Frozen in Time: Fort Daer at West Lynne

Hi! Allow me to take you back in time… to a summer filled with carefree road trips, long sunny days, and trees and fields bursting forth with life. Allow me to take you back in time to… summer 2020.

At the time, it didn’t feel all that carefree. We were careful to stay within our provincial border, and not to travel too far north. We didn’t feel comfortable doing too many things with other people, because, pandemic. A long car ride seemed particularly inadvisable. I’ve been missing seeing people quite fiercely and I know I’m not unique in this.

But, seeing as we are curious about southern Manitoba Mennonite history, and there are many (MANY) sites we neglected to see when borders were open, this past summer provided an opportunity for plenty of Mennotoba sightseeing, just Andrew and I, with our car full of knackzoat.

One Saturday, we headed south to West Lynne.

“West Lynne SD No.27 1880-1939”

This place was interesting to me, since after examining my ancestry on Grandma Online (reading all the notes) I learned that my great-great-great-grandfather’s family had been recorded in the Sommerfeld Gemeinde Buch: Registers of the Church at West Lynne 1881-1935. I don’t know much about their connection to this group of people, seems to me it was tenuous at best. Not only was the church undergoing some aggressive shape-shifting at the time, but also that branch of the family is tricky to follow, as they moved from place to place quite suddenly. I’m just guessing, but I suspect this was due to a combination of economic difficulty and reluctance to become too connected to any given group. Sometimes I’ve wondered if they even just immigrated in the first place to get away from family in the old country. But, I really have no idea. I just imagine things.

Nevertheless, they got their names in the West Lynne book and I’d been curious to visit the place ever since.

There’s nothing to see here in this village in terms of anything Mennonite. At least not that I could tell. BUT this is where we discovered the remains of Fort Daer!

I’ve never heard of this place. And now, here we were! I’ll let the sign tell you about it.

The sign says:

“One of the oldest federal buildings in Manitoba, opening in 1870 as a Customs office and first post office known as West Lynne. When the border was surveyed two years later in 1872, the customs house was found to be 100′ on the American side; so had to be moved. Standing next to it now is Emerson’s first jail built in 1879; referred to as Bell’s Hotel after the police officer in charge.”

Whoa. So interesting to learn of this Canadian outpost being located on American ground for two years without notice. I try to imagine what it was like around here during those days. Sounds like quite the fluid border situation.

And look! Another historical sign!

This sign says:

“Pembina-Emerson Area. After 1790 the junction of the Red and Pembina Rivers was the site of fur-trading posts of the Hudson’s Bay Co., North-West Co,. and XY Co. Here at Fort Daer the early Selkirk Settlers hunted buffalo when food was scarce at the Red River Settlement. In 1874 a townsite was laid out on the east side of the Red River, just north of the international boundary. It was named after the poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, and incorporated in 1879. The village of West Lynne, established by the Hudson’s Bay Co. hoping to settle the land near their post at Pembina, united with Emerson in 1883. The Historic Sites Advisory Board of Manitoba.”

I had no idea Emerson was named for the famous poet! Very cool. Reminds me of Tolstoi being named for Leo Tolstoy.

Also, I know about Hudson’s Bay Co. and North-West Co., but I’ve never heard of XY Co. Sounds almost like a fill-in-the-blank fake name, doesn’t it? I googled it, and apparently it was a “small but aggressive rival”. Ha.

Anyway, we were thrilled to check out these very old buildings!

You can’t go inside. BUT there are windows. I pushed the camera up agains the panes of glass.

This is what my camera saw:

And look here. At the back of this other smaller building, sadly one log has rotted and fallen out completely. It’s a little higher than my eyeline, but I held the camera up to the crack in the logs…

And this is what my camera saw! WOW. The snowshoes, the lamp, the filing system… all left as it were, gathering dust and age in this locked up old cabin.

I went around to a window and took this picture. The typewriter still on the desk…

Looks like some work has been done to keep the ceiling in place, but I wonder if they’ve run out of funds to fully maintain these historic structures. I’m glad we saw them when we did, before further deterioration takes place…

Related posts: 

Looking Through Grandma’s Window!

Fort Dufferin: The Other Mennonite Landing!