Sunday, July 31, 2011

Fading Away

Population two big dogs
[Photo: Ghosts of Minnesota]
There are towns even smaller than St. Vincent, but not many.

One of them is Tenney, Minnesota.

Tenney recently dissolved, meaning they are no longer a town.  I can't help but realize that it's only a matter of time before St. Vincent has to face that decision.

When I was growing up, St. Vincent had around 200 people.  It was already in its descendency, a shadow of what it once was.  But there were hints of its glory days, such as the sidewalks - some sections had been maintained well, others were disappearing under encroaching soil and grass.  We still had a general store, a gas station (two, when counting the Junction), a post office, a school, and four churches (St. Anne's Catholic Church, Valley Community Church - later known as St. Vincent Evangelical Free Church - Christ Church, and the Plymouth Brethren Church.  We also still held an annual fall event, the St. Vincent Fair (which was at one time, vying to be the county fair.  Despite Hallock prevailing, St. Vincent continued their fair tradition for many years, and people from around the area continued to enter their produce, livestock, hand work, and baked goods in friendly (but deadly serious) competition!

But I digress.  The point here is, all of that is long gone.  It echos in my mind how my mother and grandmother used to talk wistfully about what the town used to be like, all the life of the town now gone, they said - businesses, families, parks, public concerts and socials.  They pointed out here was where a saloon was, there was where the blacksmith's shop was.  Across the road by that alley - which was actually the old railroad track bed - was where the depot used to be.  On a trip with my father to the nuisance ground, my mother told me that was where the park used to be, and there was a gazebo there, where town brass bands would play on Sunday afternoons.  The fair itself used to be down by the river once, too, but later was held in the downtown.  Exhibits were in the Quonset, near the old temporary holding pens once used by the railroad for livestock, now used for sheep, hogs, etc. at fair time.

Now there are only around 60 souls.  Every block has vacancies, empty space where once stood homes and businesses, where circumstances have, like a cancer, dictated surgical removals.  Natives like myself can walk the streets, seeing and hearing what once was.  Like ghosts bearing witness, it is all too real.  The poignancy is very bittersweet.  I once saw a movie that hit all too close to home, and it made me think how my hometown was headed in that same direction.

Most people don't face a death in the family involving their hometown, but that is how it feels to me.  St. Vincent has never just been where I'm from, it's my family.  All those souls from the past, that I grew up with, related by blood or by just being neighbors, were not merely faces and names to me, but family.  I miss them all, and their memories will never fade from my mind as long as I am alive.  This blog is testimony to them as much as I am able to make it...

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Jefferson Highway Revisited

JH71North America's First Transcontinental International Highway
I came across an article about the Jefferson Highway which came to be 95 years ago! 
Of the 1,800 miles [of the Jefferson Highway] between New Orleans and the Canadian city Winnipeg, 500 miles of the highway would be in Minnesota. The original idea was for one continuous highway. However, plans changed shape as work progressed. Much controversy surrounded the issue of what towns would be included in the route...The route was proposed to enter the state at Albert Lea then proceed to the Twin Cities. However, the path from the cities to St. Vincent, Canada was much debated.
Interesting that St. Vincent is 'in' Canada in this article.  Not that I mind much.  A lot of us have always felt as much Canadian as American.  But the mistake amused me!

A great article that emphasizes the northern end of the highway can be read here...

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Hudson Bay Bound

In 1930, two brave young men paddled from Minneapolis to Hudson Bay and documented their odyssey in the book Canoeing With the Cree. For the 75th anniversary of this historic adventure, two men canoed the same route in 2005, followed by two other men in 2008. No women have ever successfully canoed this route.
I'm late to the game on reporting this one, folks, but as they say, better late than never.

Two women are attempting what has never been done before, and their path has went right through the heart of Pembina/St. Vincent on the Red River of the North.

Right now they're waiting on the weather - high wind advisories on Gull Harbour - so they're taking a forced break until things calm down.

While they have a dedicated website for this journey, I recommend you also check out their blog, where they keep everyone updated daily on the latest.

Good luck, Natalie and Ann!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Prohibition Communion

A "Rye Communion" was held in Christ Church during Prohibition!
I stumbled across a mention of St. Vincent in a Google Books snippet recently. I tracked down a second-hand copy of the book, which wasn't easy since it's pretty obscure. The title? God's Dodger: The Story of a Front Line Chaplain, by G.W. Stephen Brodsky.

The main scope of the book (written in autobiographic, first-person style) is about a man named Russell Oliver "Rusty" Wilkes. Wilkes was a Canadian officer during WWII, a chaplain (among many other roles) which is what the book is mainly about. He was a hero of sorts, but that is another story. The part of the book I was drawn to was the lead-up - his earlier life as a student, young husband, and new minister. One of the areas he was sent to, was where I grew up. In fact, he ministered to my own family (my grandparents and my mother, then a young girl...) at Christ Church.

The colorful story below is told with the warmth and humor that the perspective of time gives us all of such awkward occasions!
In the spring of 1932...I took up new duties at the town of Emerson, Manitoba, on the Manitoba-Minnesota border. The parish included Dominion City, Ridgeville, and St. Vincent, Minnesota. This was prairie wheat country, and here we experienced the worst of the infamous '20's drought and the awful poverty it brought at the peak of the Depression...[There was a ] scarcity of water in summer. Our basement cistern was cracked and empty, and a sweaty session of pumping proved only that the well was dry. Everybody was in the same fix, and the town's water was carefully rationed. Water came in a tank car a couple of times a week from somewhere west of Emerson, and every morning townsfolk would line up at the railway station with their pails while Emerson's lone constable unlocked a padlock on the town pump.

My usual Sunday routine was to drive to Dominion City in time for a late morning service, then to Ridgeville by mid-afternoon, and back to Emerson in time for evening service. Once a month I'd leave the folk of Ridgeville wallowing in a moral slough, and head across the border for St. Vincent in Minnesota, where the Episcopal Church observed Anglican rites.

These were prohibition days, and I suppose I could have made a tidy profit exporting other kinds of spirit.  But, discretion being the better part of piety, I left my stock of communion wine in St. Vincent in care of the verger. The verger and organist Henry Young was a slightly built elderly gentleman of great devotion and impeccable morals. He would bring the wine faithfully to every service and return it to his home afterwards. One Sunday as I prepared the cruets for communion my nose caught the pungently unmistakable bouquet of 100 proof rye whiskey. I tiptoed from the vestry, across the church to where Henry was at the organ warming up the congregation with a rousing dirge.  He was smiling beatifically, his eyes closed in reverential rapture.  I murmured in his ear, "Henry, would you join me in the vestry, please." Henry came in still smiling vaguely, and stood swaying unsteadily.

When I told him he'd turned wine into whiskey, the smile vanished and his eyes bugged in spirituous indignation. He drew himself up to his full five-foot-three. "My dear Reverend Sir," he burst out, "I have NEVER had whiskey in my home. THAT, sir, is your communion wine." He turned on his heel and stalked out, his dignity marred only slightly as he tripped on the raised door sill and shot back into the church. Consecrate as I might, I didn't have a divine knack for turning whiskey back into wine. But there was nothing for it, so we had a rye communion. There was an occasional grimace of surprise among the kneeling celebrants, and even a smile or two. But nobody commented afterwards except Ethel, who didn't admire my novel approach to the sacrament.
Another interesting aspect to the excerpt above is its opening paragraph. I always wondered how the Depression manifested itself in my hometown area. Whenever I asked my Mom, she didn't have much to say about it. Granted, she was just a kid at the time, but I always figured that people here felt the effects in some measure. Turns out they did.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Water, Water Everywhere

St. Vincent Post Office, during the 19-- Flood
[Photo Courtesy Perm Diamond]
Short's Cafe was near the river; it survived many floods over the years
[Photo Courtesy Perm Diamond]
Noyes Depot under water...
[Photo Courtesy Perm Diamond]

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Lending a Hand

rom around 1936 to 1956, Emerson obtained its power across the US / Canada border from a long 2400V distribution circuit originating from Pembina, ND (and which line passed through St. Vincent, MN and Noyes, MN on the way). This line was initially operated by the Interstate Power Company and was sold to the Otter Tail Power Company in 1944. In 1956, the Town of Emerson made arrangements to obtain its electrical needs from Manitoba Hydro and the cross-border distribution line was removed.

Source: Wikipedia

Further to the west, Interstate Power Company, a Delaware corporation, was authorized in 1936 to export power near St. Vincent, Minnesota, to Emerson, Manitoba.

From: "Foreign trade in gas and electricity in North America: A legal and historical study", by John Thomas Miller

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Ballad of a Steamboat

SS Anson Northrup / Source:  Archives of Manitoba
A song about steamboating on the Red River, that mentions Fort Pembina...

Anson Northrup
by Dwight Peters

© 2005

In eighteen hundred and fifty-nine, out on the great west plain
The Prairie Schooner & ox cart, ruled the golden waves
In old St. Paul a bounty was set, by the shaking of the traders’ hands
To bring the mighty steamships to La Verendrye’s lands

Down on the Mississippi, Anson Northrup was heard to say
“That eight thousand dollar bounty’s mine and my riverboat’s the way”
We’ll launch at Crow Wing River and then go up the Red
But first we’ll have to strip her down and take it north by sled

The little girl playing on Fort Garry’s wall cried, 
“Sounds like someone blowing in a bottle”
The great bells chimed at St. Boniface
as the Captain leaned on the throttle
The children screamed, farmers ran to town, 
Metis feared the waking of the dead
Their muskets roared and William Ross implored
There’s a steamboat comin’, there’s a steamboat coming,
The Anson Northrup’s comin’, comin’ ‘round the bend

The ragged ship set its compass north, followed the old Red River Trail
And only three dared to get on board, so sure that it would fail
As sparks roared from the smokestacks, rainin’ down on the dry cargo bins
The furnace drew such a colossal draft, might take the fireman right in

The trip up the windy Red River was to take just four days
But the bison still ruled the prairie and their crossing caused great delays
“Well I bet my last bottle of whiskey, that boat must surely run aground”
Said the rector at Fort Pembina as he heard its disappearing sound