MANITOBAthe Keystone Province

Overview and history

Manitoba : points of interest
other provinces

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MANITOBA is also known as the Keystone Province, because in 1877 the Governor General Lord Dufferin described the province rather solemnly as "the keystone of that mighty arch of sister provinces which spans the continent from the Atlantic to the Pacific".

In 1870, Manitoba joined the Confederation of Canada. The capital and largest city is Winnipeg. Manitoba has a surface of about 650,000 km2, of which 40% is forested. The province has some 1.2 million inhabitants, with a density of two per km2, of which 72% are urban. Half the population lives in Winnipeg. The animal kingdom is represented by the caribou, moose, deer, elk, coyote, badger, beaver, black bear, lynx, marten, polar bear, wolverine, fox and buffalo.

The economy is based on agriculture, with some mining, including nickel. Approximately 55,000 Indians (Sioux, Cree, Salteau, Chipewyan and Ojibwa) live in reservations.

map of Manitoba

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*** Read more about Prehistoric American-Indian cultures ***

In 1530, the French king François I ordered the explorer Jacques Cartier to explore the northeast of North America, in search of gold, and to claim the whole region for France. In 1534, Cartier landed on the Gaspé Peninsula, and in the following year he explored the Gulf of St. Laurent and reached the Indian villages Ascona City (Québec) and Hochelaga (Montreal). In 1600, the Chipewyan, Cree and the Assiniboine lived in the current Manitoba region.

In 1608, New France continued to be colonized when Samuel de Champlain founded a trading post in Québec, where the Indians could trade in their pelts. Champlain made alliances with the Huron, the Algonquin and the Montagnais, and promised them military support against their enemies, the Iroquois. Thus began a bitter struggle between the French and the Iroquois, that lasted almost one hundred years.

In 1610, the first Europeans explored the Hudson Bay by ship, and two years later, Captain Thomas Button came ashore at the mouth of the Nelson River. La Nouvelle France grew explosively, and the other major powers watched with envy how France became active in almost all of North America.

After 1650, the French colonies developed strongly in Quebec and Montreal, and by taking control of the St. Lawrence River, they were able to develop deep inland trade with the Indians. However, the French became involved in many battles with the Iroquois, about the control of the extremely lucrative fur trade, and these nearly destroyed all the French trade with the Huron.

The English king absolutely wanted to break the French monopoly on the fur trade, and in 1668 he ordered the expedition of the ship "Nonsuch". It sailed north of the French colonies, and into the Hudson Bay. In 1670, all the territories that drained into the Hudson Bay were granted to the Hudson's Bay Company. The area was called Rupert's Land, and it was explored by this company, funded by the British, but with French explorers. In 1670, a British trading post was founded on the Nelson River, and another was founded on the Churchill River in 1688. The latter served as a base for further exploration by Henry Kelsey in 1690. But whether he ever actually set foot ashore is doubtful.

The highly profitable fur trade with the Indians made further explorations unnecessary, and the interior area remained completely unexplored. For the next 200 years, Manitoba and almost all of Western Canada remained the exclusive property of the fur trading companies ! To secure its near-monopoly on the fur trade, France started building a series of forts toward the west. For 30 years there was heavy fighting between the French and the Iroquois, until in 1701, finally a lasting peace treaty was signed.

In 1732, Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, Sieur de La Vérendrye, a French Canadian, explored the territory. He built a series of trading posts and forts from Lake Superior and the Lake of the Woods toward the west, to the top of the Missouri River. In Manitoba he built a fort near Lake Winnipeg, and Fort La Reine on the Assiniboine River (present-day Portage La Prairie) became his headquarters. Other French trappers soon followed him, and they also set up trading posts for the Indians. The Hudson's Bay Company immediately responded by creating new trading posts of their own.

In 1754 the French and Indian War broke out (1754-1763). In 1759 it ended with the fall of Québec and the capitulation of Montréal. By 1760 the English controlled the whole of La Nouvelle France. Even after the British victory in the French and Indian War in 1763, many French fur traders remained in the area, and they were soon followed by Scots and Americans. By 1790, Montreal's North West Company was the main competitor of the Hudson's Bay Company. In 1812, the Earl of Selkirk, a major shareholder in the Hudson's Bay Company, brought a group of Scottish immigrants to the fertile Red River Valley, near Lake Winnipeg.

The North West Company claimed this area as its own, and soon skirmishes started between the two companies, which developed into real battles. However, neither company managed to defeat the other. So, in 1821, they merged, regardless of nationality, language or religion ! Everything that had been impossible to realize politically, was actually solved very simply, when it involved (lots of) Money...

The Canadian annexation of the Northwestern Territory was fiercely contested by the Métis, who were descendants of mixed Indian and European (read French...) descent. In 1869, they revolted with the Red River Rebellion, led by Louis Riel. In 1870, the Canadian government voted the Manitoba Act, which founded the small province of Manitoba, and granted it a greater self-government than as a Territory.

In a mere 12 years time the population quintupled, and the original French-speaking majority became a minority. In 1890 the French language was even prohibited...

Large grain yields made the province of Manitoba very prosperous. In 1912, the northern border was extended to the Hudson Bay, and a rich mining area was added. World War I (1914-1918) brought about a further development, but also social unrest. In 1919, there was a general strike in Winnipeg, followed by a government of agricultural interests, that remained in office for more than thirty years.

During and after World War II (1940-1945), the prosperity of the province continued. Meanwhile, the language issue continued to cause concern. In 1979 (or almost 90 years after the ban on the use of French...), Canada's Supreme Court ruled that the 1890 Manitoba statute was in fact illegal. A half-hearted attempt was made to make the province bilingual again, but the opposition from the English was so strong, that it was abandoned in 1984, Supreme Court or not...

However, in 1994 Canada's Supreme Court ordered Manitoba's provincial government to restore complete control over French educations to French-speaking citizens. Only a mere 104 years after the original and unconstitutional ban...

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