Mary Beth Writes

Sault is a French word that mean topsy-turvy as in the rapids on the St. Mary river that tumbles between the US and Canada. Or summersaults. Isn’t that cute?

We walked a lot that first day. We thought the Ermatinger Clergue National Historic Site; which is two old houses that we wanted to see, were just around the corner from where we parked. Nope; more like two miles there and two miles back.  But it was a brisk day and after our hot, humid Wisconsin summer it was delicious to wear a jacket and not sweat.

Charles Oakes Ermatinger was born in 1776 in Montreal, Ontario. By the time he was 19 he was a clerk for a trading company, which meant he went out into the wilderness (well, wilderness to European guys; home to the people who lived there) to talk with First Nation people and buy their furs. He was working along the North Saskatchewan River in late 1798 when he and another trader became lost. Ermatinger found his way out of the forest after 16 days; his companion never returned. What a way to start adulthood.

Do you remember my posts about how white guys in the fur trading business would marry First Nation women? (who married who and how that worked out) That’s what Ermatinger did. In 1800, when he was 24 and she was 15, he married Charlotte Calloonalute’, daughter of a prominent Ojibway leader. In their life together she would bear 13 children, eight of whom would survive. Then, in 1832 when he was 56 and she was 47, they married again in a Montreal Catholic church.

When he married her the first time, he effectively removed himself from the European cultural standards of that time. He would have to live away from “society”. I can imagine this 25-year old young man, intrigued and possibly smitten by his new First Nation bride, very willing to forego his white culture. But then this. Thirty-three years later he declared to his world that his wife was the love of his life … and she apparently said the same. This was a partnership that worked. Maybe you have to be old to be moved by this. I am.

Ermatinger was a trader and merchant. In the early 1820’s, as his wealth grew he built a trading post as well as their Stone House (that we walked two miles to see). It was the first stone house north of Montreal. Through long cold winters at the east end of Lake Superior, 200 years ago, their home was the social center of their community.

Ermatinger died in 1833 with a reputation for hospitality, a clever businessman who helped build the prosperity of the region. (John Jacob Astor did not like him; you know there’s a good story there. http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/ermatinger_charles_oakes_6E.html)

And then there was this curious home. The first floor was built in 1821 to be an ammunition-powder magazine, presumably by Ermatinger. By the end of the 1800’s, Francis Clerque added on the second floor and moved in.

Francis Clerque was a Genuine Character.  He was born 1856 in Maine, went to law school, and then spent much of his life inventing and promoting and badly managing business schemes in Bangor, in Bar Harbor, Sault Ste Marie and more.  He even spent a year pitching and getting contracts to build a railroad across Persia! (Russian politics got in the way.) He had huge ideas; he believed if one started one business near a source of power they could then piggyback many more business enterprises around that. He made and lost his own and many other investors’ fortunes. 

In Sault Ste Marie (where he went after burning out in previous communities) he started a hydro-electric plant, Algoma Steel, a new canal and lock system still in use, a paper and pulp mill, a railroad, and two mines. He was wildly over extended as well as a poor day-to-day manager and it all went bust in the early 1910’s. Except the infrastructure of these businesses was in place and his start-ups continued … although he left town.

He never married and, it seems, neither did his two brothers. Curious, don’t you think?

In any event, while he lived close to 20 years in Sault Ste Marie, he in habited this oddly charming small home. He was a gregarious, over-confident dreamer, and I bet spending an evening in his company was fun.

If you want to know more, check this out: http://www.city.sault-ste-marie.on.ca/library/Clergue_Personality.html

Comments

I can “feel”the vacation in those pictures. Interesting.

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