|An Introduction - Re-Settling the
* From Laurie's 1870 map of
In the 1870's,
Western Manitoba had no established
communities. The only trading centre was Fort Ellice, a busy
Hudson Bay Co. post on the on the
Carleton Trail. The fur trade
was estentially over in the region and former posts along the Souris
River near Hartney and at Souris Mouth
had been closed for some time. The buffalo were
begining the steep decline that would see them almost exterminated by
1880. The Aborigional people who for centuries had thrived on these
plains, were decimated by disease and those remaining were being forced
The area had been carefully explored by
Europeans however and this map
shows many of
the region's geographic features that we know well today.
William Francis Butler stepped off of the deck of the steamer
International as it prepared to dock near the forks of the Assiniboine
and Red Rivers in the fall of 1869, the frontier settlement of Winnipeg
was not yet the capital of the the region, and the region was not
yet the province of Manitoba. Mr. Butler was on a mission, a mission
that related to the creation of the province. He was there to meet with
Riel and get a feel for the situation.
That mission, a delicate one,
carried out with
tact and competence,
likely had little impact on the outcome of the confrontation that gave
birth to our province. But his other mission, that of exploring this
new land, had a more impact thatn he would have imagined. Butler wrote
an account of his travels which he published as "The Great Lone Land",
and that book painted a picture of the west that caught peoples
imagination.and inspired some of them to check it out for themselves.
Quite a few came to what we now call western
Manitoba, perhaps in a
sense, arriving before it was fully open for business. Like gate
crashers at a concert or at a holiday sale in a big box store,
learned patience. And a few other things.
towns sprang up as increasing income caused the need for services to
skyrocket. Many of the first towns didn't survive the transition from
the era of rapid expansion to the era of entrenchment and economic
growth. They had been situated along the first highways - the
riverbanks. And although the exact locations were chosen with an eye
towards the coming railway, that factor had involved guesswork. The
new towns of the 1890's were
based on actual rail lines not proposed ones, and there was a need for
lots of them. No one wanted to travel far to deliver their produce, and
to purchase supplies, and with the spread of the rail lines, they
didn't have to.
When the province was created it reached as far west as Portage. By
1879 there were still few newcomers hardy enough to leave the security
of the Red River and Lower Assiniboine valleys and push west.
That was about to change.
still officially part of the Northwest Territories, was
sparsely populated at the time, but that had not always been so. The wooded valleys of both the Assiniboine and Souris
Rivers and their tributaties
provided fuel and shelter for Aboriginal camps and Metis buffalo
are currently helping us decipher the unwritten records of the
first peoples, while written records start with the the French
Canadian explorers. LaVerendrye and his
party fifty-two men came from the Red River in 1738. He travelled
with his brother, two sons, one slave, twenty-one hired hands,
and a group of local Assibiboine. We may chuckle a bit at the mistakes
maps, they relied on hearsay to fill in the parts they hadn't actually
visited, but he managed in a relatively
short time to provide what was effectively a quantum leap in
terms of recorded knowledge of the area. His primary interest
was in exploration, but he needed the profits from the fur trade
to finance explorations. His business mission was to outflank
the HBC and he tolerated the time that trading took away from his real
interest. - the search for the "Western Sea".
After LaVerendrye, came the
They built forts in an ever-expanding reach from the forks
of the Red and Assiniboine. They learned to live in this land,
and they learned that agriculture was possible. That led to the
first wave of European settlers in the "Manitoba Boom" of 1878-1882.
were the people who started the process of conversion to an
agriculturally-based society and economy.
It is far too easy to
summarize that process, as our school history books did, as some sort
of inevitable evolution - a sort of pre-ordained progress of mankind.
What started out, ostensibly as a partnership between the traders
and the native people soon evolved into exploitation. It ended
in fraud, manipulation and outright theft, before our ancestors
were able, sometimes with consciences unclouded, to take title
to their homesteads. But that is another story.
"Historical Atlas of
the settlers find here?
Wouldn't it be nice to
have more photographs or even sketches of the
landscape! The ones we do have coupled with the excellent written
accounts and taped reminiscences do help us form a picture.
First, the expression "Bald Prairie" did
indeed apply. There were few
trees and wooded areas were the first choice for new settlers - it was
a matter of survival. Almost all accounts from pioneers mention the
availability of wood as a matter of importance. When riverside and
other wooded places were taken, few remaining farm sites had trees, and
the hauling and sale of wood became a source of ready employment for
those with access.
Alexander Henry, while travelling across
country from Brandon House to
Fort Ash in 1806, noted the great view he had from the hills after
stopping at a small lake (Lake Clementi) . He mentions seeing where the
"Rapid" river empties into the Assiniboine. As it is a distance of some
25 km I suspect that what he saw was the trees on the banks of those
rivers, and that because that was almost the only place trees could be
found, he correctly assumed that the river was hidden there.
Reports indicate that the weather hasn't
changed much, though one is
lead to believe that , in general, there was a little more
precipitation in the early 1880's. The rivers seem to have been more
navigable, and they had a tendency to call streams rivers, which in
damper climates would be creeks as best. Mention is made of creeks that
flowed year round, and few of those exist today.
One hundred years is a short time, in the
geological, and even
geographical sense. And although a comparative set of snapshots of the
same stretch of land, one dated 1880, and another dated 1998, would
reveal very real differences; those differences are the result of our
intervention on the land. We made the changes.
The trees grew because the prairie fires
stopped, and because
cultivation altered the drainage. The trees, in turn, further altered
drainage. Altered drainage likely changed the nature of the rivers, and
streams in small ways. But, underneath it all, if you get away from the
roads and highways, from the population centres, from the well tilled
fields, you will find the land much as it was.
Henry Youle Hind's 1858
expedition, camped along the Souris River.
was, by most accounts, harsh, yet inviting. It is difficult to get a
real picture because the accounts left are so subjective. The
impressions of the first settlers were colored by their hopes and
dreams. They recount what to us might seem incredible hardships with a
matter-of-fact sort of shrug. One gets the feeling that they sometimes
reported only the highlights - and that they accepted from the outset
that the hardships came, literally, with the territory.
that most of the early settlers, like the early fur traders, were so
entranced by the newness and the openness of the place that they tended
to ignore the loneliness and the harshness of the climate. They were
caught up in the excitement of their individual endeavours - leaving
the old behind, striking out towards the new. They were just too busy
and too distracted by their dreams to pay much attention to trivial
details like weather and lack of amenities. And they kept coming.
maps published annually show that from 1879 to 1882 the place went from
being nearly empty - to being nearly full. Well, not quite full - it
few more years for the dust from the Manitoba boom to settle. While
most of the land had been claimed and/or purchased by 1882, it took
another decade to separate the speculators from the homesteaders, the
buyers from the actual settlers.
little square sections on the map filled up. The names were shuffled.
The quitters quit and their names were replaced by the newcomers. This
slowed and the population stabilized.
Maps from "Manitoba
Manitoba Boom lasted only a few years. From 1879 through 1882 a flood
of Euro-settlers, mainly from Ontario, claimed much of the best
City was well established by 1878. Grand
Valley and Currie's Landing were established in 1879. By 1880 the
Souris Mouth area was beginning to be settled. Millford, and Souris
were established by 1881.
The cycle of increased
leading to increased purchasing spiralled through the first few decades
of the new century, and after a sobering interlude in the thirties,
renewed it's march into the early forties.
next change began. Increasingly large and mechanically sophisticated
farm machinery made it possible for one family to farm thousands of
acres. Increasing costs of production made it seem necessary to do so.
townships (36 sections or square miles of land) that once supported
from fifty to a hundred families, now were home to fewer and fewer.
Rural depopulation began. And like the spiral of supply and demand that
created the rural towns, a new, downward spiral left buildings
abandoned on every other old farm site, and empty fields where towns
through western Manitoba, and you will see fields of wheat larger than
the entire farm I once called home. That field can be harvested in a
few hours by a combine costing tens of thousands of dollars. A hog barn
staffed by just a few men produces more pork per month than an entire
municipality would ship to market in years. The era of corporate
agriculture has begun and our pioneer past becomes even more remote.
it would be so nice to stand on a hilltop and see the land as it was in
those days before the ox and plow was replaced by the tractor, and
before the crooked dirt trail was replaced by the straight smooth
Alexander: Ten years in Winnipeg (1879)
George: Holiday Rambles Between Winnipeg and Victoria (1888)
George: John Black, the Apostle of Red Rivber
George: Manitoba: Its infancy, growth, and present condition (1882)
William Francis: The Great Lone Land
Frank Austin: The British Northwest (1881)
Jean: Six Years in the Canadian North-West
McDonell: The North-West Territories and British Columbia (1881)
Days, Fighting Days : Women in Manitoba History
Senate Hearings / CPR West Railway Line, 1877
George M.: Sanford Flemings Expedition Through Canada in 1872 (1877)
Robert Brown: Manitoba: History of itsEarly Settlement...(1890)
Henry, Youle: North-West Territory: Reports of Progress (1859)
John: Manitoba & the Great Northwest
Nellie: Clearing In The West
W.B. MacDougall's Illustrated Guide, gazetteer and practical hand-book
for Manitoba and the North-West, 1882
McKenzie, Nathaniel : The men of the Hudson's Bay
Company, 1670 A.D.-1920 A.D . 1921.