Ronneberg Family Website

Tønnes Emil Enoksen Rønneberg’s Emigration to Canada

by Aksel Eggebø

This translation is published with the kind permission of Aksel Eggebø.

For a related picture of the Rønneberg Cairn check out Gallery.

Born in Lura 5 September 1859, died in Calgary, Canada 18 March 1927, married in Warren Minnesota 29 May 1885 to Inger Marie Eivindsdaughter Garborg, born in Time 9 March 1863, died in Eagle Hill, Alberta, Canada 4 January 1955.

Shortly after Tønnes Emil was born, his parents had to leave the Lura farm to Jonas Eivindsen, Tønnes Emil’s 27 years older “3/4-brother” (three grandparents in common). Four years later his parents bought a farm at Røyneberg in Sola, settled there and changed their name to that of the farm, as was the custom in those days. In America Tønnes Emil took the name Thomas Ronneberg, often just called Tom.

We know nothing about the emigration itself, but it seems reasonable to believe that Tønnes Emil went to stay with his brother Joakim, who by then was well established in Iowa. There is also good reason to believe that this was where Tønnes Emil met Inger Marie Garborg, sister of the poet Arne Garborg. Tønnes Emil’s brother, Joakim, and Inger Marie’s brother, Samuel, lived just a few miles apart. Inger Marie was one of the seven Garborg siblings who immigrated to America. Only Arne and Jon stayed behind in Norway.

Samuel Garborg, Inger Marie’s brother, wrote this about her : “Maria attended the county school, came to America to stay with me in Grinell (Iowa), served, became a teacher, became Mrs. Tom Ronneberg and had a large family, became a Unitarian, then an orthodox, is now living in Eagle Hill, Alberta, Canada, where most of her children also live with smaller or larger families.

“In private papers we further find that Inger Marie and Tønnes Emil were married in Warren, a small town in the northwestern corner of Minnesota, and settled in a place nearby called Newfolden. Their seven eldest children were born there during the period 1886 – 1901. The two youngest, and a foster son were born in Eagle Hill. Their descendants have not told how life was there, but other sources tell us that this part of Minnesota was a settlers area in those days. A lot of Norwegians arrived there. The area is called “a rough, tough country”; where the forest was thick and plentiful, and the settlers were not allowed more than 40 acres each. Therefore, lumbering became their main source of income. Exactly how tough this could be, Alfred Hauge describes in the trilogy about Cleng Peerson. The first immigrants from Norway settled under similar conditions by Lake Ontario 50 to 60 years earlier. They could only take it for a short while. Which also was the case for several of the people in Minnesota.

In January 1902 Tønnes Emil and a couple of neighbors went to Canada to look for better land. They went by the new railroad to its end station, Olds, a little north of Calgary. They must have continued further northwest on foot. There were no roads, and the terrain must have been quite wet. But when they had managed to cross the Red Deer River, it seemed like they had landed in Paradise. There were vast plains with smaller rounded hills, a lot of valuable forest and good soil. And all the time they spent there, it was so warm that they were in their shirt sleeves all day long, even though it was in January. And the best of all, on the western side of the river, there was only one other settler. They went home in a good mood and told about this and several of their neighbors were interested.

That same spring six families traveled almost 1400 kilometers (850 miles) to the northwest, bringing all their belongings in two railway wagons. They arrived in Olds, Canada by railway in the middle of June and went further by horse and wagons. But now they ran into another side of the area’s climate. The cold blizzards were unexpected. In addition the spring-flooding made the river impossible to cross. There was no bridge. All six families had to stop at Skadsem Place. The owner, L. Skadsem, must have been an immigrant from Klepp, Rogaland, Norway. Perhaps Laurits Skadsem was from the farm Skas in Klepp. The six families had no place other than Laurits’ barn to live in for almost a year. The oldest boys lived in tents. The wagons had to be tied down with ropes to prevent the river from sweeping them along. Almost six weeks passed before the river sunk to a level allowing the herd to cross it on a raft. During the winter they managed to raise the first houses, and in 1904 they built a bridge across the river.

It turned out that the bad weather was not something unusual. The river flooded large areas almost every year. One year, in the middle of May, three feet of snow fell. It even happened that they were unable to cut the grass in the wettest areas in the summer, but had to wait for the water to freeze. This allowed them to cut the tops off the grass. Generally speaking, people suffered a lot of hardships the first years. The long distance into town, 80 or 90 miles, also caused trouble. So, when the first settler took home all kinds of necessary merchandise and opened a store, it was very welcome. The store owner was also allowed to open a post office. The place then got its name, Eagle Hill. The store became an important center and a place of gathering, thus contributing to Eagle Hill as a good place to live.

Already the first summer more settlers came. A lot of them from other parts of America, but also many directly from other European countries, especially from Sweden, Denmark and Scotland. And many also came from Bardu, Helgeland, Møre, Solør and other places in Norway. In a few years a whole community grew, with a strong Scandinavian dominance. But it was the six pioneer-families from 1902 who in many ways were the leaders. And most members of the Ronneberg family are frequently mentioned in the book “Eagle Hill Calls”, published in 1974. To house all the settlers temporarily, a large tent was risen.

How they lived, and from what.

All the families “took land”, about 160 acres each. They were farmers and their way of living was primarily based on being self-supportive. The goods in the store are listed as necessary flour, sugar, coffee, coal and lamp-oil. The animals kept were a lot of horses, a few cows, some sheep and certainly they had lots of pigs and hens. Each family had their own house and a large garden. They baked, made butter and cheese, spun wool, weaved, etc. and made whatever they needed. Linen, towels, ordinary clothes, etc., were sewn from bleached bags. Most of the summer was spent in harvesting winter food for the animals. The first years they just cut the grass in the “wild” fields by hand.

But the harvesting machine came pretty soon. And already in 1911 a son and a son-in-law of Tom and Marie teamed up and bought the first mobile harvesting machine with a huge steam-engine running it. This machine eventually turned out doing most of the harvesting on the large plains of four districts in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Later yet another of the Ronneberg boys joined this enterprise. This information tells two things I have not found mentioned directly: One, the production of grain must have been an important part of the basis for making a living, and two, that they were running this machine tells me that the Ronneberg family was among the more inventive.

In addition to farming, lumbering played a major part. Also here the Ronnebergs were among the pioneers. A son and a son-in-law built and ran the first sawmill. As the roads were built, it looks like a lot of the production was shipped out of the area. Rudolph Ronneberg also played an important role in planning and building the roads, the telephone lines and other things. He is mentioned as a mechanic, county engineer, road engineer and telephone superintendent. One of the sons-in-law, Kjorsvik, is also mentioned as a clever engineer.

I have not found mentioned anything about the members of the Ronneberg family being hunters. But it appears evident that hunting must have been an important way of increasing the income in Eagle Hill. As already mentioned, there were large woods, and the name of the place, Eagle Hill, tells a lot by itself. The same goes for the name of the rather large river, Red Deer River. It has been made clear that there was an abundance of deer and moose. That such a terrain held a lot of smaller animals also seems reasonable, and in one place something is mentioned about a large number of squirrel pelts being sold. That the black bear could get pretty close in the first years, is also mentioned.

A local school was built in 1906. It provided all the basic education the next generation received. As time passed the conditions improved so much that they became able to educate themselves further. A lot of them became engineers, and other secondary professions. Several moved to Calgary and other places around there. A whole story of its own is the big company that Tønnes Emil and Inger Marie’s grandchildren, Earl and John Dokken created.

Major industry.

In the part of North Dakota that borders on Canada, one finds a distinct arch-shaped kind of building made from formed steel plates. The plates arched forming the main support for the building. These are used for warehouses, hangars, museums, machine sheds, corn-storages, etc. They are commonly found on farms all over America. These buildings are built by the descendants of the people of Lura, and they dominate large areas of Canada and the northern USA. The company making them is Fairford Building. Supposedly it is one of the largest companies in Canada when it comes to steel building construction.

Something about the Garborg-family.

As mentioned earlier, it was the brother Samuel Garborg, Inger Marie went to when she came to Iowa at the age of 16 in 1879. When she moved to Minnesota, it appears that he must have tagged along. Just after, the six pioneering families moved on to Eagle Hill , he followed them. As the others, he also took land there and worked with construction. About 14 years later he sold his farm and went back to the USA. One of his nephews bought the farm. In the years he spent there, Samuel made an effort on the cultural side that is remembered even today. He founded a club of literature that purchased and discussed literature. Among the purchases were several of Arne Garborg’s books. Perhaps that is the reason Arne Garborg still is recognized there.

Samuel Garborg was a bit of a radical, almost a communist if one may say so. And he had to pay for that. When the USA entered the first world war, such people were looked upon with suspicion and he was arrested. And during the search of his home they found a manuscript titled “Peace” . A translation of his brother’s well known novel “Fred”, which he unsuccessfully had tried to get published. How things went, is not known. He was set free, of course, but his opinions probably remained unaltered.

Also a third Garborg sibling, Abel, came to Eagle Hill and took land. Nor did he stayed. In 1915 he sold the farm, also to one of his nephews, receiving three times as much as he had originally paid. He moved to Seattle and became a banker.

In “Knudaheibrev” (Letters from Knudahei) Arne Garborg tells that seven out of nine siblings emigrated to the USA, and that he himself regretted not going. “Had I done so, I could also have learned English and amounted to something,” he wrote. In addition to the three mentioned here, we know that Stine and Ane Oline both were married in America and stayed there. The last of the seven, Eivind and Ola, also crossed the Atlantic but they died early. Eivind was lost at sea. More than this I do not know of this family.

Social life in Eagle Hill.

Along with others, the Ronneberg family did a lot to promote social and cultural events in their local community. Their name is often mentioned among the founders and the leaders. Inger Marie was both the starter and the leader of social work of many kinds. She contributed especially to the Red Cross’s work during the Spanish Flu in 1917. And several of the sons were presidents and in other leading positions in all kinds of sports.

But most of all they show up in the musical life. All the time they insisted that the Garborg side of the family was the source of their artistic skills. Three of the sons played in the local brass band, and most of the siblings formed what was well known as the Ronneberg quartet. But the one of the second generation who went the farthest, was the eldest daughter, Minnie; married name Kjorsvik. She made a lot of people happy with her beautiful voice.

And then there is the song of world class.

One of Minnie Kjorsvik’s daughters took song further in the local community. Her daughter’s son, Gary Miller, moved to Calgary and made singing his living after he studied song and music in England and in New York. Together with his daughter, Cory Miller’s, (born early in the 1960’s) talent came to full bloom. His daughter had her debut in 1985, followed by great successes including solo performances and top rankings in most of the major cities in the USA and Canada, including New York. In Italy she won a large, international contest, and in Rio de Janeiro she went all the way to the top in a world competition. Also she was the first to perform six Haugtussasongs by Garborg/Grieg in Calgary, Canada in Norwegian.

Also an older brother of Tønnes Emil, Hans Lura Rønneberg, spent some time in America. I do not know much about him apart from that he came back to Norway All his five children remained there.