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A NORSE WEDDING IN MANITOBA
by Canon E.A. Wharton Gill
As I was picking the peas for dinner the other day in my kitchen garden in the Manitoba village that I call "home", my little son came to tell me that I was wanted -
- "There are two Swedes in the study, Dad, and one of . them looks like a wedding."
On going in I found the two Swedes, one a young fellow whom I had often seen working in the village as a carpenter, and the other an older man - a broad shouldered, deep chested Dane - known far and wide from his long residence and from his political influence in the Scandinavian Colony, as the "King of Sweden". I had often heard of his leading characteristics, - a great love of political scheming and of the often opportunities for spirituous refreshment that form a great feature of Western politics, as elsewhere.
"We have no Swedish minister in the Colony now, and we should be glad if the 'Herr Prest' would come up for a wedding next Wednesday?" This, put interrogatively, was my invitation to the wedding, given by the prospective bridegroom, and it was an invitation not to be declined, for Manitoba parsons are always apostolical in their poverty, so that five or ten dollars coming in cidentally by way of a wedding fee are not to be despised.
When I had arranged with my visitors the hour at which I was to be at their church in the Colony - 11 a.m. had reminded the man so soon to be made happy or otherwise not to forget to buy a marriage license and to provide a ring - he, the bridegroom elect, produced a roll of five dollar bills from his pocket, and with some dif fidence at mentioning such an unspiritual detail to the "prest" - "What shall I give the Herr Prest for coming up to the Colony?"
Now I shall never learn wisdom - besides which I have a deep sense of the uncertainty of matrimony, both before and after the event. I hesitated and half suggested that we had best leave that question till the happy day came. The "King" had the decision which I lacked.
"Yes, Neil, leave that to me - I have a little job (he called it a 'yob') that I want the Herr Prest to do for me when he is up there and I will settle for it altogether."
So we decided, though Neil looked a little doubtful of my wisdom and a little sorry for me as he put his money back in his pocket. With a second hand shaking, and much bowing, for the Scandinavians are a most polite people, they backed out of my little study.
Next Wednesday I was up, bright and early, and had my horse fed, and myself, by seven o'clock, for I had a long drive of twenty miles before me and we were in the middle of a hot spell of weather -- and hot spells in the middle of July in Manitoba are hot. Vixen is hitched up to the old buckboard, my black bag strapped on behind; a slap to my right hand pocket - my pipe, to my left - my pouch, a thumb in my vest - matches, and we are off.
Down the main street of the town, where a few leisurely clerks are sweeping out the stores and opening for the business of the day, over the open railway crossing where the sectionmen are just at work, round by the flour mill, and we are out in the country and our trail runs by the river bank. A long line of ascending, steaming
vapour marks the course of the stream far up the valley, the grass and bushes by the roadside are as wet as after a heavy rain, the glorious clusters of wild roses on the river bank glisten in a sweet scented loveliness of ruddy pink and dew drops. In a mile we come to the bridge crossing the river and Vixen's trot slows down to a walk for she is a little shy of the running, rustling water as it shines through the openings of the rough planking of the bridge. It is holiday time and early as it is, a laughing party of school girls is on the bridge, hats and hair decked with gaudy lilies and twining honeysuckle; they look as fresh and sweet as the flowers for they have discovered round the bend of the river a secluded spot of sylvan loveliness where Diana might have disported herself; there they have been for their morning bath.
After crossing the bridge my trail turns away from the river and a long but not steep hill leads out of the valley, and now we are on the regular road to the Colony. For twelve miles our way lies through a prosperous and well settled district of rolling prairie land, every half mile or so on either hand, a house and farm buildings mark a home. Here the settlers came in some twenty years ago from Ontario and the Old Country and took up homesteads on government land. Some of them are still living in the little log houses they first put up, but many of them have large stables and barns and in some cases the log house has been replaced by a handsome dwelling of stone or brick.
At the end of the twelve miles there is a great change.
The open prairie ends and we enter what a few years back was solid bush. The road has been cut through the woods and is still very rough and full of rotted roots and stumps. Not only has the scenery changed, but you are soon conscious of a change in the whole character of the settlement. In the prairie country every farmstead had some touch that spoke of the homeland, and every man or boy who greeted you as you drove by did so in the familiar accents of our English tongue; but the very first opening in the woods showed that we were among another people. We were in the land of the Norsemen the sailor, the fisherman, the wood cutter and the peasant of Norway and Sweden had brought here the life and spirit of the land of the fells and the fiords, and were shaping out a new Scandinavia in the land of their adoption. Few of them had more than an acre or two cleared round their houses, but it was always neatly and tastefully fenced. Their log houses had an air of their own, entirely different to the log house of the English man of the Canadian. Here were wide-spreading eaves, quaint little windows in the roof, rustic porches with trailing vines, seats on the shady side of the house made from the spruce or the tamarac. The lake and wood land, that seemed too rough and broken for the Canadian who wanted to grow prosaic wheat, appealed to the memory and imagination of the impulsive Scanadinavian, who loved to see, in the new land, the new home, a scenery that spoke to him of the old home of his people.
Though I had passed many homesteads and had penetrated some seven miles into the woods, so far I had not seen man, woman or child, - the stillness of the forest was unbroken save by the rough melody of a distant cow bell or the harsh scream of a blue jay as it darted through the woods. Where were the people of these fairy