Manitoba Historical Society
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The Postal History of Red River, British North America

by Murray Campbell MD

MHS Transactions, Series 3, Number 6, 1949-50 season

This article was published originally in MHS Transactions by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make this online version available as a free, public service. As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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On 4 April 1816, Miles McDonnell, then at Montreal, advised Bishop Plessis at Quebec: "On reaching this lace I found an express had arrived two days before me, direct from Red River.' Father Provencher, newly arrived at Red River, wrote on 15 August 1818, "every year the Hudson's Bay Company engages men who come and go from Red River and some from even a greater distance." On 1 January 1819, Lady Selkirk informed Bishop Plessis that "a Winter express is to leave here Jan. 10." i.e., from Montreal for Red River. In a letter dated St. Boniface, 31 January 1819, Father Provencher stated that "A few days ago an express left for Montreal," and on February 14 of the same year Father Dumoulin, at Pembina, wrote that "The Vicar General and I wrote you by two express canoes sent by the Hudson's Bay Company and I am now taking advantage of the North-West Company's express thinking that perhaps it will arrive before the others even though they are ten and twenty days ahead of it." [1] The North-West had regular expresses which came and went from the far west to Grand Portage and later Fort William via the upper Red River (the Assiniboine) long before the Settlers came to the Red River. [2] In addition to the annual brigades from York Factory, Father Provencher's letter of 1818 indicates that the Hudson's Bay Company had regular expresses from Montreal to the Red River before that date. However, that these first expresses were not officially recognized is apparent from the following remarks in a letter written by Bishop Plessis, Quebec, 8 April 1822: "I wrote in February to Montreal to know whether any canoes of the Hudson's Bay were to be sent next spring to Red River hoping that the Rev'd. Mr. Provencher could find a passage through them. Their answer of February 28 was that they expected orders from home. But I heard none of them since." [3] But at Hudson Bay House, London, on 27 February 1822, the Governor and Committee wrote to Simpson : "It will always be proper to send one light canoe from Montreal to Norway House every spring to take in the dispatches and return as quickly as possible with the general information of the proceedings during the past winter." [4] Such canoes which travelled via the Lake of the Woods, Fort William, Ste. St. Marie, and Ottawa River carried letters to and from Red River, and were heralds of the Montreal brigades.

On 29 July 1819, Provencher acknowledged a letter from Lady Selkirk: "On June 13th, I had the honor of receiving your letter dated from Montreal on April 28th." [5] (46 days in transit). In winter it took much longer and in the season of 1818-1819 "the winter express was obliged to stop at Sault Ste. Marie because of the ice in Lake Superior," and Lady Selkirk's letter on January did not arrive "until one day after that written on April 28th. The Courier from Red River who left for Montreal at almost the same time passed the Winter at Point Meuron." [6] Another route was used at least twice. In November, 1819, Provencher wrote: "One of these days an express is to leave for Prairie du Chien - it is this conveyance that will carry the messages for Canada, England, etc. and since this will be crossing almost the entire extent of the United States, I am writing only to your Lordship to save postage." [7] The United States postage for distances over 400 miles was twenty-five cents for one sheet. This particular express was sent to Prairie du Chien, the nearest settlement to Red River, to purchase seed grain for the ensuing year, the 1819 crops having been totally destroyed by locusts. Although the route to Prairie du Chien is not known, the return was made via the Mississippi River, St. Peter's River, Bois de Sioux and the Red River. Some Hudson Bay mails of the 1830s and early 1840s were sent by this river route from Red River to the village of St. Peter's. As well as the regular expresses, no opportunity was missed to send letters by other means. "My Lord, here is an opportunity from Montreal I was not expecting - It is Captain Franklin of the Royal Marine [sic], who came up last spring to try to discover a passage between the new world and the old, who has sent an express from the Far North to carry his dispatches to England. This man named Fagoran, after having been on the way since the middle of August has only come thus far. He will reach Montreal I think before the departure of the canoes for the Red River." [8]

All this time practically all regular mails were sent to Fort William, and in summer the expresses probably took the North-West Company route by Lake Winnipeg, Winnipeg River, Lake of the Woods, Rainy River, Rainy Lake, Seine River, or Sturgeon River to Mille de Lacs, Dog Lake and Dog River (Kamnistiquia) to Fort William and then skirted the northern shore of Lake Superior to Sault Ste. Marie. A contemporary map of the Long Expedition, [9] dated 1823, shows this route in detail and says between "Lake Winnipeg and Superior there are no less than seventy-two portages." The winter route was the same except that a northerly cross country route was used between the Lake of the Woods and Rainy Lake. However, in January, 1834, a special letter from Hudson's Bay House, [10] addressed to Captain Black at Fort Reliance, was sent from Ste. St. Mary's via Michipicoten, Pic, Long Lake, Lake Nipigon to Fort William. This packet, though forwarded "with the utmost expedition from post to post," took forty-two days from Sault Ste. Marie to Red River, as compared with forty-six days for the spring express of 1819 from Montreal to Red River.

At the meeting of the Council of the Northern Department of Rupert's Land of the Hudson's Bay Company at Norway House, June 1836, it was moved

"That the Gentleman in charge of the Lake Superior Dept. be instructed to forward a packet from S [emit] S [te] M [arie] to Red River on the 1st of February with all letters and papers that may be collected at the Sault or elsewhere within his charge previous to that date and that no other express be forwarded unless rendered necessary by very important circumstances. That a packet to England from R.R. be sent on 1st November via St. Peters and that a Duplicate Dispatch together with any subsequent information that may occur be forwarded by Lac la Pluie on the 1st of December." [11] In the Council Meeting of 1839, the same instructions were given and it was also noted that "much loss in postages and other inconveniences being incurred from the practice of unnecessarily covering public and private letters with envelopes it is resolved that all Gentlemen in the Country be instructed to discontinue this practice - except in such cases where such may be absolutely necessary." [12] In the 1841 Meeting it was resolved that the "Usual winter packet between Moose and York Factory be discontinued," the despatches from York to go to Sault Ste. Marie via Lake Winnipeg and to be at Michipicoten on February 1; and the instructions respecting St. Peters were repeated. [13] In 1843, papers from Moose Factory were to be sent to York by the "Montreal Spring Express Canoe," and those from York to "be forwarded in sufficient time to reach Fort Garry before the despatch of the Red River Winter Packet for Sault Ste. Marie about the 20th of January." [14] The growing importance of Fort Garry and the Red River area generally are reflected in these changes in the routes traversed by the mail.

Until this time, and indeed for several more years, all the letters of the people of Red River (except those carried privately) went in the Company expresses or brigades. In December, 1844, the following proclamation was made at Red River: "Winter Express - all letters which are intended to be sent by this conveyance must be left at this office on or before the 1st of January; every letter must have the writer's name written in the left hand corner below, and if the writer is not one of those who have lodged a declaration against trafficking in furs, his letter must be brought open, its enclosures, if any, being open also to this office and here closed. (Signed) Alexander Christie, Governor of Assiniboia, Upper Fort Garry, 20th December, 1844." [15] This not only thoroughly aroused the settlers but provoked interesting discussions at the time of the Enquiry into the Affairs of the Hudson's Bay Company in 1857. The questions asked by Members of the Committee were answered by Sir George Simpson:

1895 - "I have a letter in my hand which is to the following effect: 'My dear Sir, - As by the new regulation regarding the posting of letters, it will be necessary that Mr. McLaughlin should send up his letters open for my perusual, a thing which cannot be agreeable to him, will you have the goodness to tell him that in his case I shall consider it quite sufficient his sealing the letters in my presence without any perusual on my part, and for that purpose I shall call in at your house tomorrow evening. Believe me &c; R. Lane.' That is dated 29th December, 1844." "It was quite unauthorized."

1896 - "Who was Mr. Lane?" "Mr. Lane was a clerk then in the service of the Company."

1897 - "What does he mean by the new regulation;" he says "as by the new regulation regarding the posting of letters?" "It was no regulation of the Company."

1898 - "Do you mean to say that there was no regulation?" "There was no regulation within my recollection; there may have been a local regulation."

1899 - "Do you mean to say that you, being governor of the territory, if that was a regulation, you are ignorant of it?" "Yes; there was no regulation to that effect that I recollect. I was governor of that country, but there was a local governor, who conducted the affairs of the district of Assiniboia."

1906 - "The letter there is written by a clerk of the Hudson's Bay Company to a person whom you know to have resided in that part of the world?" "Yes."

1908 - "The letter speaks of new regulations, of which regulations you know nothing?" "Very likely; I do not know unless my memory be refreshed upon the subject; I was very likely not in the settlement at the time."

1909 - "That is not an answer. I ask you, do you know anything of those regulations?" "No, I do not; at least I cannot call them to mind."

1912 - "Supposing there was such a regulation as is here mentioned by Mr. Lane, by whom would that regulation be made?" "Very likely by the Council or the Company's principal representative for the time being at Red River, but it would be disallowed forthwith."

1913 - "Could such a regulation, that is to say, a regulation to the effect that the letters of residents must be perused by the authorities of the Company, be made by any local officer of the Company upon his own responsibility?" "I think not."

1914 - "Then are you at a loss to conceive how such a regulation as this could have been made at all?" "I am quite at a loss; I am not aware of the regulation."

1915 - "Could such a regulation be made by the Governor and Council?" "Of Assiniboia it might; but it is not likely to have been continued; it would not have been continued."

1916 - "Would the Governor and Council of the colony have been competent to make such a regulation?" "Yes; but I think it would have been disallowed by the Company forthwith."

1917 - "Disallowed where?" "At home."

1918 - "How long would it take to send from there home?" "A very few months." [16]

At a later stage of the enquiry Rev. G. O. Corbett, a strong opponent of the Company, was questioned:

2883 - "Are you able to adduce any evidence to substantiate the grave charge which you have made in your previous answer?" "The charge has not been brought forward by me; but rests entirely on the evidence to which the Honourable Member's question refers (a) I could mention the names of the parties, but I should prefer not doing so, because they would say at once that they should have no market for their goods in the country. They would not be tolerated in freedom in the country if their names were known. There was one settler in particular who wished me to bring a letter to England to represent his case; but he said, If I allow you to take that letter I shall not be able to sell my bushels of wheat, and I shall not be able to get clothing for my poor children.' So that is the reason I could not mention the names." [17]

Mr. Corbett, in support of his allegation, produced one of the original copies of the proclamation of December 20, 1844, bearing Governor Christie's signature, and stated that all the settlers took exception to the regulation and refused to submit to it. Mr. Corbett was at Red River from 1852 to 1855. In order to circumvent this restriction of their liberties the free traders (but apparently not the settlers in general) began, in 1847, to send their mail by the Kittson express which had been established several years earlier to transport furs from Pembina to Fort Snelling. Kittson was the general manager of the American Fur Company in northern Minnesota and Joseph Rolette was his chief representative. At later dates both were postmasters at Pembina. On January 30, 1848, James Sinclair, a free trader at Red River wrote to Henry Sibley of the American Fur Company at St. Peter's: "The Bearer Rienville has a packet of letters, which I have to request of you to have them posted at Fort Snelling, also to pay the postage of the same through the account, and I have further to request of you that should there be any letters either at the Post Office at Fort Snelling or at St. Paul's for Red River, to pay the postage of them and to hand them over to Rienville and by his return please let me know the amount, so that I may either remit you the amount or to Mr. Kittson as you may desire." [18] Norman Kittson, stationed at Pembina, wrote to Sibley, January 3, 1849: "This will be handed to you by Francois Rienville whom I send express for any letters or papers there may be in the post office either for myself or any person of the Settlement of Red River." [19] The third letter, dated January 27, 1850, contains a similar statement. The Kittson express, then, was Francois Rienville and it would seem reasonable to conclude that he was employed jointly by the free traders of Red River and the American Fur Company and that he formed a fairly effective means of by-passing the censorship of mails imposed by the Hudson's Bay Company. Rienville probably carried the mails to St. Peter's, via the Red River, Bois de Sioux and St. Peter's River.

On July 8, 1850, an attempt was made to put these mails on an official basis for all settlers. The Queen having been pleased to erect Rupert's Land into a Bishopric and Diocese, and other improvements, has brought the Settlement of Red River into nearer connection with Her Majesty's Government, and created a corresponding interest in the minds of the British public for the advancement and prosperity of this colony; it appears desirable, therefore, to keep alive the feeling by a more frequent communication with our Fatherland." "And, whereas the private traders specially, and the settlers generally, would be benefitted thereby, it is, therefore, purposed that a sufficient sum from the public funds be appropriated for sending an express from hence with letters for England, via St. Peters, or the nearest post town, the bearer to bring back all letters and newspapers for the Settlement." [20] On September 5, 1850, "The President then referred to the motion that passed at the last Council, concerning extra communication between this place and Europe, on which the President observed that in his conversation with Sir G. Simpson, he, Sir George Simpson, had in-formed him that £200 would be requisite for the intended communication and, if the Council of Assiniboia would deposit that sum, he would ensure them six opportunities of correspondence with Europe. After some conversation, the motion was cancelled." [21] In all probability it was cancelled because the mail would still be under the control of the Company.

It would appear from the first motion that the Company mails via St. Peters had been abandoned, but Charles Cavileer, who was connected with the Pembina post office from 1851 until 1884 says "The Hudson's Bay Company before the establishing of the Crow Wing route always sent special messengers every spring and fall to St. Paul with their mail from their outposts in the North and North, west consisting of a thousand or more letters or packages." [22] The post office at St. Paul was opened in 1846 and that at Crow Wing in 1852. Cavileer made these remarks about 1880 and they are not consistent with any other statements I have seen. I think his memory played him false as it did with other things, and he was probably recollecting Company mails of later dates.

The Council of Assiniboia having done nothing more, the settlers took things into their own hands and established an unofficial mail sometime in 1853, and the Ross Correspondence [23] throws considerable light on this, though I have been unable to ascertain who acted as postmaster. Could it have been Mr. Sinclair? Wm. Ross, writing to his brother in Toronto on November 4, 1853, stated that it was "now a likelihood we will have a regular monthly mail. We have sub, scribed the sum of £60 to aid the Yankee to carry the mail for one year. Adam Klyne is to make the first trip. He starts tomorrow and is moreover likely to get the contract." This letter reached St. Paul on November 28, and Toronto December 16, and is one of the first of some forty-five letters addressed to James Ross in Toronto by his friends and relatives in Red River between 1853 and 1858. Most of these were sent by the United States, but a few were carried by the Company packets, either to Lachine or to Sault Ste. Marie, according to the postmarks, and there placed in the regular mails. One is marked Mosa, U.C. (now Wardsville) at that time (1853) the western "end of steel," in Canada.

Another envelope containing a letter from Bishop Anderson and postmarked Lachine is linen-lined, most unusual in those days. From Sault Ste. Marie, the letters went by Lake Huron, Barrie and Penetanguishene, or Collingwood Harbour. In 1854, two letters from Toronto were sent "Via Pembina", and two addressed to Alexander Ross from England in 1849 were sent by York Factory.

The settlers' private mail, i.e., that by the United States before February, 1855, was taken by the runner to the point at which it would make the best connection with an outgoing eastern mail, sometimes - according to postmarks - to St. Paul, sometimes to Fort Ripley, at least once to Swan River, Minnesota Territory, two or three times to Pembina and probably on occasion to Crow Wing, or Sauk Rapids, though there are no postmarks of these offices in the Ross Correspondence. Speaking of this period, James Hargrave in his history of Red River says the mail was taken to "Fort Ripley then the most advanced of the United States Post Offices," and that "In 1857 the American Government established an office at Pembina - and carried a mail to that place once a month." [24] With the exception of the last ten words these statements are almost certainly incorrect and yet they are quoted in an official report of an Inspector of Canadian Post Offices in 1881. [25] According to the official list of post offices of Minnesota Territory, in which the village was at that time situated, the Pembina Post Office was opened in May, 1850, and letters of this correspondence are post-marked there as early as February, 1854; and when Wm. Ross was officially appointed postmaster on February 28, 1855, by the Council of Assiniboia it was also moved "that a monthly mail be established between this settlement and Pembina." [26] Three letters of November 14, 1854, throw more light on the private mails. (1) "We have received yours of the 9th of Sept. by Adam Klyne of the 30th of October. A collection was made for carrying the mail to St. Paul's during the winter - the sum of £60 was collected - we will be able to make five trips so that during the winter we may expect to have letters regularly - all letters will be prepaid." (i.e. the American postage to Canada.) (2) "the Packet for St. Paul is to go tomorrow. Last year all letters had to be sent by the regular mail on paying a certain subscription. I neglected subscribing soon [enough?] and when I wished to do so found the subscription too high so that I could not send a letter off under 5/- and therefore I sent none." (3) "Gulle succeeds him" ( i.e., Klyne as mail carrier.) [27] It would appear from these and other references, that Klyne's contract called for the delivery of the mails to St. Paul and not Fort Ripley, but as has been seen there was great variation in his actual point of contact with the United States Mail. "Gulle" was Roger Goulet who carried Red River mails for many years. Southbound mails from Pembina were irregular in the early 1850s and that is why the Red River mail carrier usually had to go to a more distant point to make contact with the United States mail. It is curious that Sir George Simpson, at the Company Enquiry in 1857 when asked "Is there a regular post maintained by the settlers between Red River and Pembina?" replied: "No there is no regular post; at least I am not aware that there is" and again "Is there any provision made by the Governor and Council of Assiniboia for transmission of a letter from Assiniboia itself to the frontier?" "I think not." [28]

In summer the mail was carried to Pembina and then across "the Plains" via the "Wood Route," Tamarac River, Red Lake River, Snake River, Ottertail Lake, Crow Wing River and down the Mississippi. In the Narrative of the Canadian Red River Expedition a meeting with the mail, October 14, 1857, is described by the author, Henry Youle Hind. "Near Pine (Tamarac) River we met 'The Mail' borne on the back of a halfbreed, who was accompanied by a boy 15 or 16 years old carrying the blankets and Cooking utensils. The mail bearer was ill and had not eaten food for two days. He carried the mail in a large leather bag, by means of a strap passing around his head - he had been 15 days coming from Crow Wing." (about 280 miles). He also speaks of Roger Goulet. "Scratching River joins the main stream thirty-seven miles from Fort Garry. The postman who carried the mail between Pembina and the settlements lives here and has established an apology for a tavern and a ferry." [29]

In winter, the mail was carried via Thieving (Thief) River at its mouth at Red Lake River then to Red Lake, Cass Lake, Leech Lake to Crow Wing River and Crow Wing Village. This information about the routes was gleaned from an address given to this Society by Dr. John Schultz in 1894 [30] and from the recollections of Charles Cavileer. In this instance, memories served well, as a map in Hind's book outlines these routes as described by Schultz and Cavileer.

Captain Palliser, an English explorer, thus describes Pembina on July 25, 1857:

It is here that the Post Office for the Red River Settlement and other parts of the Hudson's Bay Company's territories is established, as further conveyance of letters from this place is entirely a private act at the expense of the company, and forms no part of any postal system. The arrangement for the safe and speedy delivery of letters did not seem at all suitable to the magnitude of the concerns which were committed to the care of the person in charge. The postmaster [Joe Rolette] himself was off to St. Paul's and the sole charge of attending to postal matters is deputed to his wife, a half-breed woman, who speaks no language but her native Indian. On asking if there were any letters for us, we were answered by having the whole collection of letters given to look over and examine for ourselves. [31]

Rolette was discharged from office in 1861 for inadequate performance of his duties. The last letter of the Ross Correspondence to go via Canada and the Company express was dated Red River, June 22, 1856, and though it is marked "Via Lachine", it is postmarked Sault Ste. Marie, July 25, and Collingwood Harbor, July 26. Between these two places it would be carried by steamer, perhaps the "Rescue". On December 8, 1856, Rev. John Black writes to James Ross: "I intended to send your father's [Alexander Ross] will by Co.'s express but that has been discontinued." [32] The winter expresses then had been stopped - perhaps those of summer as well - and if so there were no mails via Canada to Red River between the middle of 1856 and July, 1858, when the Canadian Post Office Department instituted its mail service between Fort William and Red River.

P.O. 7th June, 1858.
His Excellency, The Governor-General in Council.

The Postmaster-General has the honor to report for the consideration of His Excellency in Council, upon the memorandum submitted for his consideration, signed by the Hon. M. Cameron and others: that no regular postal communication exists between this part of the Province and the Red River Settlement. That such communication is very desirable and that the present would seem a favorable opportunity for establishing it. The amount of revenue to be derived from the service, it is impossible to estimate; that it would amount to a considerable sum there is no reason to doubt, but it is quite impossible, that it would for a lengthened period at all approach in amount the sum mentioned in the memorandum submitted. As other interests than those of the Post Office Department are intimately connected with the establishment of these means of communication the Postmaster-General does not conceive that it would be proper to offer an opinion as to the reasonableness of the sum mentioned in the memorandum now submitted.

(Sgd.) Sidney Smith, P.M.G." [33]

However, by July, 1858, a contract for service had been agreed upon:

"Captain Thos. Dick,
P.O. 9th July, 1858. Toronto.

The Postmaster-General in order to promote efficiency of the mail service to be performed under the Agreement, entered into by Captain Thomas Dick, Toronto, for the transport of the mails to and from Red River, hereby authorizes Capt. Dick, or his approved Agent, duly employed for the purpose, to take charge of Her Majesty's mails to be conveyed under the contract to and from Bruce Mines, Sault Ste. Marie, Fort William and Red River ...

(Sgd.) W. Griffin." [34]

"Captain Thos. Dick.
P.O.D. 5th Nov. 1858.

The Postmaster-General being authorized with reference to your application regarding the transport of mails twice a month to Sault Ste. Marie, and once a month thence to Red River with return mails of like frequency - to contract with you for the same rate at the rate of Two Hundred and fifty pounds a month I am to enquire whether you are ready to enter into an engagement for the performance of the above named authorized rate of compensation." [35] [This letter refers to the winter mails which went via the "timber route" starting at Penetanguishene. The rate between Fort William and Red River was £75 a trip.]

[The Company principle was to deal directly with Governments wherever possible as is seen by this extract of a letter from Griffin to Sir George Simpson:]

I have communicated to the P.M. Genl. what you say with regard to your Indisposition to authorize the Company's Officers to hereafter make arrangements with the Government Contractors for forwarding the mails on the Red River Route and also with respect to your readiness to treat for the assumption of a Contract for the service by the Company directly with the Government. [36]

The Government of Canada made a contract with one E. M. Carruthers, of Toronto, for a weekly mail service from Collingwood to Sault Ste. Marie and a monthly service from Sault Ste. Marie to Red River for the season of 1859, Captain Dick having had his contract cancelled. [37] The postal arrangement for the period 1858-1860 was summarized by The Nor-Wester, Red River's first newspaper, early in 1860.

The year 1858 witnessed a new feature in the postal arrangements of the country. In that year, the Canadian Government authorised the conveyance of mails to and from the settlement, via Fort William. Since that time, there-fore, and up to the beginning of the present winter, we have had two lines of mail communication - one through American and one through British territory. The former has hitherto on the whole given great satisfaction, and we doubt not the latter will also give satisfaction, after some more experience of the route and its requirements. In June, 1859, the two lines together brought in 713 papers and 400 letters, besides a number of magazines and reviews. The last mail, which arrived on the evening of the 19th instant, brought in 880 newspapers and 210 letters. This is the largest number of papers ever brought in by a single mail. The number of letters is smaller than by previous mails; but there will of course be a fluctuation. Our mails are only monthly. We may, it is true, send to Pembina twice a month; but as there is but a monthly mail from there, the arrangement is but unsatisfactory. Let us have a genuine fortnightly mail. There was one from July, 1858, to July, 1859; why was it given up?

The outgoing mail on the 28th ultimo conveyed 350 letters and a large number of newspapers. As that was the first instance of newspapers being sent abroad from this settlement, it will mark an important era in the history of the Red River Post Office. [38]

The difficulties of the route, the apparent unwillingness of the H.B.C. to co-operate, the length of time taken to deliver the mails, perhaps political considerations, and above all the cost brought this interesting experiment to an end.

Captain Dick was furnished with postage stamps to be sold at the Red River. There is no proof that these stamps reached their destination. The postage on a letter between R.R. and Pembina or vice versa was one penny - on every newspaper one half-penny unless it proceeded directly from the office of publication on which there shall be no charge. In addition there was the American postage of 10 cents, this being the rate to the Province of Canada. The revenue of the R.R. post office in 1859 was £149 and the expenditures £154.

The postmaster following Wm. Ross, who died on May 4, 1856, was Wm. Drever at £6 per annum, who resigned in September of the same year because he considered the salary inadequate. Nathaniel Logan held the position for twelve months following which James Stewart became postmaster. On May 26, 1859, "the postmaster was instructed, in conjunction with the Governor of Assiniboia, to send an extra messenger to forward the return mail from Pembina." [39] Two months later James Ross was appointed postmaster in place of James Stewart "resigned", at a salary of £10 and the Governor of Assiniboia was empowered to make all the necessary arrangements concerning the postal affairs.

On September 4, 1860, the following petition was presented to the Council of Assiniboia:

We, the undersigned inhabitants of Red River Settlement, respectfully call the attention of your honourable Council to the great inconvenience of the present system of Postal delivery in the Settlement, which has long been a source of great annoyance, embarassments, and inconvenience to your petitioners, in common with the other people of the Settlement, and this has been increased since the establishment of the Canada Mail, Fortnightly Mail, through the United States, Letters &c., often remaining at the Upper Post Office for weeks, as some of your Hon'ble Council can testify. In order to remedy this, as far as practicable, your Petitioners humbly pray your Hon'ble Council to establish Branch Post Offices, throughout the Settlement, for the Receipt and Delivery of Mail Matters, and that persons may be appointed to deliver the same, according to the directions, and collect the Postage it may be necessary to charge, according to the Plan followed in England and in Canada. And, as in duty bound, your petitioners will ever pray. [40]

This petition, to which was attached fifty-seven signatures, was laid on the table and disregarded.

This mail from Pembina probably changed its route about this time with the establishment of the stage between St. Cloud and Fort Abercrombie, going to the latter place instead of Crow Wing. At Fort Abercrombie in autumn of 1865, "Archdeacon Cochrane ... secured a passage in the mail gig on its way to Pembina by Georgetown." [41] And on June 28, 1865, James Ross, writing from Pembina, says, "I gave $3.00 for my passage from Abercrombie to George, town by the mailman. From Georgetown to this place I got with another mailman and paid to him that pound note (H.B.Co.) I brought from Canada." [42]

It was not, however, until March 13, 1862, that another post office was opened in the settlement. Thomas Sinclair was made postmaster at St. Andrews at a salary of £6. [43] James Ross, whose duties and responsibilities undoubtedly warranted a higher salary than £10, wrote a long letter to the Council on May 17, 1862. The following are excerpts:

MacDuff House,
May 17, 1862.

"William MacTavish, Esq.,

My Dear Sir:

I have now managed the Post Office for three years. I have laboured diligently and faithfully ... bestowing more care and attention than perhaps any other would have done, considering the trifling salary which is given. It was not the salary that induced me to take the P.O., but my wish to fill a sphere of public usefulness. The same motive will induce me to keep it, if I should get no more than at present, but I hope this willingness on my part will not be made a reason for continuing an arrangement which is hardly fair to me ... I have been obliged to erect a Post Office Building, at an outlay of 30 pounds ... I have to keep accounts with the Pembina P.O. with the Mail Carrier, and with Mr. Sinclair (P.M. at St. Andrew's); I have the responsibility of the monies due the U.S. on account of postage; and at the year's end, have the year's account to make out and give in ... One constant source of labour is keeping running accounts with Mail-dealers. There are many poor people who cannot pay at once, and many others who, though able, on account of the distance at which they reside, pay only at intervals. There are over twenty, sometimes as many as thirty, with whom I thus keep open accounts. I am aware that this is not obligatory upon me; but you know dear Sir how difficult it is to enforce strictly the rules of immediate payment. This manifold account keeping imposes much additional labour, but it is a very great convenience to Mail-dealers. It is, in fact, a necessary evil. The worse feature of this case is, that too often I lose the postage altogether ... Previous Post-Masters have complained that the allowance was too small, and one (Mr. Drever) actually threw up his post because the Council would not increase his salary. Those who have had to do the work may be taken as good judges of its extent and character." [44] [The salary was not increased.]

On Nov. 25, 1862, Mr. MacTavish stated that he "wished to bring under the consideration of the Council the conduct of one of the Public Officers viz Mr. Sheriff Ross in stirring up the people as he has lately been doing to opposition to the Council and in endeavouring to thwart the Council in the measures they had thought proper to take for the public peace, and common safety, by calling upon the public to look upon their acts with suspicion, and representing to the Home Government that there was no Justice to be obtained between man and man in this Settlement ... such conduct being incompatible with his position as an Officer of Government." It was therefore moved "that Mr. James Ross be removed from all Public Offices this day." [45] Mr. A. G. Bannatyne was appointed postmaster. Mr. Bannatyne had his troubles. On Jan. 4, 1866, the following statement was made by the Council of Assiniboia:

With reference to the complaint of Mr. McKenny regarding alleged irregularities in the Post Office, the President submitted a statement on the subject from Mr. Bannatyne accompanied by a document signed by most of the merchants of the Settlement expressing their satisfaction with the present Post-Master's management, and also a memorial from Mr. McKenny with affidavits by himself and others in support of some of his complaints, and the Council taking the whole subject into consideration, came to the following resolution as moved by Mr. Clare and seconded by the Bishop of Rupert's Land, namely ... that in the opinion of the Council the only complaint by Mr. McKenny in reference to the Post Office, for which there appeared to be any good ground, was that of the Post-Master having occasionally given persons calling at the Post Office access to the Mails; that the Council, however, believed that the Post-Master had permitted this in the spirit of accommodation to the public and saw no ground for imputing to him any improper motive in the matter; but at the same time the Council could not but regard the practice as one that was open to serious objection; and they therefore directed that Mr. Bannatyne, on being informed of the result of this investigation, be instructed to discontinue it in future, and to make it a rule, that, in the receiving, as well as in the distributing of the Mails, none but himself or some trust-worthy person in his employment, be permitted to handle the letters and papers. [46]

I do not know when the post office was established at Portage la Prairie, it being outside the jurisdiction of Assiniboia, but on the same day the Council considered a petition from that Settlement. "A Petition on the part of the Settlers at Portage La Prairie was then read, praying for assistance in the establishment of a fortnightly mail, between the Post Office and that Settlement - and it was agreed that the sum of Five Pounds be granted as a contribution towards the object for six months, but on the understanding that it shall only be paid after the actual performance of the service, for that period in a manner satisfactory to the Governor." [47] In 1867, Dr. Schultz offered to carry the mail bi-weekly to Portage la Prairie for £6 per annum, but "as it appeared to the Council that no such postal arrangements could properly be entered into at present" [48] his offer was not accepted, but on Dec. 17, 1868, Mr. Bannatyne was authorized to make arrangements with the "Nor-Wester Express Stage" or any other party to carry the mail to Portage la Prairie at 5/- weekly. At the same time the Bishop of St. Boniface was allowed £3 to fit up a post office at the house of Joseph Amlin, St. Norbert. [49] From June 1, 1869, Bannatyne's salary was increased to £50, it having been increased from £10 to £20 at some previous date. [50] Riel took over control of the Post Office on Christmas day 1869, and held it until August 24, 1870, the date of the entry of the troops and until June 30, 1870, paid all expenses. It was during this time that he was said to have issued a stamp bearing his own likeness. On November 1 a through mail was established between Fort Garry and Windsor and Fort Garry constituted a regular post office. From August, 1870 until July, 1871, the mails were under the jurisdiction of the Manitoba Government.

On July 24, 1871, Inspector Dewe of the Post Office Dept. submitted a very interesting report to Hon. A. Campbell, Postmaster General, at Ottawa. [51] Roger Goulet was still in charge of the Pembina mail which was now twice-a-week. His former salary of £1 - 10 per trip was increased to $15.00 on Oct. 1 and $20.00 per trip December 12, 1870. The mail was carried to Portage la Prairie and St. Andrews at $7.50 per trip to the former and to St. Andrews at $1.55 per trip. Immediately on the arrival of the troops a post office was established at the Lower Fort and the rate was $1.55 to Red River. Between October, 1870 and June, 1871, contracts were let by the Provincial Government on a yearly basis with the exception of the Pembina route. If Portage la Prairie is included, and it is assumed that the post office at St. Norbert was in actual operation, Assiniboia had four post offices at the time of Confederation with Canada. In addition the Company had its private Post Office at Upper Fort Garry which had been in existence for many years. I do not know the date of its establishment but Hargrave has this to say about Company mails. "Letters and other mail matter are constantly arriving for different individuals employed in the vast territories of the Company in the Northern department. These are received by the Company's agent at Fort Garry, where a regular post-office exists, in which accounts are kept open with the officers and servants resident inland. At certain seasons packets are despatched, to the various parts of the country, containing the letters and papers which have accumulated for transmission. These packets on their return bring out letters which, after being duly weighed and stamped in the Company's office are forwarded by the local mail for postage at Pembina in U.S. territory." [52]


1. Grace Lee Nute, (ed.), Documents Relating to Northwest Missions, 1815-1827 (St. Paul, 1942) pp. 4, 140, 168.

2. G. C. Davidson, The North West Company (Berkeley, 1918), p. 219.

3. Nute, Documents, p. 203.

4. R. Fleming, (ed.), Minutes of Council of Northern Department of the Hudson's Bay Company, 1821-1831 (Toronto: Champlain Society, 1940), p. 308.

5. Nute, Documents, p. 249.

6. Near Fort William.

7. Nute, Documents, p. 256.

8. Ibid., dated Feb. 2, 1826.

9. See map, Wm. H. Keating, Narrative of an Expedition to the Source of St. Peter's River, Lake Winnipeek, Lake of the Woods, etc., (London, 1825).

10. A. S. Morton, A History of the Canadian West to 1870-1871, (Toronto, n.d.) p. 681.

11. E. H. Oliver, The Canadian North-West (Ottawa, 1914), p. 742.

12. Ibid. p. 788.

13. Ibid. p. 827.

14. Ibid. p. 848.

15. Report of the Select Committee on the Hudson's Bay Company, 1857, p. 265.

16. Ibid. pp. 97-98.

17. Ibid. p. 149.

18. Minnesota Historical Society Manuscript Collection, H. H. Sibley Papers, James Sinclair to Sibley, 30 Jan. 1848.

19. Ibid. Norman Kittson to Sibley, 3 Jan., 1849.

20. Oliver, North-West, p. 356.

21. Ibid. p. 409.

22. C. Cavileer, Old-Time Post Office at Pembina, Early History of North Dakota, by Col. C. A. Lounsberry.

23. Public Archives of Manitoba, Ross Papers, William Ross to James Ross, 4 Nov. 1853.

24. J. J. Hargrave, Red River, (Montreal, 1870), p. 100 and p. 381.

25. Postal Service of Manitoba and Northwest, Report of the Department of Agriculture and Statistics of the Province of Manitoba, 1882.

26. Oliver, North-West, p. 435.

27. P.A.M., Ross Papers.

28. Select Committee, 1857, p. 97.

29. Henry Youle Hind, Narrative of the Canadian Red River Expedition, (London, 1860) 2 vols., Vol. I, pp. 156 and 256.

30. John Christian Schultz, On the Old Crow Wing Trail in the Sixties, Transactions of the Historical and Scientific Society of Manitoba, No. 45, (Winnipeg, 1894).

31. Papers Relative to the Exploration by Captain Palliser of Portions of British North America (London, 1860) p. 39.

32. P.A.M., Ross Papers.

33. W. S. Boggs. Postage Stamps and Postal History of Canada, (Kalamazoo, 1946) 2 vols. Vol. I, Appx. K, p. 1.

34. Ibid.

35. Ibid. p. 5.

36. Ibid. p. 6.

37. Ibid. pp. 9-10.

38. The Nor'Wester, 28 January, 1860.

39. Oliver, North-West, p. 446.

40. Ibid. p. 464.

41. Hargrave, Red River, p. 381.

42. P.A.M., Ross Papers.

43. Oliver, North-West, p. 498.

44. Ibid. pp. 505-508.

45. Ibid. p. 514.

46. Ibid. p. 560.

47. Ibid. pp. 560-561.

48. Ibid. p. 572.

49. Ibid. p. 599.

50. Ibid. p. 612.

51. Manitoba Sessional Papers, Report of the Department of Agriculture and Statistics, 1882. p. 189.

52. Hargrave, Red River, p. 101.

Page revised: 22 May 2010

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