July 1st is always a happy day for me, full of celebrations with family. It is a day to remember and be grateful for my Great-Grandparents Ferdinand and Bertha Sommerfeldt. They came to Canada in 1905 after being converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Here is their story.
Ferdinand and Bertha lived in Stettin, Germany. A friend of Bertha’s told her about a new church and asked her to accompany her to a meeting. Grandma agreed and the next day she attended with her friend. The meeting began with the hymn, “Come, Come Ye Saints,” sung by the missionaries. When grandma heard this hymn, she said that she knew the church was true and was converted to the gospel. In a short time, Bertha and her eldest son, William, were baptized. There was persecution at the time of their baptisms. A crowd that was harassing them had to be driven off before the baptism in the local river was allowed to proceed. A short time later, Bertha’s husband, Ferdinand, was baptized.
Many of their family and friends disowned them. The family continued to live in Stettin as they made plans to come to Canada. The choice of Canada was because one of the missionaries was from Cardston, Alberta and he had told them about the available homestead land.
We’ll find the place
Ferdinand served a few years of active duty in the German infantry. Then he was transferred to the army reserves. At this time Prussia was building up its available forces in anticipation of the First World War and he was prohibited from leaving the country until he was over 50 years of age.
In order for the family to leave Germany, they would have to secretly escape with only the things they could carry. Ferdinand, Bertha, and their four little children went to the river, crawled under a fence, climbed into empty barrels, and waited for a boat to come along to take them to a larger ship.
Their route went by way of Holland, then to England where they caught a boat to Montreal Canada. Bertha was seasick the entire time, being seven months pregnant. The final leg of the trip to Lethbridge, Alberta was by train. When they arrived, nobody was there to greet them so that evening they slept under a billboard in the ditch. The next day the Canadian family who sponsored them arrived in Lethbridge and took them to Kimball, Alberta, a farming area just outside of Cardston, Alberta.
Fresh courage take
After arriving in Canada, Bertha and Ferdinand had a baby boy. They were so glad to be settled in Canada that they named him “Canada.” They endured many hardships living on the ranch. These were hard times for all the farmers, but they encountered additional problems as a German-speaking family, trying to learn English. Many people did not accept Germans because of the problems in Europe and they were mocked and unkindly treated by some. Family members were often reported to be German spies which resulted in RCMP investigations.
A major hardship was having two homes in Alberta burn down. In one case, Bertha had just fed her four-month-old baby, Rhoda, and put her down to sleep. She then took lunch out to the field where Ferdinand was working. About halfway there, she looked back to see their house in flames with her baby inside. Sadly, Rhoda did not survive the fire. The family was then forced to live in two tents for three months while Ferdinand built another home.
All is well
I love reading Lehi’s prophesy when speaking about the American continent: “There shall none come into this land save they shall be brought by the hand of the Lord. . . And if it so be that they shall serve him according to the commandments which he hath given, it shall be a land of liberty unto them” (2 Nephi 1:6-7). I believe that Bertha and Ferdinand were led by the Lord to southern Alberta. Through all their trials, they remained faithful to the gospel and now have a righteous posterity numbered in the hundreds.
I have always felt a special connection to my Great-Grandmother Bertha even though I have never met her. Being a trained musician, music is very important in my life. Whenever the hymn “Come, Come Ye Saints” is sung, I think of my great-grandma and feel close to her. I marvel at her strength, testimony and sacrifices; oh, so many sacrifices. It has strengthened my own testimony, and rarely can I sing this hymn without shedding a tear. I think of her and Ferdinand’s sacrifices to come to this great country, Canada, and love that they named a child after our country. It makes me proud to be Canadian.
“We’ll find the place which God for us prepared,
Far away in the West,
Where none shall come to hurt or make afraid;
There the Saints will be blessed.
“Gird up your loins; fresh courage take.
Our God will never us forsake;
“And soon we’ll have this tale to tell—
All is well! All is Well!”
(“Come, Come, Ye Saints,” Hymns, no. 30).