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Alvena, Saskatchewan Genealogy and Homestead History

This web page was first mounted on March 3, 2011 by Sheila Schmutz. sheila.schmutz@usask.ca and last updated on February 18, 2013. This is a work in progress and any additions or corrections are welcome!


This webpage focuses on a few families that homesteaded within a few miles/km of Alvena, Saskatchewan. (An associated webpage focuses on the settlement of nearby Fish Creek.) The village of Alvena is located about 30 minutes drive NE of Saskatoon along Highway 41 by today's automobile standards, but was a much longer drive back then by horse and wagon. Furthermore the settlers were more likely to go to Prince Albert, as the closest major town with a Dominion Land Office, than to Saskatoon. There was a large immigration house in Rosthern, where it is believed many of the Ukrainian immigrants were sent out from. A very comprehensive overview of the "Saskatchewan Settlement Experience" has been prepared by the Saskatchewan Archives Board staff.

The map from 1924 at the left is from the collection of maps at Saskatchewan Wheat Pool 60 Years 1927-1984. Alvena was in their district 13, sub-district 5. Elevators are shown as red symbols, located along the railway lines. Alvena did not have an elevator. It was the last stop on a "feeder line", with the closest elevator on that rail line in Wakaw to the northeast. The elevator in Cudworth to the east, could be reached by horse and wagon.

The Alvena area was first settled around 1887, according to the Saskatchewan GenWeb project. They have placed Alvena in the Saskatoon Region 8 in their system. There was a post office in Alvena since 1887.

The Honorable Ed Tchorzewski apparently gave a speech at the Alvena Homecoming on July 27, 1980 and in Memories- Alvena District, a book prepared in relation to this event, he states that a large group of homesteaders came in June, 1898. He further states that they were the second large group of Ukrainian settlers in Saskatchewan and became known as the Fish Creek Colony. Many had signed up to go to Manitoba or Edmonton where relatives had already settled and were surprised to hear they were instead going to Fish Creek R.M. However, most stayed. In mid-June of that year a killing frost hit and destroyed the gardens that they had planted.

Alvena has been in the Rural Municipality of Fish Creek, No. 402 since before it was formed on February 28, 1913. The administrative office of this R.M. is in Wakaw. Prior to the R.M.'s establishment there was a Local Improvement District which was formed on July 15, 1907. Alvena did not become a village until 1936.

There was also a place known as Alvena Farms (22-41-1-W3) which does not exist now, except for the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I am not sure if there ever was more there than this church. Anyone with information about this, please email me.

A commemorative memorial to the early settlers of Fish Creek is located one mile south of Hwy 312 on the "correction line road" near the St. Julien church.

Churches, Monastery, and Cemeteries

Why so many churches, so close together? Travelling was more difficult 100 years ago. In addition to three different types of religion, Roman Catholic, Ukranian Catholic and Ukrainian Orthodox, there were different languages. Although the Roman Catholic mass was conducted in Latin, sermons and confession were conducted in other languages such as French, Polish, and Ukrainian. The church was a central gathering place in these communities.

The first church services in the surrounding area apparently occurred in Fort Carlton in 1838. Roman Catholic missionaries served the people of the area beginning in 1870 (Lavigne 1990).

The first church in the RM of Fish Creek was part of the Métis settlement along the South Saskatchewan river, 3 miles north of the site of the Battle of Fish Creek. It is often referred to as the Fish Creek Church. It was a Roman Catholic church, built in 1901. Prior to that, settlers went to the Catholic Church in Batoche which had been built in 1883, for marriages and christenings and funerals. Father Brueck who was responsible for St. Patrick Orphanage in Prince Albert was sent to Fish Creek to set up the mission (Lavigne 1990). Father Theodore Krist became the first resident priest. He had River Lot 12 in Township 42A. This first church was dedicated to the Immaculate Conception on December 8, 1901. This church was burnt in 1920 and a new church built there following a plan similar to the original church. In 1954 the parish became a mission of Alvena and the church was closed in 1957 (Lavigne 1990). In 1973 the land and church was sold to Joe & Olga Bazowski. He planted wheat right up to the church in the hopes of preventing vandalism. Although abandoned, it still stands on private land. It is still owned by Olga Bazowski in 2011. An associated cemetery is located about 0.5 miles east of the church, now across the road. About 85 graves are still identifiable in this cemetery, although 18 of these do not bear a legible name. Any help identifying the persons buried in the unmarked graves is appreciated.

Terry Hoknes has also taken a video of this cemetery and it is posted on YouTube. Most of the graves are shown.

is located in St. Julien (SW 20-42-28-W2, on the "correction line" road, about 1 mile south of the current HWY 312. Five acres of land for the church and original cemetery was donated by Michalo Lysak from his quarter. The original church was used from 1903-1912 and the minister was Hryhory Pihach. The "new" church in the SE quarter was built in 1913 on 5 acres of land donated by Dmytro Michayluk and has been used to the present day. This Catholic church has its roots in Russian Orthodoxy. Iwan Bodnarchuk donated 5 acres for the cemetery. The first person buired in the original cemetery was Dokia Budzak in 1902, then 85 years old. It is about a half mile west of the current church and its adjacent cemetery. Terry Hoknes has taken a video of this cemetery and the original cemetery.

The first baptism was Wasyl Bukurak born 14 Jan 1904 to Elko and Anna Bukurak who settled in 1897. The first wedding was on 4 Feb 1904: Michalo Burdego to Paraska Zaleschuk. An excellent booklet "Commemorating Pioneers of the First Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Church of St. Julien, Sask." written by Andrew Hawrish in 1967 is available at the Saskatchewan Archives.

There is also another church about 1.5 miles east, on the north side of Hwy 312 (SW 28-42-28-W3), called the "Independent Greek Church of Canada" which operated from 1907 to 1915. A nearby cemetery is still in use. Terry Hoknes has taken a video of this cemetery in June 2011 and it is posted on YouTube. The location is sometimes called "Snaityn".

The Holy Trinity Ukrainian Catholic Church is located on the northern edge of the RM of Fish Creek on NW 18-43-27-W2. It is often called the Sokal church. The first church was built earlier. The second church which now stands was built in 1943 on land donated by Fedir Rawlyk. The land for the cemetery was donated by Phillip Mamchur. There were about 130 marked graves when Walter Pustey transcribed this cemetery in September 2004 for his book on this subject.

A Basilian Monastery existed in Alvena from 1902-1905 1.5 miles south of the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Thereafter the fathers moved to Alberta (Hawrish 1967). The orignial cemetery for the parish was on the monastery grounds. The monastery burnt, so is no longer there. The "new" parish cemetery is at the church grounds in Alvena Farms.

The Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is located 4 miles northwest of Alvena in Rural Municipality of Fish Creek (402) (NW 22-41-1-W3). The current church, called St. Mary's, was constructed from 1923 to 1925, but the original log church was built in 1905. It is a Ukrainian Catholic parish. "The founding members of the Alvena Farms parish were: N. (Nicola?) Chyzyk, T. (Tymko?) Kozak, D. (Dmytro?) Skakun, A. Hawryschuk, I. (John?) Kinash and S. (Stefan?) Yuzek." Mass is now held there only once a year by the pastor in Cudworth. An "old" and a "new" cemetery are associated with this church.

The Laniwci Church of the Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ is located 8 miles west of Alvena, in the R.M. of Aberdeen (373). The original log and clay church was built in 1906. It was converted to the parish hall in 1916, when a new church was built. Unfortunately the original chuch was later dismantled. This 1916 church was struck by lightning on August 16, 1964 and burnt to the ground. The current church was built in 1965. The parish cemetery is 1.5 miles east of the church. This is a Ukrainian Catholic parish. The list of parish founders was: S. Lozinsky, N. Lozinsky, P. Zary, Michal Slywka, H. Stadnyk, Petro Stadnyk, Prokop Bazowsky, N. Owchar, Semko or Stefan Remenda, K. Halabura, Safat or Semko Korpan, Ivan Korpan, Mychal Korpan, F. Scherban, D. Moysiuk, Hr. Moysiuk, Ya. Wozniak, Olena Wasylciw, Mykh. Wasylciw, R. Fedoriw, M. Schyglovsky, A. Bankowy, Olekso Wizniuk, M. Swidzinsky, P. Kurmey, Y. Sikorski, Y. Kisil, II. Gabruch, N. Parchewsky, Y. Michasiw, Ilko Hnatiw, 01. Hnatiw, Oleksa Kondra, Fed. Yurkiw, Vas. Holubetz, Yo. Hrytzak (Jozyyf Hrycak), II. Stasiuk and Nick E. Dziadyk. (italicized names have homestead files Several men with the same last names also have homestead files, but not that first initial) "In 1902 these founding members purchased a 160 acre site which was fully paid for by 1908; part of the site was used for the church, various parish buildings and the cemetery, while the remainder was cultivated and provided revenue for the maintenance of the church." This church is under the parish of Vonda now. Persons buried in the church cemetery as of 2006 have been recorded by Carrie Eirene Stevenson. There is also a historical webpage about this church.

The Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ Church was built in 1904 in what became the hamlet of Carpenter, also called Hory. It is a Ukrainian Catholic parish. It was located on a hilly piece of land donated by Antin Sawitsky which was how the Ukrainian name of Hory originated. "The founding members of this parish were: Antin Sawitsky, Tymko Bureny, Ivan Yanciw, Tymofry Baraniecki, Hryhor Kormysh, Mykhaylo Kotelko, Oleksa Kotelko, Andriy Bambukh, Ilko Mantyka, Matiy Sawitsky, Lesiw, Wasyliw, and Danylo Sawitsky." This church is of log construction. The church closed in 1967, although it is well maintained to this day.

The cemetery has at least 100 graves and some are very recent. Most of the inscriptions on the tombstones are in cyrillic.

St. Stanislaw Church was a Catholic Church that was built in 1903. It remained active until about 1920 according to the Centennial Map. A new church was built nearby in 1933 and remained active until 1960. There is no evidence of this church today, but a small cemetery is still present on NW 8-41-27-W2 which is kitty corner to the church site. Some of the diocese records for 1901-1906 refer to this cemetery as the "Kotlar cemetery". This was likely because Joseph Kotlar owned NE 18-41-27-W2 where St. Stanislaw Church was built. He entered that quarter in 1901 and patented it in 1908, so probably donated a portion of it for the original church.

All the tombstones in this small cemetery were photographed in August 2011 and are available on FindAGrave.

St. Demetrius Ukrainian Catholic Church was built in Alvena village in 1910 and was active to 1947 according to the Centennial Map. It is shown at the right. There is an associated cemetery on SW 2-41-28 W3. Tombstone transcriptions for about 40 graves are indexed in the Saskatchewan Genealogical Society burial index, accessible only to members with the value-added package.

A new church was built about 6 miles to the southeast in 1948 and remained active until 1964.

The Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church cemetery is about 3 miles SW of Alvena. The Centennial map suggests the church was built in 1905, and that the parish remained active there until 1953. There is no evidence of that church now, in 2011. However, the cemetery is still there and well maintained. A new church was built within the village of Alvena in 1928 (Levigne 1990).

By 1990, there was no resident priest, but the priest from Wakaw held services in Alvena. Now the church, shown at the right, is closed. (Photos Joe Schmutz April 2011)

This was at the request of Polish settlers in the area. A letter by the original applicants, written June 12, 1922, is contained in "Kaliedoscope......" on p. 204. The names of the persons who signed are listed below. The letter states that there were 38 families and over 150 persons.

  • A. Guzock
  • Jakub Matkowski
  • Marcin Oleskiw +
  • Nyk Ganchar +
  • Ignaci Ganscsar (Ganozar) +
  • A. (Antoni) Matushewski +
  • N. Deptuch
  • M. Niedlski
  • Rudolf Medziolski
  • J. Juskowski
  • M. J. Michalkow
  • M.S. C. Wawryk
  • Antoni Buczynski
  • Frank Rozdolka (X)
  • Stefan Wawryk (X) +
  • Mary Mishalkiw (X)
  • T. Oleskiw (Theodor) +
  • M. Karwacki (Mikolaj) +
  • Jozyf Rumianski (X)
  • Antoni Tchorzewski (X)
  • Jan Michalkow (John) +
  • N. Luyszyn (Nykola Lucyshyn) +
  • A. Raczynski

The tombstones in this cemetery date from 1907 to 2010. We have also submitted a transcritpion of all of the tombstones and photos of several of them to Find A Grave . Several of the names on the list above, indicated by a +, are also on tombstones in this cemetery.

Many of the early deaths in the cemeteries in the region occurred in 1918 or 1919, the years that the Spanish flu epidemic hit this area. It is suggested that "This virus was most detrimental to the 20 to 40 years age group, where the survival rate was 50%" and one in four families were infected. The monument in the center of this cemetery bears only the inscription 1919, but I presume it was erected in relation to the many deaths as a result of the Spanish flu epidemic.

A memorial marker is located west of Alvena in the RM of Aberdeen (S 13-41-2-W3) for Jozyf Hrycak or Hritsak who died 21 June 1917 and his wife Avaokia.

Schools

The Saskatchewan One Room School Project lists several one room schoolhouses in the region (shown on the map at the left).

These and later schools are shown on the map at the left, adapted from "Memories - Alvena District" (1980).

Stores, Post Offices, and Ferry

The first store in the RM was owned and operated by Joe Brunoniar in Fish Creek, beginning in 1900 (Hawrish 1967).

The original license for the Gabriel Ferry which traversed the South Saskatchewan River and connected to the Carlton Trail was obtained by Gabriel Dumont in 1877. He ran it intermittently until 1883. In 1908 the ferry was licesned to the village of Rosthern. The Saskatchewan Government took over the ferry in 1912. This location is now on Hwy 312.

Homesteads

Legal Land Description is a series of compass directions and numbers. A typical land description, still in use today is: Direction section - towship - range - direction meridian. The town of Alvena is at SE 18-41-1-W3. This is located in the SE corner of the section 12. All townships are numbered in consecutive order from 1 in the SE corner to 36 in the NE corner. Even numbered sections were allocated to homesteaders by quarters. The 11th and 29 section in each township were allocated for schools. The 8th section and all but the NE quarter of the 26th section were allocated to the Hudson's Bay Company and the remaining odd numbered sections were allocated to a Canadian Railroad Company. In this area, that would be the Canadian Pacific Railway, or CPR for use in building railroad lines in some cases, but more typically for later sale to finance the building of rail lines. Some records of CPR land sales are available.

One of the first persons to purchase land allocated to the railroad was Augustus Meredith Nanton of Winnipeg. He was a stock broker there. According to the Centennial Map of the R.M. of Fish Creek, he had purchased Section 17-41-1-23 in 1902. He was no longer the owner by 1920 according to the Cummins Map. Augustus Nanton also bought several sections in the RM of Aberdeen, just west of this one. He was clearly a land speculator.

Homesteads of 160 acres or one quarter section were available in the Alvena area when it was still part of the Northwest Territories. Information about the homestead settlers is available at the Saskatchewan Archives in Saskatoon and Regina. There is a searchable homestead database that provides the name of the homestead applicant and the legal land description of his quarter for land homesteaded before 1930. Files for later homesteads are held in Regina and work is in progress to develop a searchable index for those files.

A "Centennial Map" is available from the Fish Creek R.M. office in Wakaw that shows the first homesteader on each quarter and the dates of entry and patent, if applicable. Other landmarks, such as churches, schools, country stores, and post offices are also shown. The map was researched and designed by Richard Chomyn. It is an excellent source of information. A list of the homesteads in Township 41, Range 1, W3 and Range 28, W2 as shown on this map, has been transcribed. This list also shows their date of entry and patent, and whether they were still on the same quarter in 1920.

The information on the Centennial Map is also carved on two double sided monuments near the St. Julien Church just off the correction line road. A photo of one side of one of these monuments, is shown at the top of this page.

The homestead file may contain a one page application for homestead entry, such as the one shown at the right. It typically contains a 4 page application form to actually qualify to retain the homestead. This application describes the buildings on the homestead in terms of size and material. It also describes the breaking and subsequent cultivation of acres of land and the acquisition of any livestock over the 3 year period (or more) that the homestead made developments to qualify to retain the quarter. It lists the names of the homestead applicant and two witnesses, but not the names of his wife or children unfortunately. It may say he lived with his father on an adjacent quarter and list the father's name. The homestead file may also contain documents that the quarter had previously been allocated to someone else who abandoned it. This particular quarter was abandoned by Nikolai Konowalyk but no further information on when or why was in the file.

Homestead Buildings

None of the ten or so homestead files I've examined for this region had a sod house, although this is often mentioned as the typical prairie pioneer home. Most of the files suggest that the house was small and made of logs. I don't know if the building at the left is from that time or not. This building is interesting because it seems to have begun as a log building that was covered in a mixture of clay and straw. Then part of it was covered with boards. The roof was shakes and then corrugated metal was put on top. I imagine these changes occurred over time. (Building photos Sheila Schmutz April 2011)

A small shed made of logs was nearby. It had no windows but a wide door. The inside of this shed was plastered over with the clay and straw mixture. This made a surprisingly smooth plaster like surface. What was the purpose of this shed? Another larger log building with no inside finishing was presumably the stable or barn.

Some of the houses were described as "frame". The house at the right could be an example of such a small house. It had two very tiny windows, a very small door and a hole in the roof for a stovepipe. It later had another life as a granary - hence the small hole near the roof peak. Later it became a garden shed, when the wide side door was added.

Census Records

Canadian Census records are available free of charge at Library and Archives Canada. Ancestry.com has also indexed these records by name and purchased the right to sell subscriptions for those indexes and other genealogical records. Many public libraries, including the Saskatoon Public Library, have subscriptions to Ancestry.com which can be used free of charge.

The 1906 census records are most pertinent to the homestead settlers of this area. Each two page section of the census is a separate webpage. Let's say we are looking for homesteads in the area just east of Alvena, in Section 20. The page with some of the homesteaders in this section happens to be page. 20-21. How would we figure that out? The 1916 Canada Cenus page has a downloadable pdf file of Census Districts and Sub-districts
[XLS 231 KB] Downloadable Formats.

One finds that Alvena is in the Humboldt District, for Canada Census enumeration. This was district 18 in 1916 but district 13 in 1906!

So having opened page 20-21, let's say we are interested in the homesteaders on NW 20-41-28-W2. This land is adjacent to a "correction line" so actually the NW is only an 80 acre piece, not a full 160 acre quarter. If you examine the faint image above carefully, you notice that Baily, Petro and Billy, Fred have most of that land description listed as their LOCATION. These two homesteaders were listed with PLACE OF BIRTH as Austria. Well, that's probably because the Ukraine was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1901 when Peter or Petro Billy or Bylj left, and in 1903 when his brother Fred left. The head of the third family is Nikola Sawaryn who homesteaded SE 20-41-28-W2.

This brings up other issues - handwriting and the spelling of names. The census takers typically had reasonably good penmanship. However, not all of them spelled perfectly. Many had difficulty spelling names that were of a different ethnic origin than their own. Therefore the index of names at Ancestry.com is not necessarily going to show the name of your ancestor as you expect it to be spelled. After a time, many immigrants anglacized their names or others did this and so from census to census, the spelling could be different. Petro or Peter were used for the first name of this homesteader. In his homestead file there are papers showing his name as:

The census records show him as:

The son of Fred Bilyj, who died 1 Jan 1907, was called Metro in the 1906 census, which might have been a nickname. He was later called Dmytro which was spelled several ways. He filed for the patent on this original homestead 18 Oct 1921, after finally turning 21 and obtaining the paperwork necessary to file as the personal representative of his late father.

The first names of their wives and children, along with their gender, marital status, age, and country or place of birth are also shown on the 1906 census. The last 5 columns, show their livestock as numbers of horses, milk cows, beef cows, sheep, and hogs. More information about the Canada Census records available can be found through the Canada Genealogy Centre website.

From 1922-1923 the Reeve for the RM of Fish Creek was Jurko Bilyk. He could be related to the men above, and the spelling of their name had changed again, but perhaps not. His quarter was NE 25-42-28-W2, near Zacharko Bilyk and Metro Bilak's. Jurko may have been later anglicized to George.

Landowner Maps

Cummins Maps were made from 1917 to 1930 for Saskatchewan and Manitoba, every few years. Copies are available in the Saskatchewan Archives. The photo above is a portion of map 217 on the left and 216 on the right, from 1920. We see that Peter Bily is no longer on the West portion of Section 20 of Township 41, and that his wife Mrs. K Bilj is shown as the resident of the NE quarter, because her husband Fred had died by then.

Note that the location for Alvena indicated the post office at the time, not the present day village of Alvena.

Maps using the same system of the early Dominion Land Survey, prior to homesteading, are still in use today. The map above is the SW corner of the 1994 map from the RM of Fish Creek. It shows the landowners at that time. I have removed the names from Section 20 of Township 41 to more clearly indicate it. That 160 acres along the west edge was the homestead quarter of Peter Bily, discussed above as an example homesteader who immigrated to Saskatchewan from the Ukraine.

In the upper left hand corner of this portion of the map (Section 31 & 32), note that the land was subdivided into long narrow pieces, 80 - 160 acres each. This was often done along rivers so that more settlers had river access. It was typical of the Métis river lot system that occured prior to the Dominion Land Survey in many areas. This is also sometimes called the Seigneurial system of New France. Several of these settlers are indicated as Cree FB (Cree French Breed) in the 1901 census and were found as neighboring younger men in St. Francois Xavier, Marquette, MB. There were several Fidler brothers, sons of William Fidler: Norbert, Cuthbert, Xavier, James, William and their mother Marguerite. Nearby are the brothers Pierre and Calixte Tourond, owning quarters along the coulee where the "Battle of Fish Creek" occurred in April 24, 1885. The four Métis settlers who died in this battle were Francois Boyer, Michel Desjarlais, Pierre Parenteau Jr. and Joseph Vermette.

Further north on the river, was the homestead river lot of Gabriel Dumont who lead the Métis in this battle and subsequently ran a ferry across the river.

A few miles northeast of Alvena, François-Xavier Letendre dit "Batoche" who a wealthy merchant and the founder of the town of Batoche, claimed quarter SW 16-41-28-W2 in 1891. He set up a very large ranch with 200 cattle and 30 horses. He moved to this land with his family in 1895. He died in 1901 of tuberculosis and influenza, as did at least one of his daughters, Marie. His widow Marguerite Letendre, nee Parenteu remained there with some of their other children. Emmanuel Letendre was still with her in the 1916 census. The quarter was not patented until 1919. Based on the Cummins Map of 1930, the Letendre family had left by then.

Although many last names of the Ukrainian and Polishe landowners are different in 1994 (se map below), many are the same as those listed as founding members of the two parish churches. Notice Yuzak, Hnatiw, Sikorski, Stadnyk, Zarry, and Dziadyk for example. The Métis settlers are sadly no longer there.


Publications Related to Early Settlement of the Alvena Area


Links to Sites Related to the Alvena Area

Links to Sites with Genealogical Information