Old Times In The Red River Valley


St. Vincent, "Uncle John," The Pacific Hotel,"Col. Flake," Boom and Bust

By

George B. Elliott

No. 5


The Northwestern Farmer and Breeder - 20 September 1886

"The Valley of Eden" had its Tapley "whowas always jolly under difficulties, but it was left to the Red River Valleyto have a man who was "the same" no matter whose lot was "criss-cornered,"or whose stake was pulled up. Uncle John Stewart is a type of a New Englandernot often found in frost-bound latitudes. In the palmy days of '74 UncleJohn was proprietor of the Exchange Hotel, Winnipeg, in which city he stillhas many warm friends.

The same fatality which drove many thousands to Californiain '49 induced Uncle John to erect the Pacific Hotel in what was then thoughtto be the coming Frisco of the Northwest - St. Vincent.

A man was found who could demonstrate to a certainty thatwhat Helena was to Montana so would be St. Vincent to Minnesota. The Gamalielwho instilled this enthusiasm into the hearts of even old timers was "Colonel"Fiske, who on the completion of the St. Paul & Manitoba road to theInternational boundary line, was placed in charge of the town to "boomit or bust."

The road was completed early in the fall of 1878, and thescale of the boom which followed, though not such as occurred in the "Valleyof Eden," was nevertheless the sliding variety.

Uncle John Stewart went into the middle of a poplar brushand cut out two lots on which he erected his Pacific Hotel. Jim White, whosubsequently ran Huron City "for all it was worth," had declaredthat in '71 he had paddled all over St. Vincent in a dugout and shot duckswhere the depot was located. Mac Cavileer corroborated this statement andproduced a doubled barrel shotgun in order to relieve any one of any unnecessarydoubts. Daniel Brawley, whose name must always be identified with that ofSt. Vincent, emphatically maintained that St. Vincent was "booming."Even when cross questioned by a citizen of Pembina, who invariably objectedto the great future which was the alleged destiny of St. Vincent, Brawleywould remark that it was "booming nevertheless."

The railway people, however, played sad pranks with St.Vincent. They scattered the place all over like sage brush on an Arizonacattle range. They put the depot in one place, they ran a spur down to theriver, and the inhabitants were informed that sometime in the near futurethey would build a jetty at the end of the spur, and Mr. William Moorhead,of Pembina, waggishly observed that they would eventually extend the jettyacross the river and thus have a bridge. Then by way of variety the samerailway company located their engine house about half a mile from the town.Then half way to Emerson they built another depot - a kind of an oppositionestablishment - and then about half a mile further east, in another direction,they built a section house. They scattered their buildings around promiscuously,expecting to see the town fill up in a hurry, but the town never filledup. It was attacked early - - in the first stage of its career, and it neverrallied. Col. Fiske had build a ditch to drain a swamp which covered halfthe neighborhood, but the swamp after bestowing a portion of its contentsinto the ditch refused to part with the major portion of its contents. Stillthose who located at St. Vincent were there to stay; they had stout hearts,and it was not their fault if the place did not come up to the originalanticipations.

There is no western town without its redeeming features,and when railway magnates induce people to locate at their terminal towns,they should stay with the people and not leave them to their fate. "Conductor,throw this town overboard, we've got to build another further on."

Nothing shocks your staid man from the East, more thanthe odd fashion the Western people have of living in tents and shacks, andthen pulling up stakes and going off further west. The eastern man's momentumhas been of the slow description; he cannot move fast at first, even ifyou kick him; his joins are stiff, and how can you expect him to move withthe celerity of a western rustler? When he locates it is like the dump ofa pile-driver, he makes an impression on the soil and there wants to remainand conduct matters in the old fashioned way, but the western man cannotallow such foggyism, and the eastern individual soon discovers that he mustdo likewise or be "a bump on a log." If he has snap he does "likewise;"if has not he remains as a surveyor's mark, sure to be found around thesame old spot many years afterward.

The life incident to a new town in the west is real andearnest. Such activity as might have been observed about St. Vincent inthe palmy days of its career was of the western type. Like Moorhead to Fargo,it defied its neighbor across the river, but the old inhabitants of Pembinashook their heads ominously. Mr. Moorhead would vary the occasional solemnityby observing that "he did not think it was fair to attack a place becauseit was hard to see." But when Col. Fiske undertook to interrupt theferry and thus cut off communication with Pembina, Mr. Moorhead remarkedthat it was a "territorial offense" to interrupt communicationacross a navigable stream, and so Col Fiske was foiled, pending the questionas to which side of the river was the stronger. It was not long before thepeople of the territorial town found that even a territory has rights, andso they continued to vindicate them.

For a long time St. Vincent bore the unequal struggle,first against the railway company then against Pembina; the latter, of course,being its natural rival. But between the contending forces from a thriving,ambitious town it was "flattened out" until natural growth wouldassist it. It was not without its virtues, and like many a railway terminus,its promoters were promised a great deal and the promises were not kept.

The price of lots went down from considerable to nothing.The town site company expended a good deal of money in making improvements"but the west side always" seems to have a withering effect onthe right bank of the Red.

One of the incidents connected with the early history ofSt. Vincent was the celebration of the arrival of the first train. Thatwas a glorious occasion! There was no dearth of champagne on the occasioneither. There was a happy time for it really meant through trains to Winnipegfrom the far East.. Many of the chief actors in that scene are gone - -among the number poor Brawley, "the member for St. Vincent" whocertainly believed that some day his town would rival St. Paul.

The illustration shows the Pacific Hotel with Uncle JohnStewart at the door, in his good, old fashioned way.

Many an interesting anecdote "Uncle John" isable to tell, for he has handled the ribbons in his time as a stage, andhe can tell his story with a dry humor that is inimitable. A warm heartand a kind and hospitable landlord is "Uncle John" to all.

Researched and contributed by Trish Lewis.e landlord is "Uncle John" to all.

Researched and contributed by Trish Lewis.