Northern Prairie Steamboats: Assiniboine / Gertie H
Built in 1894, the sternwheeler Assiniboine took part in emergency relief efforts during the 1897 Red River flood, dispatched on its mission under the charge of Captain Edward Cannell. The normal passenger limit of 150 was waived, allowing for up to 500 aboard should the need arise. While en route to Emerson with food and fuel, including 30 cords of wood, it also delivered much-needed supplies to St. Jean Baptiste and removed over 400 head of cattle from near Morris, in addition to an unspecified number of horses. At Emerson, it steamed right down the streets covered by flood water.
Later returning to normal duties, its operations included carrying passengers from James Street to Jubilee Park in Winnipeg. A round trip cost 25 cents for adults, 10 cents for children (under five, free), with all serenaded by an Italian string band. Other riverside destinations included Elm Park.
The Assiniboine was later dismantled at Winnipeg between 1898 and 1900, and rebuilt for the Pioneer Sand and Navigation Company as the Gertie H, apparently named for Gertrude Hall, the daughter of proprietor John Stewart Hall (1866-1952). Its initial capacity had room for 200 children along with accompanying parents prior to an overhaul and refit in the early spring of 1901. A removable smokestack enabled the ship to pass under low bridges where necessary. The Gertie H was used for public charters from Mondays through Saturdays, traveling from the Lombard Street docks to Elm Park. Non-passenger work included dredging of sand from the river bottom, hauling lumber, and transporting produce from settlements upstream on the Assiniboine River.
On 27 July 1903, the vessel’s firefighting equipment was used to help extinguish a blaze at the site of the Arctic Ice Company, at the southeast corner of River Avenue and Main Street, and adjacent residence of Charles Hosmer McNaughton. Less than a year later, on 27 April 1904, the vessel was thoroughly wrecked in an untimely and major riverway inferno.
While towing an empty large barge downstream to St. Peters to fetch a load of wood, a powerful current caught the barge, rotating it broadside, and careening it into the Gertie. The contact smashed the Gertie’s wheelhouse, with Captain William Hall and others inside, who managing to jump to safety on the barge. The impact ruptured steam pipes throughout the vessel. Without steam pressure and powerless, a fire ignited and the ship crashed into the centre-west pier of Canadian Pacific Railway Main Line Bridge. High water levels at the time allowed the rest of the crew to scramble onto the bridge to safety. The bridge caught fire and some 50 of its centre swing-span ties were burned. Breaking free from the pier, the blazing wreck continued downstream towards the Louise Bridge. Before reaching it, there was a powerful explosion inside the hull.
The explosion drew the attention of the staff from the nearby J. Y. Griffin & Company warehouse (now Ernie O’Dowda Memorial Park). They formed an impromptu fire brigade. When the Gertie reached the Louise Bridge, flames enveloped the bridge within five minutes, in part due to a faulty hydrant on the bridge. Fortunately, it was spared further damage on account of the Griffin employees, who hacked burning timbers from the bridge. With the arrival of the Winnipeg Fire Department, crews led by Fire Chief John Buchanan’s grappled the hapless Gertie and dragged it ashore between the Louise Bridge and the Griffin warehouse.
The north end of Louise Bridge was ruined, with pedestrian and vehicular traffic interrupted until repairs could be made. The beached ship burned to the waterline, leaving only the boilers. Insured for $4,000, it was replaced with a new vessel and two barges. Based on designs of J. Waugh, the barges were built by D. McGregor at Rat Portage (now Kenora, Ontario).
“By the River,” Winnipeg Tribune, 22 June 1896, page 4.
“Steamer Assiniboine!” Manitoba Free Press, 24 June 1896, page 4.
“To give succor,” Manitoba Free Press, 23 April 1897, page 6.
“Almost at a standstill,” Winnipeg Tribune, 27 April 1897, page 1.
“Assiniboine has returned,” Winnipeg Tribune, 28 April 1897, page 4.
“Steamer ... Assiniboine,” Winnipeg Tribune, 12 July 1897, page 4.
“Steamer ... Assiniboine,” Winnipeg Tribune, 4 August 1897, page 4.
“Assiniboine returns,” Winnipeg Tribune, 18 August 1897, page 5.
“Steamer ’Gertie H.’,” Winnipeg Tribune, 25 May 1900, page 4.
“The Steamer ’Gertie H.’,” Winnipeg Tribune, 20 July 1900, page 7.
“The Gertie H. Rules the Ripples on the Northern Red - Exhibition Ground attractions provided by Scotchmen,” Manitoba Free Press, 17 August 1900, page 1.
“At Jubilee Park,” Manitoba Free Press, 5 September 1900, page 5.
“City and General [Gertie H.], Manitoba Free Press, 9 November 1900, page 10.
“The steamer Gertie H.” Manitoba Free Press, 11 April 1901, page 10.
“Navigation open,” Manitoba Free Press, 25 April 1901, page 3.
“Navigation at Selkirk,” Manitoba Free Press, 4 May 1901, page 4.
“Traffic was blocked,” Manitoba Free Press, 7 May 1901, page 9.
“Arbor Day,” Manitoba Free Press, 8 May 1901, page 3.
“S.S. Gertie H,” Manitoba Free Press, 5 June 1901, page 3.
“Fire alarm system widely discussed,” Manitoba Free Press, 25 March 1902, page 7.
“Up the river to St. Jean Baptiste,” Manitoba Free Press, 3 May 1902, page 23.
“Gertie H. delayed,” Manitoba Free Press, 9 May 1902, page 7.
“Arctic Ice plant burned,” Manitoba Free Press, 28 July 1903, page 8.
“Conflagration on the Red River,” Winnipeg Tribune, 28 April 1904, page 8.
“Spectacular fires on the Red River,” Manitoba Free Press, 29 April 1904, pages 1 & 12.
“New steamer to replace Gertie H.” Winnipeg Tribune, 21 May 1904, page 1.
Obituary [John Stewart Hall], Winnipeg Free Press, 21 July 1952, page 25.
This page was prepared by Nathan Kramer.
Page revised: 29 June 2015