Category: Manitoba History

Manitoba’s 1950 Flood Relief Fund

Manitoba’s 1950 Flood Relief Fund

by George Siamandas

As the 1950 flood’s impact was felt Manitobans quickly created a relief agency. Manitoba and the world pitched in to help with the creation of the Manitoba Flood Relief Fund.


$50M damages

Black friday May 5; final crest was May 13

Flood lasted 51 days

40,000 evacuated from southern Manitoba

80,000-100,000 from Winnipeg of a population of 300,000

Some dikes were 18 feet high and 60 feet at the base.

There was a run on linseed which was used to plug the sewers.

2,000 homes were damaged above the first floor (Second floor)

Morris had the worst damage largely because of the poor construction of its buildings. Analysis overall showed that poorly constructed homes faced the worst damage. Those with concrete foundations did the best.

There was a secret plan called Operation Black Boy which would have called a total evacuation of Winnipeg with preparations for mode of transport and everything. Another foot of water higher and the power would have been out. The goods in Winnipeg great warehouses would have been destroyed. As it was the river put most of Lombard Ave under water and there were sandbags at Portage and Main.

Instead of going ahead with Operation Black Boy the red Cross went ahead with Operation Rainbow. This was the Red Cross relief effort which helped people adjust.


The committee first met on May 12, a week after the flood first hit on Black Friday. The idea came from Mayor Garnet Coulter who was at a mayor’s conference in new Orleans. Within 2 weeks the agency had $400,000. The guy in charge was HW Manning, vice president of Great West Life.


It came from everywhere in the world. A lot from Manitobans themselves.

On May 14 every radio station in Canada carried a 20 minute new report on the flood and an appeal for donations. The following Sunday May 16 Bob Hope asked for donations to the flood at the close of his show.

Eatons across the country matched its employees donations dollar for dollar giving $307,034. The agency sold a picture book of the flood for $1 called “THE RIVER RAMPANT” Kids shined shoes for 15 cents, Movie Theatres across the country took collections. In Winnipeg people were urged to donate a day’s wages.

In Toronto they held red River relief Rally at maple Leaf gardens. The entertainment which included Giselle McKenzie was broadcast on 800 radio stations throughout North America. The fund insisted on money because it was such a hassle to obtain and move goods around. The British Parliament gave 300,000 pounds. The British were noted for being unwilling to give cash.

It did a great job raising money: $8,897,618 by November. It was a generous group in distributing even though I saw an appeal by residents of the Glenwood area. By the end it had trouble giving all the money away. It was left with $2,000,000 which went to start up the Canadian Disaster Relief Fund. Administration costs were only 2%. They even helped small businesses many whom were farmers to buy new stock.


It cost the Manitoba government $42M. That was the equivalent of the entire year’s provincial budget at the time. And how much did the insurance companies pay in the 1950 flood? Almost nothing!



The Automobile City”

by George Siamandas

The village of Steibach was founded in 1874 by 18 Mennonites families that set up a traditional Mennonite village along a creek. The founders’ names included Wiebe, Penner, Reimer, Towes, Friesen, Plett and they are the stock of many Mennonites in Manitoba today. It is an unlikely location as it was away from Winnipeg and on the south eastern edge of the old Mennonites villages. But its success was due to ambitious hard working people. But initially, business was frowned on as an activity.


JR Friesen brought a 1911 Model N the forerunner of the Model T to Steinbach. He was promptly excommunicated by the church but Friesen was so excited about the possibilities of the car that he did not take the excommunication too seriously. In fact he had the last laugh when several years later the same ministers that had thrown him out came to buy cars themselves. On June 6 1914 he became the first Ford car dealer in western Canada. The cars were brought by rail knocked down in boxes, assembled and delivered on sleighs to their owners. In 1928 and 1929 they were selling 70 cars per year at about $650 each.

To sell cars in the 1930s they offered your money back in three days if not satisfied. They also held Canada’s earliest car auction selling 48 at the Penner dealership which was western Canada’s most modern in the early 1950s. John D Penner in 1950 was the first to take out full page ads in the Winnipeg papers to promote cars.

They tried every inducement including inviting customers and their families over for dinner. One time Mr Penner visited a family on their farm, and while he showed the husband and wife the car, Mrs Penner milked all the cows. The wife was so moved she agreed to the sale on the spot. Mr Penner said he had not yet milked a cow himself but he had done just about everything else in order to sell a car.


Steinbach’s car salesmen were the top of the country in the 1950s selling more than 250 cars annually. In 1960 they held a special promotion where anyone who came to Steinbach to buy a car had his hotel restaurant or other transportation paid for him. People came not only from Manitoba but also from Saskatchewan and Alberta.


Many businesses depended on a local invention. Inventors helped make their work easier, whether grain feeders for threshing machines, bee keepers equipment, bakery ovens and dough making machines, or mechanized dredges used to build drainage ditches.

Abraham S Friesen who was the first village mayor, first postmaster and a mechanical pioneer introduced mechanization to agriculture. He built the first windmill in 1877 and the first sawmill in 1876. It was his sons that later started the first Ford dealership in western Canada. Others like Peter K Barkman set up the first steam powered mill flour mill in 1880.


To encourage industry they introduced a ten year tax holiday and so Barkman’s Flour Mill was constructed in 1922. Through the 1950s and 1960s Steinbach had the highest growth rate of all Manitoba communities.


Not happy with the condition of roads in the 1930s, the local transportation committee took matters into their own hands developing and upgrading first the road to Giroux where the nearest railway was located and then east to the Morden Sprague highway. They filled in swamps with corduroy getting help from adjoining farmers. Soon the predecessor to No 12 was formed. They also formed pure bred swine and poultry clubs a legacy for egg and pork production that is making this rural area the fastest growing producer in Manitoba. All the work was don in the depths of the depression with barely any governmental money. They held courses on everything under the sun: bee keeping, hog raising etc.


According to Statistics Canada, Steinbach and the area around it is known to be the most giving census tract in all of Canada for charitable donations.




by George Siamandas

On June 10 1882 70 Jewish families arrived in Winnipeg. They were Russian Jews that were being massacred throughout south western Russia because it was thought they had something to do with Czar Alexander’s death in 1881. Years of oppression caused a mass exodus lasting from 1882 to 1914.

Sir Alexander Tilloch Galt Canada’s high commissioner to Great britain became involved in a relief committee called the Mansion House committee whose role was to raise funds and assist emigration from Russia. Galt proposed that they come to Manitoba. By spring of 1882 his proposal was accepted and 400 Jewish refugees left the Austrian Galician city of Borody bound for Winnipeg. Most were small traders and mechanics of various trades. They were expected to become farmers.

About 30 Jews had lived in Winnipeg as early as 1877. Most were of british or german origin and they were of the reform branch which was fairly well assimilated into the larger society. The existing community arranged for use of the immigration sheds and provided food and interpreters. They raised 1,200 in just a few months. The spirit of humanitarianism was strong in Winnipeg and Bishop Machray and Mayor Alexander Logan helped in increasing the donations. The papers were also supportive and helped create a very sympathetic climate.

About 150 became involved in the construction of the CPR laying track as far west as Moose Jaw. Their families lived with them and their observance of high holidays was tolerated. But by fall they fell into great difficulties as a recession fell over Winnipeg. Jobs were impossible to find after the collapse of the real estate boom and there were no places to live.

As winter was approaching efforts were made to move the families east but it did not come about. There were delays in giving them land to farm either in Manitoba or in the Q’Appelle valley. The authorities were just not ready for them and how to plan for them as they had done with the Mennonites and the Icelanders. Temperatures plummeted to

-50, they almost starved because they would not eat food they were offered. By the late 1880s the Jews had already established a multi cultural society. Despite their differences they all share a religion, a history as a people apart and Yiddish.

The newcomers were quite different. Different even than their English and German counterparts. They spoke a different language, ate different food, and kept solely to themselves. They were not interested in farming and had no money to become involved in any new activities. They faced a fair amount of racism and were excluded from elite clubs. Over time the children of the labourers, pedlars and store owners became doctors, lawyers and scientists.

By 1931 there were 20,000 people identifying themselves as Jews in Manitoba. Today the Jewish community numbers about 15,000 to 16,000 almost all urban but as their children seek better opportunities elsewhere numbers are dwindling.



How an Icelandic Fishing Village Became a Ghost Town Gateway to a White Elephant Luxury Resort

by George Siamandas


The first group of Icelandic settlers came in 1876. But they had not been the first. The man that first brought attention to this island north of Gimli was Henry McKenny.

Henry McKenny the man responsible for establishing Portage and Main, is also one of the first to create economic activity at Hecla Island. It was his idea to cut lumber on well forested Hecla Island and ship it to Selkirk for processing on his schooner the Jessie McKenny in 1868. The same year a saw mill and a general store established at Hecla.


The first Icelander to establish a homestead was Magnus Hallgrimson. He first worked on McKenny’s saw mill and also became the island’s first postmaster from his home. He called his home Hecla and it caught on as the name used by outsiders. The Icelanders actually called the island Mikley or big island. Until a cause way was built as part of the park development, Hecla was isolated during parts of the year. Hecla which is about 18 miles long and 6 miles wide eventually had 500 people. And almost all the residents had something to do with fishing, timber or livestock farming.


It was in 1970 and 1971. Sixty families had to move out. The land became Hecla provincial Park and the destination resort was named Gull Harbour. The philosophy was that the natural beauty of Hecla would be best be enjoyed without the clutter of people. And parks are easier to run without residents. But the resort failed to realize success and has in fact been a money loser. The lack of people are obvious to a visitor and one just does not feel the pulse of real life there now. People tell stories of visiting Hecla before the park and how take the ferry there before it became a park. It was not fancy, but you got to see a real fishing village.


It seems to have started as project to give the Hecla residents economic opportunities. Government studies showed farming was not worthwhile, the fishery had closed and so had the island’s high school. Hecla Islanders initially developed the plan. People would have new jobs. But the plan envisioned the residents staying. They liked it there. Residents say that they would not have lived anywhere else, and that the isolation encouraged a very independent style of living. At the time, government was looking to provide additional recreational opportunities. And to provide a destination for the Lord Selkirk. But as the planning process continued there was a major change. The plan got bigger. Residents found out that they would all have to go.


Some found alterative accommodation, but others feel they go next to nothing. Replacement properties were running three times what they got. Since the early 1980s some of the original residents have been actively lobbying to get the land back.


I spoke to many people, three at length. Two were intimately associated with Hecla Park, while a third was closely involved in related projects. All three, concerned about their jobs and reputations, demanded anonymity. One knew all the details but he could not explain how the plan had changed so radically or why.

Another had an admittedly cynical explanation. He thought Hecla may have happened in a time (early 1970s) when a group of master-planning oriented technocrats thought they knew best what should be done. And apparently in those the heady Schreyer years they pretty well could push things through and get their projects done.

A third said he would come looking for me if his name was used. But he kept talking about it. He left government before it was fully completed. He feels that most of the criticism is ill informed. Yet he doubts it would be built that way or at all today.



A government of peace and reconciliation

by George Siamandas

On March 15, 1871 the first session of the Manitoba legislature met to consider the business of the new province of Manitoba. Adams Archibald the benevolent despot that ran the show had been born in Truro Nova Scotia in 1814. He became a lawyer and politician in Nova Scotia were he served as Attorney general. He strongly favoured the union of British North America and was involved in the drafting of the terms of confederation. In 1870 he became the Lieut Gov of Manitoba. Archibald was the right man at the right time. He had sufficient knowledge of the running of government, had good legal training for the passage of basic laws, was a strong believer in confederation, and he had a genuine stance of conciliation towards those involved in the rebellion. As soon as he got to Red River in Sept 2 1870 Archibald met with local leaders and avoided extreme individuals like Schultz and Riel and his top men. Two weeks later on September 20 1870, he appointed an Executive Council comprising Alfred Boyd and Marc Girard both of whom were relative newcomers.


Boyd is listed as being Manitoba’s first premier and appears as such in the Canadian Parliamentary Guide. But according to Bruce Donaldson the Province’s head of History, Archibald really functioned as Manitoba’s first premier. It was Lieut Gov Adams Archibald who really wielded power and was in effect the premier. Till the first legislature opened on March 15 1871 Archibald and his executive council ruled by proclamation. They arranged for a census set up electoral boundaries and planned the first election for December 30, 1870. While essentially operating as an autocrat, Archibald often consulted with people like Tache and James McKay in order to be made aware of local feelings and personalities.

They met for six weeks and they passed a lot of bills. For the first session Archibald had planned a set of 32 bills in order to keep the new legislators “busy and (to) fend off abstractions”. In short order they set up a court system, a school act, a law society, electoral boundaries and regulations, and laws on deeds, wills and estates. The system of public schools was like in Quebec, while the system of justice and courts was modeled after the one in Ontario.

The election was held Dec 30 1870. The census for Manitoba was interesting. It showed 558 Indians, 5,757 metis, 4,083 half English half-breeds, 747 white natives of red River, 294 canadians and 525 Britishers and Americans. There were 24 constituencies following the old parish boundaries: 12 French and 12 English. During the election Archibald did his best to ensure that moderate candidates made themselves available for election. There were no formal political parties yet.

Some of the same men that had been part of Red River society helped form the first government; men like AGB Bannatyne, John Norquay, and John Sutherland.

The Canadian Party comprised Britishers like Alfred Boyd, and Henry J Clarke. The French community was represented by Canadians like Joseph Royal, Marc Girard, and Joseph Dubuc all lawyers who helped draft Manitoba ‘s constitution after that of Quebec. Of the 24 elected to Manitoba ‘s first legislature, James A Jackson writes that 17 of them were sympathetic to the provisional government and its leader.

When you compare today it seems the first legislature was meeting right after a coup d’etat. It seems to have been a cordial affair considering the seriousness of the issues of the day. Archibald was a pragmatic fellow. And his actions suggest the freedom a person can exercise who is seeking solutions. There were issues of the Riel rebellion that somehow had to be both forgotten, yet addressed. Joseph Royal was elected first speaker. Manitoba was in transition from a fur trading are to an emerging gateway of agricultural commerce. Awaiting was the complex job of setting up a civil service. There was no treasury or a means of raising taxes. There were no roads or other signs of infrastructure.

Archibald got into trouble with the English press for being too cosy to Riel. The amnesty that had been promised by Ottawa was not forthcoming. But Archibald refused to take any action against Riel or any of the other “criminals”. It made for bad press in Ontario but went over well in Red River.

There was no legislature. That was not built until 1884, so they met at one of the members homes; the home of Andrew Bannatyne. They chose not to use the Council chamber of Fort Garry perhaps because of its associations with Riel and the provisional govt. But they carved a mace from a portion of Fort Garry’s flagstaff and from the hub of a red river cart.

In the fall of 1872 Archibald was replaced by Alexander Morris. He had tired of the heavy pace of the two years at Red River. He became Lieut Gov in Nova Scotia and later won a seat in Parliament. He died in 1892.


Lagimodiere thought to be on the left


The Man Who Walked 1,800 Miles

By George Siamandas

You have heard of the road named Lagimodiere but did you know that the man after whom it was named literally walked 1,800 miles or 3,000 km to deliver a message to Lord Selkirk? Jean Baptiste Lagimodiere, Manitoba’s most famous traveller completed his trip to Montreal 184 years ago on Mar 10, 1816.

The son of a farmer, Jean Baptiste Lagimodiere, AKA Lagimoniere and Lavimodiere, was born On Christmas Day 1778 in St Antoine sur Richilieu, Quebec. In 1800 JB went west, joined the fur trade and found work in the grand Portage area of Minnesota. He married an Indian woman and they had three daughters. In 1805 he returned home and married Marie Anne Gaboury. They returned to work in the north-west travelling around what would become Alberta and Saskatchewan.

In 1811 he set out for the Forks because he had heard that settlers would be coming to the area and he offered his services to the HBC. He was hired by the HBC on a one-year contract paying £30. JB was a great hunter who could keep their hunting parties supplied with food. Lagimodiere was independent minded and didn’t automatically side with the Metis on political issues which explains his work with the HBC.


In 1812, Lagimodiere settled in what is now St James where for the next three years Marie Anne would have no neighbour. While they enjoyed peace in St James, 6 miles east in Fort Douglas, what is now Point Douglas, there were a series of violent clashes between the HBC and the NWC. During these difficult times Lagimodiere helped supply the settlers with food. But the Selkirk settlers were evicted from Red River.

HBC agent Colin Robertson asked Lagimodiere to take letters to Lord Selkirk in Montreal, telling of their plight and requesting aid. He set out October 17, 1815 travelling part of the way on horse. A man named Benoni Mairier and an Indian guide initially accompanied him. But later on he was entirely on his own. He carried no food and had to find everything he ate on the way.

The return was even more difficult. Lagimodiere carried back Selkirk’s reply to the settlement. The NWC was determined not to let him through. Amongst his various tribulations including delays, he was robbed at Duluth by Indians and a Negro called Bonga. The rivalry between the HBC and the NWC was at a peak and Lagimodiere feared for Marie Anne’s life. He would return to find the family safely sheltered by an Indian family.

Lagimodiere would continue to serve as a guide and courier. He received a land grant north of Seine along the east side of the Red River. Here he brought up his family of four boys and four girls. Lagimodiere was the first to permanently settle in the northwest. His wife Marie Anne Gaboury would be the first white woman to permanently settle in the west.


In 1844 daughter Julie would marry neighbour Louis Riel Sr. and give birth to the Louis Riel that would make Manitoba history.


MARIE ANNE GABOURY The First White Woman in Red River


The First White Woman in Red River

By George Siamandas

© George Siamandas

It was 1806 when the first white woman is thought to have come to Red River. Her name was Marie Anne Lagimodiere and she came as the bride of Jean Baptist Lagimodiere. She would be further distinguished in the years to come by being the grandmother of Louis Riel.

Marie-Anne Gaboury was born on Aug 2, 1780 in Maskinonge near Three Rivers. On April 29 1806, she married Jean Baptiste Lagimodiere who had returned to his hometown after 5 years in the Northwest. After a few months they returned to Red River. It took to months to complete the 2000 mile trip from Montreal to Pembina; much of it by canoe.


Upon arrival at Pembina, Lagimodiere’s previous Indian wife was very distressed to see Lagimodiere with a new wife. She immediately made plans to eliminate her rival. She prepared a poison and approached Marie Anne disguising her feelings of jealousy and betrayal. Another Indian woman told her white husband who revealed the evil plan. Lagimodiere took notice and moved Marie Anne 25 miles north along the Red. By January 6 she gave birth to first daughter Reine.


The idea of taking an Indian girl as a wife had become customary in the new land. Five thousand men had done so by 1777. With no priests, the marriages were informal yet long lasting. The relationships seemed to benefit everyone by forming valuable alliances. But, in 1806 Marie Anne upset the order of things. Gaboury descendants say that due to his wide ranging trips, Lagimodiere had several Indian wives. Other white women like Mrs George Simpson would face the same problem 24 years later. When George Simpson Gov of the HBC at the time cast off his Indian wife, it made everyone else feel discredited and they ostracised him. They stayed only 3 more years.


Lagimodiere was a hunter and his work would keep them travelling on the plains, wherever the buffalo roamed. Marie-Anne’s white complexion and blonde hair were a marvel to the Indians who called her the white goddess. They travelled to Fort Edmonton where Marie learned to prepare pemmican. Their life was constantly full of danger and excitement.

During a buffalo hunt on the prairies she gave birth to her second child a son she called La Prairie. In the Cypress Hill she had a third child she named Cypress. Marie Anne was left alone for a full year while husband Lagimodiere delivered letters from the settlement to Lord Selkirk in Montreal.


There is considerable debate as to whether Marie Anne Gaboury was the first woman in the west. She is the first to permanently settle in the west. But it appears a few months before Marie Anne’s arrival another woman disguised as a man had stowed aboard a ship. After giving birth she was discovered and sent back to England.


She lived to be 95 (died Dec 7, 1875 in St Boniface) and barely had a sick day. She had 3 sons and 3 daughters. For decades, because she was the only baptised woman, she became godmother to much of the St Boniface population. Her grandson was Louis Riel but her descendants included several other distinguished Canadians.



“The Man the Indians Called the Great Spirit”

by George Siamandas

April 4, 1803 marked the birth of Father Belcourt, one of the most popular Roman Catholic missionaries who pioneered work amongst the native people. This outstanding man was called the Great Spirit by the native people of the west. Belcourt was the eldest of eleven children born to Antoine Belecour and Josephte Lemire who were farmers in Yamaska County Lower Canada. He was ordained by Bishop Panet in 1827. Belcourt took the trouble to learn English. Learning he would be coming to the west he spent two months at Oka to learn Algonquin, a language similar to the Cree and Saulteaux languages of western tribes. Together with Bishop Provencher, Belcourt came out to Red River in the spring of 1831. A fastidious writer, Belcourt kept graphic descriptions of his travels from day one in his daily journal.


Father Belcourt was an able carpenter that assisted in the building of Provencher’s new St Boniface Cathedral. He also built furnishings for Provencher’s home and helped establish a workshop that produced prefabricated door frames at St Francis Xavier. Belcourt did this in part because he needed extra money and worked as a tradesman making door frames and cart wheels.


Near what is now St. Eustache, Belcourt established a mission and worked to turn the Indians into Christians. But Provencher was always disappointed with Belcourt’s productivity at attracting converts. Belcourt retained the respect of the Indians like no other white man. His facility and interest in learning Indian languages was a big help. He also helped develop native language that helped express Christian concepts and ideas. Indians travelled from as far as the west coast to meet the man they called the “Great Spirit.” Belcourt wrote textbooks and worked to develop a Saulteaux English dictionary.


Belcourt made extensive visits to the interlake trying to establish literally a dozen new missions. He was not always welcome by the Indian bands. He also went to Rainy Lake, White Dog, Duck Bay, Swan River, Fort Francis, He travelled by water using a birch bark canoe he built himself.


Belcourt had a variety of garden seeds sent out and he tried to establish farms. Belcourt had frequent disagreements with Provencher. It is thought he tried to do too much, too soon, and Provencher felt his work was too costly. His mission was not considered productive enough. Belcourt was considered a wishful thinker. But he was a great persuader. And he received separate funding from Quebec for his missions over Provencher’s disapprovals. Amongst other things Belcourt wanted to start an industrial school.

Belcourt became independent and disagreed with Provencher and his HBC sympathies. Provencher feared Belcourt had gone native. Belcourt started “going to the prairies” or out on the buffalo hunts. He documented the hunt in great detail: how it was organized, their route, and the hunting methods.


He fought to maintain access for the buffalo hunters into the northern US after 1845 when the US became concerned with border crossers. Belcourt also helped the Metis in their trading grievances with the HBC at a time when the HBC was suppressing free trading. Neither the HBC or Bishop Provencher agreed with this action and they had Belcourt recalled to Quebec.

Annoyed by this interference, Belcourt went south of the border and spent 11 years near Pembina North Dakota at St Josephe. In 1859 he left the west and relocated to Rustico, Prince Edward Island where he helped establish the Farmer’s Bank of Rustico forerunner to a Credit Union. He died peacefully on May 31, 1874.


His missions did not survive. It is said that several hundred natives left Manitoba to follow him to Pembina. His works suggest that he may have been an early pioneer of the social gospel. Today Belcourt, North Dakota, just south of the International Peace Gardens, stands as the only reminder of this distinguished man who got along better with his parishioners than he did with the church and political hierarchy.




by George Siamandas

On May 19, 1859 the Anson Northup became the first steamboat to successfully launch on the Red River reaching Fort Garry on June 10. It arose out of a sense of opportunity that St Paul Minnesota businessmen saw in the Red River district and the Canadian North West. They were encouraged by the Hudson Bay company’s interest in pursuing this American route over their traditional Hudson Bay route. In January 1859 the St Paul Chamber of Commerce offered $1,000 to whoever could put the first riverboat on the Red and get it to Fort Garry. When the prize was raised to $2,000 Captain Anson Northup took on the challenge.


For centuries the aboriginals had used the rivers for transportation and so did the fur traders. Prior to this north south route most traffic had been through Hudson Bay. But by the 1840s well developed cart trails were active between red River and St Paul. By 1856 half the goods reaching Red River came through St Paul. Brigades of Red River carts were bringing up machinery for a textile mill and agricultural equipment like reapers and mowers. The emerging system of the railroad, the steamship and then the red river cart proved more efficient than the HBC’s Hudson Bay route. Even the HBC saw these benefits and began to be supportive of this north south route. The challenge was out to replace the red river cart with steamboats on the Red as they had been active on the Mississippi since the 1820s.


It was actually comprised of parts of an earlier boat called the North Star that had been dismantled the previous winter at Crow Wing on the Mississippi. Thirty men worked with 13 yokes of oxen and 17 teams of horses to drag the machinery and fresh lumber the 150 mile distance over the winter’s snows. It was reassembled at LaFayette on the mouth the Sheyene River on the Red and renamed the Anson Northup and launched on May 19, 1859 just as the flood waters were receding. It was 90 feet long and had a beam of 20 feet. It was powered by a one hundred horsepower engine. It was modest example of a riverboat looking much like a house boat with a smoke stack and the paddle wheel on the stern. Only on the second level was there room for a deck. The entire first deck went for the storage of wood, much of which was cut as the boat travelled north along the river.


It was truly a voyage of enterprise, and the ship was not lacking in enterprising individuals who wanted to get in on the ground floor of what would later become a boom town. Among the group of first arrivals was the man noted for having begun the corner of Portage and Main and that was Henry McKenny. McKenny went on to introduce lumbering in the 1870s.


It had its ups and owns. The Red is a shallow river with many bends. The 1860s the first decade of operation were noted as very low river levels making it a challenge to make it to Fort Garry. Along with problems with the Indians in 1861 and 1862 this early venture had its growing pains. Through the 1870s steamships proliferated. Many immigrants came to Winnipeg in that decade. But the competition and coming of the railroad meant the end of these ships. By the end of the 1870s a period of less than 20 years, the steamboat era on the Red was over. Ironically a steamship brought the first locomotive to St Boniface in 1878.

After refurbishment in Nettley Creek the ship was sold to Burbanks and then to Hudson Bay Co in 1861. Unfortunately it sank that year at Cooks Creek just as winter was coming on. Parts were salvaged and its engine is thought to have gone on to power a flour mill at St Francois Xavier.




By George Siamandas

© George Siamandas

Pedantic Francophobe or able first jurist? Adam Thom was the man who was named the first recorder or judge of Rupertsland, on Jan 1838. Thom was born in Scotland in 1802. He studied at King’s College where he received his MA in 1824 and later his LLD in 1840. In 1832 Thom came to Montreal and articled to a law firm. He had strong anti French views, which he expressed as a journalist while working for the Montreal Herald. The next year he was teaching classics, math and science at the Montreal Academic Institute. Thom worked with Lord Durham on the issues prior to the 1837 rebellion and helped write the famous Durham report.

In January 5 1838, Thom was appointed to the newly created judicial post of recorder of Rupertsland on the invitation of HBC Gov Simpson who was in London at the time. The pay was good for the time, &500 salary and another &200 living expenses. In 1839 he came to Red River to start his new career. As recorder, Thom’s job was to be a legal organizer, adviser, and magistrate. He was to formalize and organize the judicial system for the HBC’s Rupertsland district. By July 1839, Thom had set up a new system. And by 1841, he prepared a code of laws that would last for decades.

Thom proved to be poorly regarded by many of Red River’s citizens. They knew of his anti-French feelings and were worried about his ability to be impartial given that he was an HBC employee. And even though the post required it, Thom refused to speak French.

Thom tried to uphold the HBC monopoly over trade as early as 1842. He sought to suppress the illicit fur trade by restrictive measures. It all culminated in the May 17 1849 trial of Pierre Guilaume Sayer. Thom found Sayer guilty, but a large crowd of Metis led by Louis Riel Sr. made sure the verdict was not carried out. The Metis presented a petition of grievances against Thom to Gov Simpson and asking for Thom’s dismissal. A compromise was reached and Thom agreed to speak French. Thom was very long-winded and very legalistic in rendering his judgements. Finally in 1850 after repeated opposition to Thom, Simpson revoked his appointment as recorder. Simpson wrote of Thom’s “unfortunate temper and over bearing manner.”

Thom had also exceeded his authority in sentencing a Saulteax Indian to death when it was a case that should have been tried in Upper Canada. He also gave prejudiced evidence in a case and foolishly insulted highly regarded locals such as Cuthbert Grant.

In 1854 Thom left Red River and returned to Edinburgh. He wrote an account of Simpson’s trip around the world. He died in London in 1890 at age 88, leaving an estate of &5,310 to his only surviving son Adam. Early history accounts paint Thom an able pioneering jurist. More recent writings see him as a pedantic long-winded dishonest man, out to be an advocate of the HBC, and a hater of the French. There seems to be enough evidence for both views.