My Love Affair with Louis Riel: Stories houses tell
Winnipeg Tribune, 22 December 1958
No. 1536 Pembina Highway is the house for this story. It looks like the last log house on the old trail through Fort Garry. It’s really two old houses from different locations moved together. And it’s not logs—but frame.
More famous and much older than the house is the family that owns it—Lagimodiere, Manitoba’s first white family, who came in 1806 from Quebec and farther back from Normandy.
It’s a perfect house for a story, snugly gabled, white as the snow piled around it. In here it’s easy to imagine the snowy night at HBC post Pembina, 6 January 1807, when Reine Lagimodiere was born, first child of fur-trader Jean Baptiste Lagimodiere and his wife Marie Anne Gaboury. It happened only 60 miles down the highway.
Damase Lagimodiere, the present owner, is a fourth generation descendant. The clan numbers now some 4,000—the last official reunion in 1937 in St. Boniface counted
Louis Rid was a second generation descendant : his mother’s mother Julie Lagimodiere was Reine’s little sister, seventh of eight children.
Damase was born at Lorette, brought to Fort Garry by his mother at a year old because his father Henri had died.
Eighty six, she is Mrs. Joseph Plouffe now, lives on adjoining Nesbit St.
“It’s Lorette where the parfleche is—the despatch case,” I interrupted. “The letter Jean Baptiste carried was in it.”
“Yes, we have the picture,” Mrs. Lagimodiere smiled, leading me to the kitchen. There on the low wall was the HBC calendar, an artist’s conception of New Year’s Eve, 1816 when Lagimodiere the coureur de bois, burst in on Lord Selkirk’s Montreal party with the news his settlement at Red River was in ruins. “There’s the letter, he’s holding it out.”
The most famous event in the family annals made the most famous possession of the house; framed in oak, it matched another HBC color calendar, winter traders inside Fort Garry in 1863. “Our kitchen is the oldest part of the house—see, it’s a step down from the living room. It came from the Nesbit store.”
John Nesbit’s store stood behind this house, farther back from the highway. About 1908 it was torn down and a new store built—“I don’t know how old it would be —maybe 80 years? Daughter Mary Nesbit married Joseph Dumas, who built Pembina Lodge. I used to work for Dumas, moving houses. I moved Martel School, that red house there,” Damase pointed from the low kitchen window to a gabled house covered with insul-brick siding. (No. 1 Finch Bay, Norman Wright’s home.) “As a school it stood between Waterford and Southwood. I remember it because my aunties, the McDougall girls, would leave me there when they went to town. I’d be four or five. I’m 65 now.”
“The rest of your house, where did it come from?” I urged.
“From Nesbit Road, I was going to school when that house was built—about 59 years ago. Payette lived in it—I never knew his name but his nickname was Caton. He died at Brokenhead, three or four years ago.”
So parts from two sites came together in the centre to make a new house. Damase has lived in it 15 years.
Grader for the municipality of Fort Garry 11 years, he’s a handy man indoors and out ; he has panelled the walls with plywood, built cornices over the windows for the chintz drapes, laid wood-pattern floor tiles. The TV is right at home in the modern interior in a house that may be as old as the province.
That it isn’t logs doesn’t mean it’s not old: “Saw mills was here from 1870—Arbuthnot’s near here,” said Damase The kitchen—the old Nesbit store—is all electric, with two refrigerators built into a continuous counter Damase built.
Page revised: 10 June 2021