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Brandon’s Steamboat Era

Marquette steamboat

S.S. Marquette photo: The Wheat City A Pictorial History of Brandon

For over a hundred years [the Assiniboine River] had been a water highway for the voyageurs and trappers who engaged in the fur trade.

For settlers, until the construction of roads and bridges, the Assiniboine was a vital link.

As is almost always the case on the frontier, there were entrepreneurs equal to the task.

Heavy investments were made in stream-driven vessels, and their delivery heralded a brief period in which the Assiniboine had a navy all its own.

In 1879, regular service from Winnipeg to Curries’ Landing, near Grand Valley, was provided by the Alpha, the Marquette, and the Manitoba.

Two years later, the North-West and the City of Winnipeg joined the fleet.

All were shallow-draught paddle-wheelers, drawing only eighteen to twenty-six inches.

Their presence meant that passengers and trade goods from Winnipeg could be taken as far west as Fort Ellice during periods of high water, generally described as 120 days of the year.

For passengers with means, the trips were made in relative comfort.

There were cabins for those who could afford them. The salons were equipped with pianos.

For the Winnipeg – Brandon leg of the journey, freight was carried at a dollar per hundredweight.

Passengers were charged nine dollars; meals were extra at fifty cents.

Travel time against the current was one week; the return trip took four to five days.

Many years later, when highways and railroad tracks had long since replaced the Assiniboine River as a traffic artery, there were still travellers sufficiently intrepid that they would try to re-live the days of the voyageurs.

In September of 1924, to the acclaim of their fellow citizens, City Clerk George Sykes, his wife, his son Fred, and provincial employee Walter Green, paddled to the capital city in a journey which took eleven days.

A press report states: “Bucking white-capped waves on the Assiniboine lashed by a strong easterly wind which they fought for the greater part of their 400-mile trip, four canoeists – one a woman – arrived in Winnipeg Friday afternoon from Brandon.”

The Wheat City A Pictorial History of Brandon by Fred McGuiness


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