Northern Prairie Steamboats: Winnitoba
Built by J. L. Hyland of the Hyland Navigation and Trading Company (HNTC), the Winnitoba was laid down along the St. Boniface bank of the Red River across, near the Seine River outlet. The launching ceremony (6 July 1909) was attended by thousands, at which Premier Rodmond Palen Roblin and Controller Richard Deans Waugh (on behalf of Winnipeg Mayor William Sanford Evans), MP Alexander Haggart, St. Boniface Mayor Joseph Alfred Fereol Bleau, and ex-Speaker of the State of Minnesota Albert Berg all spoke before the assembled crowd.
The steamship was christened with a bottle of clear water, poured over its bow by Hyland’s three-year-old daughter Leonore Marguerite Hyland, assisted by Miss Edna Landers of Winnipeg and Miss Agnes Peterson of St. Paul. Crowds gathering on both river banks to view the spectacle. The ship, thus far the largest to enter local water measuring 187.5 feet long, 44 feet across, and 9 feet deep, featured two 250-horsepower engines allowing for a maximum speed of 19 miles per hour. Modern electrical lighting was featured throughout, affording an pleasant experience to the maximum capacity of 1,500 passengers, including sleeping accommodation for 225. An on-board kitchen served meals to guests and crew.
Its launching prompted improvements at the St. Andrews Locks where clearance was noted as being a very snug fit. When not carrying passengers to and from Hyland Park (or other riverside destinations, such as Selkirk), the ship carried cargo and pulled barges along the Red and Assiniboine rivers, and was capable of handling the open waters of Lake Winnipeg.
The Winnitoba came to a fiery demise on 29 September 1912 at the Hyland Park docks of the HNTC, where it was burned to the waterline resulting in some $127,000 in damages. In addition to the ship, losses included the cargo and HNTC barges Jumbo and Toba that were moored alongside. The dock itself and a nearby pavilion were also badly damaged. The ship was not rebuilt though the name has been applied to a local amateur sports teams, social groups, and an apartment block in Winnipeg.
The sunken wreck was left along the eastern bank of the Red River, near the HNTC docks, where it submerged and was largely forgotten. The steamboats hull was fully uncovered during extremely low water levels around October 1987. Water levels in the following month (November) were the lowest since November, 1934, during which it time was briefly studied by provincial archaeologists and partly salvaged by Marine Museum of Manitoba. By late November of that year, publicity of the find had also attracted looters, and the wreck was vandalized. Visible remains of the wooden frame were observed during a November 2018 site visit.
“Fire loss heavy,” Winnipeg Tribune, 2 April 1909, page 2.
“Launching of new steamer,” Winnipeg Tribune, 5 July 1909, pages 1 and 9.
“Establishment of naval supremacy,” Winnipeg Tribune, 7 July 1909, page 3.
“Trip to Selkirk - Winnitoba,” Winnipeg Tribune, 11 June 1912, page 8.
“Winnitoba practices,” Winnipeg Tribune, 12 June 1912, page 6.
“Winnitoba burns to water’s edge; barges also go,” Winnipeg Tribune, 30 September 1912, page 4.
“Winnitoba to be replaced,” Winnipeg Tribune, 4 October 1912, page 8.
“Boat on river bed excites interest,” Winnipeg Free Press, 25 November 1987, page 1.
“Low river exposes old boat,” Winnipeg Free Press, 25 November 1987, page 4.
“Ruins of boat vandalized,” Winnipeg Free Press, 26 November 1987, page 1.
“Museum salvages boat parts,” Winnipeg Free Press, 26 November 1987, page 4.
We thank Bradford Vokey, Bob Friesen, and Christopher Pate for providing additional information used here.
Page revised: 10 September 2020