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The North West

Manitoba Pageant, Winter 1966, Volume 11, Number 2

This article was published originally in Manitoba Pageant by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make this online version available as a free, public service. As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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An excerpt from the Toronto Globe in the Nor'Wester, 17 March 1863:

The practical difficulties which lie in the way of opening up the North-West Territory are numerous, but far from insurmountable. The proposition made by the English Company to construct a road and a telegraph line, and to carry the mails to the Pacific for a yearly payment of $100,000 a year by Canada, and probably as much more by the Imperial Government, affords a convenient means of discussing these difficulties. We have not as yet been placed in possession of all the details of the scheme, and, must therefore in the meantime speak doubtfully. We may say safely, however, that if this English Company would agree to form a harbour at Fort William or its neighbourhood, to cut portage roads on the line of transit from that point to Red River, and clear the streams of the timber which encumbers them, to make a track across the plains beyond Red River, bridge the streams, and establish posts where emigrants would find food and shelter, convey the mails, and telegraphic despatches for Government, the payment of $200,000 per annum from the Imperial and Provincial Governments would not be extravagant. A large return in postage, would be received, and the indirect benefits of the opening of the road would be immense.

But it is obvious that serious difficulties may be encountered if a private Company is permitted to undertake so extensive and important a work, and it fails to fulfill its bargain either from want of means of or inclination. The enterprise is a difficult one; nothing so onerous has ever been undertaken by a private Company. The road is to be opened through a wilderness, the interference of hostile Indians may be apprehended in some places, there may be opposition from the Hudson's Bay Company, and any of these circumstances may so complicate matters between the Company and the Government, as to cause trouble.

It is necessary that the Government should learn what would be the cost of the works which the Company proposes to construct, and the mail service it offers to render; it must be perfectly clear that the Company can pay its way with the proposed subsidy, and that there will be no application for further aid. The promoters of the Company in London, also, entertain wider plans that of the construction of a track and a telegraph.

They design to construct a railroad, and obtain an enormous grant of land to enable them to do so. Our Government must be careful how they lock up the territory in the hand of a company; they must make sure that the powers thus created will be used for the benefit of the public as well as the Company.

There is also danger that in looking after this Company, which may prove a will o'the wisp, we cause delay in the accomplishment of our designs. There is a need for immediate action in, at all events, one portion of the works. The route beyond Red River to the Rocky Mountains is naturally an easy one, but the track between Fort Garry is now impassable for any better conveyance than a bark canoe. To put off the opening of this part of the work till an English Company can prepare for carrying a telegraph line to the Pacific would be a serious injury to North Western enterprise. In truth, the first part of the route stands upon an entirely different footing from the rest. It is chiefly composed of river navigation, and a trifling sum will open it for the use of small steamers or barges. It will bring us into communication at once with a thriving settlement whose trade is of great value, and progess westward beyond that point will speedily be accomplished, by the aid of the settlers and the Americans interested in the Minnesota route. If we had our communications with the Red River open, we might rest contented with the certainty that Canada would have her full share in all the benefits of the new territory, and we have no hesitation, therefore, in urging that our Government should, without reference either to the action of the Duke of New-castle or of the English Company, make arrangements at once for starting a steamer on Lake Superior, and making roads across the portages beyond Fort William. If an English Company undertakes the whole work, an arrangement may easily be made to transfer the first section to it. But we would not, if we could help it, lose another season in waiting for any company, however wealthy or enterprising. The amount needed to make a commencement in the work is so small that there can be no difficulty arising from the state of the finances. We could not advise Mr. Howland to incur any extravagant outlay at the present moment. A few thousand pounds, no more than is often spent on the opening of a colonization road, will suffice to put on the steamer and cut the few miles of road which are needed. Traffic will speedily grow up on the lake route, and the steamer will become self-supporting; settlers will establish themselves on Thunder Bay, and in parts adjoining, and future movements in a westerly direction will be immensely facilitated. The opening of the track to the Pacific is still vague and intangible but the construction of a route to Red River is something we can grasp. It has been examined and reported upon by government surveyors, a large portion of it is within Canadian territory, and its construction will secure at once a large and profitable trade. There is no excuse for delay in the promises.


An excerpt from the Toronto Globe in the Nor'Wester, March 17, 1863.

Those who take an interest in this subject, will be pleased to learn that an earnest effort seems at length, about to be made by the Home Authorities for a settlement of this great question.

In June last, towards the close of the session, the Duke of Newcastle stated in the house of Lords that the chief hindrance in the way was the inordinate demand of the Hudson's Bay Company.

Page revised: 18 July 2009

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