Travelling the Rainy River in class and style

Alberton Centennial Times

While the pioneers in Alberton faced many day to day hardships, actually getting to the region from Winnipeg and Toronto was more than half the fun.

Picture thousands of miles of thick forests, marshes and bogs. No roads, no trains or airplanes that was their greatest obstacle.

But there was one resource the pioneers would later find they could make good use of-the immense number of waterways between Alberton and the closest other settlement, Rat Portage.

However, that in itself posed a problem. At the time, Rat Portage was one of the most corrupt cities in the west- the United States included. Officials were easily bribed, criminals abounded and gunfights, wild west style, were common.

For the peaceful and weary settler this must have been an eye opener after the serine, gentile nature of Toronto.

But the settlers didn’t really have an alternative. To get to Alberton, which at that time included Fort Frances, pioneers took the train to Rat Portage, now Kenora, and then took a steamer. Several steamers made the trip, including the Monarch, the Shamrock, and the Highland Maid. Others included the Thistle, the Welcome and the Highland Maid.

Prices varied, but the first telephone directory for the region printed in 1894, and consisting mostly of attractive jargon to attract settlement, lists fares form Rat Portage to Fort Frances $6 for adults (including meals!), $3.50 for children and $5 per head of cattle. The same steamer also made a profit by carrying supplies for homesteads at $8 per ton.

“Three steamers run regularly during the season (which lasts from May until November) from Rat Portage to Fort Frances…There are in all 35 crafts of different kinds including 23 steamers, in service in the district, two being on Rainy Lake from Fort Frances to the new mineral town on the American shore called Rainy Lake City,” the directory states.

The authors of the directory were nothing if not confident, predicting the population in the area would eventually surpass Minneapolis, and noting the abundance of natural resources made it the perfect place to live.

They also listed advertisers from Fort Frances and Rat Portage, some of whom supplied goods to the settlers. They included such prominent figures as John O. Armit, farmer, numerous members of the Calder and Mosher families, Walter and Dan Biddeson (the latter was also an Alberton councillor), and Richard Lyons, Farmer.