Monday, January 21, 2008

A Tour of Old Pembina

[This was in a 25 year anniversary (first published on Thursday, August 7, 1879) issue of the Pembina Pioneer newspaper, printed in 1904...note the references to characters you have read about in the Sheriff Charley Brown story...]


Historical Sketch of the Buildings
in Pembina in the Early
Pioneer Days

The picture of the town of Pembina as it appeared in 1877 is a reproduction of a rough sketch drawn at that time by the writer, who then, as now, made no pretensions as an artist. Its chief value is that it represents the general appearance and the existing buildings at that time. I is a bird's-eye view taken as if "the bird" was elevated about a hundred feet high on the St. Vincent shore of the Red river and looking nearly to the westward.

The building in the foreground, on the point, was situated on the exact spot where the flag-staff brought here last summer from Fort Pembina, is standing now. It was a historic building, as it was the first building in connection with the Kittson-Hill trading and transportation business, and was for many years a U.S. bonded warehouse. The building itself was torn down some years ago, but the excavation for the cellar still remains.

The Winchester House in Old Pembina
Back of this building at the edge of the timber was a long, low, log house, which at that time and for some years after was used as a hotel and run by L. Geroux, who afterward built the present Winchester House. It was on the site of the house owned by Mrs. Gerardin an now occupied by Barney Johnson.

On the opposite point at that time was the "business" part of the town. The first building, with what appears to be a long low ell running towards the river but which was really a separate building used as a steamboat warehouse, was then the residence of F.C. Myrick. It was a saw mill originally, run by Mr. McKenney, and afterwards transformed it into a dwelling. It was quite a large house and was at times afterward used as a boarding house and hotel. It was burned a short time afterwards.

...Smith [of the Hudson Bay Company] reminded his listeners that at that time there had been bitter feeling between the United States and England and her colonies, and that "without railways, with a trackless wilderness and some five hundred miles to traverse, it was impossible in less time than two months" for Canada to get a single soldier into the men like Sanford and Smith, the fact that a nondescript frontier village of log and mud huts known as Pembina was booming was not without significance. McDougall watched anxiously as more and more of the villainous-looking newcomers assembled in the Robbers' Roost, Dead Layout, and Ragged Edge saloons; he cursed his irresolute superiors in Ottawa, and gratefully swallowed the boasts of the Canadian handful at Fort Garry that they were more than a match for "a few ignorant rebels." - from Strange Empire: A Narrative of the Northwest By Joseph Kinsey Howard
Across the street nearest the levee the building partly on piles, was the "Ragged Edge,", a saloon and bowling alley run by Louis Johnson, who went west and some years ago was in Alaska. The building was afterwards removed and is now the residence of Mrs. S. Ardies.

The two log buildings together, next up the street, was for many years Pembina's only first class hotel. It was run originally by George F. Potter, a local celebrity, a sort of attorney. His fame rests largely on the fact that while he was the first land officer in the state, he turned over to his successor the cleanest set of books ever seen in the land department. There wasn't the scratch of a pen in any of them. At the time of the sketch the hotel was run by J.B. Fisk. Perhaps no building in the state, if it could have written its autobiography, could have told more stories of wild western life than the old "Robber's Roost." The old buildings were long ago converted into firewood. A small building next in line up the street was the city meat market, also run by Fisk.

Next in order, with it's long sign running out over the sidewalk, or rather where the sidewalk ought to have been, was "The Flat Boat Store," which was kept by the then leading merchant of the town, F.C. Myrick, who was also register of deeds and steamboat agent. R. Aylen was his right-hand man. This old building was standing in the rear of the house now occupied by Register Gill up to a couple of years ago. Its name originated from the principal method of commerce with the outer world at that time.

Just across the street from the Flat Boat store, near the centre of the picture, where the T.L. Price store now stands will be seen a curious structure. This was an elevated platform o which was placed the instruments of the U.S. weather bureau. This platform was perhaps 12 or 14 feet square and was about that height from the ground. The year previous, being the Centennial year, the citizens sent below and got a large supply of fireworks for the Fourth. A good part of the male adult population climbed upon the platform with the "works." The kids and the ladies stood below to see the things go off. They all went off together, "works" and men. It must have been an exciting time for a few minutes. Most of those old pioneers have had a prejudice against fireworks ever since. St. Vincent, being in a state, took advantage of our weakness in territorial representation in Congress, to steal our signal station a few years after, but later lost to St. Paul in the same manner - and Pembina had the last laugh.

At the left of the picture is the old log post office, from which Postmaster and Mrs. Charles Cavileer dispensed a generous hospitality for many years. Farther along the street to the right is the present Pembina House, now owned and run by Mrs. Gerardin. It was the most pretentious building in town and at the time it was built was really a splendid structure, being constructed of squared logs, pinned together. Honorable Enos Statsman, the owner and builder, was perhaps the most able man of the early pioneers and he occupies on the highest places in the memories of those who still survive. For many years it was occupied as the U.S. Custom House and at the time of the picture it was used as a dwelling for several families. A year later it was converted into a hotel and occupied by Judson Winchester as a landlord until the new Winchester House was built.

Next to this is a building that still stands on Cavileer Street and now used by F.S. Cheney as a butcher shop. At the time the picture was made it was the general store of W.H. Lyons, who lived and had another store in Winnipeg. St this time the Pembina store was under the management of a young man, who has since grown older and who now occupies a dignified position as His Honor, W.J. Kneeshaw, Judge of the Seventh Judicial District.

The next two buildings going to the right on this street were occupied by the U.S. Custom House and Charles J. Brown's saloon. Brown was a discharged soldier of the U.S. regulars at Fort Pembina and was at this time sheriff of the county. The buildings were destroyed by fire from a lightning stroke in 1879. The upper story of the larger building was occupied by H.R. Vaughn, then Clerk of Court, and the records of the office, including citizen papers were entirely destroyed.

At the rear of the above two buildings is the now vacant building which for later years did duty as the Headquarters Hotel. It was built by Antoine Gingras, a well-to-do trader, and was a very fine structure for the time it was built.

Across the street from the old Gingras house is the building which for many years was the home of Edward Piche. Like many larger houses of that time it also did service for a long time as a hotel. Oliver Matthews was the land lord at the time the picture was made and Mr. Winchester kept the place for a time afterwards. Far to the right is the old Catholic church on the site of the present structure. Back of that is the first public building belonging to the county - the jail. It was built of heavy, squared logs by Robert Ewing and cost the county something over $900. It is still in use in the rear of the court house as a stable.
Emil Wendt, a young German immigrant who was fiat-boating down the Red River from Fort Abercrombie to Pembina, tells how "On arriving at Pembina he was accosted by Mr. McKinnon [sic], who ran a sawmill and store, who conveyed the intelligence that Joe Rolette had died [May 16, 1871] and that they wished to get pine lumber to make a coffin but there was none in the place. Mr. Wendt told him to go to his boat and get what lumber they wanted." - from The Man Who Created the Corner of Portage and Main
The log house on the next street back and in the rear of the Pembina House was at different times the residence of various old pioneers. H.R. Vaughn and Emil Wendt, now of Cavalier, being of the number, and at the time of the sketch was being prepared as the first home of a young bridal couple, lately married at Paris, Ontario, Mr. and Mrs. W.J. Kneeshaw. The site is now occupied by the Presbyterian church.

In the far left background is the school house, of which we give a picture by itself and a description.

To many of the older settlers who have passed through or lived in Pembina in the early days, this picture, with the assistance of their memories, will cause them to remember many things now almost forgotten; while to the younger ones it may prove of interest to know how and where their fathers and predecessors lived.