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Manitoba History

The 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.

The history of Manitoba began along the Hudson Bay. 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. From there Henry Kelsey set up the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) as he found the area rich in furs. To exploit this fur wealth, Charles II granted in 1670 the Hudson’s Bay Company propriety over all the lands draining into the Hudson Bay. This vast area included the present-day province of Manitoba, then occupied by the Assiniboine, the Ojibwa, and the Cree. The company established a trading post at Port Nelson and soon extended its operations south to the strategic Red River valley.

England's conquest of Canada
in the French and Indian Wars was confirmed by the Treaty of Paris in 1763. Scotsmen took over much of the French fur trade, organized the North West Company, and challenged the monopoly of the Hudson's Bay Company. A crisis came when the Earl of Selkirk established the Red River Settlement at present-day Assiniboine in North West Company territory. The resulting violence deterred colonization until the merger of the two companies in 1821. From then until 1870, when the Hudson's Bay Company sold its vast domain to the newly created confederation of Canada, that company was and settlement of the area increased.

Manitoba was explored and posts were established by the French as well as by the British. 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.

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 opposed this settlement and in 1816 the Battle of Seven Oaks took place. 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.

In 1867 Canada anxious to expand 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, which 600 were British or Canadian descent. 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. Manitoba's boundaries were expanded in 1881 and again in 1912. During the last part of the 19th century and the first part of the 20th, the Canadian government advertised for immigrants to settle the prairies, and huge numbers of Russians, Poles, Estonians, Scandinavians, Icelanders, and Hungarians responded. The largest single immigrant group was the Ukrainians, who now constitute over 11% of the population and are an important part of Manitoban culture. Further immigration came with World War I when American pacifist sects (e.g., Mennonites and Hutterites), seeking to avoid military service, set up colonies of their own in the province. Manitoba still has problems amalgamating its many ethnic groups, including the Métis, and indigenous groups suffer high unemployment and related ills.




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