Albert J. Christopher

Mayor Of Pembina

by

Craig Olson

 

Happy New Year! Yes, indeed it was a Happy New Year forthe Christopher family in the year 1897. For that was the day their son,Albert Joseph, was born. It was in a log cabin in the wilderness near Aitkin,Minnesota which his father had built.

But Albert didn't get to know his family very well. Dueto an accident in 1904, his father was killed. Albert's uncle, MelbourneChristopher, came from Nova Scotia hoping to persuade Albert's mother thatlife for her and the children would be easier for them in Nova Scotia. Butshe preferred Minnesota and wanted to keep the children. They finally compromisedand his brother Andrew and himself went to Nova Scotia with their UncleMel where they had a happy home with him and his wife. One brother and twosisters remained with the mother. Albert never saw them again until afterWorld War I.

During World War I, Albert served with the Canadian ExpeditionaryForces. Not until 1919 did he return to the United States.

Upon returning to the States he rented an old buildingin Pembina where he set up shop. He was a car and implement dealer.

While working at his shop kept him busy, Albert still foundtime for his social life. In 1925, on the 20th of June, Albert married HelenHenrietta Conmy. Little did they know at the time that they were soon tohave two children, a boy and a girl.

The boy, Albert Melbourne, and the girl, Catherine Anne,have both been long grown up and happily married.

In 1931, Mr. Christopher became the mayor of Pembina, agrowing and prosperous town. Under his leadership Pembina has made a specialtyof pulling itself up by its own bootstraps. Some examples are cited here.

In the early thirties, there was a water shortage at Pembina.Volunteer workers constructed a crib dam on the Pembina river. This provedonly temporary as it washed out. But in 1933, after the Pembina county courthousewas replaced, relief labor, using the salvage material, built a permanentdam.

The new dam did not entirely solve the water problem. Anew and larger filtration plant was needed. The plant would cost $25,000,and Pembina had only $400 on hand at the time. The federal government agreedto supply half the needed material and labor, and the city was to pay therest.

Mayor Christopher remembered that Fort Pembina, abandonedby the Army in 1897, had had a water system. Technically, the governmentstill owned the pipe, but that didn't stop the city or Mayor Christopher.He used government relief labor to dig the pipe out. Then the governmentwas called on to come through with it's share.

When the filtration plant was finished it had grown toa $50,000 project.

In 1935, the mayor and city council decided that thereshould be no further delay in the building of the new city hall in Pembina.About a week after construction started on the new building the old hallburned. Investigation proved that it was an accident, thus the city obtainedinsurance money, relief labor, and old courthouse salvage enabling themto build a city hall amounting to $25,000.

As a port of entry, Pembina was a stop for Northwest Airlines,flying to or from Winnipeg. When Grand Forks obtained a customs office,Northwest had no further use for it's Pembina airfield.

In 1953, the city bought the field for $37,000, obtaining50 percent of the total on a federal grant. To finance the balance, thenewly formed Pembina Improvement Association sold 10-year $l00 bonds offering3 percent interest.

The new association converted the administration buildinginto apartments and offices and made farm land of the area not requiredfor flying activities. As a result, the association rapidly approached solvencyof the venture.

To assure adequate water for future needs, Pembina recentlyadded three feet to the Pembina river dam--all on it's own.

There have also been other improvements made under theleadership of Mayor Christopher: a new sewage lagoon; fluorescent streetlights; new paving; and the building of residential and business structures.

During his term as mayor of Pembina Mr. Christopher alsoserved on the North Dakota State Legislature from 1953 to l967. Being arepresentative, he was better able to serve and influence the growth ofPembina.

Among legislation sponsored by State Representative Christopherwas a bill appropriating $5,000, to be matched by the community, to constructthe Pembina Historical Museum. With volunteer labor taking care of the city'sshare, the new institution was dedicated on July 4, 1962.

Pembina needed that museum to recreate the adventure andhardships of the early fur trade; to preserve early Indian relics; to tellthe history of the first settlement, first school, and first church; toremember the great buffalo hunts; to illustrate the Army post, steam boating,early politics, and so much more.

In the modern day, much of Pembina's importance is dueto the U.S. Customs and Immigration office, in charge of all border stationsin North Dakota and into Minnesota, The district office was threatened tobe moved to Duluth, but due to the hard work of Mr. Christopher, the Bureauof Customs and Immigration was convinced that the district office shouldremain in Pembina.

After months of discussion, Mayor Christopher convincedKCND TV to build it's station in Pembina. The same process was used to obtainMotor Coach Industries.

These two new industries meant new jobs and new familiesin Pembina.

Among the last of Mayor Christopher's undertakings beforeentering retirement was planning for another new filtration plant, whichis presently under construction. Because of Mayor Christopher's great jobin encouraging and playing the key role in the prosperity and growth ofPembina, a new filtration plant was planned to supply the future water needsof the city.

Mr. Christopher has a distinction that no other man has.He is recognized by President Nixon, Governor Guy, and people throughoutthe United States as holding the office of Mayor longer then any other man.A total of 39 years. He entered retirement in the spring of 1970.

Mr. Christopher, along with his numerous accomplishmentsas Mayor, also has many personal accomplishments. A few of them are: NorthDakota Man of the Year Award, 1962; President, Pembina River Flood ControlAssociation; Chairman, Pembina County Disaster committee; Past Commander,Pembina County American Legion; Award of Merit, received from the Americanassociation of State and Local History; President, Pembina Economic DevelopmentCorporation; and many more.

Happy New Year 1897! Indeed it was, for Mayor Albert JosephChristopher will go into history as the man most responsible for the improvements,community betterment, prosperity, and growth of Pembina, North Dakota.

 

Bibliography

Christopher, Albert J. Interview. December 14, 1970

Christopher, Helen H. Interview. December 14, 1970

Christopher, Helen H. "Scrapbook of Albert Christopher".

A History of Pembina County. Pembina Centennial Committee,Summer 1967.uot;Scrapbook of Albert Christopher".

A History of Pembina County. Pembina Centennial Committee,Summer 1967.