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  • JOAN SOGGIE

RIKKA'S HOMESTEAD: from Norway to The Aiktow, a family story.


Today, the island of Vikna is regarded as one of the scenic treats on a summer ferry excursion along Norway’s rocky coast. In the mid 1800s, it was more renowned for its herring … and for the treacherous storms that made that fishery such a hazardous occupation.

But to the hardy people who called Vikna home, difficulties were to be overcome and dangers faced down. The Lund family made a decent living supplying the needs of the herring fishermen from their dock-side store, besides keeping some livestock and growing crops on a few stone-pitted acres.

The Lund’s third child, Henrikka, was born in 1861. Her father died suddenly when she was barely a year old. Her mother, Marie, took over management of their store and farm and employees. In the 1865 census of Norway, Marie is listed as head of a household numbering 13, including her three children, Kristine, Kristian, and Rikka.

Tragedy struck again a dozen years later. Rikka’s brother Kristian, her sister Kristine’s husband Arnold Bugge, and several other fishermen were lost at sea during a terrible storm. Marie had lost her son and son-in-law. Now Kristine, like her mother, found herself alone raising a young family.

Mentz Sogge had worked for Marie for several years. When he and Rikka married, they took over management of the family business. Kristine remarried. More children were born to both families. They came together often to make music and to celebrate birthdays or May Day or Christmas.

Then the herring stock failed. This had happened before, in the centuries-long history of the Norwegian fishery, and had been regarded as a sign of divine wrath. For Rikka and Kristine, it must have seemed at least a divine nudge, prying them loose from their comfortable routine. Kristine’s large family opted to immigrate to Canada, where, it was rumoured, good virgin land could be had for the price of breaking it. Rikka and Mentz stayed on in Vikna managing the failing store until after the death of Rikka’s mother. With nothing now holding them back, the island economy in ruins, they too prepared to leave Norway.

On June 18th 1903 they and their ten children embarked aboard “The Parisian” bound from Liverpool for Canada. The names on the passenger list indicate that they were the only Scandinavians aboard. Arriving in Quebec nine days later, they were all immediately admitted to hospital. Mentz and five of the children were released a few weeks later, but Rikka and the others, including the three youngest, remained confined to Gross Isle until August 6.

Two months after leaving their home in Norway, two months among strangers speaking foreign languages, depleted physically and financially, the family finally boarded the train heading out west. Their destination, the homestead they had been assigned among other Scandinavians at Teulon, Manitoba.

Winter comes early in that part of the world. Arriving so late in the season, their preparations could scarcely have been adequate … maybe a rude log house thrown up in a hastily chosen location, firewood scrounged from wherever, only the most basic of groceries. But they made friends with other settlers and quickly joined into community life. By Christmas, the eldest daughter, Ingeborg, a pretty 18 year old, was engaged to a young farmer.

Christmas Eve is a joyous occasion in Norwegian homes. Mentz and Rikka determined to make this first Christmas in their new country as wonderful as any the children could recall. They did not need much … a few potatoes to make lefsa, some butter for the lutefisk, homemade gifts, and candles for the tree. Singing their beloved old carols, they joined hands to dance around the candlelit tree. Then something went terribly wrong. Ingeborg’s skirt brushed a candle, and instantly her clothes were aflame.

She died days later.

Her death seems to have broken them. Their land was swampy and poor. Crops were meagre that first year, the children were sick. Aksel and Asbjorn, the two boys next in age to Ingeborg, succumbed to tuberculosis. Then Gunhild, seven years old, sickened and died during a typhoid epidemic.

Mentz and Rikka had to get their family away from this disastrous farm. Friends and relatives in Chicago wrote of opportunities in Chicago and Mentz left to find work there, promising to come back for them when he had earned the money to move them all to a better place. But that never happened. While in Chicago staying with Rikka’s niece Marianne Bugge, he fell and broke his leg. Some sources say he developed infection, others think he might have had tuberculosis. He died there, his dreams buried with him far from home.

Rikka had never been more alone. She had the example of her mother and her sister, an unshakeable faith in God, and very little else. But then a letter came from her sister. Kristine and her second husband, Odin Jacobson, had homesteaded in the province recently named Saskatchewan, in the same community as other old friends from Vikna, the Pedersons. Kristine wrote that the land was good, and there were homesteads available. Rikka, with her three remaining daughters, now teenagers, and her three young sons, boarded the train and once more headed west.

Now the golden years of hard work, health and happiness returned. Rikka filed on a quarter section at the edge of a broad valley called the Aiktow which joined the Saskatchewan River valley to the Qu'Appelle Valley. Soon, with the help of neighbours and her sister’s family, she and her children had a home of their own. Her daughters delighted in the renewed association with friends from their childhood in Vikna, such as the Andreas and Anna Pederson family. Her three young sons, Thorolf, Thorstein and Kristian, eagerly sought out their uncle and cousins. At first, the girls and Rikka worked the field, guiding the walking plough or pitching hay on the hay rack. The boys took charge of the farmyard animals and delivered milk, cream and eggs to customers he growing village of Elbow. Over the years the boys took over more of the farm work. By 1913 Rikka Sogge had earned clear title to her home quarter in the Aiktow Valley.

And once again music filled her home. Besides serving as organist for the Elbow Norwegian Lutheran Church, Rikka taught her children to play the piano and violin. Sunday afternoons saw neighbours and friends gather around her piano. These times always closed with coffee and food, enjoyed outdoors when weather permitted.

In this nearly treeless plain, Rikka’s family treasured the trees that grew in their valley. One, bigger than the rest, on a fine grassy slope, was dubbed the kaffestua - the coffee-tree. After the music, they would carry a table out under the tree, set it with mugs and platters of cake and a big pot of coffee, and enjoy the remainder of the day with laughter and stories and song.

Seventy years later, Signe Vallevand recalled how she had loved, as a child, to drive across The Valley[JS1] with her parents and sisters to go visiting at Rikka’s. “We sang all the way there, and all the way home again.”

Rikka’s sadness had turned to song.

[JS1]The Aiktow Valley was usually referred to locally as simply “The Valley.”


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