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Swiss nobleman in Wetaskiwin (Anthony Sigwart de Rosenroll).

On a warm summer day, around 1896, a handsome thirty-eight-year-old man with a short beard and dark hair arrived in the village of Wetaskiwin. His name was Anthony Sigwart de Rosenroll, a man of noble Swiss extraction whose history could be traced back for almost four hundred years. In the early 1400s, the first member of his clan showed up in the mountainous part of present day Switzerland, in the Canton of Grisons. No records exist about the family's origin before that date but sources refer to them as having been leaders in the war torn Europe of the 15th and 16th centuries. Sylvester Rosenroll was a governor in one of the conquered countries in the 1600s while others served as high ranking officers during the Thirty Years War. One of those, Christopher Rosenroll, was a deputy of his country at the peace treaty of Milan in 1639. He married Perpetua Ruinelli, heiress of the castle of Baldenstein, near the town of Thusis in the Domleschg valley of Switzerland. As a result, the castle came into the possession of the Rosenroll family, where it stayed until 1732.

The Rosenroll family owned other mansions and a smaller castle in the town of Thusis. Most of these buildings are still in existence, showing the Rosenroll armorials on the porch, even though the family has been gone from Switzerland since 1806. The 17th and the 18th centuries saw many famous Rosenrolls, mainly as officers in foreign armies. As a rule they took wives who were descended from ancient and noble families of what is today Switzerland. Due to their commissions in warfare and politics, the Rosenrolls rarely lived in their possessions but followed the sovereigns in whose services they served. During this time, the family was raised to peerage and changed their name to "von Rosenroll" and later to "de Rosenroll."

In 1822, Rudolph von Rosenroll, Anthony's father, was born in Vienna. He later moved to Italy, followed by his wife Margaret, the daughter of an English officer. They lived in the town of Castellamare near Naples, where Anthony was born in 1857. Rudolph was a general in the uprising under Garibaldi, leading to the unification of Italy but was killed in 1860 during the battle of Palermo.

Anthony was three years of age at that time of his father's death. During the rebellion, the family took refuge in Malta but came back to Italy later. Here, Anthony was educated in the large family home by private tutors until he entered the University of Naples. He was an outstanding student and graduated in civil engineering and land surveying. Beside being wealthy, he was highly cultivated and spoke seven languages.

For the next several years Anthony was in the service of the governments of Australia and New Zealand, working as a civil engineer. He then left for the United States, where he planned to visit his sister Matilda. It is uncertain how long he stayed there but he arrived in Winnipeg around 1895. He remained there for a year, assembling information about opportunities to start a new life in the more western parts of the country. From there the CPR provided him with a free pass to Edmonton. He was amazed when he saw the endless grasslands of the Canadian prairies and decided to stop over at Regina. There he rented a team and a driver and went to explore the open land. His first impression was the sight of abandoned agricultural equipment but he looked in vain for houses. The driver explained that because of lack of water the farmers had given up their farms. Eventually the buildings were destroyed by prairie fires. This information did not enhance his desire to become a farmer.

He continued his journey to Calgary where he saw for the first time the snow capped Rocky Mountains. He breathed the invigorating air that raised his spirits and, as he recalled in his memoirs, he almost wanted to yodel. The next day he boarded the weekly train for Edmonton. He was the only passenger and felt he was travelling like royalty. He wrote:

Some time in the afternoon I reached Wetaskiwin. There was no one at the station to welcome me. The grassy streets were deserted. I made for the only hotel, the Driard, newly built and operated by the well known character, Jerry Boyce.

de Rosenroll waited a long time to be served, until finally an elderly gentleman appeared and greeted him with, "What in hell are you doing here, and who the devil are you?" His name was George Turner, a rancher from Crooked Lake. This man went over to the stairs and interrupted a "friendly little game of poker upstairs." Down to greet the new arrival came Bob Edwards, later his best friend and colleague in the Alberta legislature. Afterwards, Anthony called on J.L.C. Miquelon, "the father and first postmaster of the town, which had at that time thirty-two permanent inhabitants, including the unborn babies." Miquelon had come to Wetaskiwin in 1892 as the first resident of the newly-surveyed town site and had erected the first building. Another pioneer was John West who was the first general merchant of Wetaskiwin. He had great faith in the future of Wetaskiwin and advised de Rosenroll to settle there, in the "most fertile region of the West." He did and he never regretted it.

As de Rosenroll was an outgoing, intelligent, and amiable person, he was soon a friend of the most important settlers of the time. One of those was J.H. Walker, "a genial, scholarly, well-informed English gentleman" who had come to Wetaskiwin in 1893 and had opened the first drug store. He was also involved in the management of the town's public school. Another pioneer who eventually opened a general store and farm implement business was Noah William Gould. He had arrived in the country in 1892 bringing in "two cars of breeding cattle, one double deck car of sheep and one car of horses and farm implements." He settled first on Battle River.

In his memoirs, de Rosenroll talks of many other first time settlers. He states:

This district [Wetaskiwin] was eminently adapted for cattle ranching. An abundance of rich prairie pasture, where the buffalo used to roam, a nutritious wild hay and a plentiful supply of excellent water. What more was needed to make this a livestock country? The earliest and largest ranching enterprise was that of McDonnell and Ramsey. Before 1884 this firm had a trading post at The Leavings, just south where Ponoka stands now and where the Hudson's Bay Company also had a post. Each of the partners had an Indian housekeeper, who were sisters. Their father stood high in the council of the Cree Indians.

During the Indian troubles in 1885, the Hudson's Bay store was raided and completely cleaned out by the Indians, while the store of McDonnell and Ramsey was never touched. The influence of their "father-in-law" afforded them protection. Later they transferred their business to Bear's Hills Plain, on the Calgary-Edmonton trail, four miles south of Wetaskiwin, which was no town then.

The first post office between Edmonton and Red Deer was Holbrook, six miles south of Hobbema. Bear's Hills post office was then established, with one of the partners, Robert Ramsey, as postmaster. The ranch headquarters of McDonnell and Ramsey were at Battle Lake, where the Asker settlement is now, a choice location for raising and fattening cattle. At the Bear's Hills store a large trade was carried on with the Indians, ranchers, and early homesteaders, and large quantities of pelts and numerous cattle were traded in.

Other settlers and homesteaders whom de Rosenroll mentions in his memoirs are Elzear Laboucan, Frank Lucas, Francois Adam, Martin Edwards, Charles Rodberg, Leon Lalande, Albert Schindler, and others.

Anthony de Rosenroll's first enterprise was a cattle raising business, which he did in partnership with Thomas R. Jevne, a Scandinavian settler. At the end of three years they sold the herd and divided the large profit. Anthony then invested in the purchase of two hundred head of cattle from a Buffalo Lake rancher and moved his quarters to Hay Lakes. After seven years of successful operation he sold the ranch with all the livestock to R.J. Dailey. During this time a station on the nearby railway line was named Rosenroll, after Anthony, but was changed in 1910 to Bittern Lake.

Anthony de Rosenroll next took over a dairy business from a German firm, reorganised it, and ran it successfully as the Rosenroll Dairy. As more and more colonists came in the country, Anthony realized that they would need lumber to build their homes. This saw the beginning of the Rosenroll Lumber Co. Ltd.

Many of the newcomers became his friends for life. One of them, Robert M. Angus, farmed at Angus Ridge. On his retirement from the farm, he took up his residence in Wetaskiwin where he built the spacious Angus Hall, which was, wrote de Rosenroll, "for many years, until it became a prey to the flames, the popular headquarters of social gatherings, public meetings and the sittings of the Supreme Court." A moving picture emporium also was built by Angus.

Another friend was Henry Claude Lisle, a lawyer from England, whose father was a natural son of King George IV. Henry had lost most of his capital in the boom days of Vancouver so he came to Wetaskiwin and began farming on a railway quarter section six miles south of town. He milked a dozen cows and made a fairly palatable cheese. When the Klondike gold rush began he left for Dawson City and became one of its first lawyers.

Among de Rosenroll's other friends were Adam Kaiser, a master farmer, and Charles H. Olin, a bridge and road builder who was elected in 1909 as a member of the Alberta legislature. In 1895 de Rosenroll married Ida Eberhard who became pregnant the following year. Anthony took her overseas for the delivery of their first child as he did not trust the Canadian doctors of that era. Arthur Sylvester was born in the small French-speaking town of Ollon, in Switzerland in 1896. The next year saw the birth in Canada of his second son, Edgar. His daughter Richelda was born in 1898.

In the meantime, de Rosenroll's foray into politics began in 1896, when a petition was signed asking him to become a Justice of the Peace for Wetaskiwin. When he accepted, it was an occasion for a celebration that was held at the Driard Hotel where his host was Jerry Boyce.

In October 1898 a general election was held to select members of the Legislative Assembly of the North-West Territories. Wetaskiwin, having become a separate electoral district, was entitled to a member. Anthony de Rosenroll recalled: "The constituency reached from north of Leduc to Morningside in the south, and from the Rocky Mountains to the boundary of Saskatchewan in the East, an area about that of Switzerland." He was elected, then re-elected by acclamation in 1902. In 1905 Alberta was proclaimed a province and Edmonton became the capital. At the first election in November 1906 de Rosenroll was elected member for Wetaskiwin, the seat he kept for several years.

Meanwhile, the town of Wetaskiwin paid homage to this popular citizen in naming one of its streets Rosenroll Street and another Thusis Street (1911). Later, street numbers took the place of the old street names.

After his wife Ida died in 1908, Anthony continued to pursue his political career until 1922. He was then 65 years old and decided to retire and to travel abroad. In 1927 he left for South America with his son Edgar and his daughter-in-law Eleanor Bergen. Presumably he had some interests there in the mining industry. He then returned to Wetaskiwin where he lived with Edgar and his family but travelled abroad many times during the ensuing years. Later in his life he moved to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, to be with his oldest son, Arthur Sylvester.

During his lifetime, Anthony was always interested in the history of his family. He corresponded with Swiss historians and produced an elaborate manuscript entitled, "The Family Rosenroll - A Compilation of Historical Records and Notes," which he finished in December of 1936. It contains, a history of the family since 1486, a compilation of historical events in which members of the family participated. The original copy of this manuscript in still in the de Rosenroll family.

In 1944, at the age of 87 years, Anthony became ill with pneumonia and died at the Providence Hospital in Moose Jaw. He is buried in the family grave in Wetaskiwin.

Many of his sons, grandsons, and great-grandsons have had outstanding careers in economic or university fields. They have always been conscious of their descent from a very old and noble Swiss culture. The younger generations have discovered their roots and visited the old places in Switzerland, the castle of Baldenstein, and the town of Thusis. This report is based on research in Thusis and Baldenstein, Switzerland; in the Edmonton Legislative Archives, and Wetaskiwin Archives, as well as with many interviews with members of the family.
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Author:Lichtenstein, Heidi
Publication:Alberta History
Date:Dec 1, 1999
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