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The Founding of Quatsino Colony
    by Kenneth O. Bjork (Volume 25: Page 80)

Word gradually spread among the nineteenth-century Norwegian immigrants in the United States that equality of opportunity also existed in British Columbia, but years were to pass before anything like a Scandinavian migration to the province developed. Linked, however, as it was to the American Pacific coast generally and to such cities as Seattle and San Francisco, it had a strong appeal for people who responded to the twin attractions of free land and a bountiful sea.

According to Martin Ulvestad, the first Norwegian in British Columbia was Hans Helgesen, who lived in or near Victoria after 1860 and was a member of the provincial parliament. The same author credits John L. Broe from Fayette County, Iowa, with starting a permanent settlement at Aldergrove in 1884. Fillip Jacobsen pioneered at Clayoquot, on Vancouver Island, and was a correspondent to the immigrant press. Sailors and fishermen began making their homes in Victoria and Vancouver at an early date, increasingly in the mainland city after 1890. {1}

Significant settlement in British Columbia, however, was to [81] come after 1893 as a consequence of governmental assistance and organized company activity. Most interesting and perhaps most controversial was the planned colony of Bella Coola. Founded in the autumn of 1894 as the northernmost coastal settlement in the province, it was the home of Norwegians mainly from the Crookston, Minnesota, area. Its leader was the Reverend Christian Saugstad of the Lutheran Free Church. The provincial government made other attempts to attract Scandinavians, both to the mainland and to Vancouver Island, by offers of free land and other help. The response was quantitatively small; the Canadian census of 1901 listed only 2,742 persons in the province who had been born in Sweden or Norway. {2}

By 1900 interest in British Columbia, however, was considerable in the Middle West, where various forces were soon at work giving a strong push to the westward movement of immigrants. The economic crisis of 1893 and the depression that followed it generally stimulated interest in the Pacific Northwest. The filling in of the western lands of the Upper Midwest combined with a growing discontent concerning certain features of the older settlements. Low prices for agricultural products, a dark future for farm renters, low wages for the workers — or worse, the loss or threat of loss of farms and jobs — often removed the last restraining ties that held a restless minority to their old homes in America.

One of many Pacific coast attractions was the offer by British Columbia of free land to persons who would agree to organize colonies and supply a certain number of settlers for specially designated tracts of land. Bella Coola resulted from such an agreement. The Norwegian settlement at Quatsino Sound, on Vancouver Island, was a second venture in such colonization. [82]


On November 10, 1894, H. O. Bergh wrote a letter from Victoria, British Columbia, to Decorah-Posten informing readers of the immigrant press that, with several other persons, he had left Fargo, North Dakota, in search of a place on the west coast suitable for a Norwegian settlement. They had traveled as part of a company under the guidance of Jens Johnson, a Northern Pacific Railway agent who frequently served in this capacity for Scandinavians. In British Columbia he had found government officials most "forthcoming" in their attitude toward immigrants. In fact, they had done everything in their power to help Bergh’s group find land and organize a colony in their province. One major requirement was that such a settlement must number a minimum of 30 families or mature single persons. Another was the possession by each family or individual of cash in the amount of $300. The land —160 acres per family or 80 acres for the single adult — would be granted free of charge by the province after occupation and cultivation for a five-year period, if an increase in value amounting to $5 per acre had resulted. The government promised to build a road through the settlement, to provide a school, and to pay the salary of a teacher.

Bergh maintained that immigrants thinking of visiting the west coast in search of a place to start a new life should organize into companies. They should then send one or two dependable men from their group to hunt out desirable land. After selecting a site, they should migrate in the spring of the year. He conceded that there were also suitable locations on the American side of the boundary, especially for those who had sufficient money to buy land, and he promised to write later about the Yakima Valley in eastern Washington, where irrigation was practised. {3}

When Bergh wrote again to the newspapers, in the summer of 1895, he observed that many eyes had turned toward British Columbia since the Reverend C. Saugstad had begun his [83] famous mainland colony at Bella Coola, and he called special attention to a second Norwegian settlement at Quatsino Sound, on the northwest coast of Vancouver Island, some 100 miles south of Bella Coola. The new colony, he reported, already was being started; about 30 persons had arrived and others would soon follow them. It had a lovely setting near mountains, and the soil was rich but covered by forest. There was little or no prairie land anywhere along the entire coast of the province.

Rainfall at Quatsino was about the same as in Puget Sound, and the lowest temperature recorded during the previous winter had been 27 degrees Fahrenheit. Most of the snow, five to six inches in depth, had disappeared after a week, and there were no thunder storms in the summertime. The area had many creeks and small rivers, and in August and September salmon in great numbers swam up them. Numerous small lakes were well supplied with trout. Thirty miles from the new settlement fruit trees thrived; apples, pears, and cherries were raised. Quatsino Sound, with its many indentations, enjoyed no less than 200 miles of coastline, and along its course there were a number of places where from 30 to 40 families could find land adequate for their use. The government already was building a road across the island to Hardy Bay on the east coast. By fall it would still be only a "pack trail," but in time it would be a proper road. Meanwhile, most of the settlers were working on it at good wages from the government. Much effort and hard work would be required to create permanent homes, but these would come in due course. {4}


Bergh had entered into correspondence with the Honorable Colonel James Baker, provincial secretary and minister of immigration, on December 15, 1894. He had identified himself as a representative of the Nova Co-operative Society of Minneapolis, and had specifically asked that British Columbia "set [84] aside part of the Peninsula terminating at Quatsino Narrows, including part of Townships 10, 11, 18 and 19, and part of the other shore opposite Limestone Island, as a site for said colony, provided they conclude to settle on said land. All of said land is timbered by spruce and hemlock except two small meadows opposite and below Limestone Island." He explained in his letter that he had recommended to the potential settlers from the Fargo region that, if they decided favorably on the location, they should bring along "a small saw-mill and a bark mill to utilise as much as possible of the timber while clearing the land." The group would then require a river large enough to turn the mill, and it was "doubtful if the creeks on the Peninsula are strong enough and permanent so they would probably have to look to one of the streams on the opposite shore, for instance, the one emptying into or near Kultus Cove." He would not think of settling there "if it was not for the advantage of a water front, and the possible chance of manufacturing the timber into some useful article of trade while clearing the land, as I consider the cost of clearing $100 an acre or more."

In reply, Baker explained that the land "on the north of the Island" had been reserved "for your colonies," but he added that Bergh’s letter had not been "sufficiently definite to warrant me in reserving it specially for your colony." He required further information "as to the names and numbers of the colonists." He also asked if Bergh’s was the same colony as that of Chris F. Nordstrom and "the other company of Norwegians who lately went to the north of the Island." He could not deal definitely "unless the colonists sign an agreement appointing say one or two delegates to deal directly with the Government on their behalf." He concluded with the remark that an appropriation "had been placed upon the Estimates for a waggon road to Fort Rupert"; this would put the settlers "in touch with a port of call."

It was Nordstrom, not Bergh, who continued the correspondence with the provincial government. Nordstrom, too, had written to Baker on December 15, 1894, saying that he [85] and his companions had not been able to find enough "suitable land" for their purpose, and that he thought it would be difficult to locate a tract "in a body big enough for us all, so we have to spread out." He felt the "first and most necessary step" was "to get a road cut to Fort Rupert from the most favourable place on the bay." It would be easier to bring in cattle from that side than from any other point.

Baker answered Nordstrom in the same manner as he had with Bergh. Early in January, 1895, in response to a request from Nordstrom for an engineer, he maintained that the colonists must first mark on a map the sections of land they desired and send a list of the settlers, together with "written requests that they are ready to accede to the terms of agreement with the Government as per enclosed draft indenture." Furthermore, the colonists would have to "depute you or someone else to act in their behalf in negotiating with the Government." An engineer would then be sent to lay out the holdings of the settlers. He assured Nordstrom that the lands "in the neighborhood of Quatsino Sound and the Rupert Arms are already reserved from occupation pending the settlement of your colony."

Nordstrom regretted on January 18 that he could not yet give definite replies to Baker’s questions. It was impossible to travel about in the Quatsino Sound area because of bad weather, and, besides, there were only ten of his group present. He explained that they had been "sent out to find a location for a colony, and everything is depending on us, but we have no way of communicating with the outside world as we have been here two months and not received a letter yet." He knew there was plenty of mail for the group some place. "If we had a road to Fort Rupert," he concluded, "it would be possible to send and receive mail. If we settle here, it will not be less than 100 people in our colony."

The deputy provincial secretary assured Nordstrom that the minister of immigration had brought the matter of mail service to the attention of the post office authorities, who in [86] turn had promised to arrange for having the Quatsino settlement returned from Alert Bay as soon as possible for transmission by the steamer "Mischief" or in another way to Coal Harbour. He also forwarded such mail for the settlement as had come to his office. In April, Baker appealed to Andrew Haslam, a member of parliament from Nanaimo, explaining that a "large colony of Norwegians, probably two hundred or more," were settling near Quatsino Narrows and were anxious to have regular mail service. "It is important to have things go as smoothly as possible," he concluded, "as other Scandinavian colonies are to be encouraged to settle in other portions of the Province, and they make the best of immigrants."

With immediate problems apparently somewhat resolved, the men already in Quatsino Sound wrote to Baker on March 13, 1895: "We . . . being desirous of forming ourselves into a colony for the purpose of acquiring and occupying land . . . do hereby appoint Mr. C. Nordstrom to act as our representative in all matters regarding the formation of said colony. And we agree to abide by any conditions he makes with the Government." Interestingly, the 23 signatures included H. O. Bergh, B. C. Loken, E. Evanson, Hannah Nordstrom, Alex Finlaison, H. P. Nordby, C. F. Nordstrom, Harold Strandwold, H. R. Fotte, Louise Nordstrom, Ole Akre, G. T. Sanners, Wm. Thompson, J. Udby, and T. O. Sanners. In addition, there were five male McDonalds, a J. Ingersol, a W. Hunt, and a T. Labimiere. The composition of the Quatsino group clearly was not exclusively Norwegian or even Scandinavian. {5}


The Victoria Daily Colonist, in every sense friendly to the government’s program for "Settling the Lands," explained the plan in detail early in 1896. The "principal move" in landtaking, the paper said, had been "on the part of Norwegians from the prairie states." It spoke of much-publicized Bella Coola [87] on the mainland, and also called attention to Quatsino on the island. "‘It is Norway over again,’ they say, ‘only a great deal better." Additional contingents of Norwegians, chiefly from Minnesota, the paper continued, would soon join those already in the province. "The exodus of these desirable settlers to the coasts of British Columbia would be much larger but for the difficulty of disposing of their prairie farms."

The colony at Quatsino was not as old as the one at Bella Coola, but it, too, had "made good progress in the past year," and the settlers were "more than satisfied with their lot and prospects." The government was building a road, and in surveying for it had found some "fifteen thousand acres of excellent land, slightly timbered. . . . This stretch of arable land was hitherto unknown to exist. It assures incoming settlers . . . an abundance of choice of location."

The newspaper referred to a letter written by Baker to the provincial board of trade, in which the minister had outlined the method of colony making: A surveyor is sent with the delegates of the colonists to lay out the holdings of the immigrants, after which the settlers go in and take jobs at building the road through or out of the area. The government then makes free grants of land on the condition of its being developed and provides schools. It does not, however, give any money, for travel or for any other purpose, to the immigrants, who "will not be nursed in any way." New areas were being surveyed and would be "ready for location next autumn or the spring of next year." The story reminded readers that colonists on the coast had the "advantage of the fishing industry as one of their occupations." The soil was rich and often easily cleared. There was ample water power for mills. Farming could include dairying, the raising of grains, root crops, fruit, and, in places, hops. {6}

George Amorsen also made known to readers of the Norwegian immigrant press the new settlement policy of the government. In articles dealing both with Bella Coola and [88] Quatsino, he presented the program with sympathy and in great detail. He emphasized the government’s insistence on the possession of cash and the need to remain on the land and to increase its value. Anyone, even a foreigner who wished to become a citizen, could also, if he wished, receive 160 acres of land by purchase.

Amorsen’s interest in immigration is revealed in his statement that Scandinavians in British Columbia who would be writing to the old countries to bring friends and relatives to the province could purchase tickets to Victoria on easy terms from the Allan, Beaver and Dominion Line. As he personally issued the tickets, he could guarantee good handling and speedy passage. {7}


Matters had not gone entirely according to plan at Quatsino. H. Burnet, a surveyor, reported to Baker in June, 1895, that he had completed the survey of 85 lots, 30 of them near Hecate Cove and the others on Limestone Island; these he considered adequate for the time being. He was currently "surveying the outlines of a block on the south side of Quatsino Sound and about three miles southwest of the existing settlement," a work that he thought would require only a week’s time. When finished, he would be able to estimate the number of settlers that could be placed in the vicinity; he would then also start on the location of the road.

Burnet explained that he had done the surveys first, "as several of the settlers wished to build at once, and of course could not do so until they were properly located." Fifteen claims had been taken up thus far, and Nordstrom had told him that more settlers were coming on the next steamer. Six of the immigrants had built cabins on their claims, and the men used in making the survey would start on their dwellings while the surveyor was busy locating the road.

The people appeared to be "satisfied with their locations," [89] the surveyor continued, and most of them were "content with 80 acres." He thought it "much better for them to take that amount of land as . . . it is quite sufficient for any settler in this densely wooded country, and possesses the further advantage of forming a more united colony." He had not yet had time to "fill in any of the Indentures," which would be sent off in a short time. He forwarded a rough plan of the surveys, and remarked that the "present location is well adapted for a settlement, the soil being fairly good, and well drained by numerous small creeks."

Baker fully approved of the steps taken by Burnet and stated in his reply to the surveyor that if "any of the friends of the Scandinavians . . . are possessed of sufficient means and wish to take up land," the northwest corner of the island was "open to them for settlement on similar terms."

As late as August 31, 1895, Nordstrom was still asking whether the settlers might receive mail, have a post office of their own, and also enjoy boat service in order to obtain provisions. If such matters were not tended to, he said, "we don’t see how we can live here." In his reply, Baker spoke of "a temporary inconvenience" and explained that the wagon road building from Coal Harbour to Hardy Bay was intended to put the colonists in communication with the steamers that plied regularly on the east coast. He expected the road to be finished toward the end of September. He asked Nordstrom to get in touch with Burnet and to try to work out an arrangement by which letters could be forwarded regularly to a point on Hardy Bay.

Burnet, reporting to the provincial surveyor general on January 16, 1896, stated that much of the land at Quatsino Sound had been subdivided into "half-quarter sections of eighty acres each." The divided area was "principally rolling, and timbered with hemlock, balsam, spruce, fir and cedar." The soil was mostly a "clayey loam, gravelly in places." The surveys had been made from April 19 to June 16 and from October 15 to November 12, 1895. In the interval between [90] June and October he had been engaged in the "construction of the Colonization Road." He estimated that there were about 15,000 acres of land "suitable for settlement" within a "limit of three miles on each side of the road" — all of it timbered, mainly with hemlock and balsam trees measuring on the average two feet in diameter and having patches of heavy cedar and a few open swamps. He also called attention to the great variety of fish — sockeye, silver, and spring salmon, cohoes, dog salmon, and humpbacks — in Quatsino Sound, including the southeast, west and Rupert arms. Large numbers of halibut entered the waters in winter, coming from the feeding banks about six miles off the entrance to the sound. Herring, smelt, and cod were abundant, and trout were everywhere in the streams. Deer, bear, and wapiti were also present.

Baker, in a return to an order of the provincial legislature, reported that as of December 31, 1895, the number of bona fide settlers at Quatsino was 17, and that two others were "embraced" in the colony without being immigrants in the true sense. A total of $2,461.80 had been expended by the government, chiefly in making the surveys. {8}


From the settlers’ point of view, all was not well at Quatsino in 1896. Chris Nordstrom, now officially president of what had been called Scandia Settlement, and S. K. Float, secretary pro tem., wrote to Baker on April 13, reporting that at a public meeting of the colonists the same day a motion had been passed unanimously requesting the government to continue work during the summer, "in order to get a passable road from Coal Harbour to Hardy Bay." Several of the men were eager to "get in some cattle, which we can reasonably buy at the East Coast." The existing trail was impassable even for animals, and "to get stock in from the west side is impossible so [91] long as only the little steamer calls in here, which does not meet our demands, also in several other respects." They shrewdly reminded the minister that a proper road would "open up an extensive area of good agricultural land, besides helping the colony in its present need."

On June 24, Nordstrom answered a query from Baker about the number of arrivals anticipated in the settlement by saying he was sure there would be "more than 30 before the summer is over," and that there were 21 at the moment. He again raised the question of road construction, as no work had been done despite promises. The colonists could accomplish little without cattle, and the only route of transportation was from Hardy Bay. He also asked what would be done relative to land titles if the full quota of 30 was not attained by fall.

Baker, never slow to come directly to the point in a discussion, replied in July that if the group "can get the required number of thirty before the close of the summer you can come under the favourable laws of colonization which give you the land free." If, however, the requisite number did not appear, they "would have to pay the Government price for agricultural land, which would be $5.00 an acre." In response to another letter from Nordstrom in November, asking whether the colony would be allowed to hold land under the arrangement made with Baker until 30 colonists had been brought in, the minister stated that the company already had "been given considerable latitude," but he added that, as there was a "reasonable prospect of more colonists coming into the settlement in a short time," he would be willing to "extend the term for six months from the 1st January next."

By the end of 1896, it was apparent that the Scandia company was having serious difficulty in attracting settlers. Meeting as a corporation on December 28, they resolved to ask Baker’s indulgence. Bergh, serving as secretary pro tem., assured the minister that the colonists were "all so far contented with the location," although as pioneers they had had to "endure many kinds of hardships." Therefore, they thought [92] it would be "nothing but right" to permit them to "have the land free, the same as the rest of the colonies in the Province." It was hardly necessary to point to the fact that "the land is hard to clear, that the people with small means have all they can do to make a living and doing the required improvements, without paying for the land; and of course it takes the labouring class to go into the forest to make homes and build up the country, as moneyed men will never do it."

Bergh admitted that little had been reported from Quatsino, but maintained that the people already there were "not ashamed to show anyone what has been done so far." The first to arrive had "good houses, some built of timber, others of logs, valued at least from 150 to 250 dollars, and each one from one to two acres slashed and partly cleared." True, the colony thus far had been "unsuccessful in getting the required number of settlers, but have had a few families join us during the past summer and fall, and have now 20." Of late they had received "quite a number of letters enquiring about the Quatsino Colony, but as it is now running to the end of time allowed us to fill the number of 30, we are now afraid to advise anybody to come and get free land, as long as the possibilities are that the Government will charge for it." There were actually persons at Quatsino "who would not have come if they had thought they would have to pay for the land."

The Scandia group therefore appealed for an extension of time in providing the full quota of settlers: they "earnestly prayed" for a full year. In support of their request, they could point to a total of 43 people in the settlement, of whom nine were children of school age, and to the fact that a few men on the spot hesitated to send for their families "as long as the present uncertainty lasts . . . otherwise we would have enough children . . . to form a school." Bergh explained further that 28 had resolved to start a fund for advertising the colony in Scandinavian newspapers, and to appoint a man to "attend to the correspondence and work for the immigration to this place, in case we receive a favourable answer." Mainly the [93] immigrants wanted a "definite answer so as to be able to go ahead without fear of the future attitude of the Government."

The colony did not get a year’s extension, but on January 20, 1897, Baker assured Bergh that it had to June 30 to secure the required number of bona fide settlers. He emphasized, however, that no titles to land already held would be forthcoming before the group met their contractual obligations.

It is interesting to note that expenditures for road construction from Fort Rupert to Rupert Arm in 1895—1896 had added up to $3,071.34. Costs of materials and labor in the first part of 1897 had come to $1,967.50. {9}


Bergh was obviously the person charged with writing about the settlement in the Scandinavian-American press. His letters, detailed and moderate in tone, constitute a valuable source of information about a pioneer community in the Pacific Northwest.

In late January, 1897, he apologized for the long absence of reports from Quatsino. The settlers there were getting along satisfactorily, he explained, but as yet had not been able to make the location the kind of home for Scandinavians that they had in mind. They had worked earnestly in the knowledge that the sound one day would become a center of great traffic and activity.

While waiting for that material development, the pioneers could rejoice in a uniquely healthful climate and the natural beauty and rich resources of the area. There were glorious forests and mighty waterfalls that in hundreds of places crashed down into the quiet fjords, waterfalls that in time would drive stamping mills to crush the ore concealed in the rich repositories of the mountains. There were, in addition to minerals, the treasures of the ocean in the form of fish which each man could pursue, as it were, at his own doorstep, a rich [94] soil that only awaited strong arms, that should be applied at once to the primeval forests in order to subdue them and provide warm homes in an attractive and sociable community.

The winter thus far had been unusually mild and pleasant, and this situation was normal on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Grass and a variety of vegetables had kept fresh and been growing from November until late January. The settlement had had snow only a couple of times, and then only for a few hours. Similarly, the colony had had little rain — in fact, only on five to six days of the month. It was pleasant in midwinter to "go out into the woods and see beautiful, fresh ferns and glistening leaves under the trees," and to hear the wrens and other small birds "blend their pleasant chirping with the cry of the gulls from the fjord." If, as often happened, the sun shone warmly, it was like a lovely spring day, and "when one then thinks of the harsh winters and trying weather [of the Midwest], one is glad to be where he is."

There was room, as Bergh pointed out, for more people at Quatsino. "We need men and women of . . . set purpose, who will build up the land, not adventurers who run away as soon as the lightest contrary wind blows or are satisfied in no place; such we will reject, as they are no help."

Quatsino offered an opportunity to secure land right on the fjord, and people from Norway’s west coast, who were accustomed to the sea and to fishing, should be satisfied there. "Not only they, but also persons who are not afraid of the forest and who like to cultivate the soil will find themselves at home here, as the soil is good and . . . especially ideal for raising hay, vegetables, and fruit."

Much progress had been made in the settlement since the first party had arrived two years earlier. "Thus we now have two shops and several well-constructed houses, and a cannery will be built here in the spring. We have a post office and regular monthly connections with Victoria, as the C. P. N. Company’s large steamer ‘Tees’ sails from that city on the first or second each month for the west coast, with this place as its [95] last stop." Mills would be in order, as there was opportunity both in timber and in fuel.

A Danish colony starting on the north end of the island — at Cape Scott — was only 25 to 30 miles from Quatsino. Bergh thought it an ideal location. He also cited the kind of misfortune common to a sailing people: the sealing schooner "Osprey," out of Victoria, on which two of the colony’s members had sailed to the Bering Sea the previous summer, had recently lain at anchor at Quatsino waiting for Indians who didn’t show up because they couldn’t get finished with a dance. The ship had finally sailed off on the return trip to Victoria, but was lost at Browns Point, near the mouth of Quatsino Sound. The skipper and crew had escaped in a boat and were awaiting the steamer from Victoria. {10}

On April 3, Bergh wrote that the "Tees" would leave Victoria on the thirtieth of each month thereafter, so that people from Washington and other places planning to go up north would be able to board the steamer. "The last boat," he said, "brought a number of colonists for the Danish settlement up on Cape Scott." The weather had been rough at the time — a regular equinoctial storm — and thus they had had an unpleasant journey. Accommodations aboard the "Tees," however, were very good, and persons thinking of going to Quatsino need have no fear of the sea journey. It had been quite different when the "little, dirty ‘Mischief’ was the only means of coming up here." Replying to a common query, whether land really was free, Bergh explained that "such is the situation in this colony and in the two others, namely Bella Coola and Cape Scott." Elsewhere in the province government land suitable for agriculture sold for $5.00 per acre. He reported that the settlers at Quatsino were "clearing, burning, digging, and building." Three children had been born in the colony since the last summer. All living in the community liked it. {11}

Next month, Bergh said that the settlement had been enjoying [96] spring for some time, and that all types of leaves and flowers had long been out. The transition from winter to spring and from spring to summer was so gradual as to be hardly observable. Quatsino had had remarkably good weather during Easter week, with a temperature of 72 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade. The seal hunters, however, reported stormy weather away from the coast; several had sought shelter in the sound for a short time during the hunting season, repairing the damage done to boats and equipment. The seal hunt nevertheless had been profitable for some.

Mining had become increasingly important in the northern part of the island. Rich deposits of precious metals were already being operated at Tegnovar Narrows on the east coast. "Some of the local colonists," he reported, "also have made what promises to be a valuable discovery of ores near the settlement"; there might even be a "mining boom" in the near future if the tests should prove what the ore seemed to promise. A good piece of land on the sound would then be worth having, even if covered with forest. Bergh shrewdly predicted, too, that the trees which at the moment seemed only to stand in the way of farming, soon would be of value as timber; even the bark of hemlock, which grew everywhere, would be prized if tannin were extracted from it. Clearly, here was an example of the opportunities presented to men with imagination and means. The resources were ample, but people and capital were in short supply. In addition, as he had often written, the soil at Quatsino was such that it could be readily cultivated. Planted and wild grasses on his claim already were about 28 inches in height. "Growths in the East never have the fresh, juicy, green look that they have out here on the coast." {12}

In writing to papers in the Puget Sound area, Bergh concentrated on specific points, recognizing that his readers were familiar with general conditions in the Pacific Northwest. In his letters to such papers as Decorah-Posten, he struck a more [97] general tone. He spoke of the mild climate, influenced by the Japanese current, discussed Bella Coola and Quatsino as Norwegian colonies, and told of the vast forests in both areas. No one in his settlement had been sick during the winter of 1896—1897, despite rain and fog. Life could be hard in British Columbia as elsewhere during the pioneer stage, and it took a long time to carve a farm out of the forest even though fewer acres were required for farming than in the Middle West. He also discussed fishing for herring, stressing the fact that it was and would continue to be a major source of income; it also offered opportunities for persons with some capital.

The two stores in the colony dealt with both whites and Indians. Of the latter, there were three tribes — including the Quatsinos. They were all peaceful, good-natured people. The settlers were building good houses along the strand, in a "solid Norwegian manner." There was room for more settlers and good opportunity to secure free land. "The boat is horse and wagon here for the time being," and large ships could go in and out of the sound to any point, as the water was deep at all times. Bergh concluded on the theme of the rich discoveries of gold, silver, and copper on both the mainland and the island, calling attention to the significance of mining communities in providing markets for farm products. It was not, he added wryly, "entirely impossible to clear a farm out here in the wilderness." {13}

Bergh’s articles, although clearly designed to attract people as well as to provide information, were of the "soft sell" variety. Nevertheless, they produced a "mass of letters" with queries about land and conditions in Quatsino. In July, 1897, he attempted to reply to these letters. He made it clear, first of all, that one did not as a rule receive land in British Columbia without paying for it unless he belonged to a colony, in which case every male eighteen years of age or older received 160 acres. He then explained the responsibilities of the government to the colony of 30 or more land recipients, and the fact [98] that settlers received $2.00 per day without board for work on a road. As for schools, the minister of education saw to the construction of buildings and paid teachers when there were as many as 15 children of school age in the district. Education in the province, as in the States, was nonsectarian.

The deadline for supplying the necessary number of settlers was June 30, but Bergh had learned that the date would be advanced in order that persons coming or thinking of coming in the fall would be able to take advantage of the privileges the colony had received from the government. He also informed readers that immigrants from the States could bring in as many as ten head of cattle duty free. It would not pay, however, to move livestock and furniture from the East unless a number of persons went together and filled a railroad car. Despite generally good times and bright prospects for the future, it would not be wise to "come empty-handed." The benefits of the resources would appear later, "when everything is brought into order and the mines are fully worked." {14}


While the Norwegians were still facing uncertainty and hardship at Quatsino, the Danes were moving into their settlement farther north at Cape Scott. Something of the nature and experience of this colony is revealed in a report of July 23, 1897, by Ernest A. Cleveland to the provincial surveyor general in Victoria. Cleveland had gone north from the capital on March 20, accompanied by an assistant surveyor and "a party of eight or ten colonists." According to the agreement made by the Danes with the government, each member of the colony was to receive 80 acres of "bush land" and a 10-acre "block of meadow" if he worked on a dike "to its satisfactory completion for the reclamation of the meadow from tide water." The Danes were also to furnish "all assistance on the survey of their lands, with the exception of one experienced assistant."

As it turned out, the amount of meadow land was found to [99] be less than anticipated and thus could not provide 10-acre blocks to all settlers. The colonists were therefore given the option of a piece of meadow and 80 acres nearby, "or a quarter section just outside the section subdivided into eighties." Cleveland reported that about 124 acres of grassland were flooded at extremely high tide, and the area of tidal lands, regularly flooded, was 510 acres. He thought that a dike about 2,000 feet in length, crossing the lagoon just above the mouth of the main river, would reclaim about 180 acres. It would also protect the grass land from the spring tides. He expected that the Danes would get at the job of building the dike during the coming winter. He had provided lots in all for about 80 colonists.

The greater part of the settlement area was wooded; a number of places had "fairly open land covered with light scrubby timber." The banks of the main river had stands of excellent spruce, which would supply lumber for houses. The region generally seemed well suited for raising small fruits and vegetables, but the colonists had come too late in the spring to cultivate the soil, and they had been busy with survey and road work. Cleveland thought the land suitable for dairy farming and stock raising, as well as deep-sea fishing, especially at the halibut banks off Fisherman’s Bay.

Among the Danes were several experienced dairy-, stock-, and fishermen. Many new settlers were expected from the States, especially from California and Minnesota, in the fall. Fisherman’s Bay was the port of call for steamers. From this port a trail should be built eastward for eighteen to twenty miles to Shusartie, and about $50 should be appropriated for the purpose. Cleveland thought that "if our northern coast can be successfully colonized, the Danish colony at Cape Scott will furnish the proof as no better class of men for the undertaking could be found. They are without exception, hardy, industrious and intelligent, and well deserve success."

Both Quatsino and Cape Scott were destined to succeed, and at very little cost to the government. In reply to questions [100] in the legislature, treasury officials revealed in June, 1898, that the government had expended a total of $4,670 at Quatsino for a population of about 100, and $2,850 at Cape Scott for about 50 persons. These figures compare with $26,368 at Bella Coola on the mainland, where the population was thought to be 250. {15}

The minister of finance estimated that as of June 30, 1898, the cost of locating immigrants and building roads and trails at Quatsino had been $2,206, for a population of 125. The amount expended for the same purposes in the Cape Scott colony had been $3,494.12, for about 90 people. The comparable figure for Bella Coola, covering the locating of immigrants and for building roads, bridges, trails, a wharf, and five schools was $27,644.58. These figures did not, however, cover the cost of surveys for the three Scandinavian colonies; this expense came to $13,026.62. {16}

By 1908 a letter writer at Quatsino could report that the several arms and bays of the fjord, or sound, were now lined with the homes of Norwegians, and that they lived "like kings on their holdings." Houses were being made of lumber, "paneled and painted a shining white on the interior." The Indians, who once had made tribal war on one another and thus decimated their numbers, were now peacefully pursuing the ways of the white man, but were tending to die out. The writer waxed eloquent over the beauty of snow-clad mountains visible in most directions, and over the wild life in the forest — animals, birds, bees, and even woodland flowers, all of which he compared with what he had known in Norway.

In addition to raising chickens and food for livestock, engaging in logging, fishing, and even sailing, the colonists were taking part in the mining activity of the region, although seemingly a few of them who had invested money in "wildcat" mines had been given a real scare. "Many fine ‘prospects’ of [101] gold, silver, copper, iron, and tin, however, can be pointed out, both near the water and deeper in the forest." A few years earlier there had been a regular boom in mining, during which a number of the settlers had earned a considerable sum of money, only to turn their backs on Quatsino in favor of the city. "How stupid," the writer thought, implying that the colony could offer everything that reasonable men could desire. {17}


Elsewhere, too, in British Columbia, but not in planned colonies as at Bella Coola and Quatsino, Norwegians established themselves in the mid-1890’s and early 1900’s. Ever since the gold rush to the Fraser River in 1858, mining possibilities in the province had attracted scores of Norwegian Americans, especially those already living on the west coast. George M. Kjølseth of Spokane, for example, sent to Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, samples of gold ore in 1896, some of it from Trail Creek, some from Stevens County and the Coleville reservation in northern Washington. He wrote about the gold mines of British Columbia, explaining that a narrow-gauge railroad was being completed on the Canadian side to link the mines of Rossland with those of Trail. He expected sensational development in the Trail Creek district during the summer. The ore, containing silver and copper as well as gold, had paid out well in 1895. {18}

"Nemo" next year wrote extensively about the mountains and mines of the province and described the people — Chinese, Indian, and white — washing gold along the rivers. Some had good luck, most did not. The majority of gold seekers seemed headed for the Kootenay country, but others were making their way to the Cariboo district up to the Peace River. Among the Norwegians who seemed to be "striking it rich" was Frank Oleson of Seattle, who soon had an interest in a number of British Columbia mines and advertised them in the immigrant [102] press. Adolph Dahl, well-known realtor in Seattle, spent four months in the north of the province in 1900, where with three others he found and staked out five valuable quartz claims. {19}

But farming, blended with fishing, logging, and even sailing, was the more normal activity in British Columbia, as elsewhere on the Pacific slope. Wharnock on the Fraser River experienced new life in 1897, when a number of Norwegians normally bought 30 acres of land each and set to work at once clearing it. One writer described the enormous spruce and cedar trees, the hemlock, birch, and other stands of timber found in the area. When one sought to clear enough trees to support a cow and a hen, he said, one wished he had claws like a bear and the strength of a Samson. "Farming here," he added, "is still in its childhood; a number have cleared a few acres; some have done almost nothing." All who lived at Wharnock engaged in salmon fishing in the summer. He concluded that there were altogether too many bachelors in the area going about in groups of ten to twenty and living two and three to a cabin in the settlement. {20}

Eleven canneries were planned for the Fraser River in 1897, and the "Lee boys" of Wharnock bought shares in the most northerly one, paying for them by bringing piling and lumber for building and operating the cannery. The people in the settlement were from Trøndelag in Norway, and they were getting along well by 1899 but were still cutting down giant trees. One writer thought salmon fishing on the Fraser the most important occupation, but conceded that the soil was very fertile. He thought that, with a little capital, one could do quite well at farming. It was hard going with no money, but there was no evidence of real need or suffering among the settlers. Good land for sale at reasonable prices was available, some of it partially worked up and owned by people of British origin. Wharnock was visited by three steamers daily, and one could travel to New Westminster, 21 miles distant, and back [103] the same day at a cost of $1.00 for the round trip. Trains of the Canadian Pacific Railway also ran nearby. {21}

Washington-Posten reported the presence of some 40 Norwegians at Clayoquot Sound, on Vancouver Island, in 1897; others seemed on the verge of going into the province during the summer of that year to take land. Nils A. Norgaard, writing from Steveston, said he wouldn’t warn against the move, nor would he urge it, but he thought the Fraser River Valley generally a poor area to settle, because of floods that destroyed crops. There were many desirable places with good land free of floods; one was Clayoquot Sound, where the Norwegians appeared to be contented with their lot. He asked why immigrants should arrive one at a time and pay for land when they could organize a colony very simply. The trip from Victoria to the sound cost only $7.00, food and bed included, and was only 140 miles. He suggested that they get in touch there with Eduard Skunke from Trondhjem. {22}

G. A. Skugrud wrote to Amerika in the fall of 1900, saying that if any readers of the paper were planning to buy land on the west coast and settle on it, he wished them to know that a group was thinking of organizing a Scandinavian colony on Matzque Prairie at Mission Junction in British Columbia — a place known for its beauty. It was only a few miles from the boundary with Washington and 28 miles from the coast. There was a considerable amount of government land there that could be homesteaded and turned to good use for cattle raising. His brother-in-law, August Halvorson, whom he described as a pioneer among Norwegian settlers on the Pacific coast, lived with his family only two miles south of Mission Junction near a railroad; he would be happy to be of assistance to new settlers. An excursion left the first and third Tuesdays each month from the Twin Cities to Mission Junction. The cost was only $52 for the round trip, and tickets could be purchased from the Canadian Pacific agent, W. R. Calloway, in Minneapolis. {23} [104]

Thus the movement continued — with probings, reports, and a few arguments — well into the twentieth century, as individuals and small groups of immigrants found their way into British Columbia and accommodated themselves, as at Quatsino, to conditions quite unlike those of the Middle West.


<1> Martin Ulvestad, Nordmændene i Amerika: Deres historie og rekord, 1: 237 (Minneapolis, 1907). See also Kenneth O. Bjork, West of the Great Divide: Norwegian Migration to the Pacific Coast, 1847—1893, 630—632 (Northfield, Minnesota, 1958) and John Storseth, "Pioneering on the Pacific Coast," in Norwegian-American Studies and Records, 13:135 (Northfield, 1934).

<2> The present author has written an account of the beginnings at Bella Coola for volume 3 of Americana Norvegica, a series of publications initiated by the American Institute in Oslo. He will deal extensively with Norwegian settlement in the western United States and Canada after 1893 in a volume under preparation for the Norwegian-American Historical Association.

<3> Decorah-Posten (Decorah, Iowa) , December 20, 1894.

<4> Decorah-Posten, August 16, 1895.

<5> The correspondence with Baker is in Sessional Papers (Third Session, Seventh Parliament) of the Province of British Columbia. Session 1897, 765—776 (Victoria, 1897).

<6> Victoria Daily Colonist, January 1, 1896.

<7> Amorsen’s articles appeared in Tacoma Tidende (Washington), May 17, 1896.

<8> Sessional Papers (Second Session, Seventh Parliament) of the Province of British Columbia. Session 1896, 835, 1007—1008 (Victoria, 1896); Sessional Papers (Third Session, Seventh Parliament) of the Province of British Columbia. Session 1897, 765—776.

<9> Sessional Papers (Third Session, Seventh Parliament) of the Province of British Columbia. Session 1897, 765—776.

<10> Tacoma Tidende, February 13, 1897.

<11> Tacoma Tidende, April 17, 1897.

<12> Tacoma Tidende, May 27, 1897.

<13> Decorah-Posten, April 9, 1897.

<14> Tacoma Tidende. July 17, 1897.

<15> Sessional Papers (Fourth Session, Seventh Parliament) of the Province of British Columbia. Session 1898, 731—733, 1337 (Victoria, 1898).

<16> Sessional Papers (First Session, Eighth Parliament) of the Province of British Columbia. Session 1899, 1321 (Victoria, 1899).

<17> Decorah-Posten, June 12, 1908.

<18> Decorah-Posten, May 8, 1896.

<19> Skandinaven (Chicago), May 5, 1897; Washington-Posten (Seattle), February 17, 1899, September 21, 1900.

<20> Pacific Herald (Parkland, Washington), January 11, 1897; Skandinaven, February 3, 1897.

<21> Pacific Herold, March 1, 1897; Skandinaven, February 3, 1899.

<22> Washington-Posten, March 11, April 23, 1897.

<23> Amerika (Madison, Wisconsin), October 17. 1900.

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