Red River's First Newspaper

by George Siamandas

The Nor'Wester, Manitoba's first newspaper served as an advocate for our entry into Canada. Its first edition was published on December 23, 1859. It was the paper of two Williams: William Coldwell and William Buckingham who came to Red River from eastern Canada as the winter of 1859 began. They arrived on November 1, ready to do business bringing their own press. Both Williams had worked at the Toronto Globe run by George Brown and agreed with Brown that the North West should become part of Canada. Coldwell and Buckingham were men with a mission. They were here to promote union against the two other possibilities for the Northwest: joining the US or staying with British rule through the HBC.

They set up shop on Main St. at the corner of Water Ave where the Federal building stands today. The plan was to publish every two weeks and charge $3 for 12 issues. Their first subscriber was Chief Hole-in-the-Day at Crow Wing Minnesota whom they signed up en route to Red River. The Council of Assiniboia thought this to be a good proposal, and offered the paper free delivery. Apparently it's the only time the Nor'wester and the Council of Assiniboia saw eye to eye.

The paper was four pages 22 by 15 inches. It contained mostly ads but also some local and foreign news. More than half the ads were from Toronto and St Paul businesses wanting to do new business. Its editorial page talked of the need to provide "an exponent of Red River's opinion." There were ads for cooking stoves, books, Christmas gifts, jewellery, an apprentice hotelkeeper ad, and grocer's wares. The paper spoke out against the Hudson Bay CO and promoted the union of Red River with Canada. Attacks on the policies and actions of the Council of Assiniboia were regular features of the Nor'wester's editorials peaking in 1862.

After the first year William Buckingham left to return to take over papers in Simcoe and Stratford. James Ross son of the Red River historian Alexander Ross, replaced Buckingham. They moved the office to colony gardens located between Bannatyne Ave and Alexander Ave. Coldwell married Ross's sister Jemima.

Ross's editorial pronouncements saw Ross lose favour with the HBC including his job as postmaster, sheriff and jailor. And the HBC cancelled its subscriptions to the paper. Ross left in 1863 and was replaced by John Christian Schultz in 1864. Coldwell finally sold out to Schultz who ran the Nor'wester himself in the late 1860s. Schultz continued to be a strong exponent of union with Canada and saw personal profit in the development of the west. Besides being a doctor, Schultz traded in gold, furs, and land. It became his personal organ and it failed to be the newspaper it was intended to be. The next owner was Dr WR Bown who had been Schultz's editor but was also a free trader. Bown became the fifth owner of the Nor'Wester in 10 years.

The Nor'wester provided a record of local event, brought news from the outside world, and despite its strong point of view helped create debate about the future of Red River. It helped pave the way for Manitoba 's eventual union with Canada. But it started as the paper of two men with political ideas and ended up being run by men who had personal economic or political objectives.

The paper was taken over by Louis Riel in 1869. Coldwell returned to launch another paper called the Red River Pioneer but it lasted for only one issue. He sold out to Riel who used the equipment to publish the New Nation.


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