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Kimberley Families

The Backstrom Family

as told by Clarence

Mr. Backstrom's father was born in Sweden and immigrated to New Britian, Connecticut, where he stayed for two years before moving on to a farm in Western Kansas. Here he met Elizabeth Johnson, also from Sweden, whom he married in 1897.

They heard a land agent from Canada promoting homesteads in the North West Territories. Mr. Backstrom had a brother in Wetaskiwin, so they decided to go to Canada in 1898. Their homestead was 60 miles south of Edmonton, and 25 miles east of Wetaskiwin and it was necessary to ford the Battle River twice to get there. On an old homestead they tore down a log cabin, log by log, and moved it to their place. It had a sod roof and the story is told that one .day's rain outside meant two day's rain inside. Another hardship was the hoards of mosquitoes.

Clarence Backstrom was born in this log cabin in 1904, a year before this part of the North West Territories became the Province of Alberta. His father was the first Post Master in this area, and the Post Office was in his home. He was also Registrar of Vital Statistics in those early years. Three acres of his homestead were used for a school and was known as the Kensiagton District. A church was built on another corner of his property later on. In 1911, the Grand Trunk Railway was built just two miles east of the homestead and the Post Office was moved to New Norway.

Clarence is the fourth of seven children, he has five sisters and one brother. He was raised on the farm and managed to gain enough experience on steam engines to get his steam engineer's papers.

Clarence had an uncle, Pont Johnson, working for the company in Kimberley as master mechanic for the mine, and Clarence arrived in September 1924. Kimberley in the 20's was a town of single men. They had what was known as "30 day" miners, who would come in, work for a month, and move on.

Clarence recalls getting off the train at Cranbrook looking for transportation to Kimberley. He had two choices; a seven passenger car driven by Bob McDonald and Hedley MacLeod for one dollar, or a conveyance that at one time must have been a hearse. Entrance to this vehicle was gained by crawling in, and sitting on a plank for a seat, but the fare was only 75 cents. He and his partner took this conveyance that was driven by a Mrs. Brown.

He recalls the old road out of Cranbrook, past the old hospital and along the creek, and the long winding road down to the low-level bridge at St. Marys River and up the steep grade on the other side. The story goes that Mr. Baragon had purchased a new Graham Paige car and on going down this particular hill the brakes failed and he found himself with his new car, in the middle of the St. Marys River. The stages stopped at the bustling lumber town of Wycliffe and Marysville, then went on through Taylor's Mill to Kimberley.

Clarence's first job was firing the boilers at the Townsite steam plant that serviced the hospital and bunkhouses. In 1926 he was transferred to the Tunnel Machine Shop.

In 1948 he was promoted to Supervisor of the underground Mechanical Department and worked there until ill health forced him to retire in 1967. He was active on Mine Rescue and First Aid teams for twelve years.

He married a nurse, Hildur Bjorkgren, whose family also had lived in the Wetaskiwin area. She had trained as a nurse in Edmonton and was a Public Health nurse in Seattle for a time. They were married in September 1931 and have three children; Louise, who trained as a nurse at Vancouver General Hospital, is married and has three children and lives in Coquitlam. She is a health nurse for the B.C. Telephone Co. David is an architect, working for the Vancouver Parks Board. Betty Ann lives in Spokane, is married with two children. Her husband is Superintendent of Parks in that City.

Clarence became interested in politics in the 1920's and has been active in that field ever since. First with the Conservative Party, although Kimberley at that time was considered a Liberal town. Later he joined the Social Credit Party and acted as President for the local group for four years. In 1977 he was elected Director for Region Six on the Social Credit Provincial Board.

He is a Charter Member of the Kimberley Lions Club, joining it when the Club was formed in Kimberley in 1948. He was appointed Vice- President of the Kimberley Branch of the B.C. Heart Foundation in 1977 and President in May 1978. He has also been President of the Cranbrook-Kimberley Chamber of Mines. Having been involved in mining and prospecting for so many years, it was quite easy for Clarence to become a rock hound and he owns a well equipped rock shop.

Clarence joined the 8th Field Battery Company of the Kootenay Artillery Brigade in 1937. During the war he was C.O. of Company A, Rocky Mountain Rangers and retired in 1946 with the rank of Captain.

The Backstroms enjoy travelling and have spent time in Arizona and the southern States. The entire family love skiing and often Christmas time finds the family together again when they all come home for the holiday. They are another couple that love Kimberley and would not want to move anywhere else.

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