Autobiography of Camille Poirier

Camille Poirer stands next to his sledge, which holds a hogshead of Lake Superior Water, some time in the 1870s. (Image: Duluth Public Library)

Note: Poirer’s Poirier Tent & Awning Company manufactured a variety of canvas goods and were makers of the renown Duluth Pack. The company later became known as Duluth Tent & Awning and operates in Duluth today. 

Duluth, Minnesota, August 13, 1914. Unedited

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 ofMontreal, 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 until fourteen and there rebelled and went in to a shoe 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 artificial 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 theState 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 vegetating 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 crutches 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 toSt. Paul and my condition changed 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 forman for a large shoe shop at one thousand dollars a year, but having been raised on a farm had left some attraction for me andI bought 120 acre of land five mile from Minneapolis thinking of farming soon as I could save money enough to start, but in 68 got married again and in 69 got a notion to start for myself 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 coming 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 rough path of what is Superior is to-day with corduroy 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 acquainted with Jeff. daniel and he had a bed which I got for he left the village and he gave his bed to me.

Click on “2” for the rest of the story….

Sources:

  • Van Brunt, Walter, ed. Duluth and St. Louis County, Minnesota Vols. 1 – 3. The American Historical Society. Chicago: 1922.
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