First Steamboat Appears

The Crow Wing River
The Crow Wing River (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the most colourful stories in Canadian history tells of the days when steamboats began operating on the Red River, carrying freight and passengers between Fort Garry (Winnipeg) and St. Paul, Minnesota.

As explained on April 12, the building of a railway to St. Paul created tremendous traffic civilization was taken on April 15, 1859, when Captain Anson Northrup brought his ship North Star to the Red River. St. Paul merchants figured that if steamboats could run on the Mississippi, they could also navigate the Red River to Fort Garry.

Captain Northrup had the North Star on Crow Wing River, but offered to transfer it to the Red for $2,000. In order to do this, he had to dismantle North Star and have its parts freighted across country in winter in sleighs drawn by oxen. All the parts were there on April 15 and a few weeks later the ship was ready for its first run to Fort Garry. Its name had been changed to Anson Northrup.

There was a certain amount of fear as the old paddle-wheeler thrashed her way down the river, deck barely above water, funnel pouring out smoke and sparks, and boiler leaking clouds of steam. Amongst the cargo were 100 kegs of gunpowder, with sparks falling all around!

The first trip took eight days. The Indians along the banks of the Red River were terrified when the Anson Northrup came into view and especially when she blew her whistle. On the other hand, the new settlers came rushing from their homes cheering, weeping, praying and even firing guns! The ship would stop at frequent intervals so that the crew could go ashore and cut wood for fuel.

The Anson Northrup arrived at Fort Garry in June, the first steamer of any size to do so. It was a great event for the rapidly growing community. Cannons were fired in salute and church bells rang.

Other steamers followed the Anson Northrup and there was great rivalry among them until 1877, when one of the ships brought a railway locomotive to Winnipeg. That was the end of the steamers on the Red River.

I found an interesting blog today that covers this very well — its Steamboats on the Red ; another very interesting blog I just found is St. Vincent Memories ; I also suggest visiting The Manitoba Historical Society, where you’ll find a very interesting article written by Molly McFadden; a site that has such great articles is the Fargo, North Dakota. All of these are great places to start.


  1. If you want more, I would check out the relevant chapters in Joseph Kinsey Howard’s Book Strange Empire it’s a fascinating read and still one of the only American books that places its subject the Metis Rebellion into an international context.


  2. I’m sorry to see Dakota submerge in water. We don’t have steam boats in Vancouver. I better keep my eyes open should here be one. I know there’s plenty in New Orleans.


  3. There’s something so evocative about a steamboat! (And it’s nice to read about steamboats. Takes my mind off the fact that it’s Tax Day in the States.)


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