Adelbert Lehmann was born in 1836 in Oldenburg, Germany. His father was Chief Justice in the Duchy of Oldenburg, from a long line of educated and illustrious ancestors. Adelbert wanted to be a farmer, and after completing a formal apprenticeship, he worked as Farm Manager on a big estate in eastern Germany for two years. He thought he would go to South Africa to buy farmland, but he was advised that his chances for success would be better in the “New World.”
In 1859, he travelled to Upper Canada with his friend, John Everbeck, and they arrived in “Berlin” (now Kitchener), because they knew there were lots of Germans in that area. Adelbert worked for a farmer in Berlin for a year, and then travelled to Orillia in search of land. Properties on Lake Couchiching had become too expensive, but land grants had just opened up to the north, and Adelbert secured 200 acres of forest on the north shore of Sparrow Lake (at the present site of Silver Pines restaurant.) His friend John Everbeck registered land nearby at the mouth of the Kahshe River to establish a sawmill.
Adelbert Lehmann built a simple log shanty and began to clear the virgin forest along the shore. He was a strong rower, and was able to row his boat to “the bridge” (Severn Bridge) in two and a half hours for supplies and mail. From there, it was a half hour walk to “the mill” (Washago), from where a steamboat went daily to Orillia. A trip from his farm to Orillia took a minimum of five hours on a good day.In the fall of 1862, Adelbert returned to Germany to look for a wife to share his new adventure. He visited a 28-year-old woman, Kathinka Bruch, whose father was a Consistorial Secretary in the Duchy of Oldenburg. Kathinka was fluent in French and German, and knew a little English. She had just returned from a year living with relatives in the court of King Leopold in Godesburg, Belgium, where her uncle was the physician to the king. After a few visits with Kathinka, Adelbert Lehmann asked her parents for permission to marry, and they were wed in Oldenburg at Easter in 1863. They departed for North America within days.
During their seven years living “in the bush” at Sparrow Lake, Kathinka wrote diary letters in German that were kept by a granddaughter and translated into English by Ursula Soper, beginning with five letters in 1966. (Some excerpts from these early letters were published in the Orillia Packet & Times in 1969.) Twenty-four years later, in 1990, a treasure trove of letters were rediscovered. They were translated by Ursula Soper over several years, 326 typed pages in total, and condensed into a book.
(Adapted from Kathinka’s Story, by Ursula Soper, 2017)
Here are some excerpts from her diary letters of 1863, published by the Orillia Packet & Times in February, 1969:
A New Home and Furnishings
“All our baggage arrived with the contents intact…The secretary is such a dear and useful piece of furniture…We put the chest of drawers and the secretary here in the shanty, together with the other essential pieces of furniture, all the other things…we have stored in the barn. There we are also keeping six fine cane-seat chairs and one dozen comfortable wooden chairs, black with yellow design, a very nice cooking stove with a complete set of pots and pans, a very sweet stove for the living room, two rocking chairs, and many bottles and jars to use for preserving and making butter…”
“When we get into our new house, things will become quite a bit easier…The small room in which we live now with the cooking stove under the outside sky, makes things difficult. The beautiful new range with 7 doors and 7 holes and a very excellent bake oven which produces beautiful bread is already in the annex in the new house, and I do my baking there…”
“Now that I have the new mattress I sleep much better. At first we had two single straw ticks on the double bedstead, and these were not very good to sleep on. I have made another straw bag…on top of this I have laid the mattress and filled the empty space with a feather-tick and everything is perfect…”
“Three weeks from now a carpenter who just arrived from Germany will come to the house and build us cupboards, tables and whatever else we need…I cannot tell you how I am longing for the house to be finished, it takes so very long…”
“It is the greatest pleasure to have one’s own household, specially when one has a cow…I have just returned from milking the cow, which we let roam the woods now that she is used to us; this way we can save the grass for the winter…Adelbert wants to try and buy some more cows again, they are very hard to get. When we were in Orillia he went out into the country with the strong hope of finding some, but he was unsuccessful. The cow which we have now will be taken back in the fall, because she doesn’t give enough milk. We will keep the calf for $5 and we bought another one for $4.50…”
“I am getting more used to everything all the time and having the cows helps a lot. They are a constant delight, and the one we bought first I almost love. You should see how she comes running when it’s time for milking (which by the way I have learned to do very well), she literally comes leaping. She comes quite regularly in the morning and evening to the spot by the lake where I milk her…”
“The cows and the whole milk business are my continued delight. At the beginning I used to make some cream cheese…now I have 22 small round cheeses in the attic to dry…I have had to stop making cheese again, unfortunately, as we have to give all the sweet, skimmed milk from both cows to the younger calf…”
“It is a great joy to feed (Adelbert’s friend, John Everbeck), his old housekeeper certainly doesn’t spoil him and so he loves everything I offer him. Now he has decided to go to Germany this fall …and return here in the spring with his young bride…I don’t even like to think of Everbeck’s departure. I am afraid we will both miss him very much this winter. He is with us so frequently and I like him better all the time. He is a very pleasant conversationalist and true friend…Everbeck likes it in our home too. He often comes after dark, and after we have talked till about 10 he sleeps in the barn or in the new house on top of the sawdust. In the morning he has a good cup of coffee and then he leaves…”
“(After dinner) we went for a boat ride on the beautiful lake in perfect weather. We rowed over to the Roehls, who greeted us most joyfully, and they offered us coffee, and bread and butter. The young wife used to work as a housekeeper and she knows all about making butter and cheese. She seems to be a most efficient housewife. We are very happy to have them here. It is of the greatest importance here to have pleasant neighbours…”
“Last week I spent two very pleasant afternoons with the wife of our mason picking blueberries on the rocks around the idyllic lake. You have no idea how lovely it was and the bushes were so full that I did not want to stop picking. I preserved 7 jars for the winter and the rest I am drying…”
“We are living so happily together and we love each other so much, as two people possibly can love. I hope that, with the help of this great love, it will be come possible for us to make for ourselves a comfortable, enjoyable life…”
“Adelbert does his very best to make everything easy for me. He wants to see me happy, else he could not be happy himself. You would be surprised how well we get along. Let’s hope it will always be this way…”
“Evenings, after the work is done, Adelbert sometimes rows me around on the lake for a bit. This is most delightful during the full moon, as it was last week. If we get all our work done earlier than usual, we take along the fishing pole and sometimes we are lucky and catch a good fish for our next dinner…”
Epilogue: Adelbert and Kathinka Lehmann and their five young boys travelled back to Germany in 1870/71 to take care of family matters. Kathinka’s mother and siblings died from tuberculosis while she was in Canada, and her father passed away soon after their arrival in Germany. The family returned to Canada in 1876, and with the help of an inheritance they purchased the scenic property of Tafton on Lake Couchiching (the site of the present-day Maple Drive subdivision) that became known as “Gawsworth Farm.”
Compiled by Steve Stanton and Jim Stanton.