Manitoba

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Population: 1 million
Capital: Winnipeg, pop. 600,000.
Other Cities and Towns: Brandon, Morden, Gimli, Flin-Flon, Churchill

Geography

Think of Manitoba as part Kansas, part Vermont.

The southern portion of Manitoba is table-flat, the bottom of a long-vanished glacial Lake Agassiz. Over the granite bedrock, there's a layer of alkaline grayish-yellow clay, sticky when wet and rock-hard when dry. "Prairie gumbo" makes huge heavy lumps on rubber boots in the snow-melt season of spring, and shrinks away from house foundations in a dry summer. But... over the clay, there is a foot-deep and more layer of the blackest, richest soil a farmer ever could want, the result of millennia of prairie grasses growing and dying in place, year after year. It's a Continental climate, which means temperature extremes unmoderated by lake or ocean -- and not just between winter and summer, either. After a summer's day in the high nineties (Fahrenheit), if the sky is cloud-free, heat radiates out to space, and the temperature may drop thirty or forty degrees. Or a thunderstorm may bring hail. There isn't a lot of rain, but what there is, in a good year, is enough to grow fine hard high-protein wheat. In the milder southern region, farmers also grow a lot of oilseed crops: sunflowers, canola, flax.

To the north and the east of the province, there is the Canadian Shield: lichen-covered granite scraped free of all topsoil by the glaciers, rock-bottomed clear lakes and rivers, and the growth is pine, spruce, and blueberry. Pulp and paper, mining, hunting and fishing, tourism. There are vast marshes that breed unquenchable mosquito populations; fortunately, the varieties that transmit malaria and yellow fever cannot endure the winter. There are no poisonous snakes native to the province. North of the treeline, there is tundra, and Hudson's Bay.

Rivers flow north, in Manitoba... north, and east, draining into Hudson's Bay. They meander lazily over the flat prairie, mud-gray with their load of fine clay particles. When there's a spring flood -- which there is, from time to time -- it can take weeks to arrive. Flood control matters. The Red River Floodway is a huge earthworks ditch, built after a disastrous flood in 1950, designed to divert excess floodwaters around the city of Winnipeg.

History

The confluence of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers was a meeting-place for natives long before any Europeans saw the place. The first Europeans to arrive were explorers and fur-traders. In 1670, King Charles II of England granted sovereignty over all lands draining into Hudson's Bay (possibly a larger tract than he realized, but then, he had no reason to care), to "the Governor and Company of Adventurers of England Trading into Hudsons Bay". (The Hudson's Bay Company is still a major department store in Canada, though now its stock is traded on the Toronto Stock Exchange.) The Métis (people of mixed Aboriginal and European, or rather, usually French Canadian, blood) were more associated with the North West Fur Company, the Hudson's Bay Company's competition. There were often bitter confrontations between the rival companies. The North West Company established a headquarters and small riverfront farms at "The Forks", the place where the two rivers met, where Winnipeg is now situated.

From World of Education: Canada Facts: "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."

Already, then, the French (Catholic) and English (Protestant) interests had come into conflict. Had it not been for the need to resolve the concerns of the French, Manitoba would have been incorporated into Canada as a territory, rather than a province. Section 23 of the Manitoba Act, 1870 safeguarded the English and the French languages in Manitoba in the same manner as they were protected in Quebec by s. 133 of the Constitutional Act, 1867.

These concerns were to simmer over the next twenty years, as the balance shifted from roughly equal proportions of French and English in Manitoba, to only about 10% French, with the arrival of large numbers of settlers, mostly from Ontario. The issue was to come to a head by 1889 in the infamous Manitoba School Question, which, before it was done, was to cause the provincial government of Manitoba to defy the Government of Canada, have a Quebec newspaper banned as unsuitable for Catholics to read, and... well, the controversy lasted years and is far too intricate to do proper justice to here, but any political junkies with a taste for other times can find a very detailed account at this Marianopolis College site. Suffice it to say, studying this one issue will go a long way towards explaining why Canada is not the USA!

During the late 19th and early 20th century, the Canadian government heavily promoted immigration to settle the prairies. Not only British settlers, but also Russians, Poles, Estonians, Scandinavians, Icelanders, and Hungarians came to Manitoba in great numbers. Especially the Ukrainians... Oh, and Mennonites and Hutterites, too. There were frictions, especially after the 1917 Bolshevic Revolution gave business owners another reason to look askance at all those Eastern European "foreigners" who were changing the culture. Returning veterans from WW I came back to unemployment, inflation, and abysmal working conditions.

On May 15, 1919, the Winnipeg General Strike began, when 30,000 workers in a city of 200,000 laid down their tools: essentially the entire working population. It was Canada's first and only general strike. A good summary of the events can be found here. It lasted six weeks. Though it was broken by force (two dead, dozens wounded), it changed labor relations in Canada forever. One of the strike leaders, J.S. Woodsworth, went on to found the CCF, Canada's first socialist party and a direct ancestor of today's New Democratic Party of Canada. Another leader, Jacob Penner, a Mennonite, was elected alderman on the Communist ticket in 1933, and except for two years in detention (1939-41) for being a Communist during WW II (he was released when Russia joined the Allies), served in that office right through the McCarthy years, until his death in 1965.

Current Politics

(to come)

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