A West Lynne, Manitoba Postcard to John Macoun, Belleville Ontario.

Gordon Richardson wrote this article about West Lynne, Manitoba.



The card shown above, dated October 19, 1877, from John Scott addressed to John Macoun, has no transit or receiver marks on it. At that time, there was a daily over-land mail run from Fort Garry to Pembina, USA. This was established in January 1875 according to P.O. Inspectors Dewe’s famous 1882 report about mail service in the Western Territories submitted to the Post Master General. The post card was then conveyed from Pembina to Windsor, Ontario and on to Belleville.


The railway from St. Paul did not reach St. Vincent, Minnesota until November 1878, where it joined with the “Emerson Line” constructed between Ft. Garry and St. Vincent, which was operated by the CPR. Rail transport of mails starting in January 1879.

Picture post card showing the Pembina, North Dakota post office. Courtesy of Bob Lane.


The message on the card relates to plant samples shipped separately to John Macoun, the botanist, for identification. Probably Scott had met Macoun on one of his trips to Manitoba and was part of his network to collect plant material for identification of the species and their distribution.


One of the earliest recorded postmarks from West Lynne, Manitoba


West Lynne, Manitoba post office opened in 1871 with F. F. Bradley as postmaster. It was on the west side of the Red River. Bradley, who had immigrated from Ontario, also served as the collector of customs for the Government of Canada to the new province of Manitoba. By 1872 the Customs House also served as a telegraph office and post office. The site was near a Hudson Bay Post that was established in 1801 and called North Pembina; this location also served as a refueling station for the steam boats traveling on the Red River since the 1850s. At one point, a survey made by the U.S. Army showed that the Canadian Custom House was in the U.S.A. and it had to be moved northward a short piece.


Picture post card showing the West Lynne Customs House. Courtesy of Bob Lane.


The West Lynne Custom House and Post Office after it was converted to a museum


Emerson, on the east side of the river, was founded by William Fairbanks and Thomas Carney from Wisconsin, along with other American business men speculating on the location of James Hill’s St. Paul and Pacific Railway from the USA to Winnipeg. Rivalry was intense between the two locations for some years, although initially West Lynne seemed to be winning as it was the docking site for the steamers between the USA and Winnipeg and the major point of disembarkation for Mennonite settlers heading to the Mennonite land reserve to the west of West Lynne. The road that ran west from the post office to the Mennonite settlement was marked by tall posts and called the post road. It guided settlers in the deep winter snow to the West Lynne post office.


In the fall of 1878, the St. Paul and Pacific Railway, now called the St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba Railway, arrived at St. Vincent, where it was joined to the Emerson Line (sometimes called the Pembina line), which passed through Emerson (on the east side of the Red River), from Winnipeg. The Canadian decision to build this line on the east side doomed West Lynne. The West Lynne post office was renamed Emerson in 1879. Amalgamation of the two rivals took place in 1883 under the name of the City of Emerson, later changed to the Town of Emerson when population numbers failed to keep growing.


Left below: Early engine of the St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Manitoba Railway.


Right below: Early engine of the Minneapolis, St Paul and S.S. Marie Railway (The SOO). The CPR took up with this railway and later bought it; that effectively dissolved the relationship between the CPR and the Great Northern Railway (James Hill).

John Macoun had an illustrious career, a self educated as a botanist, who was recognized in 1872 by Sanford Fleming, the Chief Engineer of the Canadian Pacific Railway, for his botanical knowledge and powerful skills of observation. Macoun became a member of Sanford Fleming’s team with George Grant (later principal of Queens University) and others. They made several survey trips across Western Canada for the federal government. In 1883, John Macoun published his famous book, Manitoba and the North West, which convinced politicians in Ottawa of the true agriculture potential of Western Canada. Later Macoun was named the Assistant Director and Naturalist to the Geological Survey of Canada.


Acknowledgement: Bob Lane assisted with comments on this article and supplied a number of illustrations.



(1) P.O.Inspector J. Dewe’s Report of December 16, 1882 to the Post Master General on Postal Service Development in the North West.

(2) Ghost Towns of Manitoba by Helen Mulligan and Wanda Ryder (1985).

(3) Emerson 1875-1975, A Centennial History.

(4) Manitoba Post Offices, W. G. Robinson (1985).

(5) Autobiography of John Macoun, M.A., Canadian Explorer and Naturalist, Ottawa Field-Naturalists Club (1922).


***** Note: the Emerson Line was sometimes called the Pembina Line.


Webmaster's Note: this article is hosted here on invitation from the author, Gordon Richardson, and with the generous written permission of Mr. Gray Scrimgeour, editor of "The Northern" .  This article first appeared in "The Northern" in the Summer 2011 edition.