Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Steam navigation on the Red River of the North began in 1859 when Anson Northup, motivated by a monetary bonus from St. Paul businessmen , placed a steamboat bearing his name upon the river. Navigation continued on a fairly regular seasonal basic between Georgetown and Fort Garry (Winnipeg) for the next three years, highlighted by the appearance of a new vessel, the International, in 1862. Because of low water, Indian problems, and management difficulties, however, the rest of the decade brought years of general lethargy and inconsistency.

In 1870 James J. Hill became directly associated with the St. Paul- Winnipeg flatboat trade. The following year he built a steamboat, the Selkirk, and competed with the Hudson's Bay Company's International. The formation of Manitoba and the increased immigration to the Red River Valley boosted the volume of business in the early 1870s, and by 1874, the year in which Hill and Norman Kittson formed the Red River Transportation Company, there were several boats carrying freight and passengers up and down the Red.

The Red River Transportation Company's monopoly was briefly but unsuccessfully challenged by the Merchants International Steamboat Line in 1875. The RRTC*s dominance continued on into the late i870s. By this time the railroad was entering the scene, and in 1878 St. Paul and Winnipeg were directly connected by rail. This development signaled the demise of steam navigation as a major mode of commercial transportation in the valley.

Though commercial steamboats would continue to ply the Red River until about. l9l5, there was really only one decade—the l870s--when their economic feasibility was unquestionable. As railroad magnate James Hill had correctly perceived, steamboating on the Red was transi tional. in its importance. Though its role was significant in its time and also contributed to the overall commercial development of the Red River Valley, the steamboat proved to be no match for the railroad.