Recently, I came across an online post by someone who mentioned that his grandfather had worked on the St. Vincent Extension line. While the original line was finished in 1878, there were modifications to, as well as major maintenance of, thereafter. It ...

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"St. Vincent Memories" - 5 new articles

  1. Working on the St. Vincent Extension
  2. Sociability Run: Jefferson Highway
  3. "...baggage, peltry, and squeak..."
  4. In the News: Winchester House (Geroux Hotel)
  5. Tales from Pembina: Starvation
  6. More Recent Articles

Working on the St. Vincent Extension

Recently, I came across an online post by someone who mentioned that his grandfather had worked on the St. Vincent Extension line.  While the original line was finished in 1878, there were modifications to, as well as major maintenance of, thereafter.  It was a few years later, that his grandfather worked in our area.  I asked him if he had any stories or photographs of that time period, and he shared this with me...
This is my paternal grandparent's family -- Charles & Mary [Hendrickson] Torrin, Hilma the oldest, My father, Oscar in the back, with Maybelle behind Mary. The little girl in front, Luella, helps us date the picture; she was born in Roseau County, on the newly purchased farm, in 1901. She died of diphtheria in 1908, just weeks after her little sister was born. Charles was functionally blind from railroad work accidents, and was about 46 when he moved north and purchased the farm near Fox, between Badger and Roseau MN. 
St. Paul Daily Globe, November 29, 1893
My grandfather, Charles Torrin, was a line foreman laying track. In 1891, a sliver of steel flew up into his eye. A year later, he was back at work, and a similar event pierced his other eye, leaving him functionally blind. The family returned to Alexandria to recover. The event was noted in a St Paul paper at the time. 
The story only just begins here. After several years in Douglas county, at the age of 46 and blind, he bought a farm in Roseau Co, in 1901, and raised his family there until his death in 1929. 
His father, Oscar Torrin was born in St. Vincent in 1891 while his grandfather was working on the St. Vincent Extension.


Sociability Run: Jefferson Highway

[Note — General Manager McDougal of the Pershing Way [Association], who was for a short time Publicity Commissioner of the Jefferson Highway,  admits that he appropriated from the Jefferson many of the successful methods he is using on the Pershing. He also admits they are pretty good. 
We likewise are going to appropriate the story of his trip to Winnipeg, and in doing so likewise admit it is pretty good. That Manager [Herbert F.] McDougal has a microscopic eye, a retentive memory and a happy way of telling it is evidenced by what he saw and tells of his trip. 
Judging from his experience at the "Line", he should have borrowed the Jefferson's Rabbit Foot. 
Mr. McDougal's story will be read, with interest by the J. H. family, especially those who "made the trip" last July.  The following is an excerpt about the final leg of the run...]

AT Hallock the P. W. runs onto the Jefferson Highway marks and continues with them the rest of the way, going through Northcote, Humboldt, St. Vincent and Noyes to the International Boundary.

The Jefferson Highway touring group paused their sociability run in Emerson for "short" speeches and this group photograph...
Pro-lemonaders made another hit when Bronson was reached, where "most excellent lemonade was served" by the ladies. Decorations were mainly American and Canadian flags. Mayors Hodgson and Behrman spoke. The hotel menu at Hallock, a noon control, was a novelty, and uniquely distinctive over any other during the entire trip. Part of it was in French, and embraced dishes served especially in New Orleans. Banners and flags formed the principal decorative feature. Luncheon was served at the hotel and restaurants in the city. The Custom Houses of Noyes and Emerson were soon passed, owing to arrangements having been made beforehand. Short speeches were made by Governor Pleasant and Mayor Hodgson at Emerson.1
We had been sweeping along across the prairie, much of the time with no fences along the road, and came to a turn to the east along what, as memory recalls it, looked like the back side of a farm yard with perhaps an orchard bordered with forest trees in a sort of a scrubby growth. Straight ahead and eighty rods beyond was a dingy railroad station, and just before we reached it a turn to the right and north.

Before us loomed a signboard, high on stilts, announcing the "International Boundary," and there was a moment of bewilderment as we saw in one direction a road turning off to the station and in the other a pair of ruts curving around as entering the farm yard.

The original routing of the Jefferson Highway entered Canada directly from Noyes,
Minnesota into Emerson, Manitoba, Canada.   This is the approximate route the JH
followed. [Source:  Two Lane Traveler] NOTE:  The red line leading off 171 going
north was the 'Emerson Road' (dirt when I was growing up, now plowed under...)  
Over this seeming by-road was the remains of an arch1, placed there last July to welcome the Jefferson Highway tourists on their great sociability run, and the presence of the arch gave rise to the theory that this must be the entrance to the Dominion. Pursuing the tracks a bit further we were convinced that we really were on the highway into the neighboring nation, for at the side of the road was a glorified Keep Off the Grass Sign, bearing a solemn warning against going across the line without proper formalities.

The road took another turn and crossed a railroad track, which itself had crossed another track just previously. The one was the Soo, which ran along the margin of Canada, and the other was the Canadian Pacific, both heading for Winnipeg. All our pictures of an imposing entrance into Canada were dashed, as almost any country cross road is as pretentious. But still there was something picturesque about it and something that impressed itself upon the memory.

There are two railroad stations — one on the American side and one across in Canada, and at each immigration and customs officials, representing the two governments, are on guard. It looked as if it was a pretty simple thing, after all, getting into a foreign country, but it took just about an hour to do it, for a becapped official, swinging down the track to reach the switch tower and climb its dizzy steps to the bird-like house above, said that there was nothing to do but to report to the officials at the Emerson station, which took time and proved not to be the right thing, for we were first to go a mile or such a matter up town and be interviewed by the immigration official and get a card and then go across the street to where the Union Jack flew over the government building, and make our clearance at the customs office.

THE customs officials were polite, but inquisitive. They wanted to know how many in the party, what make of car, how many cylinders, its license number and factory number, whether it was equipped with windshield, top, speedometer and clock, and how much it cost, what baggage we carried and whether we had any camping equipment and how long we expected to tarry in Winnipeg.

Then a very nice old gentleman came down and rummaged through our suit cases in a formal and perfunctory way, withal rather thorough. But first there had come up the serious question as to the very typewriter on which this is being written. It is one of the folding sort and a constant companion. The G. M. would be lost without it, and the work of the organization would be hampered. It was rather important that it, too, make the trip into Winnipeg, for there would be the matter of correspondence and perhaps some magazine stuff.

But the officials were stern about it. They said that the wee machine was dutiable and that we had better put it in hock, so to speak, at the customs office to be picked up on our return, and to borrow a machine in Winnipeg. It looked as if the typewriter was to part company with the official car.

But the missus, waiting all this time down in the auto, said it didn't sound reasonable to her that a car and all that luggage could go in and a mere typewriter barred.

So we went back and argued that the typewriter was a tool of the trade and analogous to a monkey wrench in the tool box.

But these English are a fixed folk. They all had a look at the proposition, and turned it down; it wasn't regular. Then we offered to put up a cash bond, and finally succeeded in parting with $13 to that end, the money being in good American currency. Seeing the brand of money on deposit, a kind gentleman in the office suggested that we would be entitled to that sort back, as it was at a premium in Canada. So, on our return, we got $13.40 in Canadian currency, taking it across to the bank to be exchanged for American money. The rate of exchange had fluctuated during the walk across the street, however, and the bank demanded 50 cents instead of the 40 we had been paid.

And even at that we afterward discovered that we had a few Canadian bills in our script and had to give a discount on them.

BUT our troubles were not over yet. We discovered that our Canadian immigration permit, nor our clearance papers from the customs were sufficient; the becapped gentleman had deceived us. We had to go all the way back to the American side, to that little station of Noyes, to see a blue-eyed Irishman named Fahey in order to get a formidable document showing that Uncle Sam was willing to relinquish us for a few days.

That document had to be turned in to the Canadian customs officials, and then we were ready to go — all excepting the changing of a flat tire that had grown discouraged and depressed during all this formality. If we had known about the rest of that night that tire would have worried us.

But let us move on.

Over a bridge, combined wagon and railroad, under a viaduct we turned and then we were on the road to Winnipeg, sure enough. A little further and we were as good as in France, for, turning into a little village that proved to be Letellier, we grew uncertain of the way and stopped at a house to make inquiries if this were truly the way to Winnipeg.

The answer was "Oui, oui," which the doughboys all will recognize at once.

Turning just at the edge of that little village, which was mostly edge, we were at once in the old Hudson Bay Company's trail, a road 132 feet wide that goes in windings along the Red River of the North right into Winnipeg and becomes Main street, remaining 132 feet wide. That and Portage avenue, at right angles and of the same width, are boasted the widest streets in the world.

The boundary is sixty-eight miles from Winnipeg, and all the tedious details at Emerson, had taken time. It was 5 o'clock when we left Emerson, and that was Canadian time, the Canadians not having turned their watches ahead as the States had.

So we rather stepped forward a little on the gas, for there was a certain strangeness about the country that urged us to get along before dark covered the unknown roads. The trail at places was little more than sections of a fenced pasture, with ruts winding about between an endless row of telephone and telegraph poles. Winnipeg is paving out for miles and someday will have a concrete road to the border, no doubt, but nature still holds sway largely as yet there.

Jefferson Highway Sociability Run, NOLA to Winnipeg
L'Observateur (Reserve, Louisiana) · 28 Jun 1919
And we came into St. Jean Baptiste, a French town of 500 with only two English families in it. We sought to replenish our gas supply and pulled up at a garage and said "Five gallons." The tank filled up as we filled with astonishment. The answer was that we were getting British Imperial gallons, 277.274 cubic inches to the gallon, instead of our own United States gallons of 231 cubic inches. Five of our British cousin's gallons made six of our own, but we paid 40 cents for each and every gallon. 

They said in Winnipeg that American watches can be bought cheaper there than in the states, the protective tariff making it thus, but there was nothing like that about the gasoline, even Imperial gallons. 

Hunger was gnawing and we decided to have a bite to eat, much as we hated to waste daylight. So we asked for the eating place and were directed to a little wooden building that plainly was labeled "Public Hotel." 

Entering we found a dingy office that was a combination of a barber shop and bar. Prohibition had put the bar out of business, age had done for the barber chair, and the prospect was discouraging. But that was where appearances were deceptive, for, after a brief delay, we were led into a neat little dining room and |served with a supper as only the French served food. Bright-eyed French girls were jabbering French in the kitchen, and one of them went to the telephone and assaulted it with a flow of language that was beyond us. 

Then a husky chap went up to the instrument and bawled out a question. "What's the score?" he demanded. It seemed that Cincinnati had won. We felt quite at home for a minute. 

WE had been inquiring anxiously about the road conditions, and the official car had attracted considerable attention, so supper done, we stepped out of the dining room into the midst of a curious crowd that wanted to talk. The men all agreed that the best road lay across the Red River, and they grinned as they said that the largest city along the way was Winnipeg. Afterward we came to realize the point of the remark. Only one village intervened in all that fifty miles. The rest of the trip lay through a country where a house was a surprise and bachelor shanties were the rule. Mile after mile was along a fence-less road that ran at will and at angles, but it was a good road, except lonesome. In the distance we could see straw stacks burning in various places, and occasionally we passed an automobile, but mostly there were solid banks of second growth white birches.

If we had ever needed a bit of gas or some air pressure we'd have had quite a walk for it. And there was that flat spare on the rack!

It sounds a bit dreary, just to tell about it. but it really was a wonderful drive, with the air balmy and the night pleasant. Occasionally we would wonder whether we were on the right road, and would stop at a house to make inquiries. Always we were, although sometimes the children had to be called up to translate, the parents being French.

The engine worked to perfection, the tires held out and we had had a good supper, so on we sped, over bridges, through woods, out in the open. Finally we came to that sole village, passed it, got out into the wilds again and wondered. Then there appeared one of the blessed concrete roads that Winnipeg has built out for nine miles, and we felt as if we were nearing the goal.

But the lights of Winnipeg didn't settle all of our troubles. There was the matter of a hotel. A motorman, waiting to catch his car, offered advice. It wasn't any good, for every hotel he mentioned was full for the night. Finally, after we had tried one after the other, we were forced to put up at one that always will haunt our memories and make as firm in favor of strict hotel inspection laws.

The next morning we found room in a comfortable one...

1 - "A very artistic arch-way had been erected at the border, but we had already been made to feel that we would be just as much at home in Canada as in Louisiana." [The Story of the Run, The Modern Highway, Vol 4, No. 7, August 1919, Pub. by the Jefferson Highway Association]

"...baggage, peltry, and squeak..."

A Red River Cart pulled by oxen, at Fort Dufferin
These carts illustrate well the primitive nature and the isolation of the Colony. They are the vehicles in universal use, and are built on the general pattern of our one-horse tip-carts, though they do not tip, and not a scrap of iron enters into them. They are without springs, of course, and rawhide and wooden pins serve to keep together the pieces out of which they are constructed. As they have no tires, and the section of the wheel part or crowd together, according to the moisture, a train of these carts bringing in the products of the hunt is a strange sight. Each cart has its own peculiar creak, hoarse and grating, and waggles its own individual waggle, graceless and shaky, on the uneven ground. To add to its oddity, the shafts are heavy, straight beams, between which is harnessed an ox, the harness of rawhide (shaga-nappi) without buckles.

Everybody makes for himself what he wishes in this undifferentiated Settlement. We return in tatters. Not a tailor, nor anything approaching the description of one, exists here, and a week's search is needed to discover such a being as a shoemaker. A single store in the Hudson's Bay post at each of the two forts, twenty miles apart, supplies the goods of the outside world, and the purchaser must furnish the receptacle for carriage. For small goods this invariably consists, as far as we can see, of a red bandanna handkerchief, so that purchases have to be small and frequent; not all of one sort, however, for the native can readily tie up his tea in one corner, his sugar and buttons in two others, and still have one left for normal uses. How many handkerchiefs a day are put to use may be judged from the fact that the average sale of tea at Upper Fort Garry is four large boxes daily--all, be it remembered, brought by ship to Hudson Bay, and thence by batteaux and portage to the Red River.
Behind them follow not only half a dozen carts, with a most promiscuous assortment of baggage, peltry, and squeak, but also a stray ox and a pony or two...
The caravan by which we and a number of others were carried back to civilization was a stylish enough turnout for Red River. It was supplied by McKinney, the host of the Royal Hotel of the village of Winnipeg. Three large emigrant wagons, with canvas coverings of the most approved pattern, but of very different hues, drawn each by a yoke of oxen, convey the patrons of the party, with the exception of a miner, who rides his horse. The astronomers take the lead under a brown canvas; a theological student for Toronto University, a gentleman for St. Paul, and others follow under a black canvas full of holes; and the third wagon with a cover of spotless purity, conveys the ladies of the party and a clergyman. Behind them follow not only half a dozen carts, with a most promiscuous assortment of baggage, peltry, and squeak, but also a stray ox and a pony or two; a number of armed horsemen, and for the first day a cavalcade of friends giving a Scotch convoy to those who were departing. The astronomers at length reached St. Paul, when they declare their connection with the world again complete, after an absence of about three months, during which they had traveled thirty-five hundred miles.

- From The Winnipeg Country: Or, Roughing it with an Eclipse Party (1886).

by John G. Whittier 
Out and in the river is winding
The banks of its long red chain,
Through belts of dusky pine land
And gusty leagues of plain. 
Only at times a smoky wreath
With the drifting cloud-rack joins--
The smoke of the hunting lodges
Of the wild Assiniboines. 
Drearily blows the north wind,
From the land of ice and snow;
The eyes that look are uneasy,
And heavy the hands that row. 
And with one foot on the water,
And one upon the shore,
The Angel's shadow gives warning--
That day shall be no more. 
Is it the clang of wild geese?
Is it the Indians' yell,
That lends to the voice of the North wind
The tones of a far-off bell? 
The Voyageur smiles as he listens
To the sound that grows apace;
Well he knows the vesper ringing
Of the bells of St. Boniface. 
The bells of the Roman Mission
That call from their turrets twain;
To the boatmen on the river,
To the hunter on the plain. 
Even so on our mortal journey
The bitter north winds blow;
And thus upon Life's Red River
Our hearts, as oarsmen, row. 
Happy is he who heareth
The signal of his release
In the bells of the Holy City--
The chimes of Eternal peace.

In the News: Winchester House (Geroux Hotel)

The Most Elegant Hostelry in Dakota, North of the Columbia at Fargo.
Special to the Globe. 
PEMBINA, N. D., April 21. – One of the most superb and popular hotels in North Dakota is the Winchester House, of Pembina. It is prominently located in the heart of the city, at the corner of Cavalier and Roulette streets, and has a frontage of fifty feet on Cavalier street and sixty feet on Roulette street. It is built with white Crookston brick, and is three stories high. It is at present one of the most elegant and substantial hotel structures north of Fargo, North Dakota. Supplied and equipped with all the modern hotel improvements of metropolitan cities, it is highly prized by all our citizens and the traveling public. Built in the year 1882, at a cost of about twenty thousand dollars, it is a most fortunate investment for its present owner and proprietor. 
J. W. Winchester, after whom the house is named, is the owner and present proprietor of this most popular public resort. The management of this hotel has been given the personal care and attention of J. W. Winchester and his bright and popular wife. Mrs. Winchester has ever been distinguished as one of the most popular and entertaining of hotel matrons, and her popular parlor entertainments have always been most highly appreciated by all the patrons of this hotel and many invited friends, and to her own careful labor in the culinary department in preparation of meals this hotel owes much for its well-earned popularity for its table luxuries. So acceptable are the meals served in this house that the southbound Northern Pacific vestibule train often stops at Pembina sufficiently long enough to enable passengers to obtain their meals here in preference to those furnished by the dining car attached to these trains. This whole structure is occupied as a hotel, and the house can, with adjoining hotel accommodations, accommodate several hundred guests at a time in a most comfortable and acceptable manner.  
This hotel has been for years the “head center” of the political, social and festive activity of the northeast corner of Dakota. In and about this charming resort are clustered some of the most interesting memories of the past political history of this section. Here it was, in this hotel, that the late Jerry Tuohy, one of the most gifted Democratic leaders of his party, planned some of his most successful political conquests in this district, and here it is where, today, the present Republican leader, Jud LaMoure, sways his numerous political cohorts, and plans his most important political battles. Here, too, Jud often “flushes” with great success and raises the “downs” with less than a pair of “breakers.” This hotel is patronized by the very best class of boarders and travelers and for neatness and comfort this house enjoys a most envious reputation. Many of the county officers are remembered among its guests, and as a hotel bonanza for its owner is the Merchants’ hotel of Pembina and this entire section of the Red River Valley. 
The Saint Paul Daily Globe
Monday Morning, April 22, 1889
Volume XI, Number 112, Page 6

From: Pembina and Turtle Mountain Ojibway (Chippewa) history: from the personal collections and writings of Charlie White Weasel

So as you can see, Charlie White Weasel's testimony concerning who built the Winchester House (originally the Geroux Hotel) and first ran it, confirms what Chuck Walker wrote in SHERIFF CHARLEY BROWN.

Also from the same source:
Lucien Geroux ... was then keeping a hotel in South Pembina, the same building, (improved) now being the one in which the county poor are being boarded and cared for, usually called our poor house. 

The large, 2-storey building just east of the Pembina Bridge, sitting in the area where the future Selkirk Park will be, is what I think is the building mentioned above (i.e., Lucien Geroux's first hotel, later repurposed and used as the Pembina Poor House...)


Tales from Pembina: Starvation

The 1826 flood, the worst flood of the Red River of the North ever known in modern times...

But before that, deprivation...

In the month of January, it was rumored at the Selkirk settlement, that the hunters who were on the plains of Minnesota in quest of buffalo were starving. The sufferers were from one hundred and fifty to two hundred miles from Pembina, and the only way to carry provisions to them was by dog sleds. The sympathy for their welfare was very great; and even the widow contributed a mite to their relief.

It appears from a statement made by one who was in the colony at the time, that in the (prior) month of December, 1825, a snow storm raged with violence for several days, and drove the buffalo out of the hunter's reach. As this was an unexpected contingency, they had no meat as a substitute, and famine stared them in the face.

Says an eye-witness1:
"Families here, and families there, despairing of life, huddled themselves together for warmth, and in too many cases, their shelter proved their grave. At first the heat of their bodies melted the snow; they became wet, and being without food or fuel, the cold soon penetrated, and in several instances froze the whole body into solid ice. Some again were in a state of actual delirium, while others were picked up frozen to death; one woman was found with an infant on her back within a quarter mile of Pembina. This poor creature must have traveled at the least, one hundred and twenty-five miles in three days and nights. Those that were found alive, had devoured their horses, their dogs, raw-hides, leather, and their very shoes. So great were their sufferings, that some died on the road to the colony after being relieved at Pembina. One man with his wife and three children were dug out of the snow where they had been buried for five days and nights without food, fire, or light of the sun, and the wife and two of the children recovered."
When the spring came, the melting of the winter's snow produced a still greater calamity. On the second day of May, in twenty-four hours, the Red River rose nine feet; and by the fifth, the plains were submerged. A panic now seized every living thing; dogs howled, cattle lowed, children cried, mothers wept and wrung their hands, and fathers called out to their families to escape to the hills. The water continued to rise until the twenty-first, and houses and barns floated in the rushing waters. On one night a house in flames moved over the waters amid logs and uprooted trees, household furniture, and drowning cattle, reminding one of the day when "the heavens being on fire, shall be dissolved."

- From: The History of Minnesota: From the Earliest French Explorations to the Present Time, by Edward Duffield Neill, Secretary of the Minnesota Historical Society (1858))

1 - Alexander Ross

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