In loving memory of Bertil Hellman

(1910 - 2005)

Obituary      Bertil's Life Story


Bertil Hellman, age 95, of Saskatoon, Sk., passed away peacefully at City Hospital on November 24, 2005. Bertil was born on February 28, 1910 in Nordmaling, Sweden. In 1928 he immigrated with his aunt and uncle, Alinda and Erik Abramsson/Sundstrom and they farmed on the town line, three miles west of Canwood.

Bertil married Violet Nordstrom on October 19, 1943. They remained on the farm until 1963 when the family moved to Saskatoon, where Bertil resided for the past 42 years.

Bertil will be sadly missed by his daughters: Norma (Kurt) Tischler and their children Karl, Neil (Claudia) and Kristine and grandson Finn; Donna (David) Little and their children David Michael (Melodee), Ian (Deann), Shawn (Christine) and Paul (Lisa) and great grandchildren Caleb, Daecy, Josiah, Jayden, Chelsea, Duncan and Eden; and Beverly Hellman and daughters Erika Faith and Anita Grace.

Bertil will be lovingly remembered by his sister, Maria Naslund of Sweden, and numerous nieces, nephews and family members.

Bertil’s wife passed away in 1998 and he moved to Elim Lodge where he enjoyed the friendships and activities there. One year ago Bertil traveled to the USA to celebrate American Thanksgiving with his brother, Henry Hellman, and many relatives.

Bertil was predeceased by his wife, Violet, parents, Karl and Mathilda (Karlsson) Hellman, brothers and sisters-in-law Arne ( Nancy), Sven (Jenny), Holdo (Mildred) Olaf (Haroldine), Walter (Vivian), Henry (Isabel), Conrad and Harry (Lisbeth) and brother-in-law Per Naslund.

The Hellman family would like to extend their gratitude to the staff of Saskatoon City Hospital and Prairie Spring Care Homes.

In lieu of flowers, please make a donation to a charity of your choice or a donation can be made to Elim Lodge, in memory of Bertil Hellman.


Bertil & his grandchildren, taken on his 95th birthday.
Clockwise from left - Erika Faith, Anita Grace, Paul Little, Ian Little, David Michael Little, Kristine Tischler, Shawn Little, Bertil Hellman, Karl Tischler. (missing Neil Tischler)






Family photo circa 1946
Clockwise from left - Violet (Nordstrom) holding baby Donna, Karl Hellman, Norma, Bertil, Tilda



Bertil & his Dad - Saskatoon Sask Nov 6/46

Bertil's life story

Nils Bertil Emmanuel Hellman was born on Feb. 28, 1910 at Stovsjöholm Nordmaling, Sweden. He was the third son of Karl Hellman and Klara Mathilda (Tilda) Karlsson.

Karl Hellman’s family lived in Nordsjö on land that had belonged to his father Abel. He built his home, Väkarås – which means beautiful ridge – the year he married Tilda. His farm included a house, barn, shed, and storage place on stilts, as well as a vegetable garden and an apple orchard. Karl raised cows, horses, pigs, and sheep.

Karl, his brother Olof, and his brother-in-law Erik Abramsson had another farm for a few years on which they cut logs and threshed their barley. This hemman was not far from Abel’s place and had a barn and stable. The men would work there during the day and return home at night. Bertil remembered the big cranks of the horse-drawn threshing machine and recalled his father handling grain. Erik also made wooden charcoal out of small timbers and Bertil would help him buy burning the wood very slowly. Other timber from the land was rolled to the river. Once the ice melted in the spring it went to the mill by Olofsfors and another river.

Bertil recalled quite a bit of visiting between Väkarås and Sunnansjö, Erik Abramsson’s farm. In the winter they would travel by sleigh across the forest. It took about an hour and a half to travel from one house to the other. He also remembered his Grandmother Hellman (Maria Jonsdotter) smoking a pipe on the recommendation of her doctor.

In 1914 or 1915 Karl Hellman’s family and Erik and Alinda Abramsson were traveling home together, perhaps after a funeral. It was winter and they were in sleighs. At the fork in the road, where roads turned to Sunnansjö or Väkarås, the Abramssons asked who wanted to go home with them. Bertil’s two older brothers Arne and Sven did not volunteer. Holdo, Victor and perhaps Olof were babies, so Bertil said he would go. He was four or five-years old. Though he thought this was just a visit, he later described it as “the crossroads of my life.” He never returned to live with his family.

Later, after visiting his family at Väkarås, Bertil was asked why he had wanted to continue living with his aunt and uncle. He said it was because there he could be alone and that they had offered him a jack knife. He explained that since he had two older brothers, they always got to use the knife first. By the time it was his turn, it was time to go home. “I felt at the tail of things,” Bertil explained. “So for the promise of a jack knife I made a choice which made a big difference in my life.”

During his time in Sunnansjö with his uncle and aunt, Bertil said they “had it very nice.” Erik got the farm home from his parents and built a white house around the time of his marriage to Alinda. Erik also built a barn at Sunnansjö with bricks made by the river where water and gravel were plentiful. Erik hired a man to help who was so strong he could work faster then the cement mixer – if he was well fed. A stable was built beside the barn to house the horses and cows.

Alinda and Erik ran the post office and telephone exchange. They also had a guest room for travelers and accommodation for a horse and carriage. Many traveled by horse at that time, often to Olofsfors. Mail went out the mornings to the railroad station and was sorted on the train. In the afternoon the mailman would deliver mail from the train. This afternoon load was always larger than the morning one – it had mail-order catalogues, newspapers, packets and personal letters. People in the village did not have mailboxes, but would come to the house to pick up mail after it had been sorted. Even when Bertil was quite small he helped open the mail bags which were tied with strong string secured with a lead seal. The seals were cut off and thrown into a box and later sent to the district main post office. Alinda and Erik had a kind of punch or plyer to seal with the post office sign the mail bags they sent out.

A single telephone line came from across the lake. The ten-line telephone exchange was not too much work for Alinda. The phone did not often ring as not many homes had telephones. There was a phone in the guestroom and people would pay to use it. Bertil would sometimes pick up the phone and listen for the person to say whom they were calling. He would then switch them over and leave. He was not allowed to talk. Even as a adult Bertil said he would pick up a phone and just want to listen, not talk.

A call would come when travelers were on their way and needed to change horses. This call would give enough time to get the next horse and carriage ready. Travelers would stop over at their home and the men would have beer or ale to drink. The woman may have had coffee.

Alinda was always busy; she was organized, determined person. She would wake early and spin wool, comb flax or weave. She had learned a lot about weaving from Axel’s first wife Ida (Alinda’s sister-in-law). Later, in Canada, she had book entitled ‘Hemfärgning med Vaxtämnen’, c. 1920 about using vegetable dyes on cloth.

In order to make linen they would leave the flax in a swamp for about three weeks during the summer. The green part of the stems rotted off and what remained was hung on wooden fences. Later it was broken up and the fiber came away clean. Alinda would buy long strands of yarn for the base for weaving and then attach the other, shorted pieces that she had made herself. She did beautiful work of which she was proud. But almost all of it was lost in 1927.

There was a little lake nearby, with a boat on the lake. They used to go fishing for little white fish and perch. Bertil thought he had a bad experience in the water when he was little because he never learned to swim and was somewhat scared in the water. Once he tied his boat to a pole in the water, but chain sunk so he could not get it out. He was stuck out on the lake and had to holler until someone came to rescue him.

In the village of Sunnansjö there was a grocery store and a small school with one teacher, Signe Åhlberg who was from Umea. Bertil attended school for six years in Sunnansjö. His closest friends and neighbours were Holger Hortell, son of Gustav Hortell, and Harry Granström. Harry had “a good left” and during a boxing match in the barn, Harry broke Bertil’s nose.

Bertil’s Uncle Gustav had a German-made car in the early 1920s which he sold to Erik. Erik did not know how to drive, but he talked his brother-in-law into going to a drivers’ school and then used the car like a taxi since it was the only car in Sunnansjö. Rubber was wartime quality though and they would have a lot of trouble with the tires – like two blowouts on a half-day (50 mile) trip.

Later Erik got a Model T Ford with adjustable, levered windows. It was grey – a colour Bertil said Henry Ford did not approve of since he wanted all his cars to be black. When he was about 14-years old, Bertil learned to drive the Model T and operate the three floor pedals and gears. Bertil also remembered that Erik began drinking after he began business with the Model T.

Alinda was worried about her husband’s business deals. Erik got involved with the company store at Olofsfors. At that time many workers bought on credit from the company store. The storekeeper, a new agent, drank with Erik and proposed that Erik could buy outstanding accounts from his clients and then collect on them. Erik agreed and bought the accounts at 30 or 40 per cent of their value. He thought he could talk people into paying off their credit. But because of this deal he became guarantor for the store and when it later went bankrupt, he was one of those held financially responsible.

Erik was a middleman in a deal with a buyer from England in which he would provide telephone poles of up to 50 feet from good timber. One of the specifications of the contract was that knots in the pealed wood not be too close together. Erik did not know his lumber was poor and one third of it was rejected. He was also tricked with the delivery of the logs and many were left lying in the water.

For 250,000 Kr Erik had mortgaged the farm, the forest on the hill behind his property, the land and the house. He made cheques out to those he contracted, but not for the full amount owed. Some people did not cash their cheques immediately and when they tried, the bank withheld payment. All of Erik’s assets were frozen. Lawyers got involved.

In the summer of 1927, Erik went to Umea and bought among other things a grey suit. On July 16 he faked his own suicide in the river north of Umea, near Lovanger. He left his clothes and car on the shore. He fled to Norway and then traveled to Canada on a Norwegian passport.

Police became suspicious when there were rumours that he had been seen. They encouraged Alinda to lay charges against her husband, but she would not. They suggested she knew more than she was saying. This was a very trying time for her since she knew nothing of her husbands whereabouts, nor what he had done, but others did not believe this.

Because of her husband’s debts, the courts took most of what Alinda owned. Bertil asked that he be allowed to farm the land but since he was only 17, he was deemed too young in eyes of the law. It was haying time. The hired girl and Erik’s brother-in-law, Karl Sandberg helped. After harvest the girl had to be let go.

One day Bertil and Alinda returned home to find people appraising all the linen, furniture and silver. All the machinery was also marked for sale. The courts allowed Alinda and Bertil to keep only one plate each, a table, a few chairs and two beds. Bertil had one horse; Alinda kept one cow and a calf. She was able to hold on to the post office.

Erik arrived in Canada with about $5,000. Immigration helped him find a job on the railroad, working out of Winnipeg, Manitoba. He worked on the tracks west of Shellbrook for $5.00 a day – which was good money at the time.

Alinda had no word from him until she received an unsigned postcard of Halifax from Winnipeg before Christmas in 1927. She recognized her husband’s handwriting. Erik had assumed she would find the postcard since she ran the post office. Later he sent for her to come join him in Canwood, Saskatchewan.

A few Hellmans were at the train station in Umea to say good-bye to Alinda and Bertil in June of 1928. They traveled to Oslo, where they boarded the Norwegian boat, the S.S. Stavangerfjord, on June 22. They docked in Halifax and traveled by train for a week to Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. They arrived on the 4 of July. From Prince Albert, they took another train to Canwood where Erik met them at the station. He was now using the last name Sundstrom.

About three miles from the village of Canwood, Erik had purchased a quarter section of land from August Haldeen and another from Mr. Wideen. There was a house and a barn on the Wideen property, but the land was full of weeds. He bought seeds and paid someone to break the land, much of which was heavily wooded with poplar trees. Bertil said they had “poor luck” in their first year since they did not know how to farm in Canada. The one crop they successfully managed was potatoes.

Bertil had brought some money from Sweden – approximately $500.00 from the wages for the six months he had worked on Erik’s estate. Up until the “crash” of 1929, wages were pretty good if work could be found. Bertil earned $5 a day for threshing and $2 for a day of working a stock team and wagon.

Later, during the depression, men would work for room and board only. The government had make-work projects. In the Canwood area a 12-mile stretch of road was built by men using wheelbarrows.

Bertil and Erik built a barn with logs from Kell Lake. They cut and dovetailed the logs to make a large barn with six stalls for horses and a pig. The first year they had only a straw roof. They were teased for starting something they could not finish, but the next year they made shingles from jack pine left over from railroad tines. Alinda kept cows and did so until her death in 1953.

With the depression came the “Dirty Thirties”. Life was a difficult struggle for everyone. In Canwood there was not the severe drought as in other parts of North America, but the winters were bitterly cold.

Canwood’s sidewalks were made of wooden planks and lit with gas lanterns – one on each corner of the block. Caretakers took them to the firehall every day to fill them for the night’s use. The first fire-fighting equipment was a two-wheel extinguisher. In the winter, wheels were replaced with runners. The fire bell was in the middle of town and the bell rang, which was quite often in the winter, the volunteer fire brigade rushed out to put out what was usually a chimney fire.

Drinking water was hauled into the town and farms by the water wagon from a well in the pine forest. The Sundstroms had a shallow well on their land, but the water was alkaline. They caught as much rainwater as possible and had better water hauled in from the farm. Later they built a cistern.

Erik had his first stroke in autumn of 1938 or 1939. The Canwood area nurse, Anna Lidstrom, tried to encourage Erik to be as active as possible, but he was not interested. He never walked on his own after the stroke. He was bedridden until his death in 1943.

Bertil was never officially adopted, which gave him a sense of insecurity. Erik passed away on September 2, 1943. On October 19 of that same year, Bertil married Violet Nordstrom. Norma Maria was born two years later, Donna Lou Mae in 1946 and Beverly Ann in 1948.

Alinda was strong and healthy and lived in her own home until she died of cancer on January 10, 1955. She was 75. Both she and Erik were buried in the Canwood cemetery, where Bertil and his wife Violet would also be buried many years later.

After living on the farm for 35 years, Bertil sold the farm in 1963 and moved with his wife and daughters to Saskatoon. They bought a house where he and Violet lived until Violet passed away in 1998. After her death, Bertil moved to Elim Lodge, next to the church he had attended for years. He spent seven happy years at Elim Lodge, where he was active in Lodge and church activities. He passed away at Saskatoon City Hospital in November of 2005.

If you would like to contribute text or photos to this page, please contact Anita Grace.