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Opening Up the North-West, August 18, 1864

Manitoba Pageant, Autumn 1964, Volume 10, Number 1

This article was published originally in Manitoba Pageant by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make it available here as a free, public service.

Please direct inquiries to webmaster@mhs.mb.ca.

From The Nor'Wester, 18 August 1864:

An appropriation for Red River figured once again in the budget of the Finance Minister of Canada during the last session; and this time the item was not thrown overboard, as by the previous Administration, but received the assent of the House in the most confiding way. Fifty thousand dollars have been voted towards opening up this great North-west; and we venture to say that a large majority of those who voted the sum know little or nothing of the manner in which it is proposed to expend it. Whether it was to be given to the Company, for whose interest Mr. Edward Watkin worked so zealously, whose professed object was to open communication across the continent by a telegraph and wagon road, and who sought aid from British Columbia and Canada in so doing; or whether it was to be given to harass the people of Red River by sending through a mail so irregularly that they would much rather do without the gift - these were points on which no light was thrown by the Government. The item gave rise to a curious discussion in the House. Members were evidently in the dark; but they were told to be content - that they could get no light on the subject - they must trust the Government, and surely they could afford to trust them with a little matter of $50,000 when they allowed them the expenditure of vastly larger sums. These were the arguments used on the occasion, the sum was voted; and that it was voted at all under the circumstances, shows not only a confidence that the Government will do right, in the premises, but also the popularity of the proposed expenditure. Members dared not vote the sum on such limited information, were they not sure that their constituents eagerly sought the opening up of the North-West.

Diagram: Andrew McDermot's Store, Red River Settlement, 1857.
Source: Archives of Manitoba

There is no doubt that North-western extension is a doctrine to which a very numerous section of the Legislature of Canada believes. It is one which has been long agitated in the Western Provinces. The people have of late years experienced a deep interest in this opening up of a route to the North-west, and, indeed, in all that concerns this country. We have had frequent opportunities of judging, and we must say that this feeling is, if anything, getting more widespread. We are happy to know that this sentiment prevails; and we can assure the people of Canada that if once the task of opening up communication between the head of Lake Superior and this country were set about in a business like way, with a determination to go right through with the work, the difficulties would not be found at all so formidable as they are pictured. A good wagon road can be made from Canada to Red River at far less cost than the Legislators and people of Canada suppose. We have now three cart and wagon roads between Fort Garry and St. Paul, and they pass through swamps, rivers, lakes, forests, and even over mountains; but the cost of constructing any one of them has been a mere bagatelle taking into account the rich trade which passes over them every year. Forests were cut through, rivers were rudely bridged where possible, bad swamps were corduroyed or filled up, and thus the roads were made, and they are being made better year after year as the trains pass along and clear away obstructions. Now this has not been an extensive process. The Government undertook a portion; firms in St. Paul, found it their interest to continue the work in order to facilitate the trade between themselves and us, and private parties finished it. The road from Canada might be opened by a similar process, and from the plan which we have submitted, our readers will see its feasibility and comparative inexpensiveness. If the sum proposed to be expended by Canada is laid out advantageously it will no doubt accomplish much, and the Government would be able to come down to the House another year with a report so favorable that a further appropriation to finish the work would, we think, be secured without difficulty. But let the money be spent on the road, and not in pet mail contracts, or in anyway as a sop to the advocates of North-western extension. We do not desire to be afflicted with a Canadian mail while the Lake Superior route is in its present state. The American Government spends thousands annually in sending a mail to Pembina for our people; and right well is the service performed generally; this year indeed, the gentleman who has the contract, Mr. H. Herbert, is making such exertions as must secure still greater regularity and safety. He gives his personal superintendence along the entire line, and is making most praiseworthy efforts to improve the service.

Canadian mail contractors never did this, and cannot be expected to do so until the road is properly opened. Hence the alarm of the Red River people would be great indeed if they thought the appropriation were to be thrown away in mail contracts. If this amount be honestly spent in making the road, the result must be satisfactory to the people of Canada; before long the trade of the North-west which enriches Minnesota with millions of dollars yearly, will be diverted into Canadian channels by an outlay below that which is now imagined; and the advocates of the North West will have the best proof of the soundness of their policy.

Page revised: 18 July 2009

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