Oliver H. Johnson fonds. — 1908-1909. — 1 cm of textual records.
Oliver Hiram Johnson was born August 16, 1856 in Capron County, Illinois to Norwegian parents. Anna Marie (Mary) Brotan was born July 14, 1859 in Norway, the daughter of Ludvig and Anna. Their family of eight immigrated to North America in 1866, landing in Quebec and homesteading in Wisconsin.
Oliver and Mary were married in Wisconsin in 1880. They moved to Buffalo County, South Dakota, where they farmed, then to Interior, South Dakota, where they ranched. The Johnsons next had a mercantile business in Gordon, Nebraska, then moved to Lawton, Oklahoma at the time of the Oklahoma land rush. The Johnsons had eight children: Arnold, Helen, Minnie, Emma, Ruth, Anna, Pauline, and John.
In the summer of 1907, Oliver came to Canada, seeking a new home. He travelled with two other men from Edmonton, destined for Athabasca Landing, but when his partners decided to turn back at Sawridge, he joined up with Rede Stone’s group instead. When spring came, they continued on to Beaverlodge over the Long Trail (Athabasca Trail). Oliver settled on the river at the mouth of Hay Creek (NE 10-72-10 W6th). He spent the summer and fall breaking land, planting a garden, hunting, and building a house, barn, and other structures. In December 1908, Oliver departed for Edmonton again, to join his family.
Son Arnold Johnson arrived in Edmonton with a car of settler’s effects in 1908, followed in July by the most of the Johnson family. Daughter Minnie and her husband Clarence Pool and son Ralph joined the group in January 1909. When Oliver arrived in early February, they all returned to Beaverlodge together, bringing their belongings, provisions, and stock for a small store. The group included Oliver and Mary Johnson, their children Ruth, Anna, Pauline, John, Arnold, Arnold’s wife Maude and their children Percy and Muriel, the Pool family, and a Dutch driver, Henry Roper. They departed from Edmonton on March 3, 1909, travelled over the Long Trail, and arrived in Beaverlodge on April 9, 1909. The Johnsons moved to a new house in May and opened their store in June, the only trading post west of Lake Saskatoon. As the Johnsons settled on the land before it was surveyed, they had to declare their homestead claim when surveyor Walter McFarlane arrived in June 1909. They obtained the patent to the land in 1914.
The Johnsons were also involved in the local community. In the 1908, Oliver raised a large crop of turnips, which he reputedly gave to the local First Nations people. His activities with turnips led to him being called “Rutabaga” Johnson. In 1909, the Johnson home was the site of the first Methodist church service held west of Lake Saskatoon. Mrs. Johnson was later known as the “Mother of Bentum United Church” In 1910, Oliver was one of three men sent to Edson to assess the feasibility of a route between Edson and Grande Prairie, which became the Edson Trail, opened in 1911. Oliver was also one of the attendees at the first meeting of the Redlow Union No. 299 of the United Farmers of Alberta in 1911.
Oliver suffered from a hernia for many years. In 1916 he was transported to Edmonton by railroad and died in October at the Royal Alexandra Hospital, following surgery. Mary Johnson died in July 1942. The Johnson farm, known as “Stony Point” was sold in 1965. Part of it is now home to the South Peace Centennial Museum.
Sources: “Lake Saskatoon Reflections”, “Beaverlodge to the Rockies”, “Pioneers of the Peace”, homestead files, Grande Prairie Herald Old Timers Historical Edition (1934)
Oliver H. Johnson’s journal was kept by the Johnson family until it was donated to South Peace Regional Archives in 2013 by great granddaughter Marion (Boyd) Field.
Scope and Content
The fonds consists of the 1908-1909 homestead diary of Oliver H. Johnson. It provides a daily record of his activities as he broke land, built a house, barn, and other structures, interacted with his neighbours, including the Stones, Sinclairs, Fergusons, Bredins, Hardins, Smiths, Germaine, Arnold, Allie Brick, Mead & Grant, members of the Beaver First Nation, and others, and travelled back to Edmonton to join his family. The last few pages of the diary list recipes, drugs, groceries, dry goods, hardware, and accounts, some of which may date from his time as a storekeeper.
Transcriptions of the diary (uncorrected and corrected) are available.