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Conversations with grandad

- Kirk Walstedt publishing a collection of 15 short stories to preserve local history -



by Sylene Argent

In 1976, with a portable tape-recorder in hand, local lawyer, Kirk Walstedt, sat down with his grandad, John Walstedt, to preserve a collection of stories he told about his early life in the Maidstone area, and his life before settling in Essex County.

  Walstedt’s intension was to always translate those stories into a printed version for others to learn from, and in early December, the passionate historian finally got the opportunity to write 15 short stories, based on those interesting conversations he had with his grandad around 45-years ago.

  The collection of stories will be published together in a book called, “The Life and Times of Grandpa John: Stories from the Early Years.”

  It took Walstedt around three-weeks to write the stories, which are based on his grandad’s account about his life in Illinois in the late 1800s, to when his family relocated to this area, after buying a farm in what is now Maidstone, in 1914.

  “He had such a long and interesting life,” Walstedt said of his grandad, who passed away in 1981 in his mid-90s. “I always was just interested in hearing all the stories that he told, especially about his dad coming over from Sweden.”

  The collection of stories starts with Walstedt’s great-grandad, Wendel’s, journey to the US from Sweden, which was made aboard a four-mass steam ship in 1882. “He was almost washed over the side,” Walstedt said.

  While voyaging with a sense of optimism for a better life, there was a bad storm. Wendel, and a friend, they were up on the deck, because thought the ship was going to go down. A big wave came over the boat, which took him up over the railing, but his friend grabbed his coattail and pulled him back on.

  Wendel made the trek with two brothers. Walstedt said the decision to move to the US came about because it was hard to make a go at it, if one did not own land in Sweden at the time. They ended up settling around Malden and Princeton in Illinois, where there was a large Swedish population.

His grandad, John, went through trying times in his younger days. John’s mother passed away when he was just six-months old.

  Wendel, Walstedt’s great-grandad, was a Teamster in Chicago, who, at that time, drove horses for a couple big companies. He delivered items factories would need. At that time, a team included four to six horses.

  One of the sad stories in the book, Walstedt explained, is that because his great-grandad was a teamster, and his wife had passed away when his children were young, his grandad and sister, then around one year old and three-years old respectively, went to stay with a Swedish couple in Chicago.

  The husband had a fit of rage, and tragically ended up taking his wife’s life, and then his own. Young John and his sister were in a closet at the time, where the wife had hidden them.

  John always wanted to be a farmer, Walstedt said. Back in that time, farm land would be advertised for sale in various areas. He became aware of land available in Southwestern Ontario. They visited a farm, which the family would purchase in 1914.

  When John, his sister, and father moved to the farm, it was located in a village once known as Wesley, which was located on the 9th Concession, about a mile East of Manning Road. “You would never know there was a village there,” Walstedt noted, adding every marker once bestowing the town’s name is now gone.

  John ended up marrying a gal from across the road in 1916, who would become Walstedt’s grandmother. Wendel passed away in 1921 from cancer.

  “The only thing that is still there is the church shed, an open-sided shed, where they use to park their horse and buggies when they went to church.” The church, post office that was situated in one of the homes, and blacksmith shop are now gone. The former school is gone, but it was once located where Walstedt’s house stands now.

  With Walstedt always having an interest in history, writing the collection of stories, “Was something I always wanted to do, so I thought I better get it done,” he said. “It was really interesting. It was really intriguing, because there were so many historical things that he could tell me,” Walstedt said.

  One of those recollections including hearing about his grandad and his dad joining relatives from Michigan to watch Man O’ War beat former Triple Crown Winner, Sir Barton, by seven lengths in 1920 at Windsor’s Kenilworth Park, which is mention in the book.

  Another story he wrote about in the book is when his grandad met Frank James, outlaw Jesse James’s brother. Frank was putting on a wild west show in Illinois. His grandad met Frank, when he was advertising the show in town. His grandad ended-up going to the show with others he knew.

  One of the chapters in the book is titled, “Automobiles: Noisy Contraptions.” The significance of this chapter is that his grandad lived through the transition from horse and carriage to the use of automobiles. “The first cars that came out, the horses were afraid of them. They bought them, and nobody knew how to drive them, so they left them in the barn, because they were afraid of them,” Walstedt said.

  “I was just enthralled by all the stories he told,” Walstedt said of his grandad and his desire to document his stories in a printed form. To help draw the reader in, he added dialogue into the stories to pull in the reader and photos his grandad took on an old Kodak camera.

  Walstedt’s book is currently at the publishers. He hopes it will be available in around a month or so. When it comes available, it will likely be available at the Essex & Community Historical Research Society and the Maidstone Bicentennial Museum.

  Walstedt is now working on another book, to be called “Wesley: A Village Forgotten” about the area that once existed, but virtually disappeared in the 1930s.

© 2021 The Essex Free Press ltd.

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