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Thomas Helgeson and
Elizabeth Fennel Helgeson

"Heritage of the High Country-
A History of Del Bonita and surrounding Districts
Pages 371-372
by Terry Helgeson and Pearl Brenton

Thomas Helgeson was born March 17, 1879 at Vermillion, South Dakota. He was the second youngest son of Thore and Maren Helgeson. Thomas had seven brothers and five sisters. As a young man Thomas farmed and worked on the railroad. He married Elizabeth Fennel, and they had three children, Pearl, Ruth, and Cecil.

In 1913 Thomas Helgeson came from Vermillion, South Dakota to Alberta, Canada, to file on a homestead. He returned to his farm in South Dakota, and made plans for moving to Canada. In the fall of 1914, after having an auction sale, they left by train for their new home in Canada. Cecil had been born on the farm on July 4, 1913, so it was quite a journey for a small baby. Thomas came right on to Magrath, where he rented a house.

Elizabeth and children stopped off in Saskatchewan with her sister. While here Cecil and Ruth came down with red measles. They had to remain there till they were fully recovered, so it was January 1915 when they arrived in Magrath. They lived in Magrath about a year. Thomas came to the Lease to build a shack, and was back and forth preparing a place for them to move out to. He built their first shack just under the hill. In winter it seemed it was so late before the sun would shine down on them. After about a year or so he built a house on top of the hill at the present location. SE V4-33-1-21-W4th.

The summer of 1916 the Helgeson family moved out to the homestead. The first few years they had only a one room shack, so had two beds on the wall. These had to be made up in order to have room to get meals. Their outside buildings such as chicken coop, barn, and pig house were made of dug outs in the hill, and built up with sod. The going was very slow and meant lots of hard work. The place had to be fenced and a well hand-dug. Ruth and Pearl would change their mother off, pulling up the dirt from the hole as their father was digging the well. A few acres of land were broken up each year. The work was done by horses and walking plow. There wasn't much feed for the horses. At noon when Thomas was in for dinner, the girls would ride the horses around so they could graze on the grass.

Times were hard for everyone in those early years. All the farm work had to be done with horses. Coal had to be hauled with four or five head of horses from Magrath or Lethbridge. The trip to the Magrath mine took three days, sometimes longer if one happened to be unlucky and hit a line up at the mine. The grain was hauled to Magrath with four to six head of horses on a wagon. This was usually a three or four day trip. Then when the railroad came to Whiskey Gap the grain was hauled there. There was a few times the grain was hauled to Milk River, or Cut Bank, Montana.

In the year 1919 Elizabeth left, leaving Thomas and the three children. In 1920, unable to make ends meet, Thomas rented his farm to Einar Byttet and moved to Lethbridge. There he worked on the railroad. Pearl, Ruth and Cecil having started school in Shanks Lake, continued to go to school in Lethbridge.

In 1923 Thomas and his children moved back to Del Bonita to take another try at the farm. Cecil and Ruth attended school at Lens, and then later Cecil attended school at Del Bonita. It was five miles to school, so usually the trek was made by saddle horse.

As a young girl, Pearl worked for farmers and business men in the Del Bonita area. She sent money home to help with family needs. Cecil recalls that his first saddle, as well as many other things, were bought by Pearl.

Ruth worked as a cook and housekeeper in the Spring Coulee area. Cecil had to spend a lot of time at home alone, as a young boy, as both his older sisters and dad were away working. They all came home every chance they got. Thomas broke land with a steam engine in the Magrath area for Bruce Balderson, and spent much time on threshing crews to help with family finances.

After Cecil was married, and took over the farm in 1933, Thomas moved to British Columbia. In 1938 Thomas married his second wife, Jessie. They made their home at Christina Lake, B.C. There he lived with his wife until his health broke down. Then he went to a nursing home in Calgary where he passed away at age of eighty-six years in 1965.

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Mary Tollestrup