Immigrants and Prejudice

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A Homesteader, courtesy Wikimedia Commons

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My mother’s family immigrated as Ukrainian homesteaders to the Alberta plains in 1898. Mom was the first in her family to go to school since Canada offered schooling only to English-speaking children. Her older siblings never learned to speak English well. Her younger siblings, Helen and Alex, followed her in school.

When Mom grew up, she left the farm about 1925 and headed to Edmonton to study nursing. Soon her sister Helen and brother Alex joined her as they studied to become teachers. Her brother’s friend also moved in “to help make ends meet.” The guys ate them out of house and home. One time my mother said they were down to their last quarter. So they bought a quart of strawberries and some cream and feasted on the luscious fresh fruit —so expensive in Northern Canada.

Mother obtained her nursing degree at Edmonton Hospital in 1928. She followed her mother’s advice and left for Seattle — just as the depression was about to hit. Four years later she married my father, Hans Pederson, a Danish immigrant who rose to become one of Seattle’s largest early 20th century contractors.

Her reticence  about both my father and her Canadian upbringing launched me into detective work after her death. I was already  more than seventy, but family secrets only bring more curiosity.

Mother’s siblings, Alex and Helen, returned to Andrew, Alberta where Helen taught and Alex became principal of the Andrew School. Even though Andrew was their home town and their school, Canadians continued to harbor such prejudice against the Ukrainian community that a generation later, college-educated descendants of Ukrainian immigrants could find jobs only in Ukrainian schools.

The Depression and 1920s Real Estate

One Summer by Bill Bryson, featured in the January 31, 2017 Delancy Place selection, begins, “The 1920s saw an unprecedented real estate boom — far more buildings than needed and almost all financed with bank debt — which led to the Crash of 1929 and the massive bank failures and economic contraction of the Great Depression. In the 1920s America  became a high-rise nation. By 1927 the country boasted some five thousand tall buildings — most of the world’s stock.”

As the westward movement grew, Seattle was no exception. My father, Hans Pederson, had reached the city from Denmark in 1886 when it was still largely a frontier town with an economy based on timber, fishing, wholesale trade, and shipping. The Northern Pacific Railroad, a massive downtown fire, and the Klondike gold rush sparked a population influx that led to major city construction. In 1890, Seattle was the 70th largest city in the nation. By 1920, it was the 20th.

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Terra Cotta sculpture of a walrus used on the face of the Arctic Club building in Seattle. Hans Pederson, 1916 building contractor, courtesy Wendy Wiley  c2016  

 

In 1916, Pederson  built the Arctic Club, featured in the above photo, as a gathering place for alumni of the Klondike Gold Rush. Sixteen years later, one of the last buildings he constructed was the six-story King County Courthouse. After that,  no other contractor built a major building in downtown Seattle for twenty years.

A rags to riches and back to rags tale, like many another Depression era story.

Seattle Sparked the Yukon Gold Rush

 

 

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SS Excelsior leaves for the Yukon, 1897 Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

 

After the 1893 world-wide depression brought commerce to a halt, Seattle took off in 1897 when the steamer Portland struggled into port, her decks filled with prospectors guarding their sacks of gold. Soon headlines and flyers proclaimed the news around the globe that Yukon gold was there for the taking along the Klondike River.  The mad dash to claim the nuggets really  lasted not much more than a year.

The headlong rush to the Yukon came shortly after a depression where many who had found work again felt trapped in office, factory, or low-paying retail jobs. Eager hordes grabbed the chance to set off for the real frontier, the  vast Canadian wilderness that offered the bold an opportunity to earn their fortunes.

My father, Hans Pederson, a risk taking Danish immigrant, joined the exodus. “He was among the first to answer the call of the North when the manhood of the world stampeded toward the arctic and the sparkle of gold,” notes his obituary. He and a partner soon crammed themselves aboard a ship and joined the throng of prospectors who washed up on Alaskan shores like flotsam on the tides.

He didn’t stay long enough to make his fortune. He returned to Seattle, became a builder, and grew along with the city until the next depression in 1929 ended contracting along with everything else.

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