One hundred years ago, ambitious businessmen like William Robinson and William Purvis left their marks on the shores of Lake Winnipeg.
What remains of Fisherman’s Wharf lies as a relic of a golden age of great enterprise and fishing on Lake Winnipeg.
Even after Manitoba entered Confederation, fishing on the lake was a localized activity, conducted at stations spread over hundreds of miles of coastline.
That changed with the initiative of a few ambitious men. William Robinson is a young man from Guelph, Ontario who had experience laying railroad tracks for the CPR.
In the late 1870s, he toured Lake Winnipeg on the Colvile’s maiden voyage, and learned of the lake’s isolated fishing and lumbering activities.
Sensing opportunity, he proceeded to build steamboats of his own. He used them to forge a network that brought shipments of fish from all over the lake to freezers in Selkirk for export by rail to the United States.
Robinson brought up small businesses all around the lake.
By the 1890s, his partnership with the Dominion Fish Company dealt with 3 million pounds of fish every year.
It was left to an adventurous Scot named William Purvis to challenge Robinson’s empire. Purvis left Manitoulin Island on Lake Huron, and passed through Manitoba to seek his fortunes in the Klondike Gold Rush.
His hopes unfulfilled, he returned home and moved his family west to Selkirk around the year 1900.
Purvis and his cousin, Joe Simpson, joined with three other men to form the Northern Fish Company.
They successfully carved out a market of their own in the rich fishing world of Lake Winnipeg. Purvis and his sons became famous as ship builders, as they supplied their company with steamers.
Fisherman’s Wharf was built towards the end of the age of Robinson and Purvis. The Depression and World Wars set back the lake’s fishing industry. The great ventures of the early fishing company pioneers, however, left an enduring mark on the towns and communities of Lake Winnipeg.