Fire Canoe


The story of steamboating in the Canadian West comes to life in the voices of those aboard the vessels of the waterways of the Prairies.

Their captains were seafaring skippers who had migrated inland. Their pilots were indigenous people who could read the shoals, sandbars, and currents of Prairie waterways. Their operators were businessmen hoping to reap the benefits of commercial enterprise along the shores and banks of Canada’s inland lakes and rivers. Their passengers were fur traders, adventure-seekers, and immigrants opening up the West. All of them sought their futures and fortunes aboard Prairie steamboats, decades before the railways arrived and took credit for the breakthrough.

Aboriginal people called them “fire canoes,” but in the latter half of the nineteenth century, their operators promoted them as Mississippi-type steamship queens delivering speedy transport, along with the latest in technology and comfort. Then, as the twentieth century dawned, steamboats and their operators adapted. They launched smaller, more tailored steamers and focused on a new economy of business and pleasure in the West. By day their steamboats chased freight, fish, lumber, iron ore, real estate, and gold-mining contracts. At night, they brought out the Edwardian finery, lights, and music to tap the pleasure-cruise market.


"Ted Barris has done for the steamboat what Pierre Berton did for the railway ..."

Globe and Mail

"[This book] will surprise Canadians who weren't aware that on the bald plains, riverboats once turned cities like Winnipeg, Prince Albert, and Edmonton into thriving ports."

Toronto Sun

"Barris's best subjects are the personalities of the era - those adventurous and eccentric steamboat captains, traders and pioneers ..."

Canadian Press

"The book deserves a place in the library of those interested in the history and development of western Canada."

Alberta History

"An exciting narrative of the extension of the Canadian frontier across the prairies ... with stories of over 100 steamboats that have never appeared in any other book."

Steamboat Bill magazine

Replete with enhanced photos and notes, along with scale maps, this is a timely reprint as Canada prepares to celebrate its 150th birthday in 2017.

Winnipeg Free Press

Fire Canoe pulls together first-hand accounts from wild characters of the Canadian Frontier, with all the gambling, rebellion and gold-seeking glory that surrounds the western waterways and the shops that sailed them – underscoring how it was steamboats, of all things that allowed massive expansion in a time before the railway arrived in the prairies.

Vue Weekly

About the Author

Ted Barris

Posted by Kendra on October 30, 2014
Ted Barris photo

Ted Barris

Ted Barris is an award-winning author, journalist, and broadcaster. For more than forty years his writing has appeared in the national press, as well as in history, news, and arts magazines, and he has authored seventeen non-fiction books, including the national bestsellers Victory at Vimy, Juno, and The Great Escape. In 2014, The Great Escape received the national Libris Non-Fiction Book of the Year Award.