Urbex: The Ongoing Story of the Eccentric Pastor Lee House

*** check back often, this is a living blog and will be updated regularly with new info ***

It has been a hot minute since I’ve posted … I’ve been embroiled in a landlord/tenant matter, wherein I repossessed my home from crappy tenants and have spent the better part of the last 6 weeks renovating it – they left it in such a shambles (ugh) … I’ll post on that separately, they completely ruined the house.   

However, while I’m in here, in Dauphin, Manitoba renovating the house, getting it ready to sell, I wanted to pick up the story of the Lee’s.  If you haven’t read the blog on the oddity of the Pastor Lee House in Haldimand County, Ontario or watched the YouTube video click here (blog) and here (video), for some background of relatedness.  It’s such an interesting story, they were such an eccentric family or maybe Gordon more-so. 

While exploring their abandoned house, my urbex partner, Thomas randomly found a photo of Gordon in Dauphin, as a child.   I took it to be a sign that I needed to continue researching this family.  I mean what are the odds that in an abandoned house with tons of stuff strewn all over the place, thousands of photos and slides messed about the 2 story home, that had been abandoned for years, that he would come across a photo taken in Dauphin and take a snapshot of it?  He wasn’t aware that I had lived in Dauphin from 2015 to 2017, nor that I was heading back to town to repossess my home.  Honestly, I didn’t even know he had found the photo until he sent me his shots and videos from the explore to create the content!  Ironic?  Serendipitous?   Coincidence?  I’ll let you decide … 

Here’s what we know so far …

From visiting their home and our previous research, we know that Esther obtained her diploma from the Moody Blue Institute in Chicago. Arthur was in the military and then became a Pastor. They purchased the house in Haldimand County, Ontario, which is now abandoned.  They had 3 children.  And, at one point in/about 1943 they were either living in or visiting Dauphin, Manitoba … but why?  

That’s what I’m going to try and find out while I’m here.

Here’s what I was able to newly locate … 

This information should get us started in figuring out why the Lee’s were in Dauphin, of all places.  

In or about 1925 Esther departed for Africa as part of a missionary group, I have a newspaper lead that they were doing missionary work in Nigeria – unfortunately, the article is too small to be legible. However, I was able to confirm this by locating the Caronia‘s ship manifest, which confirms the 32 year old was a missionary, heading to Minna, Nigeria.

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I was unable to locate Arthur on the ship’s manifest or any other manifest as of yet.

Apparently Arthur and Esther married there in 1927 (I have been unable to confirm this for myself).

At some point they returned to North America.   I have yet to determine when exactly, but according to the newspaper articles below, they were at least back in the U.S. by 7 Aug 1930.

I was also able to locate on Ancestry.ca information that Arthur and Esther in fact had another son, Walter who passed away in 1938 at the age of 5 of spinal meningitis (18 Nov 1932 – 19 Apr 1938). It’s said that he passed away in Africa, this part I am unable to confirm for myself.

I understand from another blogger that throughout the 1960’s Rev. Lee worked as a Teacher in Slave Lake, Alberta and retired in 1965. However, we have it confirmed that in 1948 the Lee’s had purchased their home in Haldimand County, Ontario.  So, how does all of this fit together? I have no confirmation that he taught in Slave Lake as of yet.

I also read a blog that said that Rev. Lee was a Pastor of Baptist churches in both Manitoba and Ontario.

We also have this to go on … the  photo that Thomas found during our explore of the Pastor Lee house.  

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Before we delve into this further  … Dauphin facts:

  • Dauphin has a population of 8,457 as of the 2016 Canadian Census, with an additional 2,388 living in the surrounding Rural Municipality of Dauphin, for a total of 10,845 in the RM and City combined. Dauphin is Manitoba’s 9th largest community and serves as a hub to the province’s Parkland Region.
  • You can get anywhere in town in about 5-7 minutes, unless the train comes through. 
  • It is actually situated on the 100th meridian, for anyone who finds that as fascinating as I do.
  • It’s known as the “City of Sunshine”
  • Norwex’s Canadian Head Office is located here.
  • It’s home to Canada’s National Ukrainian Festival and Dauphin’s Countryfest, Canada’s longest-running country music festival.
  • It lies along the Vermilion River just west of Dauphin Lake, and is 323 kms northwest of Winnipeg. 
  • Dauphin is near Duck Mountain Provincial Park and Riding Mountain National Park, just west of Lake Manitoba and Dauphin Lake and south of Lake Winnipegosis.
  • The French trader and explorer Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, sieur de La Vérendrye named the nearby lake, Dauphin, in 1741 in honour of the heir to the French throne, the Dauphin of France (Prince of Wales)
  • The province was founded on parts of the traditional territories of the Assiniboine, Dakota, Cree, Dene, Anishinaabeg and Oji-Cree peoples, and on the homeland of the Métis Nation. 
  • As of the 2016 census, Manitoba had 1,278,365 residents, making it the fifth most populous province or territory in Canada (I came here from Toronto, the GTA alone has 6,254,571).
  • Dauphin was incorporated as a city in 1998.

Ok, so now that you have some tidbits of info on the “city” itself, you get that it’s small and it would have been much smaller in 1943 when the photo was taken. I was unable to locate the population of Dauphin back in the 1940’s but Manitoba’s entire population was only 921,686 in 1961.

The search for the house in the photo …. 

The handwriting at the back of the photo says this … “Donald Lee in centre with girls at Mrs Chase’s (not in view) house on first street north of railroad, across street from station. Dauphin, Manitoba about 1943. Looking west towards Vermillion River”

Ok, so let’s look at this map I created … 

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Locate the relevant points that she mentions:

  • The train station (on map as Dauphin Rail Museum) 
  • Vermillion River (on map as Vermillion Park & Campground and Vermillion River)
  • 1st Street – she doesn’t specify NW, but it’s implied by her saying “north of railroad, across street from (train) station” and also by her saying “looking west towards Vermillion River”.  Plus, it’s the only 1st St., the other is 1st Ave. 
  • Based on that information, I feel the house has to be located near the star I put near the Watson Art Centre.

I live only 3 blocks from where the photo was apparently taken.  Literally …. just down 2nd Ave SW (follow arrow on map) til I hit 1st Ave SW and turn right to get to the train station, the 1st right directly in front of the train station is 1st St NW.  Vermillion Park is directly at the end of 2nd Ave SW.  So, that’s where I’m going to start my search, I’m going to try and track down this particular house.  I’m going to check out the houses in the block of 1st Ave SW and 1st Ave NW AND 2nd Ave SW and 2nd St NW (looking Westward toward the River).  I know the area well,  I feel it’s doubtful that the house still exists or perhaps it’s been modified to look differently than it did back then.   

Ok, so here are some photos I took for point of view and real life perspective.

This is the Dauphin Train Station, it was built in 1912, and was standing while the Lee’s were here in 1943.  

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Immediately in front of the train station – 1st Ave SW and 1st St NW

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Below you can see The Watson Art Centre which is directly in front of the train station, it was established in 1905 and was the old fire hall, so that building existed when the Lee’s would have been here. Photo was taken standing in front of the train station looking westward toward Vermillion River.

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I looked at the houses to see if they resembled the house in the photo OR if there was any possibility that the house could have been updated or added onto.  I paid particular attention to  the east side of 1st St NW because the photo says that the children were looking westward toward Vermillion River. However, upon further reflection it’s not immediately clear if the children or the photographer is looking west.   

This house has the most resemblance.  I initially took the photo as if the children were looking westward toward Vermillion River.

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Then I took the photo from the east side as if the photographer was looking westward toward Vermillion River.

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After side by side comparison – it does not appear to be the house in the 1943 photo even accounting for upgrades and improvements.  The window placements are off.

Now, it wouldn’t have been uncommon for prairie houses to be similar and side by side, especially if family owned – so I thought “what if it had a next door twin at some point?”  With that, I went back to double check and BINGO there’s a vacant lot where a house would have once stood immediately beside that house!  Could the house we’re looking for have stood there at one point?

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Immediately across the street from the train station is a white building which is definitely not the house in the in picture. Maybe the house was situated there prior?

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It is not stated how far down the street the house it, just that it’s north of the tracks, across the street from the station, so I was assuming relatively close to the station … however, just to be certain  I went down to the end, until I hit River Rd. and only found 1 possibility but I don’t think it’s it, it was further down than I expected it to be and it doesn’t seem to match.   

There were also 2-3 vacant plots and a new building where Ashcroft Vision Care is now and the newer built Baptist church (from the 1 that was on Main St) which was built on 1st St SW and 3rd Ave NW in 1960 (below 1st photo).

Maybe the house was on 1 of these lands?  So, that’s a dead end folks … for now.  I’ll keep digging.

The (re)search goes on and on and on …

Ok, I’m back to doing more research …. using my ancestry.ca account and doing some general Google searches to see what I can come up with.  

I was able to locate an account that has some interesting information linked to Esther herself, but encapsulates both she and Rev. Lee (the reason being is that the person who was doing the research was investigating Esther’s time at Moody Bible College).  

 I found a few newspaper clippings to be of interest: 

7 Aug 7 1930 – Albany, Misouri 

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20 Dec 1934Albany, Missouri

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20 Dec 1934 – Albany, Missouri

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Note: Albany is a city and county seat of Gentry County, Missouri, USA. The population was 1,730 at the 2010 census.  Esther was born in Gentry, Missouri. I’m guessing that Albany was her hometown, the reason being is that they consistently refer to her as “formerly Miss Esther Gladstone”, likely so those reading the newspaper would recognize her by her maiden name and come out to hear them speak.

Trying to fill in the gap …

Those newspaper clippings were still a full 9 years before the photo in Dauphin was taken … what did they do in those 9 years?  Did they return to Africa for another mission as one of the clippings  would suggest?

I decided to check to see if Dauphin had a Baptist Church back in 1943 and run on the basis that the other blogger’s notation was fact … that Rev. Lee preached in Manitoba.  I’m running into a bunch of dead ends so, no harm in trying.   I know there’s a church now on 3rd Ave NW but did one exist then?  The answer is yes it did, but it was in a different location, on Main Street.  Dauphin has had a Baptist church for that last 120 years.  

Maybe I can contact the church to see if they have a list of all the Pastors?  

Mrs. Chase, who and where are you? …

I decided to try and see if I could track down the Mrs. Chase as was documented and not in view on the back of the photo.  All I knew was that her name was Mrs. Chase.  I knew she was married because if the Mrs. and that her last name was Chase and nothing else.  I was able to find 2 male Chases with wives in the 1940 Canada Voters list for Dauphin … a Mrs. Earle Chase and a Mrs. Darwin Chase, but no addresses.   

Maybe I can hit up the land registry office?

Does anyone know anything? …. 

I have a neighbour, Amy, she’s been around town for many years – maybe she know something about Pastor Lee, Esther or of a Mrs. Chase?  Let’s ask Amy and see.  Stay tuned!

Ok, so, as of today (31 Jul 2021) that’s what I’ve been able to dig up on the Lees.  As I mentioned above, this is going to be an ongoing updated blog, so be sure to check back often.

HELP — Also, I’m open to help, if anyone knows how I can dig further into this or has any clues or tips — comment below.  

I find the story of the Lees fascinating for some reason, and I feel compelled to know more about them.