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Pioneers of Canada - Manitoba


Agricultural settlement began in 1812 with the arrival of Lord Selkirk's settlers at Point Douglas, now within the boundaries of Winnipeg. Over the next 45 years, the Red River Colony at Assiniboia survived hail, frost, floods, grasshoppers, skirmishes with the Nor'Westers and an HBC monopoly. Expansionist sentiment from both Minnesota and Upper Canada challenged the HBC's control over the northwest and the Red River Colony. In 1857 the British government sponsored an expedition to assess the potential of Rupert's Land for agricultural settlement; the Palliser Expedition reported a fertile crescent of land suitable for agriculture extending northwest from the Red River valley. That same year the Canadian government sent Henry Youle to do a similar assessment. The conflict between agricultural expansion and the rights of the Métis broke out in 2 periods of unrest (see Red River Rebellion; North-West Rebellion).
Eventually the HBC charter was terminated and the lands of the North-West were transferred to the new Dominion of Canada by the Manitoba Act of 1870; quarter sections of land were then opened to settlement. It was soon evident that the diminutive province needed to expand. Settlers were rapidly moving to the northwest and spilling over the established boundaries. In 1881, after years of political wrangling with the federal government, the boundaries were extended to their present western position, as well as being extended farther east, and to lat 53° N. Between 1876 and 1881, 40 000 immigrants, mainly Ontario British, were drawn west by the prospect of profitable wheat farming enhanced by new machinery and milling processes. Mennonites and Icelandic immigrants arrived in the 1870s, the former settling around Steinbach and Winkler, the latter near Gimli and Hecla. Immigration then slowed until the late 1890s and it was limited mostly to small groups of Europeans. Between 1897 and 1910, years of great prosperity and development, settlers from eastern Canada, the UK, the US and eastern Europe - especially Ukraine - inundated the province and the neighbouring lands. Subsequent immigration was never on this scale.


From 1897 to 1910 Manitoba enjoyed unprecedented prosperity. Transportation rates fell and wheat prices rose. Grain farming still predominated, but mixed farms prospered and breeders of quality livestock and plants became famous. Winnipeg swiftly rose to metropolitan stature, accounting for 50% of the increase in population. In the premier city of the West, a vigorous business centre developed, radiating from the corner of Portage Avenue and Main Street: department stores, real estate and insurance companies, legal firms and banks thrived. Abattoirs and flour mills directly serviced the agricultural economy; service industries, railway shops, foundries and food industries expanded. Both the CPR and the Canadian Northern Railway (later CNR) built marshalling yards in the city which became the hub of a vast network of rail lines spreading east, west, north and south. In 1906 hydroelectricity was first generated at Pinawa on the Winnipeg River, and the establishment of Winnipeg Hydro 28 June 1906 guaranteed the availability of cheap power for domestic and industrial use. The general prosperity ended with the depression of 1913; freight rates rose, land and wheat prices plummeted and the supply of foreign capital dried up. The opening of the Panama Canal in 1914 ended Winnipeg's transportation supremacy, since goods could move more cheaply between east and west by sea than overland. During WWI, recruitment, war industry demands, and cessation of immigration sent wages and prices soaring; by 1918 inflation seemed unchecked and unemployment was prevalent. Real wages dropped, working conditions deteriorated and new radical movements grew among farmers and urban workers, culminating in the Winnipeg General Strike of May 1919. Ensuing depression followed by an industrial boom in the late 1920s tilted the economic seesaw again. By 1928 the value of industrial production exceeded that of agricultural production; the long agricultural depression continued into the 1930s, aggravated by drought, pests and low world wheat prices, and the movement from farm to city and town accelerated. Cities were little better off: industry flagged and unemployment was high. To eliminate the traditional boom/bust pattern, attempts have been made to diversify the economy. The continuing expansion of mining since 1911 has underlined the desirability of broadening the basis of the economy. The demands of WWII reinforced Manitoba's dependency on agriculture and primary production, but the postwar boom gave the province the opportunity to capitalize on its established industries and to broaden the economic base. Since WWII, the Manitoba economy has been marked by rapid growth in the province's north. The development of rich nickel deposits in northern Manitoba by Inco Ltd led to the founding of the City of Thompson, whose fluctuating fortunes have mirrored swings in world commodity prices. The region has been the site of several "megaprojects," including the Manitoba Forest Resources operation at The Pas, and the huge limestone hydroelectric generating plant on the Nelson River. The economic future of Manitoba is thus a mixed one - a continuing agricultural slump, offset by growth in light industry, publishing, the garment industry and the export of power to the US. The 20 years from 1970 to 1990 saw a dramatic realignment of provincial politics, with the virtual disappearance of the provincial Liberal Party and the rise to power of the New Democratic Party under Edward Schreyer and Howard Pawley. Typical of the social democratic initiatives of the NDP were the introduction of a government-run automobile insurance plan and the 1987 plan to purchase Inter-City Gas Co. The government's attempt to increase bilingual services within the province aroused old passions, however, and was abandoned. The Conservative government of Filmon in the 1990s faced the same problems of public debt and economic recovery as the rest of Canada.