Courtesy Elma Schemenauer
Biographies of celebrated Saskatchewan personalities follow a general pattern; arrival in a new land, struggle, vision, setback, and finally the achievements significant to the province’s evolution. It’s roughly the same arch for the uncelebrated personalities: notably women who have had similar impact on the province’s evolution.
Celebrity is a privilege that didn’t afflict the women who were born in the mid-to-late 1800s in Europe and came to Saskatchewan in the latter part of the 19th century. They arrived, they struggled, they had a vision, they suffered setback, and emerged in the period after WWII as the moral and social core of the communities that have only started to fail since their departure. Only in their lack of fame do they stand apart from well-known political, industrial, and institutional figures whose names mark buildings and major streets. The impact they continue to have on Saskatchewan, by virtue of the social fabric they underwrote and the generations nourished by it, is immeasurable.
The narratives of these thousands of women are familiar to mostpeople with roots in the Canadian prairie. Take Elizabeth (Lizzie) Schinold who settled in Elbow in 1907 with her husband George: “Lizzie’s life on the farm consisted of raising her eight children, feeding the chickens, milking the cows, making butter, bread, and soap, and washing clothes on a washboard,” wrote her daughter and granddaughters in the book Egg Money. “She always planted a huge garden, and rhubarb was a standby that was added to everything. In berry season they brought home 100-pound flour bags full of saskatoon berries, raspberries, and chokecherries. In the fall, Lizzie and the older children stooked the grain after George cut it with the binder. Every day during threshing season, Lizzie prepared three very large meals for the threshing crew, as well as substantial morning and afternoon lunches that were taken out to the fields.”
It is a profile of a woman’s life that has become familiar enough that the actual danger and toil that went with it is obscured in nostalgia. The hardship and extraordinary physical and spiritual effort that was necessary to overcome it is, thankfully, being kept alive by Saskatchewan writers. Egg Money is a publication by the Saskatoon German Days Committee, now called Kultur-Garten Saskatoon. In a unique approach to capturing these biographies, the committee invited the children of settlement women to write their own recollections of their mothers’ journeys to Saskatchewan and the lives they led. “There is still not a lot of writing being done on the lives of these women,” says Rosa Gebhardt who was on the committee. The title Egg Money came from a statue that stands in Saskatoon commemorating the lives of firstgeneration immigrant women. “Twenty-four families each donated $1,500 toward the statue so we asked them to record the stories of their mothers for the book.”
The first printing of the book in 2012 was very timely. “We are on the cusp of losing these stories,” says Gebhardt. “As it was, some of the families had a hard time collecting details about their mother’s experiences. Some of the stories are pretty gut-wrenching. We don’t want to lose that history.”
Rural women enjoyed many of the benefits from modernization but increased urbanization created new complications. Author Elma Schemenauer has explored the new realities facing women like her mother in her fictional book, Consider the Sunflowers.
For more great stories, purchase the digital edition of the magazine, or get the print copy here. To get a great recipe from a settler woman, read our online extra, Hakkebof: Hearty Danish Chopped Steak.