Red River's First Post Master

by George Siamandas


When did they start to deliver the mail the mail in these parts? In Red River the day was February 20, 1855 when postal service was initiated in Winnipeg. The Hudson Bay Co had provided a kind of mail service through company packets. There was no charge but there was no guarantee either. In 1853 and 1854 the Selkirk settlers collected £60 amongst themselves in order to enable five mail trips from Red River to St Paul, Minnesota. The mail was marked "Red River B. N. A." for British North America.

Winnipeg's main connection was through Pembina. The cost was one penny form here to Pembina. From there Red River mail went through US mail at a rate of 10 cents taking 3-4 weeks to arrive in eastern Canada. By 1855 the HBC recognized the settlers' efforts at pioneering their own service and appointed William Ross as the first postmaster.


William Ross was the eldest of Alexander Ross a prominent ex Hudson Bay Co factor that had worked on the west coast. Alexander Ross had come to peaceful Red River to live out a family kind of life away from the wild west. William was a year old as his family arrived in Red River in 1825. Alexander Ross had married Sara the daughter of an Okanagan Indian chief. Together they had at least 13 children. William Ross went on to also become a Councillor to Assiniboia, Magistrate, Keeper of the Jail, as well as Postmaster.

In his first year William Ross handled 2,912 letters, 2,437 newspapers, and 580 parcels. For this he had earned a salary of £5 pounds and felt he had done enough to ask for £6 pounds for the next year. Ross converted a back bedroom of his home as the post office. People would arrive at all hours to pick up their mail. The mail was carried by Roger Goulet who lived at Scratching River now known as Morris. Goulet would collect the mail from Ross house located near Winnipeg's theatre district and take it to Pembina in the Dakota Territory. Alas William Ross had the job for only a year. Ross died in 1855 at age 27. His father Alexander died the same year.

Alexander had given his son William a portion of his Colony Gardens site now known as the Point Douglas area. William had married Jemima MacKenzie the half breed daughter of Chief HBC Factor Roderick MacKenzie.

William Ross had to deal with the flood of 1852 which carried away the oak log building materials William had assembled on the site. But when complete it was a grand log house built in the Red River style. The house was located a the foot of Market Ave near the Assiniboine River. At a cost of £252 pounds it was considered one of the best homes in the area. It reflected William Ross's high standing in the community.


Incredibly this 146 year old building is still with us. It has been restored and sits in the middle Joe Zuken Park. The two major post office built in Winnipeg in 1900 and in the one on Portage Ave are no longer with us. The first major post office building was on Main St. where the Canadian Wheat Board Building is today at and later it was on Portage Ave at Fort St.


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