Steamboat Holiday

by Molly McFadden

Manitoba Pageant, April 1957

This article was published originally in Manitoba Pageant 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 As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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No matter what the occasion, a school holiday is always a pleasure. and the one at Emerson, Manitoba on Wednesday, 11 June 1909, was extra special.

Beginning in 1859, steamboat navigation on the Red River of the North had been brisk, but slackened off after the first railway had been built through Emerson to Winnipeg in 1878. Not for twenty-eight years had passengers and freight been carried on the river route between the United States and Canada.

The occasion of the SS Cheyenne coming to the rescue of people in Emerson in the flood of 1882, and the SS Assiniboine in the flood of 1897. had been exciting, but not remembered by many of the young children going to school in 1909.

The SS City of Grand Forks, last steamer to be built at Grand Forks, North Dakota, for Red River trade, was constructed there in 1895; 123 feet long with a beam of 26.5 feet. Her oaken frame and strong planking of Washington fir, and the machinery of the SS Alsop installed, gave her owners, the Red River Transportation Company, confidence in her ability to revive the freight trade. This last trip in 1909 was her final effort in that direction.

She left Grand Forks early on the morning of Sunday, 6 June, with eighteen local citizens aboard determined to reach “Winnipeg or bust”. More passengers were taken on during the trip to the boundary line at Emerson, as the steamboat was capable of carrying four hundred. Its entire upper deck was lined with staterooms.

Much to the disappointment of everyone in Emerson, she did not arrive until late Sunday night when most children were at home in bed.

The steamer Grand Forks
Source: Molly McFadden

In order to let the vessel through, early the next morning the bridge was swung, for the first time in nearly seven years. Then about ten passengers embarked and the ship left at 6 a.m., arriving at Winnipeg that evening at 6 p.m., taking just twenty-four hours steaming time to make the total run of 425 miles from Grand Forks. In charge was Captain A. Perro, who had been her first pilot when she was launched on 10 April 1895.

On Wednesday morning, the 11th, to the delight of the pupils, the Principal had word announced that there would be a school holiday for the rest of the day, and shortly afterwards a deep-throated whistle was heard from the direction of the river. A mad scramble, and heels were flying towards the sound.

Speeches of congratulation on a successful trip were given by local authorities and everyone was allowed to inspect the craft fore and aft. Then it was the happy lot of a number of citizens and children to sail as far as Pembina, North Dakota, a distance of about four river miles, and to march back the three miles by road later that afternoon. The band played, and pictures were taken as mementos of an unusual holiday.

But the steamboat era was over. The SS Grand Forks, persevered for a time, but finally sank at her moorings in Grand Forks in the spring of 1911.

Page revised: 17 April 2014