Sheldon Aubut's Duluth History
Autobiography of Camille Poirier
Poirier Tent & Awning Company
(Later: Duluth Tent & Awning)
Tents, Awnings, Wagon Covers
Pack Sacks, Sails and all kinds of Canvass Goods
(Makers of the world famous "Duluth Pack)
413 East Superior Street (in 1914)
(Note: This is exactly as Mr. Poirier typed it, errors included)
Aug, 13/ 1914
I was born March, 3rd. 1838 of poor parents my mother died when I was young and - was taken care of by and Uncle God Father my home was St. Jacque lower Canada back of Montreal, no facility for education and had about two years from seven to nine and learn my prier that about all, worked very hard on the farm untill fourteen and there rebelled and went in to a sho shop to lean the trade I was three years at it working fifteen hours a day for ten Dollars a year after I got my papers as a full pledge shoe maker I worked for about a year at $ 6.00 a month. When I look back at the change in a life time half of working time especially in the winter was by artifical light and had nothing but home made tallow candle and worked three around one candle. Almost every boy in lower Canada have visions of the U.S. as a land of wealth. I didn't escape the glamour so at eighteen I got the fever of the State and Boston was only a days ride from Montreal and not having only money to take me over the line I went to Manchester in 57 and not knowing a word of English I stayed three years vegating working at my trade a while and then at anything else brick layer, wood chopping and not making much head way in the mean time had an accident by cutting my knee with an axe and it turned out very bad, with partly stiff knee and had to walk with cruches for over a year and the doctors didn't seem to do me any good. I went back to my native land and had good deal of relief, I was five years in Canada and in the mean time I got married in 62 was married three years and had two children and my wife died in the fall of 64. Leaving poor, partly cripple and two children as I had looked at the State as the land of promise and having enough of the English language to help some in the Spring of 65 I came to St. Paul and my condition chnaged to the better, I got a good position when I left Canada I was working 12 hours a day at 75¢ and I was a fast workman, I got two and three dollars a day in St. Paul I tell you I was greatly surprise. I was formen for a large shoe shop at one thousand dollars a year, but having been raised on a farm had left some attraction for me and I bought 120 acre of land five mile from Minneapolis thinking of farming soon as I could save money enought to start, but in 68 got married again and in 69 got a notion to start for my self I made a tour to find a suitable location, St. Peter, St. Cloud and other places but nothing to attract me in the mean time Duluth was talking about as the comming place, they had started to build St. Paul & Duluth Ry. and I decided to cast my lot at Duluth and I gathered my little stock of leather and tools took a shoe man with me and started the 10th. of Feb. 1870 leaving my wife to come later traveling as far as Hinkley on the new road and then by the stage the balance of the way to Duluth took four days of very cold and suffering but got here, there were few men working at the new dock at 3rd. Ave. E. and rought path of what is Superior is to-day with cordoroy bridge every block to take care of all the little riverlets that was coming from the hills. After registering at Cassey Boarding House at seven dollars a week and sleep on the floor after a week or so I got acquianted with Jeff. daniel and he had a bed which I got for he left the village and he gave his bed to me.
What struck me was a big pile of green wood 10 to 12 feet long right at the front of the door and the carcase of a cow or bull on top of it the cook would go out with an axe and chop good chunks of the frozen meat and that was our bouillion lots of onions and Duluth soil mixed in place of pepper. I met Col. Graves Spruce Young from the East as he had charge of good deal of Duluth property so I took a lease from him for 25 feet frontage between 1st. and 2nd. Ave. East upper side and there I cast my lot and started at once to clear about four feet of snow on my newly aquired property, bought couple thousand feet of 1/2 inch thick at one end and 1-1/2 at the other few rolls of tar paper, dont know but I bought them of W. Van Brunt as he was the head and tail of Nash Hardware Co. then. I started to look for carpenters none to be got few in Duluth and all busy. I meet couple and asked them what they were getting a day $3.50 they said well I told them to come to me and I will pay them $5.00 a day I had them and in five days got in to my new house had paid $5.00 to a teamster to go to Superior to get my doors and window, I moved in to my shop and was a boarding house inside of a week I then started to work night and day, I cooke dour own meal thats the reason that I am such a good cook to-day I had only few hundred dollars to my credit but nothing denied I started to trust very extensively as money was comming very freely and though everything was all right and was a good fellow and inside of six weeks I had six men working, and inside of six weeks and many times working part of the night to finish a job, the first bill of boot shoes I got was $1200.00 on trust and after 45 yeears I am still dealing with the same people to day in the canvas line and hope to go so for some time yet to come. But in 72 - I found myself with about $2000.00 worth of goods on my shelf and about $7000.00 of book accounts and lost over one half of it but my creditor were very kind I told them to give me time and I would pay them and I did. Wife came in the 25th. of March with my children, they upset three times on the way but the passenger were very kind to her and helped her as much as they could. I had no place to put them but Mr. Sueeney then engineer for the Village was very kind he took me and my family in his small quarters and we stood four weeks with him good deal form a good man in the mean time I built an addition to the back of my store didn't excavate but put it higher to fit the incline of the hill then I bought my wife proud as a king to our new mansion the frost was covering the walls 1/2"inch thick in the morning, but bread frozen solid and every thing the same way. Teamster were felling green trees at the back and brining loads of wood 12 - 15 feet long and thats what we had to keep from freezing. I got a ton of coal from Stone at $12.00 per ton I bought 2 bushels of potatoes small as marbles at $3.00 bushel and paid $12.00 for a barrel flour from Superrior. In the Spring of 70 was very latee and we were out of salt and sugar and lots of other necessary things for three weeks and boats that was our hope was stuck in the ice outside. In 77 I had branched out very much had about 25 men working and boarding most of them help was very scarce and my dear wifeworked out I dont know but she did and she is in but strong and healthy at 70, and accident that I forgot that I am very much interested as I claim that I was the first water corporation in Duluth we had to go to the Lake for water and as population increased it was very hard work and had large hogheads put on a cart, got a man to take charge and started the first waterdelivery in Duluth went very well but my servant proved unfaithful he ran away with about $400 of my water money so I sold my outfit to the Collins Bros. and they did a good business for many years.
Insurance was very high in the poor kind of building we had, I had insurance on my stock for 7 and 8 per cent and got tired of same and discontinued it and six months after I burnt out clean and no in insurance of any kind nothing but my large account book. The fire started at my neighbors old Morinn and took me in, lose was about $15000.00 had to start a new again, a few incidents of the fire are worth recalling I had a large coal stove up-stairs and every body was willing to help me so we decide to pass the stove out thought a front window, they attached some strong rope which they were to lower it down, in the excitement that they had in leting the rope down where they were said let go so the stove went and all to pieces on the walk. Father was with us and couldn't talk but a few words of English and he heard me say the we need more men to get the goods out so he ran to the other side of the street and cry out more men, more men. I then moved to the corner of Lake Ave. and Superior Street in an old frame that had been as a Court of Justus, the property was owned by the First National Bank then in Bankruptcy they done business weak and then wen under they had fifty feet including the corner it was to be sold and I was anxious to get it, as I was thinking that business was pushing that way before that 1st. and 2nd Ave. was the center of business nothing on the whole street till you got to where the Spalding is now the man Spalding had a store there run by Mr. Wilkenson but taht was way out of business center. I had 50 feet of old place but didn't care to rebuild there I had my eyes on lake Ave. no money but $1000.00 but I hope to get, I sold 25ft. of my old place to Mr. Ople and 25 ft. later to Judge Stearn so the auction of the Bank came on and I bit 4800.00 for the property paid 1000.00 cash the next day. I sold the inside for 2700.00 to Mr. A.R.McFarland and got at once a cement house store and home 25 C 100 old Harmond done the job frame first and roll of cement one over the other that made a very good building and fire place for my family. I was doing a large business I was the only shoe man for years and had the trade from all the surrounding Country I opened the store at six and keep open from eleven to twelve every night and Sunday was a good day I would go up to my Sunday dinner and some body would ring the bell and had to go down again, my experience at the beginning of Duluth was as soon as we could get some apropiation from the government the population would grow rapidly most from the copper country and would dwindled to normal again as soon as it was exausted and good may of them owed me and never paid me I made dollecion tour one year down the lake had about three thousand dollars of accounts and was twenty one days and came back with one hundred and sixty and was held at Isle Royal for seven days on a storm nothing to do but picking green stones. In about 83 McGegor & Morrision took fire and we got ready in case of danger but didn't think ti would reach, had only one window in the Ave. of my store and McGregoer had a barrell of kerosene on the side walk and it caught fire and in the excitment it was rolled right in front of my store and explded out all my exit so waht I could save was by one window on the Ave. and had about 40 thousand dollar stock, so another start with almost nothing. I had $5000.00 on the building but nothing on the stock another 15 or 20 thousand gone the fire was burning at the back and I had men digging and cleaning for a new building. The Duluth & Iron Range made an arrangement to have the upstairs of my building and had it fixed for there business, they paid me one years rent ahead 1200 to help me and I built the present building that stands there now the Company stayed there five years in my building and I had one of the best stores in Duluth. Henry Bell offered me $30,000.00 cash for the building and I was tired of the business and I thought I was rich and I took it. I then went in speculating bargins on property twenty years to soon went lumbering mining speculation and lost on every side I built what is now the Cately Store and couple years before the panic and when 94 came I went down like a rock stated again with nothing but I was gettng old to, it has been slow but I have done it cheerfully and I am getting three meal a day and I am now nearly 77 years and I am waiting for the call I am not anxious I can wait I am proud to be one of the old settlers and I think that we are the people on earth so when I drop off they will be one less that call.
I was county commisioner of St. Louis Co. from 90-94.
Camille filed a patent Dec 12, 1882 for a "Pack Strap" that lead to a radical new design for pack sacks. His pack later came to be called the "Duluth Pack". It was a brilliant design specifically made for canoers. The shape is square so that it can rest easily in the bottom of a canoe and the top of the pack does not extend past the shoulders like normal backpacks so that a person can wear the pack and carry a canoe at the same time. Canvas was chosen over leather or other materials specifically for its ability to hold up under various weather conditions. These days, besides their intended purpose, Duluth Packs have also become a hip fashion accessory. Today, the Duluth Tent & Awning company has expanded their product line to include similar packs for a variety of outdoor purposes, as well as purses, camping equipment, computer cases and even garden furniture. Even so, the Scout Pack, a very slightly modified version of the original Duluth Pack, is still their best seller and the product for which they are most famous.
"Duluth Packs" have been made for the last 85 years by Duluth Tent & Awning, Inc. Check out their web site at http://www.duluthpacks.com and please request their catalog. It is a wealth of outdoor information in addition to offering the wonderful Duluth Pack products.
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