Visiting Ermatinger House, Sault-Ste-Marie, Ontario: Dating From 1814/1823, Part of a National Historic Site of Canada
Near the St. Mary's River, a window on hidden undercurrents of the historic fur trade
[This visit occurred some years ago.]
Together with a nearby former military blockhouse associated with industrialist Francis Victor Clergue, the Ermatinger House is designated a National Historic Site of Canada.
Executed in stone — as befits the name by which it has also been known: the Old Stone House — the Ermatinger House dates from between 1814 and 1823. Its first owner fur trader Charles Ermatinger (1776-1833) was an employee of the North West Company, which subsequently merged with the Hudson Bay Company.
With its pillared doorway (which includes a small pediment) and square, Georgian lines, Ermatinger House at least superficially resembles many buildings of a similar vintage in Dublin, Republic of Ireland.
Its owner, Charles Ermatinger (2) is hard to classify in terms of culture, business allegiance and nationality. Born in Montreal — where also he died — his father was Swiss-German. He spent many years in Sault-Ste-Marie and travelled extensively. At times he worked — overtly — for the Hudson Bay Company, which had replaced the North West Company, but also — covertly — for the New North West Company. One line of notion, however, does seem to run through his life: he was usually the rival of tycoon John Jacob Astor's American Fur Company: this may provide a hidden key to his persona (3). His Ojibwa wife Charlotte, whom he had married customarily in circa 1800, he finally married according to Anglican custom in 1832, not long before his death in 1833. As a fur trader, at times he was based on the American side of the St. Mary's River, at Sault-Ste-Marie in what eventually became Michigan; at times he was based in Sault-Ste-Marie, in what eventually became Ontario, where the Old Stone House — Ermatinger House — was built.
As he navigated the fur trade in late 18th and early 19th century in the Great Lakes region, my Syrian friends would doubtless call Charles Ermatinger an honorary Syrian (4), with his evident genius for adaptation to a kaleidoscopically changing environment. Perhaps another obliquely Middle Eastern analogy would be that of a great oil tanker tranquilly navigating the ocean with a cargo which at least nominally changes ownership many, many times to the utter oblivion of its crew.
(To complicate matters further, his family surname was variously recorded as Armintinger and Ermintinger as well as Ermatinger.)
Ermatinger House is situated at 831 Queen Street East, Sault-Ste-Marie, Ontario.
May 5, 2020
(1) See also: https://www.pc.gc.ca/apps/dfhd/page_nhs_eng.aspx?id=508
(2) See also: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/ermatinger_charles_oakes_6E.html
(3) The roots of this trait of his persona may lie obliquely in 18th century Montreal, and that city's relative proximity to the US border, when his Swiss immigrant father lost his business during a brief military takeover of the city by American forces.
(4) I myself once held an ID from Uruguay, where multiple allegiances are common: e.g., a former Vice President of Uruguay and former Interior Minister was Jorge Abdala; of Syrian (Syro-Lebanese) extraction, he also simultaneously held Uruguayan and Argentinian nationalities.
Some sourcing: Wikipedia
Also worth seeing
In Sault-Ste-Marie, Ontario itself, sights include the Old Post Office, completed 1906, by David Ewart, now a museum; the Bushplane Heritage Centre; and many others; in the wider area are various Provincial Parks with spectacular scenery; Sault-Ste-Marie is a good base from which to explore the wider Lakeshores of Superior and Huron, and the Algoma region.
In Sault-Ste-Marie, Michigan, USA (distance: 7.2 kilometres), the River of History Museum is at 531 Ashmun Street; there is a number of notable examples of church architecture; the Chippewa County Courthouse is a striking, domed building; the Soo Locks, which enable shipping to pass between Lakes Superior and Huron, are a US National Historic Landmark.
How to get there: Air Canada and Porter Airlines fly from Toronto, with wide North American connections, to Sault Ste. Marie Airport (distance from Sault-Ste-Marie, Ontario: 19.5 kilometres), where car rental is available. SkyWest/ Delta Connection flies from Chippewa County International Airport , near Sault-Ste-Marie, Michigan, (distance from Sault-Ste-Marie, Ontario: 36 kilometres) to Detroit Wayne County Metropolitan Airport, with wide North American connections. Some facilities may be withdrawn without notice. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. Given the proximity of the US-Canada border, international travellers should refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.
Also worth seeing
- Visiting the Old Post Office, Sault-Ste.-Marie, Ontario: By David Ewart, With Neoclassical Pediments
The Old Post Office at Sault-Ste-Marie, Ontario exudes a solidity identified with the authority of the Federal Government; designed by David Ewart, Chief Dominion Architect, it was completed in 1906.
- Visiting the Old Federal Building, Sault-Ste-Marie, Michigan: After a Design by James Knox Taylor, B
Built in an era when functionalist design was less widespread, Sault-Ste-Marie's Old Federal Building is situated on the site of Old Fort Brady.