“Here on these prairie plains I stay,
Wanting nevermore to stray,
The winter days will come once more,
And north winds whistle ’round the door.
For always in my heart I sing
The song of a wondrous prairie spring,
And the melody to me so dear,
Is only this – My home is here.”
– An excerpt from “My Home Is Here.” by Lydia Montallan of Carseland.
Originally published in the June 1947 issue of Canadian Cattleman, “My Home Is Here” appears alongside an article about Otelie Lund in “The Piegan Country”, a 1966 history of the Maleb area of S.E. Alberta. Natives of Norway, Ms. Lund (b. 1880) and her husband, Lars, settled in what was known as the Glen Banner district in 1909. The Lunds built a two-storey home in 1917, a local landmark which still stands to this day on a hilltop five miles north of present-day Orion (pictured).
The hardships were many for Ms. Lund. Widowed when she was 70, fifteen years later she was still feeding cattle, chopping wood, hauling coal, and living without electricity. A 1965 article in the Medicine Hat News celebrated her as a “living example of true pioneer spirit and courage”:
“Mrs. Lund, who did not have a family to raise, has not seen a relative since coming to this country in 1909. She had left behind in Norway a large family of sisters and brothers when she came with her new husband on the new venture. Perhaps all her dreams weren’t realized, but building a new life in a new country has brought many satisfactions to Mrs. Lund as she now looks back on it all and treasures each precious memory of old times, old days, old friends.”
Ms. Lund passed away ten years later at the age of 95.
“You’d like Manyberries if you ever came to visit. You might even fall in love with the place and decide to spend the rest of your life here. Nobody would ever address you as stranger because there are no strangers allowed in Manyberries. That is to say that people here are so friendly they see you as a potential friend the first time they meet you.” – Ron Wood, And God Created Manyberries
Since it’s early days, the community of Nemiskam has been spelled with both a “c” and a “k”, and both are considered correct, I guess. It would have saved us all a lot of trouble if they had stuck with the community’s original name: Bingen.
According to J. Derek McNaney in the 1975 local history, Shortgrass County, a group of German Russians escaping religious and political persecution settled just south of the present townsite, beginning in about 1911. Place Names reports the surrounding community was christened “Bingen” after a town in Germany, and by 1913 a post office of the same name had been established. Then in a patriotic (and somewhat ironic) twist, the growing community dispatched its Germanic namesake in 1916, adopting the less-threatening Nemiskam- a First Nations word meaning “between two valleys”.
Or was it Nemiscam?
A war of wording ensued, and the question of Nemiskam v. Nemiscam has remained unsettled for over a century, and it seems unlikely that a resolution is coming anytime soon. For one thing, all three levels of government would have to agree on a common spelling. The province and the federal government are on one side, generally spelling Nemiskam with a “K”. On the other hand, Nemiskam is located within the County of Forty Mile No. 8, and the local municipality routinely spells Nemiskam with a “c” on county maps, online and on signage around the county. Adding to the uncertainty is the C.P.R., who allegedly caused all of this confusion in the first place. A spin through Alberta Land Titles confirms that the original C.P.R. townsite survey plans spell Nemiskam with a “c”. However signage formerly located alongside the uprooted tracks of the abandoned C.P.R. Line heralded ones arrival in “Nemiskam”, not “Nemiscam”.
While we can remain hopeful that the Prime Minister, the Premier, and the Reeve of 40 Mile will put all pressing business aside to come to an agreement on the contentious issue, we may be waiting some time before the Nemiscam / Nemiskam Accord becomes a reality. In the meantime, whether you choose to spell it Nemiscam or Nemiskam, one thing remains certain: They should have stuck with Bingen.
The country north of the Cypress Hills was the site of some pioneer-era intrigue and excitement, courtesy of a religious sect called “the Dreamers”.
Dreamers were ethnic Germans originating from South Russia who came to Alberta from Java, South Dakota in the early 1900’s, settling in an area known as Josephsburg. The Dreamers considered themselves the “Gemeinde Gottes”, or literally translated “People of God” and were led by Jacob Merkel Jr., who was naturally the “Son of God” . An offshoot of the Adventist or Millerite movement, Dreamers believed that Saturday was the proper day for the Sabbath; that a second coming of Christ was imminent; and called anyone who didn’t belong to their sect “devils” and refused to shake hands with them .
However, their greatest distinguishing attribute was their tendency to interpret members’ dreams from the week previous; and their belief that if anyone of them had a dream that a certain devil should be punished or harmed, that one of the Dreamers would be designated to dole out punishment.
The Dreamers soon became a nightmare for Josephsburg settler, John S. Lehr. Having received several letters from the Dreamers previously, threatening to burn his home with his family inside , he awoke on April 11, 1908 at one in the morning to find his house aflame. He and his wife and four children escaped through a window, and upon seeing that part of the house’s foundation had been removed, and gasoline inserted under the floor, he called upon the Royal North West Mounted Police (RNWMP) to investigate. Hence began what was perhaps one of the most bizarre criminal cases in early southeastern Alberta history
Following the arrival of rail in 1915, a townsite sprung up at Pakowki, about eight miles east of Etzikom along Highway 61. Pakowki, which is pronounced “Pa-coke-ee” by the locals, roughly translated from Blackfoot means “bad water”, a reference to nearby Pakowki Lake. For a brief period, the settlement at Pakowki included a hotel and livery, two (possibly three) elevators, and the ubiquitous lumber company. The Ghost Town Journal states this bona fide ghostly burg was also home to a Chinese restaurant, machine shop, machinery agent, and two general stores, during its heyday.
However, Pakowki’s heyday was short-lived, as residents and merchants migrated east with the railway the following year, and the townsite dispersed to Orion and Manyberries. According to Orion icon, Boyd Stevens, farmers continued to haul wheat to the siding for a time, dumping on the ground until it could be loaded into boxcars and shipped. In later years, Stevens said Community Auction Sales operated a stockyard at Pakowki, the remains of which are all that is left of the community today.
Chronicling the pioneer-era people and places of the southern Alberta drybelt since 2009. Alberta Heritage Resources Foundation Heritage Awareness Award recipient.