MHS Smarty Party: 20 October 2022

Manitoba Historical Society
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Memorable Manitobans: William Robinson (1849-1936)

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William Robinson
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Businessman, steamboat operator.

Born at Rawdon, Quebec on 22 December 1849, son of William and Jane A. Robinson, cousin of Thomas D. Robinson and Jerry Robinson, he was educated at Quebec public schools and the Fergus grammar school. In 1868, he began working on railway construction and came to Winnipeg in 1875 where he was engaged on Canadian Pacific Railway construction between Winnipeg and Rat Portage (now Kenora), Ontario. He began building steamboats in 1878 and was the first man to place steamboats on Lake Winnipeg, using them to transport lumber, fish, and other commodities around the lake.

In September 1884, he was asked by the British government to provide logistic assistance for their war in Sudan, Africa. He arranged to have several steamboats disassembled, transported to Egypt, then reassembled for duty on the Nile River. He returned to Winnipeg in the spring of 1885, in time to help transport military troops involved in the North West Rebellion in Saskatchewan.

Robinson was one of the founders of Northwest Navigation Company, of which he was Managing Director and later President. He was also a Vice-President of the Northern Crown Bank, and Manager of the Dominion Fish Company. By 1911, he was proprietor of the William Robinson Company, located at 603 Builders Exchange in Winnipeg. In 1910 he was listed by the Winnipeg Telegram as one of Winnipeg’s 19 millionaires.

In 1886, he married Catherine Ann Easton (1865-1959) at Winnipeg. They had three children: William Edgar Robinson (1888-?), Kathleen Adele Robinson (1891-1979), and Frederick Vernon Robinson (1896-1977). He was a member of the Manitoba Club and St. Charles Country Club. His recreations included golf, motoring, riding, and driving.

He died at his Winnipeg, 264 Roslyn Road, on 20 August 1936 and was buried in the Elmwood Cemetery.


Birth registrations, Manitoba Vital Statistics.

1901 Canada census, Automated Genealogy.

Who’s Who in Western Canada: A Biographical Dictionary of Notable Living Men and Women of Western Canada, Volume 1, edited by C. W. Parker, Vancouver: Canadian Press Association, 1911.

The Story of Manitoba by F. H. Schofield, Winnipeg: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1913.

The Leading Financial, Business & Professional Men of Winnipeg, published by Edwin McCormick, Photographs by T. J. Leatherdale, Compiled and printed by Stone Limited, c1913. [copy available at the Archives of Manitoba]

“Capt. Robinson, pioneer of lake shipping, is dead,” Winnipeg Tribune, 21 August 1936, page 1.

“Capt. W. Robinson, pioneer citizen dies on Thursday,” Winnipeg Free Press, 22 August 1936, page 1.

“Mrs. William Robinson,” Winnipeg Free Press, 6 January 1959, page 13.

Obituary [Catherine Ann Robinson], Winnipeg Free Press, 6 January 1959, page 19.

This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.

Page revised: 8 August 2020

Memorable Manitobans

Memorable Manitobans

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