on his land. This made the Kjorlien house always busy with neighbours and visitors, and no one was ever turned away. Gunhild’s outstanding kindness would always step in making sure everyone was fed and properly looked after. Coffee was of main importance, and had to be served precisely at 10:00 in the morning and 4:00 in the afternoon. Gunhild was also a great cook and an accomplished baker with numerous Norwegian cookies and various sorts of baking always on hand. Lefse, a Norwegian flatbread made with potatoes, was no exception.
Needing to be incredibly resourceful during those years, Gunhild also acted as a midwife to her family and community. Midwives were an extremely important necessity at that time as a doctor was rarely available to assist with births and was often too costly for most to afford. Travelling the long distances to a hospital was often out of the question as well. The midwives of pioneer communities were not trained professionally, but were local women who volunteered to assist with births and had to act purely from personal experience and from what information was passed down to them by their mothers.
Gunhild and Ole Kjorlien were two of the thirteen founding members of the Vang Norwegian Lutheran Church. Founded on May 18, 1899, the Vang Lutheran Church was the first Norwegian Lutheran Church located west of Winnipeg. The church and the Vang community were named for Vang, Norway because the majority of settlers in this area immigrated from that area. 1905 marked the official completion of the church building, which cost $187.50 to build with most of the lumber and building materials being donated. Church services held at the Vang Church were conducted in Norwegian until 1922 when they were switched to English. In the spring of 1931, the original Church burnt down. However, a new Church building was completed within six months of the fire.
Gunhild was heavily involved with the Ladies Aid of the Church, acting as the first Vice-President and later, as President. The Ladies Aid was established in 1900 and called themselves the Busy Bees. The Busy Bees were responsible for helping to raise funds for the Church Building as well as keeping the church running. In order to raise funds, the hard working Ladies Aid would knit, sew and bake, with a sale once or twice a year. Cleaning and general maintenance of the Church was also the responsibility of the Ladies Aid. The Vang Lutheran Church has not had to close its doors once, even after the devastating fire, thanks in large part to the Ladies Aid. Oliver Kjorlien, Gunhild and Ole’s eldest son, was the first baby baptised in the Church in 1899. Five generations later, Oliver’s great grandson and Gunhild and Ole’s great-great Grandchild, Kaden Kjorlien, was baptised at the Vang Lutheran Church on May 17, 2009.
Even after Gunhild’s husband, Ole, passed away on October 27, 1923 at the age of 56, she stayed on the farm for many years while her sons continued to farm the land. Eventually she moved to Wetaskiwin, about 1940, where she was able to spend time with her grandchildren. Many of them remember visiting Grandma’s house and going out shopping with Grandma. They all recall her incredible kindness and sweet nature. Even in town, coffee was still of major importance to Gunhild. Coffee was not complete without the cream, and Gunhild always looked forward to receiving a jar of farm fresh cream to have with her coffee. After a battle with cancer, Gunhild Kjorlien passed away in Wetaskiwin on July 5, 1942.
Gunhild and Ole had eleven children, 17 grandchildren, 50 great grandchildren, 82 great-great grandchildren, and 31 great-great-great grandchildren, totalling 191desendents as of 2011. There are currently 168 living descendents (2011). Gunhild is remembered by her grandchildren as an incredibly kind, sweet, and resourceful women; a true pioneer. Gunhild’s life was not without hardship. She lost four children but helped to make a successful homestead, all the while caring immensely for her family and community through her dedication to the Vang Lutheran Church, acting as a midwife, and through greeting everyone who came to her door with a smile, food, and most importantly, coffee.
Compiled in 2011.
Compiled by: Megan Krause
Sources: Betty Ann Hagstrom, Ardiste Falk, David Kjorlein