History of Winnipeg
The history of Winnipeg comprises its initial population by Aboriginal peoples through its settlement by Europeans to the present day. The first forts were built on the site in the 1700s, followed by the Selkirk settlement in 1812. Winnipeg was incorporated as a city in 1873 and experienced a population boom after the completion of the railway through the city. After the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919 the city entered a period of decline that ended with the advent of the Second World War. The current City of Winnipeg was created by a unicity amalgamation in 1971.
Winnipeg lies at the confluence of the Assiniboine River and the Red River, known as The Forks, a historic focal point on canoe river routes travelled by Aboriginal peoples for thousands of years. The general area was populated for thousands of years by First Nations. In prehistory, through oral stories, archaeology, petroglyphs, rock art, and ancient artifacts, it is known that natives would use the area for camps, hunting, fishing, trading, and further north, agriculture. The rivers provided transportation far and wide and linked many peoples-such as the Assiniboine, Ojibway, Anishinaabe, Mandan, Sioux, Cree, Lakota, and others—for trade and knowledge sharing. Ancient mounds were once made near the waterways, similar to that of the mound builders of the south. Lake Winnipeg was considered to be an inland sea, with important river links to the mountains out west, the Great Lakes to the east, and the Arctic Ocean in the north. The Red River linked ancient northern and southern peoples along the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. The first maps of some areas were made on birch bark by the Ojibway, which helped fur traders find their way along the rivers and lakes.
In 1738 Sieur Louis Damours de Louvières built Fort Rouge on the Assiniboine River for Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, sieur de La Vérendrye. The fort seems to have had a primary purpose as a depot and was abandoned by 1749. A new commandant of the French western forts, Jacques Legardeur de Saint-Pierre, spent the winter of 1752–1753 at the Forks, and likely rebuilt Fort Rouge at its original location. Trading posts were built near Fort Rouge by Bruce and Boyer in 1780 and by Alexander Henry the younger in 1803, as was Fort Gibraltar in 1807. The name Winnipeg is named after Lake Winnipeg to the north, and the name is related to a native word referring to the cloudy, silt filled water flowing off the prairies. The first farming in Manitoba appeared to be along the Red River, near Lockport, Manitoba, where maize (corn) and other seed crops were planted before contact with Europeans.
The first aboriginal fur traders in the area would have been trading with the Hudson's Bay Company forts to the northeast, or with the North West Company forts to the south and east. The Hudson's Bay Company and British colonialists laid claim to the entire area of Rupert's Land in the late 1600s. This entire Hudson Bay drainage basin included the area now known as Winnipeg. Fur traders working with and trading with the Hudson's Bay Company would have traveled and lived along the major rivers, including the Red River.
The first French officer arrived in the area in 1738. Sieur de La Vérendrye built the first fur trading post on the site (Fort Rouge), which was later abandoned. The French traded in the area for several decades before Hudson Bay traders arrived. The first English traders visited the area about the year 1767. Fort Gibraltar was built by the North West Company in 1809.
In 1811, the Scottish aristocrat and humanitarian Thomas Douglas, 5th Earl of Selkirk, received from the Hudson's Bay Company a grant of 116,000 square miles in the basins of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers, which he named Assiniboia. His goal was to establish the first permanent agricultural settlement along the Red River near the junction of the two rivers, to be inhabited by displaced Scottish Highland families and retired Rupert's Land employees of the Hudson's Bay Company. The Red River Settlement was founded in 1812 and the construction of Fort Douglas was overseen by Miles Macdonell, Lord Selkirk's Governor of Assiniboia, in 1813 - 14. As the settlers arrived over the next few years to commence the first European agriculture on the northern great plains, the two companies fought fiercely over trade in the area, and each destroyed some of the other's forts over the course of several battles. Lord Selkirk died prematurely of tuberculosis in 1820 and in 1821, the Hudson's Bay and North West Companies ended their long rivalry with a merger.
The Hudson's Bay Company then relocated its operations from Fort Douglas to Fort Gibraltar, located on the present day site of The Forks National Historic Site in Winnipeg. Fort Gibraltar was renamed Fort Garry in 1822 and became the leading post in the region for the Hudson’s Bay Company. The 1826 Red River Flood destroyed the fort, and it was not rebuilt until 1835 as Upper Fort Garry. The fort was the residence of the Governor of the company for many years. It became a part of the first major colony and settlement in western Canada.
Beginning in the mid-17th century the Métis, an ethnic group descended from the mixing of French traders and Cree tribes people as well as other First Nations peoples, began settling in the Red River Valley. They were heavily involved in the fur trade as hunters and traders. Important British trading posts included Fort Alexander, operated by the Hudson's Bay Company, and Fort Bas-de-la-Rivière, operated by the North West Company. Additionally as settlers from the U.S. established posts in what is now Minnesota, illegal trade routes known as the Red River Trails developed between the Red River Colony and Saint Paul.
In 1869–70, Winnipeg was the site of the Red River Rebellion, a conflict between the local provisional government of Métis, led by Louis Riel, and the newcomers from eastern Canada. General Garnet Wolseley was sent to put down the rebellion. This rebellion led directly to Manitoba's entry into the Confederation as Canada's fifth province in 1870, and on November 8, 1873, Winnipeg was incorporated as a city. In 1876, three years after the city's incorporation, the post office officially adopted the name "Winnipeg."
The first locomotive in Winnipeg, the Countess of Dufferin, arrived via steamboat in 1877. The Canadian Pacific Railway completed the first direct rail link from eastern Canada in 1881, opening the door to mass immigration and settlement of Winnipeg and the Canadian Prairies. The history of Winnipeg's rail heritage and the Countess of Dufferin may be seen at the Winnipeg Railway Museum.
Winnipeg experienced a boom during the 1890s and the first two decades of the 20th century, and the city's population grew from 25,000 in 1891 to more than 179,000 in 1921. The only large city on the prairie in 1891, Winnipeg was until the second decade of the twentieth century the leading commercial center of the prairie provinces. In succeeding decades as other prairie centers such as Calgary, Edmonton, and Regina become centers of trade, Winnipeg's relative role was reduced, although it remained preeminent. As immigration increased during this period, Winnipeg took on its distinctive multicultural character. The Manitoba Legislative Building reflects the optimism of the boom years. Built mainly of Tyndall Stone and opened in 1920, its dome supports a bronze statue finished in gold leaf titled, "Eternal Youth and the Spirit of Enterprise" (commonly known as the "Golden Boy"). The Manitoba Legislature was built in the neoclassical style that is common to many other North American state and provincial legislative buildings of the 19th century and early 20th century. The Legislature was built to accommodate representatives for three million people, which was the expected population of Manitoba at the time.
Winnipeg faced financial difficulty when the Panama Canal opened in 1914. The canal reduced reliance on Canada's rail system for international trade, and the increase in ship traffic helped Vancouver surpass Winnipeg to become Canada's third-largest city in the 1960s.
Winnipeg General Strike
Following World War I, owing to a postwar recession, appalling labour conditions, and the presence of radical union organizers and a large influx of returning soldiers, 35,000 Winnipeggers walked off the job in May 1919 in what came to be known as the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919. After many arrests, deportations, and incidents of violence, the strike ended on June 21, 1919, when the Riot Act was read and a group of Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officers charged a group of strikers. Two strikers were killed and at least thirty others were injured, resulting in the day's being known as Bloody Saturday; the lasting effect was a polarized population. One of the leaders of the strike, J. S. Woodsworth, went on to found Canada's first major socialist party, the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), which would later become the New Democratic Party.
The Great Depression and World War II
The stock market crash of 1929 only hastened an already steep decline in Winnipeg; the Great Depression resulted in massive unemployment, which was worsened by drought and depressed agricultural prices. The Depression ended when World War II started in 1939. The first Canadian to see battle was Winnipegger Selby Roger Henderson who enlisted in the RAF just before the start of the war. He participated in the attack on enemy ships at Wilhelmshaven, Germany on September 4, 1939.
The Winnipeg Grenadiers were among the first Canadians to engage in combat against Japan in the Battle of Hong Kong during World War II. Those in the battalion that didn't die in the conflict were captured and brutalized in prisoner of war camps.
In Winnipeg, the established armouries of Minto, Tuxedo (Fort Osborne), and McGregor were so crowded that the military had to take over other buildings to increase capacity. In 1942, the Government of Canada's Victory Loan Campaign staged a mock Nazi invasion of Winnipeg to increase awareness of the stakes of the war in Europe. The very realistic invasion included Nazi aircraft and troops overwhelming Canadian forces within the city. Air raid sirens sounded and the city was blacked out. The event was covered by North American media and featured in the film "If Day".
Winnipeg played a large part in the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP). The mandate of the BCATP was to train flight crews away from the battle zones in Europe. Pilots, navigators, bombardiers, wireless operators, air gunners, and flight engineers all passed through Winnipeg on their way to the various air schools across western Canada; Winnipeg served as a headquarters for Command No. 2.
After World War II and the 1950 flood
The end of World War II brought a new sense of optimism in Winnipeg. Pent-up demand brought a boom in housing development, but building activity came to a halt due to the 1950 Red River Flood, the largest flood to hit Winnipeg since 1861; the flood held waters above flood stage for 51 days. On May 8, 1950, eight dikes collapsed, four of the city's eleven bridges were destroyed, and nearly 100,000 people had to be evacuated, making it Canada's largest evacuation in history. Premier Douglas Campbell called for federal assistance, and Canadian Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent declared a state of emergency. Soldiers from the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry regiment staffed the relief effort for the duration of the flood. The federal government estimated damages at over $26-million, although the province insisted it was at least double that.
To protect the city from future flood damage, the Red River Basin Investigation recommended a system of flood control measures, including multiple diking systems and a floodway to divert the Red River around Winnipeg; this prompted construction of the Red River Floodway under Premier Dufferin Roblin.
Prior to 1942, Winnipeg was the largest of thirteen cities and towns in a metropolitan area around the Red and Assiniboine rivers. The amalgamated unicity was created on July 27, 1971, and took effect with the first elections in 1972. The City of Winnipeg Act incorporated the current city of Winnipeg; the municipalities of Transcona, St. Boniface, St. Vital, West Kildonan, East Kildonan, Tuxedo, Old Kildonan, North Kildonan, Fort Garry, Charleswood, and the City of St. James, were amalgamated with the Old City of Winnipeg.
In 1979, the Eaton's catalogue building was converted into the first downtown mall in the city. It was called Eaton Place, but would change its name to Cityplace following the controversial demolition of the empty Eaton's store in 2002.
Immediately following the 1979 energy crisis, Winnipeg experienced a severe economic downturn in advance of the early 1980s recession. Throughout the recession, the city incurred closures of prominent businesses such as the Winnipeg Tribune and the Swift's and Canada Packers meat packing plants. In 1981, Winnipeg was one of the first cities in Canada to sign a tripartite agreement to redevelop its downtown area. The three levels of government—federal, provincial and municipal—have contributed over $271-million to the development needs of downtown Winnipeg over the past 20 years. The funding was instrumental in attracting Portage Place mall, which comprises the headquarters of Investors Group, the offices of Air Canada, and several apartment complexes.
In 1993, feeling that their community needs were not being fulfilled, the residents of Headingley seceded from Winnipeg and officially became incorporated as a municipality.
The first elections for city government in Winnipeg were held shortly after incorporation in 1873. On January 5, 1874, Francis Evans Cornish, former mayor of London, Ontario, defeated Winnipeg Free Press editor and owner William F. Luxton by a margin of 383 votes to 179. There were only 382 eligible voters in the city at the time, but property owners were allowed to vote in every civic poll in which they owned property. Until 1955, mayors could only serve one term. City government consisted of 13 aldermen and one mayor; this number of elected officials remained constant until 1920.
Construction of a new City Hall commenced in 1875. The building proved to be a structural nightmare, and eventually had to be held up by props and beams. The building was eventually demolished so that a new City Hall could be built in 1883.
A new City Hall building was constructed in 1886. It was a "gingerbread" building, built in Victorian grandeur, and symbolized Winnipeg's coming of age at the end of the 19th century. The building stood for nearly 80 years. There was a plan to replace it around the World War I era (during the construction of the Manitoba Legislative Building), but the war delayed that process. In 1958, falling plaster almost hit visitors to the City Hall building. The tower eventually had to be removed, and in 1962, the whole building was torn down.
The Winnipeg City Council embraced the idea of a "Civic Centre" as a replacement for the old city hall. The concept originally called for an administrative building and a council building, with a courtyard in between. Eventually, a police headquarters and remand centre (the Public Safety Building) and parkade were added to the plans. The four buildings were completed in 1964 in the brutalist style, at a cost of $8.2 million. The Civic Centre and the Manitoba Centennial Centre were connected by underground tunnels in 1967.
Tipis on the prairie near the Red River Colony, 1858
- Council of Keewatin
- Temporary North-West Council
- Territorial era of Minnesota
- History of Toronto
- History of Montreal
- History of Ottawa
- History of Vancouver
- History of Quebec City
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