Northern Prairie Ships: J. M. Smith

This sternwheeler was named the J. M. Smith (sometimes referred to as the John M. Smith) for pioneering shipwright and Captain John McKenzie Smith. Built as a dual-role river tug and freighter for the Pioneer Navigation and Sand Company, a firm owned by the Hall family, the ship was captained by William Hall. It is known to have been operating at Winnipeg as early as April 1906.

Used to haul wood and dredge sand from the river bottom, in 1913 the vessel was put up for sale along with a barge named Clam Shell. Bought by June 1914 by the Hall Navigation Company, the J. M. Smith was converted for passenger transport. It mainly operated on the Red River, running from Winnipeg to Hyland Park, the St. Andrews Locks, Selkirk, and Netley Creek. In September 1914, in response to the Titanic disaster, the J. M. Smith hosted a life raft demonstration by inventor Abraham Abramovitch.

Passenger service continued for several years and, around 1917, ownership passed to the Lake Winnipeg Navigation Company Limited. The ship hosted duck hunting ventures into the Red River delta at the south end of Lake Winnipeg. In 1917, the Keenora and J. M. Smith combined to set a new single-day record for transporting over 2,200 passengers down river.

In April 1920, the vessel sustained heavy ice damage while moored off Hyland Park (then known as Riverside Park) and efforts to salvage and restore it came to naught. According to Captain Fred Hokanson, the vessel (along with the Bonnitoba) was sunk just off the park site by 1927, and was later blown up to deter people from venturing around its wreck.

The sternwheeler John M. Smith

The sternwheeler John M. Smith (no date)
Source: Western Canada Pictorial Index, Gurling Collection, 22737


“Opening of navigation,” Winnipeg Tribune, 13 April 1906, page 1.

“Selling Houses,” Winnipeg Tribune, 12 March 1907, page 1.

“Norwood School had to close,” Winnipeg Tribune, 26 April 1907, page 11.

“Steamers to be sold,” Winnipeg Tribune, 28 May 1909, page 11.

“The Winnipeg fleet,” Manitoba Free Press, 4 April 1910, page 3.

“Business men to visit Point du Bois,” Manitoba Free Press, 29 September 1910, page 16.

“For sale - excellent money making proposition,” Manitoba Free Press, 21 April 1913, page 17.

“Eventful trip of the Mount Cashel,” Manitoba Free Press, 29 June 1914, page 20.

“Hall Navigation Company,” Manitoba Free Press, 1 July 1914, page 10.

“Hall Navigation Company,” Manitoba Free Press, 15 July 1914, page 18.

“Life-saving raft,” Manitoba Free Press, 5 September 1914, page 22.

“River steamer will carry bird hunters,” Winnipeg Tribune, 10 September 1915, page 2.

“Duck hunters,” Manitoba Free Press, 10 September 1915, page 6.

“River excursions,” Manitoba Free Press, 7 August 1916, page 8.

“Lake Winnipeg Navigation Co. Ltd,” Manitoba Free Press, 29 June 1917, page 2.

“Hundreds of Winnipeggers on River outing,” Manitoba Free Press, 7 August 1917, page 5.

“Army plans excursion,” Winnipeg Tribune, 4 July 1918, page 5.

“Swimming club on the Red,” Manitoba Free Press, 13 July 1918, page 18.

“Beaches and parks draw out Winnipeg for civic holiday,” Manitoba Free Press, 6 August 1918, page 4.

“Salvation Army had interesting services,” Manitoba Free Press, 26 August 1918, page 5.

“Grand opening of Keenora Park,” Winnipeg Tribune, 16 July 1919, page 13.

“Duck shooting de luxe,” Manitoba Free Press, 30 August 1919, page 10.

“Jam of ice batters steamer J.M. Smith,” Winnipeg Tribune, 22 April 1920, page 22.

“The steamer J. M. Smith [..],” Winnipeg Tribune, 23 April 1920, page 25.

“Red River ghost ships!” Winnipeg Free Press, 22 April 1952, page 1.

“Oil firm donates park land,” Winnipeg Free Press, 15 December 1973, page 12.

This page was prepared by Nathan Kramer.

Page revised: 12 February 2022