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Harm and Jenny Bruins

Seven Persons - Once Hundred Sixty Acres and a Dream
As the Story was Told

My father and Harm were friends from North Dakota. They came to Canada together in 1908 and chose their adjoining homesteads. They went on to Lethbridge together and applied for citizenship and homestead rights and then returned to the "States". In 1910 they returned to make their new homes.

Harm and Jenny were both born in Holland but they had been in America for some years. Harm had taken a homestead in North Dakota, too. Jenny was only sixteen when she was married. Their first house in Canada had only two small rooms, and the exterior was covered with tar paper. I recall my sister and I staying with this lady one day, while my parents went to Medicine Hat. She delighted us by playing an accordion as she perched on a stool. She sang and played "Tramp, Tramp, Tramp, The Boys are Marching", and her children and we tramped around her. I loved the music and I loved her.

In 1916, Harm and Dad each built a new house. Plans were carefully laid, materials purchased and paid for, as there was no financing of homes at that time. Each home had a large kitchen, a pantry, a bedroom and a living room on the ground floor, an upstairs for more bedrooms and a full basement. Each basement had installed a chemical toilet, the height of that day's indoor plumbing, a much prized invention to be appreciated on cold snowy days. The walls of these houses were plastered, the floors were of hard-wood, and the exteriors were painted white. We were all so proud of our homes.

The only heating fuel was coal, which had to be hauled over ten miles, by horses and wagons, from the Ajax Mine at the river. It took rather large quantities of coal to heat these houses with furnaces, so small space heaters were used. How cold the rooms sometimes became in the winter when the fires in these heaters went out. When we went to bed, we'd take off only our outer garments and put these under our pillows or the covers. In the morning we'd warm these in our beds before putting them on. When we emerged from piles of quilts, we'd be fully clothed. Then we would scoot to the kitchen, hoping to find the range giving off heat and breakfast cooking. Of course, if you were up first you had to shake the ashes down, empty the ash pan, start up the fire with paper, kindling and coal. Then you might have to make breakfast.

Harm wasn't in good health that year. He had worked very hard to get the building of his house finished before Christmas but it had been a real effort. In December, after the birth of their fifth child, Henry Harmy, he left by train for the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, hoping for medical help. He passed away on the train before reaching this assistance on December 26th. What sad news for this family and friends.

Jenny and her family had a difficult time managing the farm. Peter, the eldest, was only eleven years old when he became "the man about the place". The others, Gunster, Mabel and John became helpers, in their small ways, too. Jenny drove horses in the fields as she cultivated and sowed. Her brother-in-law, Bert Bruins came to help her, and he purchased a nearby farm.

At one time several members of this family contacted the dreaded disease diphtheria. The farm home was quarantined for six, or perhaps twelve, or more weeks. No one could leave or enter. Neighbors brought groceries and supplies and left the them beyond the yard fence. Occasionally Dr. Woodland came out to check on their progress. How isolated they must have felt! What a worry for this widow!

In 1918, Jenny married a bachelor neighbor, Hank Guenther. He was a fine gentleman and in his quiet manner, commanded much respect, heading the family in progress, happiness and unity. To this union were born a son, Henry, and a daughter, Ida.

Mabel was near my age and was my friend and schoolmate. I visited this home quite frequently and found there good humor and congeniality. There were evidences of labor, there too. Forty two-quart sealers of canned peas, that had been sterilized for one hour on each of three consecutive days, in a water bath, heated over a wood stove, during the hot days of midsummer, was work. One couldn't discount the task of picking and shelling those peas, much less the hoeing and weeding of the adequate garden. There might have been twelve big loaves of bread, a triple recipe of doughnuts, two hundred buns or a giant chocolate cake. They were a family of nine and western hospitality often included extra persons for meals.

Mrs. Guenther was a lady of many accomplishments. She served on executive positions of the local school board, the Presbyterian Church board, the United Farm Women of Alberta, the Ladies' Aid and was a frequent hostess to parties in her own home.

Skating wasn't a common sport when the Bruins children were growing up. Neither ice nor skates were available. One particular time some skates were acquired and an early chinook had left some ponds of ice. When Jenny saw her children's inexperienced struggles, she said, "Let me show you."

"You! You'll fall like we do, and you'll get hurt," they chorused. She put on the skates, which were much too big for her, and off she glided. They were surprised and delighted.

"Mom, where did you learn?"

"I used to skate along the canals in Holland when I was a child. I was a good skater there. It has been so many years. Go ahead and learn, my dears. It is such fun to do."

Peter and his wife, the former Selma Stenby, became owners of the Will Amos farm and lived there for many years. Their two children were Norman and Marie.

Gunster married Ruth Sederberg and became operators of the Alex Yuill farm and years later the Andrew Edwardson farm.

Mabel married a Winnifred farmer, Albert Angle, and had four children.

John and his wife, the former Amelia Angle, farmed at Cayley. Harmie became a businessman in Medicine Hat.

Henry and his wife, the former Agnes Jensen, moved to Calgary.

Ida became the wife of Jack Nichols, a teacher and a farmer.

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Copyright © 2000
Mary Tollestrup