The Nor’Wester and the Men Who Established It
MHS Transactions, Series 3, 1959-60 season
A hundred years ago tonight (October 20, 1959), a party was encamped somewhere south of Winnipeg on its way from St. Paul to Red River. The party had left St. Paul on September 28 and was destined not to arrive at Red River until November 1. We do not know how many travellers there were nor who most of them were. Two we can name: William Buckingham and William Coldwell, two young newspaper men on their way to the Settlement to start our first newspaper, the Nor’Wester. With them they brought a printing press, type, paper and ink, experience as reporters and printers, a stock of books for sale, high hopes, and definite convictions about what the future of the Settlement should be.
William Coldwell (left) and William Buckingham (right)
These two young men had been Parliamentary reporters on Toronto papers and they were skilled, not only in writing, typesetting, make-up, operating a printing press and making necessary repairs to it, but also in the comparatively new art of shorthand. Rev. A. C. Garrioch, when he was a boy of fourteen, sat beside Coldwell at a meeting in Portage la Prairie. “Never shall I forget my satisfaction,” he wrote later, “when the only stenographer in the country planted himself so close to my left elbow that no one could have displaced him without rudeness, nor shall I forget my astonishment when his hand began to fly over the paper leaving in its wake the most extraordinary figures I had ever seen.” 
Buckingham and Coldwell were not the first to recognize the possibilities for a newspaper in Red River. A young man had set out from Owen Sound by way of the Great Lakes, but when he reached Sault Ste. Marie he learned that there was no way of taking his heavy printing press into the Settlement from the head of the lakes.  Buckingham and Coldwell were better informed. They assembled their equipment in St. Paul and there they bought oxen and three Red River carts to carry it to their destination. In their account of their journey in the Nor’Wester, they stated authoritatively that the best oxen could be bought for from forty to fifty dollars a head and earnestly advised their readers against buying inferior animals. Michigan wagons, they said, could be bought for from sixty to seventy-five dollars, but they were not nearly as useful as Red River carts which could be obtained for from ten to fifteen dollars.  At that time they had not sold their oxen and carts, so it is quite possible that we have here an instance of the practice, so much deplored by modern editors, of permitting some advertising material to creep into the news columns.
The Journey to the Red River
At that time, there was still reason for people travelling from St. Paul to Red River to fear attacks by the Sioux and it was the custom to form parties to make the journey. Accordingly the young newspaper men joined a party leaving St. Paul on 20 September.
“The day of our departure from this interesting bustling city brought with it a host of troubles,” they reported in the Nor’Wester of 14 January. “Many things had been forgotten - and it is surprising what a multitude of things travellers recollect only at the last moment. At length, however, all the hurrying and driving were brought to a close and late in the evening we started. In travelling - especially with ox teams - the start is usually one of the main features of the journey; and in the present instance it was accomplished in a fashion so wild and erratic as to make it exceedingly probable that our journey would be brought to a sudden and unlooked-for termination. Hardly had the oxen been yoked to the carts, when they kicked up their heels and ran off in every direction. Being unused to the yoke and fresh from the pasture, the animals were as wild as harnessed buffaloes and kicked and plunged for nearly an hour. It was starlight by this time; but in pursuance of our first great object, to get clear of the city, we pushed on a couple of miles.”
In this account the young editors did not disclose that some of the type was scattered in the streets, but in a speech prepared for the Winnipeg Press Club in 1888 Coldwell stated: “We made a very wild start indeed, as one team ran away at the outset and distributed some of the type in the streets.” 
“During the first 116 miles of our journey,” they reported, “between St. Paul and Crow Wing, we progressed very slowly, taking easy stages so that the cattle might not be overworked at the outset; so that we did not, perhaps, travel more than twelve or fifteen miles a day.” 
In his paper for the Press Club, Coldwell wrote: “I shall not stop to note our snail-like progress by the Crow Wing Trail, how we struggled the swamps, worried around and across fallen trees and stumps, toiled up and raced down the Leaf Mountains, forded rivers with steep banks and boulder strewn beds, or puzzled our way via the crooked sandbars, over which we went zigzagging with occasional excursions into the depths alongside. Red Lake River-the widest, deepest, crookedest and swiftest in current-took some of us up to our necks, and very nearly took me out of this vale of tears altogether.”
Over and over again the travellers noted evidences of the optimism which was common in the western United States of those days when every crossroad aspired to become a second Chicago. At Leaf River they found a solitary house in a large tract of land designated Leaf City. At Otter Tail Lake there were seven houses, two of them occupied, and a large signboard which informed travellers that they were in Otter Tail Lake City. 
The account of the journey ends: “Winter was rapidly approaching ... we made forced marches during our last two days out. One morning (the 31st October) the caravan was on the road by three o’clock, when a lantern had to be used to enable us to see our way. Snow commenced to fall that morning, for the first time since our departure, and by and by a hailstorm came on, in the midst of which we stopped on the prairie, lit our fires, and breakfasted. The following day we crossed the Assiniboine and brought our long journey to a close. A few days afterwards the ice in the river set fast.” 
The First Issue
The young publishers established themselves in a small building near the corner of Main and Water Streets. A city parking lot now stands on the site. They had planned to bring out their first number on New Year’s Day, but since there was an outgoing mail on 28 December they decided to meet that deadline. It was important to catch the mail as many of their subscriptions and all but five of their advertisements came from Upper Canada or St. Paul.
The First Publishers and Editors of Our First Newspaper
Within three months after their arrival, Buckingham and Coldwell took in a third partner. James Ross, a native of Red River, bought a third interest in the venture.  All three men were in their twenties. Courageously they undertook to bring the news to Red River, to spread news of Red River far and wide, to stir up the citizens, and to challenge the authority of the powerful Hudson’s Bay Company.
William Buckingham remained in Red River less than a year. He must have been a man of parts, for he had an interesting career. He was the official reporter accompanying the Canadian delegates to London for the conference on Confederation in 1867. When Alexander Mackenzie was Prime Minister, Buckingham became his private secretary and later Deputy Minister of the Interior. He comes into Manitoba’s story briefly again when he returned to take over a lumber business. Unfortunately fire wiped out most of his investment and he returned to Stratford. Several government jobs in Ontario were offered to him but he did not accept any. He died in Stratford in 1915. 
William Coldwell was born in London, 1834, educated in Dublin, and came to Canada at the age of twenty when he joined the staff of the Toronto Leader. Except for four years, 1865 to 1869, when he wrote for the Toronto Globe, he spent the rest of his life in the west. The day before the anniversary of his arrival in Red River he married Jemima Ross, youngest daughter of Alexander Ross, sister of James Ross, and sister of Mrs. John Black.  To judge from Jemima’s letters in the Ross collection in the Provincial Archives she was a charming, high-spirited, well-educated young woman.
At that time, it was common practice to run a newspaper and engage in other activities as well. Publishers were usually booksellers. William Lyon Mackenzie is quoted in the Nor’Wester of 28 March 1860, thus: “I was once the most western editor, bookseller and printer in British North America but the Nor’Wester is a thousand miles beyond me.”
James Ross owned a dry goods and hardware store in Colony Gardens, and by March 14, the advertisement named the proprietors as Ross, Buckingham, and Coldwell. The management of a store would give a newspaper man as good an opportunity as any for gathering the news and feeling the pulse of the community. Coldwell was a teetotaler,  so he could not make satisfactory use of taverns for that purpose.
When Buckingham and Coldwell became partners in the store, the offices of the Nor’Wester were moved to Colony Gardens, the Ross property, an area extending from the north side of Bannatyne Avenue to Alexander Avenue, and two miles west from the river with an additional two miles of haying privileges.  This area today includes William, James, Alexander, and Ross Avenues, all named for members of the Ross family. Elgin Avenue was formerly Jemima Avenue.
One wonders how the newspaper men could find time to manage a bookstore and a dry goods and hardware store in addition to their other responsibilities. Coldwell in his speech to the Press Club told how busy they were with the newspaper. “At the outset,” he wrote, “we were greater monopolists than we had any wish to be, having everything connected with the business to do, and no one to help us do it, we had to become our own editors, reporters, compositors, pressmen, newsboys, and general delivery agents, besides having to make a house-to-house canvass throughout the entire settlement.”  In their first issue they advertised for an apprentice, “a smart intelligent lad to learn the printing business in all its branches.” W. F. Garrioch of Portage la Prairie became their first apprentice and “learned the work thoroughly and liked it” according to his brother, The Rev. A. C. Garrioch. 
Coldwell, however, was eager for more activity. In 1862, he was suggesting improvements and economies in the collection of the customs and offering his services for the area from Upper Fort Garry to the border for forty pounds a year.  Later he became secretary of the first Masonic Lodge in Red River, the Northern Lights Lodge.  In the Ross letters there is evidence that Jemima did not approve of this activity.  In 1865, his name appeared in the paper as secretary of the Cricket Club. 
James Ross withdrew from the Nor’Wester in December, 1863,  leaving Coldwell sole proprietor until in March, 1864, Dr. John Schultz bought a partnership.  The following winter a disastrous fire destroyed the office of the Nor’Wester and Coidwell’s book store and threatened his home, Sunnyside.  The fire occurred on 23 February 1865, and the Nor’Wester resumed publication on 30 March, with the promise that the paper would come out every ten days until it made up for the numbers missed on account of the fire. There was no insurance.
Coldwell and Schultz dissolved their partnership on 5 July 1865,  and Coldwell with his wife and three children went to Toronto where he worked for the Globe for £160 a year.  His house, Sunnyside, in Red River, was sold to William Inkster for £120.  In Toronto the Coldwells lived in a house about which Jemima’s brother James wrote, “She has a grand house, every room carpeted, even the stairs. She bought everything new and grand.”  This may not have all been done on William Coldwell’s salary. Jemima had inherited a considerable sum from her father. In 1867, two days after the birth of her fourth child, Jemima died,  and in 1869, Coldwell with his two surviving children was back in Red River to found another newspaper, the Red River Pioneer.
In his speech for the Press Club, Coldwell stated, “Subsequently, returning with material for a new venture, I fell into the rebellion. Lieutenant McDougall was fenced out at Scratching River. The journal that might have been the Pioneer was fenced out, too, by an order forbidding its appearance ‘until peace was restored’. The Pioneer never appeared except as a sort of half-breed arrangement, two pages of which (the Pioneer) favoured the McDougall regime, while the remaining pages (the New Nation) advocated rebellion, annexation, and the Riel regime.” Riel paid Coldwell £550 for his equipment with money taken from the Hudson’s Bay Company treasury. 
During the Riel regime, Coldwell acted as clerk to the Provisional Assembly.  In November, 1871, he joined forces with Robert Cunningham to start yet another paper, the Manitoban, which Dr. J. W. Dafoe described as “the first of a flock of weeklies.” “If you want to start a paper nowadays,” declared Dr. Dafoe, “you can do it with $500,000 or $1,000,000; but those were the days when political papers could be established given a handful of type, a printer, and a ‘slashing’ writer.” 
Coldwell and Cunningham became the first Queen’s Printers in the new province. In 1872, according to Coldwell’s account for the Press Club the office of the Manitoban “was wrecked by a mob who (intending perhaps to be quite impartial) also wrecked the office of the Nor’Wester, owned by Dr. Bown, and the Metis, Mr. Royal’s paper.” The mob was made up of recently arrived citizens from Upper Canada who, since the election lists were two years old, had no votes. They could not vote, but to quote Dr. Dafoe again, “they could wreck newspaper offices and they wrecked them all so thoroughly, with the exception of the Manitoba Liberal, that it took them months to get going again.”
Cunningham died in 1874 and Coldwell became sole proprietor. Not long afterwards the Manitoban was merged with the Standard which enjoyed a brief life.
In 1875 or 1876, after eight years as a widower, Coldwell married another Jemima Ross,  Jemima Mackenzie Ross, widow of William Ross, the first Postmaster of Red River. They lived until 1904 in what is now known as Ross House, then located near the foot of Market Street. This house had been built for William Ross in 1854, and his father Alexander Ross wrote to James, “William will have the prettiest house in Red River.”  William himself wrote, “It is among the best, the handsomest and most comfortable houses on the banks of the Riviere Rouge.” 
The late Mrs. Thomas Laidlaw, youngest daughter of the Rev. John Black, told me that although Coldwell was for many years an invalid, confined to a wheel chair, he was one of the brightest, happiest men she ever knew, a witty and charming Irishman. It has not been possible to find as much about the second Jemima as about the first, for no letters of hers are to be found in the Ross papers, but I am indebted to Mrs. Laidlaw for the information that she was a wealthy woman, and that she always referred to her first husband as “deceased William”.
Coldwell’s last position was Parliamentary reporter for the Free Press. On account of ill health he retired in the early eighties. He died in Victoria in 1907.
The third member of the trio of young editors was James Ross. He was the son of Alexander Ross, formerly sheriff of Assiniboia, owner of Colony Gardens, author of Fur Hunters in the West and The Red River Settlement. James, born in 1835, had a brilliant scholastic career at St. John’s College where he held a classical scholarship. At the University of Toronto he won two scholarships, one in Classics, and one in Modern Languages and History. He graduated with one gold and two silver medals in 1857. For a short time he was classical master at Upper Canada College.  He thought seriously of entering the ministry but decided that he should return to Red River to look after the affairs of his widowed mother, his widowed sisters, and his widowed sister-in-law. Rev. John Black encouraged him to come home,  no doubt finding the administration of the affairs of his wife’s family too burdensome a task.
The Nor’Wester was only one of many irons this able and energetic young man had in the fire. In addition to his responsibilities with his father’s estate, he owned a dry goods and hardware store, and also in May 1859, took on the office of Postmaster at ten pounds a year.  In February 1860, he bought a partnership in the newspaper, printing, and bookselling business.  He withdrew from the store in July 1861, leaving Coldwell sole proprietor. In March, 1862, the Council of Assiniboia made him sheriff, and also Governor of the Gaol at a salary of thirty pounds a year.  He appears to have considered these offices more as public services than as a source of income. When he asked for an increase in the stipend for the Post Office, he said, “It was not the salary that induced me to take the Post Office, but my wish to fill a sphere of public usefulness. The same motive will induce me to keep it, if I should not get more than at present.”
He did not hold these offices for long. In its meeting of 25 November 1862, the Council of Assiniboia voted unanimously, “That Mr. James Ross be removed from all his public offices from this day.” Further, the Council decreed, “That the council wholly declined to send any report of their proceedings in future to the Nor’Wester, as the report of their last meeting was so unfairly dealt with.” 
This action came as a result of the stand Ross and Coldwell had taken about the Hudson’s Bay Company’s control of the country. There had been a massacre in Minnesota by the Sioux Indians, and the people of Red River were uneasy about the Indians. The Council of Assiniboia, at the suggestion of Governor Dallas of the Hudson’s Bay Company, passed a resolution stating that in its opinion “the best and only effectual means of meeting that danger, would be the presence of a Body of British Troops in the Settlement, and that the Settlers at large ought immediately to unite in a strong and urgent appeal to the Home Government for the establishment of a Garrison.”  It passed a further resolution authorizing the Recorder, Mr. Black, to draw up a petition which was sent to the Nor’Wester to be printed. The editors did not print it; instead, they printed a petition of their own which not only asked for Imperial troops but also in the name of the people expressed deep and wide spread discontent with the rule of the Hudson’s Bay Company. 
It is not surprising that the Company took a dim view of the stand taken by the Nor’Wester in refusing to print the Council’s petition and in setting up another one. Governor William Mactavish wrote a letter to the Nor’Wester in which he notified the publishers that the subscriptions of seventeen Company or former Company men were to be discontinued and also “declined to receive” copies for men in the Company’s service in distant posts. stating that “none of the officers in the Company have given instructions to renew their subscriptions.” He notified the editors that five of the seven copies hitherto furnished to the Company were to cease and that the Company would continue to take two copies. The publishers printed the letter and replied that the Company never had taken seven, only five, and rather peevishly added, “Thank you, Mr. Mactavish, for your extreme kindness and your very liberal patronage; but the good people of Red River have come forward so handsomely to support us this year that we can dispense with your kindness, patronage and all. You ‘will continue to take’ you say, but unfortunately we will not ‘continue to send.’ 
At a meeting at Parke’s Creek School a vote of thanks was passed to the editors of the Nor’Wester “for their general fidelity to the people” and the chairman suggested that “a subscription list ought to tell our feelings towards these gentlemen who have so ably, so faithfully, and so fearlessly maintained a course of independence of the Company and fidelity to us.” 
Other meetings were held and the petitions presented to the settlers. A letter to the Nor’Wester stated that the Council’s petition was “in every shop at the Upper and Lower Fort and everyone was called on to sign it. Even boys are not slipped out.”  In fact the Nor’Wester charged that the list was filled “with boys, Indians and even oxen.” A complimentary address was presented to James Ross at Kildonan school which includes this forecast, “The people for whom you made your sacrifice appreciate your conduct, and when the time comes that they will have a voice in public affairs we doubt not that they will remember that you once voluntarily sacrificed your own personal interests for the cause of the public.” 
The plan was that James Ross would take this petition to England. A subscription list was begun in order to raise the necessary funds but it did not reach its objective. John Garrioch of Portage la Prairie wrote to the editors of the Nor’Wester that the people there would be glad to help but that they had no money. He quotes one settler: “I would be glad to help Mr. Ross with all my heart but how can I? Here are four bags of pemmican; buy one and I shall be able to do something more towards showing my sympathy.”  Unfortunately it was cash, not pemmican, that was needed.
In December 1863, James Ross withdrew from the Nor’Wester and went, a few months later, to Toronto where he studied law, and wrote for the Toronto Globe and the Hamilton Spectator. He returned to Red River in the fall of 1869 and was admitted to practice as a barrister and attorney by the Law Society. 
During the troubles of 1869-1870, Ross tried earnestly to prevent bloodshed. He conferred with leaders of both sides, and as so often happens to those who attempt to be peacemakers, he won the distrust of both factions. At one time he expected to be arrested by Riel’s group. In his diary he wrote, “I returned to my mother’s house to await arrest. I felt I had done no wrong against them and I would not shrink from falling into their hands.” 
When Riel established his Provisional Government, Ross became Chief Justice,  and during his brief term in office codified the laws of the settlement. Later he wrote, “I did not more than all the English people did and at the urgent request of Commissioner Smith and the Protestant clergy ... You know what efforts I made to save Boulton’s life” ...  “I tried hard to get McDougall in ... I opposed Riel until we found Canada had not yet got the country and until all the English clergy and people thought we had better give in.” 
Ross hoped for some office when Manitoba became a province. Considering his education and ability, and the general level of education and ability among the men who were given office, it seems strange that the government did not find some place for him. He wrote to the Lieutenant-Governor, the Hon. A. G. Archibald, “My father was for over thirty years one of the main pillars of the Settlement and his services were appreciated; my brother followed in his footsteps; I took up the mantle left me and rendered service for some years ... I see a number of new men appointed who have not been here over a year or two ... I see men of little natural ability and still less education and experience chosen. I do not relish the turn of events. Having taken a leading part in getting matters to a peaceful issue, I receive only abuse, having labored to convince people of a policy of conciliation and destroyed my chances among the English of an election to the Assembly.” He adds, “I do not need the offices for the sake of pay.” 
James Ross died in September 1871, at the age of 36. In his obituary in the Manitoban, probably written by his former colleague and brother-in-law, William Coldwell, this statement appeared: “Mr. Ross has suffered much obloquy owing to the action he took during the troubles at Red River; but on all occasions, public and private, he was prepared to enter upon the subject, and we venture to say that no man who ever heard him explain his position, can deny that all he did was with a single eye to the good of his country and with a clear perception of the results which ultimately ensued.” 
How did the enterprise fare?
A question which naturally arises is: What did it cost to establish a newspaper and how did the proprietors fare? In those days there was a high incidence of infant mortality in the newspaper world. Several newspapers had been established on the West Coast in the years 1858 and 1859 and most of them had already breathed their last before the Nor’Wester began publication. The Nor’Wester survived until 24 November 1869, when Riel suppressed it.
We get an idea of the value of the printing plant and equipment from the fact that James Ross paid £150 for a third interest in the enterprise.  Coldwell sold his share of the paper to Dr. Schultz though he did have trouble collecting the money.  Dr. Schultz in turn sold to Dr. Sown who was editor when Riel suppressed the paper. Riel paid Coldwell £550 for the equipment for the Pioneer in 1869. 
There are some plaintive notices in the paper that show that all was not smooth sailing. One, in the issue of 6 February 1862, said: “Although we have now commenced to receive produce in payment of subscriptions this is by way of accommodation and of course we would very much prefer money payments.” Another, in 7 December 1863, stated: “Many have not yet paid this year’s subscriptions - some have not settled last year’s and, worse than all, a few still owe for the whole period of four years.”
Looking back in 1888, Coldwell told the Winnipeg Press Club “We were successful from the start.” We find corroboration in a letter from Mrs. James Ross to her husband. She wrote: “I was over at Coldwell’s to-day. They must be making lots of money. Jemima has so many new dresses.”  Perhaps that comment is not very good evidence as there is plenty in the letters to show that Mrs. James had little love for her sister-in-law.
Publicity, advertisements and subscribers are the life-blood of a newspaper. Buckingham and Coldwell were good newspaper men, and they saw to it that they had plenty of publicity before they began publication. The prospectus for the Nor’Wester was issued in Toronto and the Canadian newspapers printed kindly notices about it. In the first issue of the Nor’Wester, there was more than a column entitled CONTEMPORARY NOTICES, reprinting pieces from thirteen newspapers, articles, which announced that a newspaper was to be established in the Red River Settlement, congratulated the publishers on their enterprise, and wished them prosperity. These newspapers included four Toronto papers, The Globe, the Leader, the Colonist, the Echo, the Hamilton Spectator and the Hamilton Times, the Montreal Transcript, the Perth Chronicle, the Cornwall Freeholder, the Hastings Chronicle, the Milwaukee Free Democrat, and two from St. Paul, the Times and the Pioneer and Democrat. In case any reader missed these congratulatory notices they were run again in the second and third issues.
Advertisements were six pence a line and four pence for anything over ten lines. Subscriptions were twelve shillings or three dollars per annum. The editors solicited subscriptions and advertising in Upper Canada before they left and in the United States on their way out. They obtained a measure of subsidy when the Council of Assiniboia at its meeting of 7 December 1859 passed a resolution “That all newspapers direct from the publishers at Red River be free from all postage and also all exchange papers.” Not surprisingly, this occasioned some envious comment in some of the Eastern papers. Considering the character of the Council which was appointed by the Hudson’s Bay Company, there can be little doubt that the members regretted this generosity before long when they found that the Nor’Wester policy was one of vigorous opposition to the Company.
Even on their way along the Crow Wing Trail these energetic young men did not neglect any opportunities. They sold a subscription to Chief Hole-in-the-Day, who was described in a reprint from the La Crosse Union published in the Nor’Wester, of 28 February 1860, as an Indian chief living in a $6000 house on a 640 acre estate at Crow Wing. He had six wives, three old, three young, and a parlour with seventeen rocking chairs, eight large portraits, seven of himself and one of Major Cullen.
In an editorial note in the Nor’Wester the editors state that they knew nothing about his wives or his home but add ... “It was our fortune, when on the way to the scene of our present labours, to fall in with Chief Hole-in-the-Day ... He spoke in high terms of our mission to the North-West and hoped that his brethren in Red River would help forward the enterprise. As a practical proof of his desire for the success of the undertaking he intimated his intention of becoming a subscriber. We entered his name on our list, and were almost tempted to write Esq. after it; for with a promptitude which many of our pale faced delinquent subscribers would do well to imitate, he at once paid his money. And to enhance the value of the honour, he stated that ours was the only ‘big news’ to which he had subscribed.”
The citizens of Red River were not quite so ready with their cash. In his speech to the Winnipeg Press Club in 1888, Coldwell remarked: “Of course the inevitable crank had to be encountered even in this remote part of the world, and accordingly in our canvass we met persons who assured us that they did not want the Nor’Wester because they knew more local news than we did; while, as to the foreign news, they could learn as much as they desired from other papers which they got hold of at long intervals. They were also afraid that if they supported one journal in their midst, soon there would be two, four, or a score knocking at the door, with a wide diversity of views to the great bewilderment and detriment of an innocent and confiding public! Each of these cranks left us minus 12s. sterling and yet we were incorrigible.”
An extract from a report of a speech by Archdeacon William Cockran delivered at St. John’s School House, 10 January 1860, shows how thrifty the people of Red River were. “I lately heard of no less than eight debating gentlemen subscribing for one copy!! (Sensation) See how these literary personages are about to starve their intellects. However can they expect to be properly primed for a debate? (Hear! Hear! Laughter) The newspaper is one of the best things we ever had in this country; for we want to be stirred up. There is plenty of room for improvement. I was thinking the best thing we could do would be for every one of use to subscribe to the Nor’Wester, on the understanding that the editors will not be too severe with us until we have had time to reform.”
That the Nor’Wester had friends in the East who were trying to help is shown in a letter from William Ross of Whitby to the Rev. John Black of Kildonan.  “We are trying,” he wrote, “to get subscribers to the Nor’Wester; it is highly thought of here.”
The Toronto Globe in its issue of 26 August 1859, urged support: “Our Toronto merchants owe them liberal support both as subscribers and as advertisers. Toronto has a race to run with St. Paul to secure the full benefit of the Red River trade and the Nor’Wester affords the best medium for introducing themselves to those they would have as customers.” After the arrival of the first issue of the Nor’Wester, the Globe once more urged the merchants of Canada to support the new venture in the Red River Settlement.
I have not been able to find any record of how many local subscribers there were. When the office of the Nor’Wester was burned in 1865, the subscription list was doubtless lost. We do know, however, that the publishers got rid of the entire first issue, because in their third issue they offered full price for copies of the first edition. We know, too, according to the Nor’Wester of 28 February 1860, when the paper was two months old, that the previous outgoing mail had been the largest up to that date sent out from the colony, and that it contained 808 newspapers, all but two of them copies of the Nor’Wester. Of these, 434 went to Upper Canada, 260 to England, and 112 to the United States. Some of these, of course, would be exchange papers.
So much for subscriptions. What about advertising? The newspaper was published fortnightly. It contained four five-column pages, each column eighteen inches by two and a half inches. Of the twenty columns in the first issue there were two and a half columns of advertising. There were three advertisers from Toronto, and eleven from St. Paul, bankers, merchants-two of whom optimistically advertised in both French and English, and the American House which offered “Day Board at $1.50 a day and Board per week at $7.00.”
Five of the advertisements were local, two from the proprietors themselves, two from James Ross, and one from James Ellis, Dealer in Watches, Jewellery, Fancy Goods.
The proprietors, under the name of The Red River Printing and Bookselling Establishment, declared that their office was equipped with a Super Royal Washington Press and that they were ready to undertake printing jobs. They also stated: “The stock of books is various and extensive and includes a judicious selection of the best devotional and other standard works well suited for Christmas and New Year’s Gifts.” It was already three days after Christmas. In the issues of 14 and 28 January, the advertisement no longer suggested Christmas presents but continued to advise New Year’s Gifts. The other notice was the one previously mentioned for an apprentice.
James Ross, in his capacity as Postmaster, inserted a sixty-two line notice detailing the Rules and Regulations of the local Post Office, announcing that mail was expected from Pembina on the 13th of every month and that the regular outgoing mail would be closed on the 15th of each month and that when necessary there would be a supplementary outgoing mail on the 28th. He also had a ten-line notice stating that he would make a settlement of claims against the North West Transit Company of Canada.
For the second issue the publishers were fortunate in obtaining a two-column full-length advertisement running lengthwise for AGRICULTURAL IMPLEMENTS (in letters an inch and a quarter high) of every description to be obtained at the Agency of the Albany Agricultural Works, St. Paul. This thirty-three inches of advertising, at the regular rates would bring in $8.32 an issue. It appeared in two issues. Beginning in their second issue, also, they ran for several numbers, a seventy-two line ad from New York for RADWAY’S READY RELIEF in which the readers were assured that this remedy had “cured sore throat in ten minutes”.
These advertisements are interesting, not only as an indication of revenue to the publishers, but also as evidence of the variety of type which they possessed.
Before long, more space was taken by advertisers. N. W. Kittson, Drygoods Merchant of St. Boniface, inserted an ad and so did Colour Sergeant MacDonald of Fort Garry who advertised the Grand Lottery of Red River limited to 150 tickets, and consisting of One Hundred Valuable Prizes worth One Hundred and Fifty Pounds Sterling. As the tickets were one pound each one wonders what Colour Sergeant MacDonald made out of it and how he paid for the advertisement. People began to advertise for lost and strayed oxen, and Robert Tait, an honest man, advertised that he had found a four-year-old red mare. Alonze Barnard announced the opening of the Red River Portrait Studio (14 February 1860). In a sizable ad James Ross offered for sale a variety of goods. The advertisement is not unlike modern poetry.
THE STOCK INCLUDES
By this time Ross had become a partner and it is doubtful whether this advertisement brought in revenue for the newspaper though it surely would attract customers to his store.
What did contemporaries think of the Nor’ Wester?
For the reception of the Nor’Wester in Canada West there is evidence in its columns of 28 March 1860, in clippings from eastern newspapers under the heading, THE Nor’Wester - OPINIONS OF THE PRESS.
From the Daily Globe, Toronto:
From the Daily Colonist and Atlas, Toronto:
From the Daily Commercial Advertiser, Montreal:
From the Daily Prototype, London:
From the Daily Leader, Toronto:
From the Ottawa Citizen:
From the Cornwall Freeholder:
From the Hastings Chronicle:
Of course, one could not expect the editors of the Nor’Wester to print unfavourable comments even if any of their colleagues in the newspaper world were unkind enough to print them. A more objective comment is the one I quoted previously in connection with subscriptions, the one from William Ross of Whitby who stated, “It is highly regarded here.”
The comments on the appearance, typography and printing are in sharp contrast with the statement by J. J. Hargrave, “Its general appearance is of course inferior.”  Hargrave was a Hudson’s Bay man, to whom the Company was everything, and the colony an evil to be endured.
According to Hargrave, “Many opinions exist among the settlers in reference to the influence which the Nor’Wester has exercised. Some report it as having been an instrument of unmixed evil, others as having been of some benefit to the community, while possibly the greater number believe it to have been destitute of any appreciable influence whatever.” 
“In looking over the long list of old numbers now on file, I certainly hesitate to say that it is useless, for the detailed record of local events presented in the form even of a very inferior newspaper is interesting to such as take pleasure in the recollection of local reminiscences. The spirit of persistent opposition in its columns towards the government of the colony, latent at times but always existing, is a feature the absence of which would have been preferable to its presence. In this respect, I think it is certain, that had the influence of the Nor’Wester been at all commensurate with its ambition, it would have frequently so exercised it as to bring the settlement into a state of anarchy.” 
Certainly it was not long after the newspaper commenced publication that the local authorities began to take a dim view of it. This is not surprising, since the policy which the young editors had brought with them when they came was one of determined opposition to the Company and its privileges, and they continually agitated for the status of a Crown Colony, or annexation to Canada. As early as 27 February 1860, the Council of Assiniboia voted seven to four that “it is not expedient to permit any strangers to be present at the deliberations of the Council of Assiniboia.” 
The Rev. A. C. Garrioch’s view as stated in First Furrows was, “The Nor’Wester has been blamed by some as having been unreasonably antagonistic to the rule of the Hudson’s Bay Company. The writer, who has many reasons to feel very kindly towards that old corporation, has no hesitation in saying that the paper, while under the control of its first proprietors, and later of Mr. James Ross, was considered by unprejudiced readers as very fair in the stand it took in all public questions. My own impression is that it lived conscientiously up to a motto that appeared for a long time under its title - ‘Naught extenuate, nor aught set down in malice’.”
“Without any question the Nor’Wester was a boon to the settlers bringing to them regularly in reliable form the news of the day both domestic and foreign. So great was the general confidence in its veracity, that in any wordy conflict, the disputant who could support his assertion by saying ‘I saw it in the Nor’Wester’ was supposed to have placed the matter beyond dispute. Among beneficial effects it encouraged the people to take a more intelligent interest in public affairs and afforded opportunity as well as incentive to assert themselves in that connection. Besides keeping its readers posted in the home and foreign news of the day, it furnished in both prose and poetry some splendid selections that made profitable reading at a time when good reading was none too plentiful.” 
Even Mr. Garrioch, however, blames the Nor’Wester for some of the ills of the country. “As the country became better known through the reports of travellers,” he wrote, “and later, through that vehicle of intelligence, the Nor’Wester, there quickly followed the usual harbingers of civilization-an influx of badly assorted characters, the general effect of which is too often the demoralizing instead of the civilizing of the natives.” 
While I am quoting the clergy, it may be worth noting that the Rev. G. O. Corbett, as reported in the Nor’Wester of 24 December 1861, “alluded to the presence of Reporters at the meeting as a cheering indication of progress.” The Rev. Corbett was highly respected at that time, but a year later was sent to jail for performing an illegal operation upon his maid servant. The Nor’Wester reported the trial in detail. 
A more reputable friend was Archdeacon Cockran who welcomed it in a speech I quoted earlier, and urged the people to take subscriptions. In the same speech he reported the reaction of one of the humbler residents thus: “An old man said to me last week ‘We have got a newspaper now; did you see so and so in the Nor’Wester?’ ‘Yes’, I replied, ‘I saw it.’ ‘Ah,’ said he, ‘we must be careful now, because if we are found doing anything wrong, it will get into the newspaper.” 
Arthur S. Morton wrote many years later the harsh comment: “The plan of increasing the circulation by raising the dust led the editors into an attitude of hostility to the local institutions, and to become an element of discord amid the harmony of the settlement.”  This is, I think, unfair on two counts. The young editors appear to have brought with them definite convictions about what the future of the colony should be and it is hardly fair to claim that their policy was in order to increase circulation. There is also considerable question about “the harmony of the settlement.” The power of the Hudson’s Bay Company was waning even before the editors of the Nor’Wester set out for Red River, and undoubtedly there were several influential citizens in the community who were highly critical of the Company’s monopoly.
News and Editorials
No account of the first newspaper would be complete without a few examples of its style in its news columns and in its editorials. Like most of our early newspapers the Nor’Wester was prone to exceedingly optimistic forecasts of the future of the area. A news story of 14 January 1860, tells about the party of about two score Americans on their way to the western gold fields whose arrival the previous summer had occasioned some anxiety among the settlers lest so large a party in their midst might cause a famine. The editors comment: “Of course they intend to make a fortune. We hope that they may do so, and that on their return by the Atlantic and Pacific Railway they will alight at the Red River Station, this time to partake of our hospitality without the fear of creating a panic and to admire the noble wharves and princely mansions of what we have sanguine hopes will then be known as the Queen City of the West.”
This was over twenty-five years before the Canadian Pacific was completed.
An editorial entitled Retrospect appeared in the third issue. “The Settlement of today with its well stocked granaries, its comfortable dwellings, its numerous churches and schools, and its contented affluent population presents a striking and pleasing contrast to the miserable little vagrant band who upwards of forty years ago were driven by painted savages to seek at a distant spot that food and shelter which here, in the finest corn growing country in the world, they were unable to obtain.”
This is a very rosy picture. One wonders how those granaries came to be so full when according to the former extract the people of Red River had been alarmed the previous summer about their supply of food when forty Americans came into the colony.
Trials are reported in considerable detail. They hold interest still. One entitled Mulligan’s Sorrows relates the problems James Mulligan had about the sale of a house, and his contention that the defendants had removed the wrong house from his property.  This was considered sufficiently amusing to be clipped and reprinted in the Globe. 
One man was sent to jail for two months for having stolen rum and brandy from the Hudson’s Bay Company by hammering a nail into the casks while the liquor was in transit. Another defendant, however, was let go free for lack of evidence, since it appeared that all those called to give evidence had shared the stolen liquor. Dr. Bunn, the presiding magistrate, warned them, “Go and sin no more.” 
A story entitled Drunkenness and Death tells about Joseph Gasden who was accused of contributing to the death of his wife.  In the evidence, Mrs. Bailey, who apparently lived with the Gasdens testified: “Mr. Gasden pushed his wife out of bed twice the night before her death, but she was not hurted, having rolled over on my bed. Green stated yesterday that Mr. Gasden or one of us had poisoned her.” Stephen Green rose and vehemently denied the latter statement, hinting that an improper intimacy between Gasden and the last witness led him to believe the old woman had been made away with. Verdict, (foreman of jury, James Ross) “Death by natural causes aided by carelessness and intemperance.”
Gasden apparently bore the paper no ill will for in that issue and in several successive issues he took ten lines to advertise for a lost ox.
In the issue of 14 January 1860, there is a news story about a couple returning from a round of New Year’s visits. The woman was found dead on arrival at her home. The verdict, “Death from intoxication and exposure.”
The Nor’Wester took a strong stand on temperance. The first item in Miscellaneous Items in the first issue of the paper was “A teetotal rifle corps has been formed in Glasgow.” There was no nonsense about the separation of news items and editorial comment in those days, and, where disaster could be attributed to alcohol, the Nor’Wester accounts did not hesitate to say so. For example, this comment appears in one report: “Oh when will infatuated people learn to give up drinking habits which prove themselves not only useless and expensive, but highly pernicious?” In another item about men of the Settlement leaving for the gold fields of British Columbia, the conclusion is: “May you reap a golden harvest, gentlemen. If you are wise you will take no spirituous liquors with you.”
In the Toronto Correspondence dated 21 November, and appearing in the first issue, this entertaining story throws light on the political morals of the time: “Fellows, the member for Russell, who manufactured 15,000 voters out of a Yankee directory, in order to secure his return, and who swore tender-conscienced electors on a copy of Moore’s poems, has been tried at L’Orignal and found guilty of obtaining his seat in the Legislature by violence and fraud. He subsequently resigned his seat in the House just as a puppy dog vacates the parlour when he sees symptoms of being kicked out ...”
Apparently things have not changed much in the constituency of Russell. The Free Press of 5 October 1959 reports “A welter of complaints over alleged voting irregularities cropped up Monday in the federal by-election.”
In their first editorial Buckingham and Coldwell declared: “We shall not precipitate public controversy ... Of course the Red River country will have its politics - has them now in fact. But we contend that at present these pertain to material development, not to theoretical argument, still less to retrospective quarrels. The not distant action of the Imperial Government, coupled with the policy which the Canadian Legislature may indicate at the next session, will necessarily throw upon us the duty of dealing more specifically with matters to which we thus generally refer. We prefer to await that action before plunging into discussion.”
In the same issue, however, in their news columns under the heading Toronto Correspondence. there is a report of a meeting of the Great Reform Convention, in which this statement appears, “It seems to be generally taken for granted that a federal union of all British North American Provinces is but a question of time; and when that time comes, Red River, if it has not been belied, may stand a good chance of being the Washington of Canada.”
Two months later, an editorial entitled “A Crown Colony” runs as follows: “The last mail brought us private but reliable intelligence to the effect that the Home Government had resolved to introduce a bill during the present session of the Parliament, constituting us a Crown Colony ... And when we turn to the plan itself, we must say that we are well pleased; for since the Canadian Government are so lukewarm in the matter of annexation, a Crown Colony is the only other practicable scheme. When the ‘Hudson’s Bay Question’ was seriously taken up, there were just three possible alternatives: either, in the first place, to be annexed to Canada, and form part of that great Province; or, secondly, to become a Crown Colony; or, lastly, to remain as before, under the government of the Hudson’s Bay Company. The first has become impossible through the reluctance of the Canadian Government to co-operate in securing it. The last was never seriously entertained, it being manifest that the old regime would have to be greatly modified, if not entirely superseded. While disclaiming sympathy with the boisterous outcry which has been raised against the Company, it required neither acuteness or hostility on our part, to see that for things to continue as they were, was simply impossible.”
According to the plan as outlined a Governor and a Judge were to be sent out from England, while the other necessary officials “will be left to the choice of the Local Legislature which, we are further informed, is to be elected by the people.” The editorial ends with warning about the new responsibilities and higher taxes these changes will bring about in the settlement.
The Nor’Wester was not behind more modern papers in supplements and extras. In its second issue it printed a supplement of two full pages and two and a half columns containing a charge to the diocese of Rupertsland delivered by Bishop David Anderson, and on 18 February, it printed a small extra announcing that the Duke of Newcastle was preparing a bill to establish a Crown Colony in Rupertsland.
It was a bold venture to establish a newspaper in the Red River settlement a hundred years ago. The yellowing files of the Nor’Wester make fascinating reading for historians, giving us insight into the economic, social and political climate of the times. Change was in the air; more people were finding their way to Red River; thoughtful men, both here and elsewhere, were questioning more vigorously than ever before the right of a commercial company to control a vast empire. The change did not come as soon as the young editors hoped nor did it come without some violence, but there can be no doubt that through the column of their newspaper they stimulated the citizens to think seriously about what the future held for the settlement and to prepare them for the responsibilities which would be theirs when they gained more voice in their own government.
The writer acknowledges with gratitude her indebtedness to Mrs. Douglas Mackay who assisted in the research in the files of the newspapers, to Colonel E. A. Pridham who checked material in the Land Titles Office, to Miss Marjorie Morley, Mr. Hart Bowsfield and their assistants in the Legislative Library, to Miss Anne Henderson, and to Miss Shirl Hewitson of the Hudson’s Bay Company Library, all of whom were most generous with their help. Some years ago when material was being collected for an earlier paper on this subject the late Mrs. Thomas Laidlaw, daughter of the Reverend John Black, the late Miss Henrietta Black and the late Mr. W. S. Francis, grandchildren of the Reverend John Black, contributed useful information about William Coldwell and the Ross family.
1. A. C. Garrioch, First Furrows (Winnipeg, 1923), p. 146.
8. Archives of Manitoba, Ross Papers, Articles of Agreement, James Ross, William Buckingham and William Coldwell respecting a copartnership in the publishing of a newspaper and printing business, 6 February 1860.
14. A. C. Garrioch, op. cit., p. 143.
23. Olive Knox, John Black of Old Kildonan (Ryerson, 1958), p. 160.
25. Olive Knox, op. cit., p. 160.
27. J. W. Dafoe, “Early Winnipeg Newspapers”, Papers Read Before the Historical and Scientific Society of Manitoba, Series III, No. 3, p. 16.
29. J. W. Dafoe, op. cit., p. 17.
30. In 1875 Jemima, widow of William Ross, sold land on Market St. to the City of Winnipeg. In 1876 Henderson’s Directory lists William Coldwell as living at Brook Bank, the name of the William Ross house.
32. Archives of Manitoba, Aid, William Ross to James Ross, 24 August 1854.
34. Archives of Manitoba, Ross Papers, John Black to James Ross, 5 January 1860.
36. Archives of Manitoba, Ross Papers, Articles of Agreement, 6 February 1860.
48. Archives of Manitoba, Ross Papers, Diary of James Ross, 8 December 1869.
50. Archives of Manitoba, Ross Papers, James Ross to Margaret Smith Ross, 24 September 1870.
51. Archives of Manitoba, Ross Papers, James Ross to Margaret Smith Ross, 29 September 1870.
52. Archives of Manitoba, Ross Papers, James Ross to Hon. A. G. Archibald, 11 March 1871.
54. Archives of Manitoba, Ross Papers, Articles of Agreement, 6 February 1860.
55. Archives of Manitoba, Ross Papers, James Cunningham to William Coldwell, 4 January 1860. “Nothing can be done in way of your accounts from the doctor. I did not succeed in getting anything worth talking about. I never met such hard customers.”
56. J. W. Dafoe, op. cit., p. 16.
57. Archives of Manitoba, Ross Papers, Margaret Smith Ross to James Ross, 2 August 1864.
58. Archives of Manitoba, Ross Papers, William Ross, Whitby, to John Black, 23 February 1860.
59. J. J. Hargrave, Red River, (Montreal, 1871), p. 147.
63. A. C. Garrioch, First Furrows, (Winnipeg, 1923), pp. 142-143.
64. A. C. Garrioch, The Correction Line, (Winnipeg, 1933), p. 217
Page revised: 10 December 2013