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Manitoba: History and People

History

The nomadic Assiniboine Indians were among the first inhabitants of Manitoba. Other aboriginal nations, including the Cree and Sioux came from the east following herds of caribou and bison on their seasonal migrations.

Unique to Canada, the northern parts of Manitoba were settled before the south. Europeans searching for the fabled 'Northwest Passage' first reached Manitoba through Hudson Bay in 1612. In 1690 -1691 Henry Kelsey, a Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) clerk explored Northern Manitoba from Hudson Bay to near the Pas on the Saskatchewan River. Later, in 1733 La Vérendrye led a party from New France that explored the Red and Winnipeg rivers and built several outposts in the area that is now Winnipeg. In 1731-1771 the HBC built Fort Prince of Wales at the mouth of the Churchill River. The French captured the Fort in 1782. In 1783 the HBC constructed Fort Churchill at the mouth of the Churchill River, it remained in continuous use until 1933.

Throughout the seventeen and eighteenth century French Canadian voyageurs in birch bark canoes and couriers du bois "runners of the woods" continually traveled the rivers and forests west from New France in search of new sources of furs. Their trade and social connections with the aboriginal peoples led to the founding of a new Canadian nation, the Métis (peoples of mixed Aboriginal and European blood). The Métis, often connected with the North West Fur Company in its competition with the Hudson's Bay Company, established trading posts and small settlements across the west, contrary to the wishes of the HBC. One of their chief trading and wintering areas was at the heart of the Red River country where the Red and Assiniboine rivers meet. Here they established a headquarters and small riverfront farms.

In 1812 Lord Selkirk, a principal in the Hudson's Bay Company, sent a number of Scottish Highlanders and others to settle at the junction of the Red and Assiniboine rivers, near present day Winnipeg. The Métis, who wintered in the area, vigorously opposed this settlement, in the heart of the great buffalo lands. In 1816 the Battle of Seven Oaks took place, HBC Governor Robert Semple and 19 colonists were killed. The Métis temporarily drove the settlers off the land, however, the new agricultural colony was saved with the amalgamation of the North West Company and the Hudson's Bay Company in 1821. Thereafter cordial relations were established amongst the population.

After Confederation Canada was anxious to expand into the great northwest. In 1867 Canada bought Rupert's Land (all lands draining into Hudson's Bay) from the Hudson's Bay Company - without informing the 12,000 plus inhabitants of the land. This lack of consultation and the aggressive attitude of the 'Canadians' led the Métis to fear for the preservation of their land rights and culture. under the leadership of Louis Riel, the Métis and other inhabitants opposed the Canadian takeover.Loyal to Britain the inhabitants negotiated with Canada for provincial status. Their successful insurgency has come to be known as 'the Red River Insurrection.' In 1870 the Canadian militia, under British commander Garnet Wolsely, marched into Red River and seized the colony. Riel was exiled.

On July 15, 1870, Manitoba entered the Dominion of Canada. The new "postage stamp" province consisted of 36 000 km2 surrounding the Red River Valley. Manitoba's boundaries were expanded in 1881 and again in 1912. Manitoba grew quickly over the next 50 years. With the help of the railway, thousands of settlers from eastern Canada and from countries all over the world have made Manitoba their home.

The People

Throughout the seventeenth and well into the eighteenth century the Métis and the Amerindian peoples made up the majority of the population. At the time of Riel's insurrection there were 12,000 inhabitants in the Red River area, of whom only 600 were of British or Canadian descent.

By the 1880's most Manitobans were of British origin. But changes in migration and immigration patterns since the turn of the twentieth century have produced an ethnically diverse population. Today Manitoba is home to Russian Mennonites, Icelanders, Ukrainians and Germans as well as people of Caribbean, South America, Africa and Asia descent. More than 115 000 people are of aboriginal or Métis origin.


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