Fur trader, steamboat operator, entrepreneur.
Born at Chambly, Lower Canada [now Quebec] in 1814, the son of George Kittson and Nancy Tucker, in 1830 he joined The American Fur Company in the west, and by 1843 he had become a partner in that company, located in the Pembina area. Kittson’s fur-trading activities were based in part on receiving furs from Métis free traders to the north, and he helped contribute to the arrival of free trade in Red River in 1849. Kittson served on the Minnesota Territorial Legislative Council from 1852 to 1855.
In 1854 he moved from Pembina to St. Paul, where he became a major businessman (in real estate and commercial operations) and was city mayor in 1858-59. Beginning in 1856 he began investing in the Red River Settlement, opening steamboat transportation on the Red River in 1858-1859. In 1860 he established a line of steamers and barges on the Red River and in company with James J. Hill gradually obtained a monopoly of the transportation between St. Paul and the Red River Settlement. The Company later was known as the Red River Transportation Company. Kittson was one of several partners who in 1879 bought the St. Paul and Pacific Railway and reorganized it as the St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba Railway, connecting St. Paul and St. Boniface.
He married Elise Marion (?-?), a daughter of Narcisse Marion, and they had four sons: Dr. John Kittson (Chief Surgeon of the North West Mounted Police), Norman Kittson, Alexander Kittson, and Alfred Kittson.
Kittson died on board a train on 10 May 1888, enroute to St. Paul, Minnesota. He is commemorated by Kitson Street in Winnipeg.
“Norman W. Kittson, a Fur-Trader at Pembina” by C. W. Rife, Minnesota History 6 (1925): 225-52.
Norman Wolfred Kittson, Dictionary of Canadian Biography XI, 476-77.
Pioneers and Early Citizens of Manitoba, Winnipeg: Manitoba Library Association, 1971.
Dictionary of Manitoba Biography by John M. “Jack” Bumsted, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1999.
We thank Gord Pace for providing additional information used here.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 14 September 2019
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