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Elmer E. Barry


Barbara Bostrom

Elmer E. Barry was born in a log cabin on the banks of the Red River, at the mouth of the Turtle River. His father had a farm on the prairie, where he broke the sod and plowed under the virgin soil. On the flowing prairie, James Barry also built the first frame house in the area. James, and his brother-in-law Thomas McAdam, built the long planned house in 1879.

In the spring of 1879, before the house on the prairie was completed, Mrs. Elizabeth McAdam Barry left her home in White Lake, Ontario, with two children and a muzzle loading shotgun "for killing Indians". They made their long journey in a wagon drawn by two oxen. Part way to their destination they traded one of the oxen for a cow, as they needed milk for the two children. So Elizabeth brought with her to her home in America two children and a shotgun in a wagon drawn by an ox and a cow. And her husband used the cow and the ox and a mule to break six or seven acres of new fields that year.

Mrs. Barry came to the prairie just in time to help her husband and brother finish her house. Lumber in planks and beams was brought to the house, and Mrs. Barry was not above helping to roof her home.

They finished the house, and after a year the family moved out into the frame house on the sea of prairie grass. In February of 1880 a son was born to the family. They named him Walter.

On August 7, 1886, Elmer was born. Soon the family had grown to include nine children: 4 girls and 5 boys.

When he was young, Elmer helped around the farm and attended school in town, three miles away. The school was in Belleview, North Dakota, which is now Manvel, in Grand Forks County.

From 1909 to 1911, he served as clerk of School District #13 of Levant township. He entered the service in 1918 in World War I, after spending some years travelling through the North. He went up to Canada's Northwest Territories and travelled extensively there. He visited in Churchill, and many of the other towns in the Territory, which were new at the time. Part of his reason for travelling through that bleak area was to earn money. The Canadian government at that time paid anyone who cared to "explore", one cent per mile. So, for a penny a mile, Elmer traversed many miles on foot or by dog-sled.

Barry even made a claim on a piece of land there. But he "never took it up... because the country wasn't fit to take a wife to." (1) Barry left the Northwest Territories, and forgot about his claim, and he went back to North Dakota.

In Grand Forks, Barry worked at a foundry where he made about 40 cents an hour. The foundry charged customers around $l.00 an hour - - but the workers received only a small portion of that amount. Barry remembers jobs where he worked for many hours and brought home only a few tools as payment. And in 1916, the foundry was flooded when the Red River overflowed its banks and flooded Grand Forks.

Mr. Barry then went up to Pembina and bought a blacksmith shop there. He did well, and often made $10.00 in one day. And for rent for his home he only paid out $5.00.

In 1919, he was called into the Army and when he was discharged in 1919 he came straight home to Pembina, though he had many offers for jobs with shipping companies in the East - - jobs much more exciting and better paying than his work back home. But he came home and married the biggest of his reasons. On November 27, 1919, he married Mathilda Moris of Pembina, a descendant of two prominent pioneer families of Pembina County.

In 1920, Barry had his blacksmith shop torn down and he built a service station which he owned and operated until about 1962.

He also procured a dealership with the Ford automobile company, and had a sales - showroom near his home and his filling station in Pembina.

He was United Stated Commissioner for 42 years and was always interested in community affairs.

Since 1909, Elmer Barry has been collecting items of interest and historical value. He still has the shotgun his mother brought with her from Canada, along with many other valuable items. And it is because of his collection that the State Historical Society built the museum located at Pembina.

When he retired in 1962, Barry placed his collection of antiques on display in his show room. People were amazed at the size of his collection.

Part of his collection was put into the State Historical Society museum in Pembina, and five years later another building was opened. This building houses Mr. Barry's collection almost exclusively.

Elmer Barry is, and long has been, one of pembina's leading citizens. He is an example of the American System - - he started life in a rude cabin and worked hard to make a comfortable life for himself and his family.

But he collected the relics of the bygone years, the symbols of the harder times. He has collected and preserved a part of our great heritage.

(1) Elmer E. Barry, in an interview at his home.