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THE STORY OF MANITOBA
Winnipeg Tribune, July 14, 1970 Page C-2
(A Brief History of Manitoba from 1612 to 1890.)
The Manitoba story began in the north, not the fertile south
Traders, dispossessed, fought for unknown land
The story of Manitoba started, not in the fertile south but in the rocky and inhospitable region of Hudson Bay. There, in 1612, Captain Thomas Button and the crews of his two ships landed to spend the winter ashore, the first Europeans to do so, if one discounts legends of far-wandering Vikings. The unknown land was tough on Button’s crews, but not as tough as it was later on the two ships led by Danish navigator Jens Munk, whose crews wintered where the port of Churchill now stands. Sixty-four men landed, cut firewood, prepared for winter and did some trapping, but when June of 1620 came, only two men besides Munk, were alive. Eleven years later, Captains Foxe and James explored and mapped part of what was to be Manitoba’s seacoast, but 30 years were to pass before a little 53-foot ketch, the Non-such would poke its nose into the waters of the Bay to bring out a rich cargo of furs and spur on the founding of the Hudson’s Bay Company, in 1670.
The Hudson’s Bay Company
After a number of attempts and failures, a trading post named Port Nelson, (now York Factory) had been established at the mouth of the Nelson River by 1685. From there, Henry Kelsey made his historic trip in 1690, and became the first European to reach the Saskatchewan River. During the off-again, on-again wars between Britain and France, the Company post on the western part of the Bay was captured for the French by D’Iberville and held for 16 years. During this time, the temporary owners traded extensively with the Indians, made trips of as much as 100 miles inland, and even succeeded in growing lettuce and cabbage, the first recorded garden on Manitoba soil. Meanwhile, French explorers and fur traders based in Montreal were pushing westward. Spearheaded by such courageous and skilful men as La Verendrye and his nephew De la Jemeraye, the Montreal traders pressed west and north, until they had strung an effective line of trading stations from Port Paskoyac (The Pas), through Fort Bourbon (Grand Rapids), Fort Dauphin, Fort La Reine (Portage la Prairie), Fort Rouge (Winnipeg) to Fort Maurepas at the mouth of the Winnipeg River.
By 1770, the Montreal men had cut deeply into the trade of the Hudson’s Bay Company, with the result that a new era of inland exploration was begun by the company. Ten years later, New France fell to General Wolfe and his army, and the French posts were deserted. However, new British capital joined to French know-how regarding the inland trade routes produced a stronger challenge to the Hudson’s Bay Company. The Montreal traders, grouped in successive North-West alliances and partnerships, moved in on the ground broken by La Veréndrye. As both the HBC and the North-Westers lengthened their lines of communication right to the Mackenzie River and the Rocky Mountains, the need for greater quantities of locally produced food supplies increased. So the fur trade people were encouraged to start modest gardening operations, although the agricultural possibilities of the western plains were not advertised because of the unvoiced fear that floods of settlers, bent on farming, would ruin the fur trade.
Lord Selkirk’s HBC-sponsored Colony
In 1810, a Scottish nobleman, Lord Selkirk was trying to help large numbers of Highland Scots and Irish small-holders who were being turned off their small farms to make room for more profitable sheep-raising. Selkirk and his brother-in-law Andrew Wedderburn-Colvile bought shares in the Hudson’s Bay Company and prevailed on the company to adopt a new double-barrelled policy – increasing competition with the North-Westers, and a permanent farming settlement on the Red River. Selkirk received a grant of land which included half of modern North-western Ontario, a chunk of Lakes Winnipeg and Winnipegosis, the land west to include the whole Assiniboine River valley and part of what is now northern North Dakota and Minnesota. There was danger in planting an HBC-sponsored colony at a point so vital to the North-Westers, but Selkirk apparently felt the proposed agricultural community could supply both sides in the battle between the fur trade giants.
The first group of Selkirk’s men arrived in 1811, their numbers somewhat reduced from the planned total due to defections arranged by North-West company agents. The advance group was delayed and had little time to prepare the ground for the first main party, 120 men with an unspecified number of women and children, who arrived on October 27, 1812. Miles Macdonell, Selkirk’s choice as governor of the new territory, chose Point Douglas, a mile down-river from the North-West’s Fort Gibraltar at the junction of the Red and the Assiniboine, as the centre of the colony. For several years, the settlers had to depend on the buffalo hunt for their basic food supply, as lack of agricultural equipment, the vagaries of the weather and the hostility of the North-Westers hampered their efforts to grow crops and raise livestock. On several occasions, they had to spend winters either at Pembina near the present international border, or at primitive posts on Lake Winnipeg. By 1815, the North-Westers’ suspicions about the colony hardened into open hostility. They lured away more than 100 of the settlers with promises of land in eastern Canada, their allies, the half-breed bois-brules or Métis, harassed the struggling settlement, and the inevitable clash nearly destroyed Selkirk’s dream.
Conflict between the HBC and the NW Company
Worried by shortage of food, Macdonell issued an order of doubtful legality, forbidding export of supplies from the settlement. At the same time, a proclamation designed merely to protect Selkirk’s title to the land, ordered the North-Westers to quit their posts in Assiniboia. During the summer of 1816, a new governor, Robert Semple arrived, but the leading spirit in the events of that year was a Hudson’s Bay Company man, Colin Robertson. On June 19, the mounted Métis, led by the gifted and daring Cuthbert Grant attempted to move three cart-loads of pemmican past Fort Douglas. They were confronted by Semple and 26 of his men, who were quickly out-manoeuvred by the Métis cavalry. After a brief exchange of words, the firing broke out. Semple of 19 of his men were killed, the colonists surrendered the fort and were soon packed into boats and sent down-river to the HBC posts on the lake. (This incident now known as the Battle of Seven Oaks, is commemorated by a monument in West Kildonan). Selkirk struck back, hard and fast. With more than 100 disbanded soldiers from the War of 1812, he came west, captured the North-West stronghold at Fort William, retook Fort Douglas and arrested a number of North-West partners. Lawsuits between the fur trade and rivals drained much of the North-Westers’ energy and purpose, the Métis began to realize the value of the settlement as a market, and more colonists from Scotland and from Canada arrived. Then, in 1819, Governor William Williams of the HBC struck a death-blow at the North-West Company when he attacked and seized the latter’s huge Athabaska fur brigade at Grand Rapids, where the Saskatchewan River enters Lake Winnipeg.
Close Ties with Britain
By 1821, the two companies were united. The old fur trade route to Montreal fell into disuse and for the western plains, the main channel of supplies and communications was north to York Factory and Churchill on Hudson Bay. For the next 50 years, the Red River settlement’s strongest ties were with Britain rather than with Upper and Lower Canada, and, as a result, Canadians’ interest in the northwest decreased. Manitoba-to-be looked to its own seaports rather than to those of the St. Lawrence.
Fur company merger started a new era on the Red River
The death of Lord Selkirk in 1820 and the union of the Hudson’s Bay and North-West fur companies in 1821 started a new era and new problems for the trouble-ridden settlement on the Red River.
Two experimental farms, and attempts to grow flax and hemp ended in failure as did the Buffalo Wool Company. This project, backed by HBC governor George Simpson and Lady Selkirk, produced a sort of frenzy in the colony. Although, as James Ross wrote, the farmer “threw aside the hoe and spade to join the plains-rangers” in search for buffalo hair which was to be woven into cloth, the undertaking collapsed. Some progress was made, however. A Council of Assiniboia consisting of six of the settlers, was set up; a survey was carried out and the colonists received certain rights to trade with the Indians. In 1834, the Selkirk grant was returned to the company, the council enacted laws for the settlement, justices of the peace were named and a volunteer force was enlisted. But the company slowly tightened up its monopoly on trade. Tariffs were imposed on goods coming in on the overland route from St. Paul, Minnesota, and the laws, particularly as applied to trade, were so strictly enforced that on several occasions, the Métis became rebellious and backed up objections with demonstrations and war dances.
A new Fort Garry, the Lower Fort, was built of stone down river from St. Andrews Rapids, and Cuthbert Grant, the Métis leader at Seven Oaks, was named Warden of the Plains and given wide powers of search to prevent illegal trade with the Indians. “Search parties in the settlement carried stout poles to explore the recesses of the cottage chimneys,” writes historian Chester Martin. “Seizures became more frequent: successful evasion became an exploit of daring and eventually almost of distinction.”
Métis protest HBC Monopoly
Matters were not made more pleasant by the appointment of Adam Thom as recorder, an office intended to add to the power of the magistrates. Thom was anti-French, and even Sheriff Alexander Ross doubted “whether he could at all times be proof against the sin of partiality”. The Métis, with the intermittent support of English half-breeds, protested the company’s monopoly with frequent threatening demonstrations. The worsening conditions in the settlement were checked finally by the despatch of troops.
After the troops left, a trial in 1849 effectively ended the company’s monopoly claims. Guillaume Sayer was charged with fur smuggling, and the Métis, led by St. Boniface wool-miller Louis Riel (father of the man who led the 1870 and 1885 rebellions) threatened to take the law into their own hands if the accused was found guilty. Seizing on a minor technicality, the court dismissed the charge against Sayer. The Métis, misunderstanding the decision, celebrated what they thought was a declaration that trade was henceforth free, and the Hudson’s Bay Company never again pressed its claim to have a monopoly. However, the company did not lack other resources. The Council of Assiniboia was appointed by it. Governor Simpson, an adroit and diplomatic man, smoothed many a ruffled feather, and, if the smoothing didn’t work, got rid of troublemakers like James Sinclair by paying them to go and settle elsewhere.
Meanwhile, in the British House of Commons, in Upper Canada and in the United States, the current state of affairs and the possible future of the Red River settlement and the plains to the west were topics of considerable interest. While London studied the affairs of the Hudson’s Bay Company, George Brown in the Toronto Globe was urging Canada to annex the huge western territories, and the Minnesota legislature passed a resolution praying for annexation of the Red River Valley to that state. Two Canadian journalists, William Buckingham and W. B. Caldwell, founded a newspaper in the settlement, the Nor’Wester, in 1859, and proceeded, although with inconsistent success, to try to arouse the settlers with a campaign for a change in government. Two years earlier, a committee of the British House of Commons had recommended that the prairie regions should be ceded to Canada. As Upper and Lower Canada, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick moved towards Confederation, so the sentiment both inside and outside the Red River grew in favor of some new regime. From 1841 to 1867, Upper and Lower Canada were a united province each with 42 members of the legislature. Any attempt to add territory and population to the united province met with stiff opposition from Quebec which feared it would be swamped by a growing English-speaking west.
Worries About Land Titles
But the creation of the Dominion of Canada helped to still these fears with the expectation that new areas taken into Confederation would form new provinces. Accordingly, in 1868, the new federal government sent Sir George E. Cartier and William McDougall to London to negotiate for transfer of the vast HBC realm to Canada’s administration. The terms agreed on included: payment of 3,000 pounds Sterling by Canada to the Company; guarantee of land titles given by the company; land reservations for the company both at trading posts and in all townships to be surveyed in the “Fertile Belt.” A British act of 1868 confirmed the jurisdiction of all existing courts and court officials until the takeover by Canada was in effect, and it was also agreed that the surrender of Rupert’s Land would be made December 1, 1869.
Meanwhile, in the Red River district, worries about land titles which had vexed many people, but mainly the Métis, were not dissipated by the news, or lack of it, which reached the settlement in connection with the transfer negotiations. Within the settlement, opinions varied as to the steps which should be taken to produce a new government. Some were for union with Canada; some urged Crown colony status with eventual union in Confederation; a small group sought annexation by the United States. The principal leader of the so-called Canadian party was gigantic, red-bearded Dr. John Schultz. The Métis, who felt they had most to lose unless cast-iron guarantees of their land rights were given, acknowledged the leadership of Louis Riel, son of the defiant miller of the 1849 incident.
The action of the unruly Canadian crews building the Dawson Trail to the Lakehead, who bought title to Indian land for a few bottles of whisky, and the lack of any official information from London or Ottawa about the transfer arrangements only served to increase the Métis’ fears. And when surveyors suddenly appeared to run their lines across the land in the colony, the Métis decided to act. Although the chief surveyor J. S. Dennis thought he had set Riel’s mind at rest, on the purpose of his assignment, Riel forced a shutdown of the survey, first in the main settled area of the colony and later in the river lots of St. Vital. The Métis were the most numerous single group in the territory, with the English half-breeds close behind. A census taken in 1870 showed the population to be 11,963. The Métis accounted for 5,757 persons, English half-breeds 4,083 and “whites” 1,565. In addition, 558 Indians were counted as being part of the permanent population.
Although the Métis were by no means unanimous in their support of Riel, they were more united than any other group. They had, in addition, the advantage of the discipline and the skills developed over several generations in the twice-yearly buffalo hunts, discipline and skills which gave them great potential as a military force. In addition, their common language and deeply-rooted religion gave them a solidarity not enjoyed by any other group in the settlement. In the events of a few stormy months at the end of 1869 and the beginning of 1870, these factors were to be important, but were perhaps, overestimated by almost everyone watching and studying the fate of the settlement. Too little attention was paid to other Métis characteristics – the easygoing attitude to life, the tendency to lose interest suddenly in a course of action and the still-powerful attraction of a semi-nomadic life.
Hero and father of Manitoba or rebel, traitor and murderer?
He was called these things – and better or worse – one hundred years ago, and today the controversy continues. Mention of the Métis leader’s name can arouse normally reasonable people to boiling point in denunciation or defence, and, unfortunately, while a great deal of heat is generated in such arguments, they are frequently rendered worthless by a marked absence of light on the subject. Riel’s father, a Métis, had a wool mill on the Seine River. His mother was French. His outstanding intelligence and personality brought him to the attention of Bishop Taché of St. Boniface who thought he might be a possible candidate for the priesthood. In 1858, at the age of 14, Riel went to the College de Montreal, but left seven years later, without completing his course. There is evidence that his instructors felt he lacked the stability for a religious career. When the question of the settlement’s future came to a head in 1869, Riel was in the forefront of the Métis party. According to the historian Alexander Begg, who was present during those turbulent months, Riel’s proposal to the English half-breeds for a united front was rejected. At the same time, the Riel party would not support a move by William Dease, an influential Métis, to challenge the HBC right to hand over the territory.
Quick Action by the Métis
When news came that William McDougall, a federal cabinet minister, had been named lieutenant governor of the North-West Territory (his appointment effective on the date of transfer from the company to Canada) the Riel group took quick action. Rev. N. J. Ritchot, of St. Norbert wrote to Sir George Cartier “The council of the nation was assembled, and it was resolved to organize a military force after the custom of the country in time of danger, . . . . in order to repel the invasion by men in whom could be recognized no authority positively and legally constituted.” Riel’s followers were largely the boatmen and hunters of the St. Vital and St. Norbert parishes, and while they named John Bruce as president of the council, he was largely a figure-head. Riel, the secretary, wielded the greater influence. McDougall had arrived at Pembina from Canada via the U.S., and the Métis prevented him from entering the territory, by messenger, by an armed body of mounted men and, as a safeguard, by a barricade across the Pembina trail (Highway 75) now marked by the La Barriere monument in St. Norbert. They seized Fort Garry on Nov. 2 and, although the HBC business and the courts continued unimpeded, the Canadian party immediately declared Riel and his men rebels. Representatives of both French and English speaking parishes met Nov. 16 and Nov. 22, and on Nov. 26 a meeting of Winnipeg electors was held, but while considerable goodwill and agreement was indicated, there was continuing disagreement on the basic issues: who was entitled to be present or represented on the basic issues: who was entitled to be present or represented at such meetings, and whether or not there was still a government in the territory.
A Rash Act and a New Dispute
A compromise – to join with the English in a council under the HBC auspices – had scarcely been agreed to by Riel when a new dispute broke out concerning the control of food supplies stockpiled by the Canadian government for the Dawson Road crews. Armed men sympathetic to the Canadian party had gathered to guard the food and prevent it from falling into Riel’s hands, so Riel abandoned the compromise. Then, just as a new meeting of delegates had gathered at Fort Garry, Dec. 1, word arrived that the Queen’s proclamation to the transfer to Canadian sovereignty had been made. This was incorrect, and arose from the fact that McDougall, waiting at the border post of Pembina, had decided to consider the Dec. 1 transfer date as valid, despite the lack of any confirmation of the transfer from Ottawa. The would-be governor crossed the border from the U.S. at midnight Nov. 30 and read the official documents declaring the North West Territories part of Canada to “the dark and empty plain,” says W. L. Morton. “It was an act at once rash and completely illegal.” At Fort Garry, English and French, under the erroneous impression that HBC control had ended, agreed on a Bill of Rights, but the English would not go along with Riel’s insistence that the Red River council should deal only with the parliament of Canada.
Provisional Government Proclaimed
In addition to the proclamation blunder, McDougall added to the atmosphere of suspicion by giving former surveyor S. J. Dennis the rank of colonel and deputy-governor, and authorizing him to recruit, arm and drill troops. This he proceeded to do at the Lower Fort and enlisted Indians and some Métis, although he had misgivings about the outcome of his actions. Alarmed by these preparations, the Riel party seized Schultz’s house, where the government stores were kept, and took its garrison prisoner on Dec. 17. Riel then took over the two newspapers, The Nor’-Wester and the Red River Pioneer, and proclaimed a provisional government charging that the HBC had “abandoned” the people of the territory. In Ottawa, news of McDougall’s rebuff and of a delay in payment of the 300,000 Pound Sterling transfer price to the HBC prompted Sir John A. Macdonald to order a further delay in the transfer on the grounds that Canada was “entitled to peaceable possession.” (Morton) This meant that the HBC government in the settlement was still legal, and that neither Riel nor McDougall had any official status. An amnesty was promised to all who would cease armed demonstration, and three commissioners, Col. de Salaberry, Grand Vicar Thibault and Donald A. Smith, HBC official (later Lord Strathcona) were sent out to discuss terms with the Riel party. In addition, Macdonald ordered a military expedition prepared to proceed to the Red River in the spring of 1870. Smith detached some of the Métis from Riel and won the first round, but the defectors later renewed their allegiance to their leader. Smith explained the Canadian government’s terms, and a delegate convention Jan. 25 ended with mutual agreement. Meanwhile, Dr. Schultz had escaped from prison in Fort Garry, and was arousing anti-Riel sentiment in the lower river parishes and at Portage La Prairie, High Bluff and Poplar Point. A new body was elected to name delegates who would go to Ottawa for negotiations, and Riel promised to release the rest of his prisoners.
Captured, Tried and Executed
Schultz had raised an armed body of men in Kildonan, and these were joined by a force from Portage, the united group intent on attacking the Métis force and freeing the prisoners. Two men were killed during the Kildonan episode, but the Portage group decided to go home and were captured by Riel’s men as they passed by Winnipeg. In this group was Thomas Scott, from Perth, Ont., who had been in trouble with the law when he was employed on the Dawson Trail road-building crew. After a series of incidents involving threats and derogatory remarks about Riel and the Métis uttered by Scott, and abuse and insults by Riels’ guards, Scott was charged with insubordination, breach of parole, and striking guards. A court-martial presided over by Ambroise Lepine found him guilty, and he was executed outside Upper Fort Garry on March 4.
The storm of anger and protest this action aroused was to have long-lasting effects.
The Red River delegates to Ottawa sought admission of the North West as a province, a bilingual governor, a senate and denominational schools. At Fort Garry, a legislative assembly ws elected and met, ending the martial law period in the district. Two of the western representatives were arrested when they reached the capital, a result of the Scott shooting, but later Macdonald, Joseph Howe and Cartier met and talked with, but did not give official recognition to, the three men from the Red River. As a result, most of the demands of the provisional government were embodied in a bill, enacted May 12, effective July 15, creating the province of Manitoba. The new province did not include all the North-West Territories as had been requested. It was a mere “postage-stamp” of a province, and the rest of the former HBC realm was to be under a territorial government located at Fort Garry. The land problem was covered by a guarantee of titles and a 1,4000,000 acre grant to the unmarried children of half-breed families. But the federal government retained control of natural resource. However, official use of French, and denominational education rights were guaranteed.
The provisional government agreed right down the line to the terms of the Manitoba Act when it was brought back by one of the delegates to Ottawa. The only problems remaining were the question of amnesty, and of the action of the First Red River Expedition under Col. Garnet Wolseley, which was at that moment struggling over portages in North-Western Ontario. The Dec. 6, 1869 amnesty offer had been made before the shooting of Scott, but Bishop Taché pledged to Riel that a complete amnesty would be granted. Riel dismissed the garrison at Fort Garry and, with a small number of his councillors, waited to turn over the administration to the new governor, Adams G. Archibald. A large part of the Wolseley expedition, including its commander, looked on the operation as a means of avenging Scott, and Bishop Taché tried to have Archibald hurried to Fort Garry to take over before the army arrived. Arrangements broke down, however, and the expedition, moving by way of the Winnipeg River, Lake Winnipeg and up the Red, landed at Point Douglas Aug. 24.
In pouring rain, they made the final dash to Fort Garry to find the fort empty, the gates open and an abandoned meal as mute evidence of Riel’s hasty departure. The Métis leader had, in fact, been warned with only minutes to spare, of the temper of the Ontario troops. He fled with a few followers to St. Boniface, then to the United States. The provisional government was no more, and, until Archibald arrived, a temporary administration under the Hudson Bay Company, headed by Donald Smith, took over.
Setting up a Government Amid Unrest, Demands for Revenge
A host of problems – setting up a government, keeping the peace, dealing with the continuing unrest of the Métis and the demands for revenge of the Canadian party – faced Manitoba’s first lieutenant-governor, Adams G. Archibald. “Seldom had a Canadian statesman a more difficult task to perform,” says W. L. Morton in his History of Manitoba. “How well he was to succeed is perhaps declared by the fact that neither English nor French have adequately honored his memory in the province he saved from the dangers that beset its foundation.” Archibald set to work immediately on his arrival, naming Alfred Boyd of Redwood, and M. A. Girard to his executive council, commissioning magistrates and creating a mounted police force. Such a force was needed, for while the regular troops had gone east as soon as the government arrived, the volunteers from Ontario and Quebec, most of them burning with a desire to see Scott revenged, fought in the saloons of Winnipeg with the Métis, more than one of whom was killed.
Col. Garnet Wolseley’s speech to his regulars just before they left Red River is indicative of the feeling of the times. “The leaders of the banditti who recently oppressed Her Majesty’s loyal subjects in the Red River Settlement having fled as you approached the fort, leaving their guns, arms and ammunition behind them, the primary object of the expedition has been accomplished,” he said. Lt.-Gov. Archibald plunged into the business of providing representative government for the new province by setting up 24 constituencies for a provincial legislature. Half of these were in French districts and the other half contained mainly English-speaking electors. In December, 1870, the first provincial elections were held and in March of 1871, members were appointed to the province’s short-lived upper house or Legislative Council.
Who was the first premier of Manitoba is a question that has never been satisfactorily answered. The executive council included Thomas Howard, a Protestant originally from Quebec, H. J. Clarke, a lawyer from Montreal, and James McKay of St. James parish, a famous plains guide and hunter. The administration is generally known as the Clarke government, but the ministers were not responsible to the legislature and Archibald and several of his successors were in effect, premiers as well as governors. There was no building of sufficient size in the Red River settlement to house the legislature when it first met March 15, so A. G. B. Bannatyne’s home was used.
Catholic and Protestant, English and French were nicely balanced, and the result was that the legislature was able, in its inaugural session, to complete a program giving the province a system of courts, an educational organization and laws sufficient for the size of the community. Meanwhile, the energetic Dr. Schultz was still in the territory, and he and his friends maintained a loud and continuous agitation for the punishment of those responsible for the death of Thomas Scott. And Louis Riel, back from the United States, was keeping out of the public eye, but was, as Morton puts it, “flitting through the French parishes.”
While these developments in government were taking place, new settlers were moving in either to Winnipeg or to the farm lands of the province, and new businesses were opening up. Many of the volunteers who had come west with Wolseley’s expedition decided to stay in Manitoba, and a number of them resumed their civilian occupation here. John Hackett was the first baker, and he did so well after he opened his shop April 14, 1871, that he had Thomas Lusted build him a bakery wagon with which he proposed to deliver fresh bread daily anywhere in the village. The wagon was delivered on July 23, and Hackett was proudly displaying it to an admiring crowd when the cry of “Fire” was raised. The bakery shop, neglected in the excitement, was ablaze. The new business faced disaster, but the onlookers quickly formed a bucket brigade and, with water from the nearby river, put out the fire before much damage was done.
The long arm of the federal government was in evidence, too, in the person of George B. Spencer, who arrived Jan. 14, 1871 as the first collector of customs duties and inland revenue. Spencer was not long in finding something to do. A pioneer merchant, Alex McArthur, had imported goods from the U. S. and had failed to pay the required customs duties. Spencer demanded payment and McArthur, with fine frontier spirit, refused. The federal official then issued an order for seizure of the shipment, but when he went to carry it out on March 23, he found McArthur had retreated to his place of business, barred the doors and offered to resist violently. The fledgling police force was called out, entrance to the McArthur premises was forced, and the tax collector scored his first triumph in Manitoba’s history.
The Last Cart Trains
Steamboats had been plying the Red River between ports in Minnesota and Fort Garry since 1859, but there was still a heavy traffic carried by Red River cart brigades. The end of the wagon-train era was signalled with the imposition of U.S. bonding regulations for both imports and exports. Early in 1871, the first bonded steamship, The Selkirk, arrived at Fort Garry, and it was said at the time, the freight rates were so high that the ship’s first trip almost paid the cost of building it. This development meant that hundreds of Métis who depended on freighting for a living were deprived of this source of income.
An Orange Lodge, with Stewart Mulvey as master, was formed Sept. 19, 1870, aboard the schooner Jessie McKenney as it lay anchored in the Assiniboine River, and the lodge held its first parade and celebration July 12, 1871, with 300 men marching after King Billy to commemorate the Battle of the Boyne. The next day, Prince Rupert Lodge AF and AM received its charter, and it was not long before the Society of St. Jean Baptiste was organized and introduced the colorful ceremony of its June 24 parades. Manitoba’s new judicial system was initiated May 16, 1871, when the first quarterly court since the end of the HBC regime opened sessions, Judge Johnston presiding. Sheriff was John Sutherland.
A renewal of the earlier problems of the district threatened just as the first Provincial Agricultural Exhibition of Manitoba was about to open. The Fenians – a small U.S.-based group which believed attacks on Canada would force Britain to give Ireland its independence – mounted a raid on the HBC post at the international border. Volunteers were immediately enrolled from both English and French parishes, and Louis Riel and Ambroise Lepine were the leaders of the 350 Métis who turned out to defend the province. As it turned out, the volunteers were not needed. U.S. Troops dealt with the Fenians before the Winnipeg detachments could reach the scene. But a new crisis was precipitated when Lt.-Gov. Archibald reviewed the Métis troops in St. Boniface, thanked them, and shook hands with Riel and Lepine. Although many observers, including Archibald, believed that the Métis had acted in good faith and with patriotic motives, “the indignation of the British volunteers could scarcely be restrained,” writes Chester Martin. A newspaper of the time, the Liberal, denounced the incident as “the climax of insult to loyal men in the province” and there were renewed demands that Scott’s death be avenged. All this political and military to-do did little to help the Agricultural Exhibition with its more than 500 entries. And the government in Ottawa, faced with pro and anti-Riel arguments, tried in vain to decide whether or not Riel and his principal aides should or should not be granted an amnesty. Finally, Sir John MacDonald took the short-term course. According to evidence given by Bishop Taché at the 1873 Parliamentary Inquiry into the Red River Rebellion, the Ottawa government instructed Donald A. Smith to pay Riel, secretly, $5,000 to leave the country for a while.
Riel made one last appearance in Manitoba’s history. In the first election held to give Manitoba representatives in the federal parliament, Sir George Etienne Cartier was persuaded to run for Provencher constituency in order to keep Riel from offering himself. When, however, Cartier died in 1874, Riel was nominated and elected by acclamation. He went to Ottawa, took the oath and signed the register before anyone was aware of his identity. But warned of growing hostility among the members of Parliament, he disappeared without taking his seat, and the Commons ordered him expelled by a majority of 55 votes.
A Flood of New Settlers
Manitoba had scarcely entered provincehood when a flood of new settlers started to pour in, changing the delicate balance of religious and ethnic groups which had been achieved, and sharply altering the pattern of life in the community. By 1870, the west bank of the Red River from Netley Creek to the Assiniboine River was thickly settled, by Indians, half-breeds and Scots. Settlement had started at Cook’s Creek and Bird’s Hill, east of the river. At the river junction, the Hudson’s Bay held reserves of land and just outside these was Winnipeg, with the parish of St. John’s to the north. West on the Assiniboine were the English centres of Headingley and St. James, and the French parish of St. Charles. Across the Red lay St. Boniface, and further south, St. Vital and St. Norbert. Scattered to the west were St. Francois Xavier, Baie St. Paul, Portage la Prairie and northwest from there, the Whitemud settlements. Grand Marais on Lake Winnipeg and St. Laurent on Lake Manitoba were fishing stations, and southeast of St. Boniface, a mission and settlement had taken root at Ste. Anne-des-Chenes.
Up to 1870, settlers had favored river lots and shied away from taking up land on the open plains which, it was felt, would never be any good for farming. Besides, the river valleys provide wood, water and transportation. But in 1868, a group of Métis broke away from the old thinking and staked claims on one of the old buffalo hunt trails along what was then called the Riviere aux Ilets de Bois, south of Headingley. They had lived there three years when, in July 1871, a party from Ontario was attracted by the area. Brushing aside the indications of occupation by the Métis, many of whom were out on the summer hunt, the newcomers staked their claims.
When the Métis main body returned from the prairies, they prepared to oust the Ontarians, by force if necessary. A battle for the land was only prevented by the intervention of Governor Archibald, and the Métis were prevailed on to move away. All over the province, other land problems appeared. Although Lord Selkirk had acquired title to part of his land grant from the Indians by a treaty in 1817, legal title to much valuable settlement land still remained with the native population. To rectify this situation, Governor Archibald and Commissioner Wemyss Simpson met with Indian representatives at the Lower Fort, Aug. 3, 1871, and signed Treaty No. 1, surrendering to the Queen, in right of Canada, all of the original territory of Manitoba, and additional strips to the west and north. The land surveys were resumed, and by 1873, the whole province had been divided into six-mile square townships. Almost 2,500,000 acres were set aside for old settlers of all racial origins, HBC land grants were allocated and school lands were reserved. All the rest of the land was then open for homestead claims.
With all the available river lots in the main area of settlement taken up, many settlers pushed west along the Assiniboine, going beyond Portage la Prairie to Westbourne and Rat Creek, where, in 1869, Kenneth McKenzie plowed a defiant furrow all the way round 1,400 acres to claim his holding. South on the Red River, Ontario farmers moved in to start the settlement that grew into the town of Morris, in 1873, while Emerson got its start in 1874. In an effort to retain the balance between French and English which had prevailed in 1870, immigration from Quebec and the French-Canadian areas of New England was encouraged, and the town of Letellier can trace its origins from about 1875. Hopes that the area east of the Red River would remain solidly French were ended in 1874 when the first Mennonite group arrived to take up land along the Rat River. The previous year, Jacob Shantz, from Ontario, had brought a delegation of Mennonites, who liked the area and obtained reserves of land. As more Mennonites arrived, they pushed west across the Red River, and formed the basis of the thriving towns of Winkler, Gretna and Altona to name a few of their centres. The delicate balance of language, religion and racial origin was further disturbed in 1875, with the arrival of 285 Icelanders who selected land on the shore of Lake Winnipeg, outside the original boundary of Manitoba, and named it Gimli, which means paradise in English.
The earliest Selkirk settlers started farming with little in the way of agricultural implements beyond spades, hoes, mattocks, rakes and flails, and at first, depended largely on their own muscles for power. Primitive plows and harrows were soon on the scene, but little advance was made in the matter of farm machinery until the late 1860s. The immigrants who moved into Manitoba after 1870 still broke the land with oxen, and many sowed their seed by hand in the age-old manner. Among the earliest machinery introduced were mowers and hay rakes, since most farms were dependent on natural meadows for the winter’s feed for their livestock.
In most new areas of the province, the pattern of the first year was the same – a race with the weather to build a shelter, to get a crop in, to get a crop off, to gather feed for livestock, – and initial success depended on the settler’s timing, equipment, and ability, with a measure of luck thrown in. Log buildings were the general rule – wherever logs are available, although in treeless areas, sod huts housed the pioneer for the first year or so. Plows from the United States were found to be superior to those of Ontario for opening up the heavy clay soil, and although some owners of horse-powered threshing machines did custom threshing throughout their district, the scythe, cradle and flail were in general use still. With so much to be accomplished in the comparatively short growing season, social events such as dances and other community gatherings were confined, for the most part, to the winter season, which was also the time for cutting firewood and hauling in heavy supplies.
Promise of a Transcontinental Railway
A big factor in the minds of all who came to take up land in the new province was the coming of the railway. What route would it take? On the answer to this question depended the very lives of scores in the community, because only with the advent of the railway would the new farmers have easy access to a source of supplies, and a comparatively cheap way of getting their produce to market. When British Columbia entered Confederation in 1871, the federal government promised to start building a transcontinental railway within two years and to complete it in 10 years. Obviously, this meant that Manitoba would be on a main line. Meantime, and in anticipation of the era of rail transport, new towns were springing up, particularly in the west part of Manitoba and beyond its original borders, Minnedosa, Neepawa, Rapid City, Crystal City, Swan Lake, Shoal Lake were among the centres developed as the needs of new farming areas began to be felt.
In years of high water, such as 1876 to 1881, steamers plied the Assiniboine, with regular schedules between Winnipeg and Portage la Prairie. Population was not the only thing that was expanding in Manitoba. Strong political pressure within the province, and the spread of settlement on the land just beyond the 1870 boundaries brought about a new territorial adjustment in 1881, when the province was enlarged to its present western boundary and, on the north, to the 53rd degree of latitude, a little south of the present power development of Grand Rapids.
The Countess of Dufferin
Manitoba’s first train came by riverboat
The first railway locomotive to arrive in Manitoba came, not to Winnipeg, but to St. Boniface – and it came by boat. The building of iron roads which were, in fact, vital to Canada’s continued existence, provided opportunity for political upheavals, scandal, speculation and magnificent technical achievements. More than one government was to be wrecked by railway problems, fortunes were to be made and reputations ruined, new cities were to be created and the dreams of many communities were to be shattered before the major work of railway building was completed.
A Canadian transcontinental railway was promised to British Columbia when that province entered Confederation, and the government of Sir. John A Macdonald was defeated as a result of a scandal involving campaign contributions from a would-be railroad contractor. The federal Liberal regime of Alexander Mackenzie which followed believed a national railway was too big an undertaking, financially, and as a result, work on route surveys and construction slowed down. However, Mackenzie’s government had pushed forward the work on a line from St. Boniface to the international border, where it linked up with St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba railway and through it, to the continent-spanning U.S. railway system. J. J. Hill, Donald A. Smith and George Stephen had formed the syndicate which built the line from St. Paul to the border, and were to become the nucleus of the group which finally built the Canadian Pacific Railway. Grading on the line south to the border from the Red and Assiniboine forks had started in 1876, and on Oct. 8, 1877, the first locomotive and train, the engine bearing the name Lady Dufferin, arrived by steamboat from the United States, and were put ashore in St. Boniface.
“The Lady Dufferin had steam up and what with its shrill whistling and that of the steamer, the ringing of bells and the whistles of the sawmills joining in the chorus, there was a perfect babel of noise,” according to W. J. Healey, author of Winnipeg’s Early Days. The locomotive, now called Countess of Dufferin, which has been a fixture for many years in front of the CPR station, is to be overhauled as a Centennial project by James Richardson and Sons, Limited, and will form part of the province’s proposed transportation museum. The last steel was in place and the last spike driven Dec. 8, 1878. Four days later, Dec. 7, a great demonstration welcomed the first train to arrive from St. Paul. The same station, named Paddington in honor, doubtless, of the famous London station of the same name, saw the departure of the first southbound train on Dec. 9.
Commencement of Railway Construction
Meanwhile, the federal government’s policy of piecemeal construction was going on, with surveys, grading and rail-laying proceeding between Winnipeg and Fort William, and from Winnipeg west. The Canadian Pacific Railway had by this time, been organized to build a line to the west coast. It received from the government $25,000,000, 25,000,000 acres of land estimated to be worth $38,000,000 at that time, all the lines already built, valued at $31,000,000, freedom from customs duties on construction imports, freedom from local taxes in the North West Territories forever and a guarantee that no competitive line could be built to the border for the next 20 years.
The original western survey for the line laid out a route which crossed the Red River at the point where Selkirk now stands, went north between the lakes to the Lake Manitoba Narrows and west through Edmonton and the Yellowhead Pass to the Pacific. With Selkirk apparently the place appointed for the river crossing and Emerson glorying in its new-found importance as a railway centre and point of entry to the country, Winnipeg began to feel the strain of possible competition from these two towns. With the main line destined to go north from Selkirk, Winnipeg leaders asked for a federal charter to build a railway to Portage La Prairie and the Whitemud River settlements, and for aid in bridging the Red River so that the Portage line could connect with both the southbound railway and the main line.
New route for the CPR
However, the CPR’s chief engineer, William Van Horne was instrumental in the government’s decision to scrap the northern route and, in addition, Winnipeggers managed to finance and build a “pile” bridge between the city and St. Boniface. The city offered the CPR exemption in perpetuity from civic taxation, as well. Van Horne switched the river crossing location to Winnipeg, and laid out a new route, through Portage and across the southern part of the western plains. On July 29, 1880, the pile bridge was opened, and less than a month later, the foundations for the Louise Bridge were in place. The swing span of the Louise Bridge was tested June 7, 1881, and the first train passed over it July 26, amid the dying murmurs of a local controversy over the dismantling of the pile bridge. Thus the future was assured for Winnipeg. With the promise of main line service, scores of communities, many with high hopes of future greatness, sprang up along the route laid out, and a major portion of Manitoba’s farm lands had been taken up.
A Time Of Endings As Well As Of Beginnings
The era of the advancing railroad was a time of endings as well as of beginnings. The transcontinental railway, pushing west from Winnipeg, spelled the doom of the once-vital brigades of Red River carts which plodded as far as Edmonton, and finished the way of life of the colorful and carefree cart-men. Another casualty was the thrice-weekly stage coach from northern Minnesota to Winnipeg, which had started September 11, 1871. The last mail to be carried by stage arrived in St. Boniface Jan. 8, 1879 and the final southbound coach left Sept. 12. In addition, the railway to the U.S. meant the end of steamboat days on the Red and, as the line pushed west, the Assiniboine. Until the railway came, huge quantities of grain from the newly-established arms along both rivers and inland had been transported on steamers and flatboats, bound for markets in the U.S., eastern Canada and even Europe. The first shipment of wheat from Manitoba, via the Red River and Duluth was made Oct. 21, 1876 by Higgins and Young. It consisted of 857 bushels, worth $835.12 and was sold for seed in Ontario at $2.50 a bushel. And on Oct. 17, 1877, Robert Gerrie of Winnipeg sent off the first consignment of wheat direct to Glasgow via the Red River steamers. Other means of communication were opening up for the new province. On April 6, 1876, the first telegraph message was transmitted between Winnipeg and Battler River (now in Alberta) and by January 24, 1878, Winnipeg was in telegraphic contact with Edmonton.
In 1875, a bill was introduced in the Legislature for the abolition of the Legislative Council, the provincial equivalent of the Senate, but was defeated by the Speaker’s casting vote. There was some agitation over this, many residents demanding the abolition, and some, notably voters, from the French parishes, seeking to retain a body which they regarded as one of the Manitoba Act’s built-in safeguards of their identity. As a result of various pressures, the Legislative Council ended its own existence in the 1876 session by a vote of 20 to one. The 1876 municipal election in Winnipeg provided a note of excitement when former Mayor Cornish, Ald. W. B. Thibodeau, J. R. Cameron and W. G. Elliott (the latter two newspapermen), went to the home of the returning officer after the polls were closed and, after a scuffle in which some blows were struck, made off with the poll book.
A Most Unconventional Mayor
Cornish, known as a most conventional mayor, had already made his mark in civic history by sitting in judgment on himself as chief magistrate. Brought into court for a breach of municipal law, he fined himself $5 but remitted the fine because of previous good behaviour. In the poll book case, Cornish and Thibodeau were found guilty and fined $20 each. Cameron and Elliot, in the words of Frank Lucas “left the country never to return.” The same year, the new city hall was opened, the festivities including a charity ball to raise funds for Winnipeg General Hospital. Built at a cost of between $30,000 and $40,000, the city hall was doomed by its site on the bank of Brown’s Creek, and collapsed in 1882, in spite of a weird assortment of props along the outer walls.
1876 was a big year for one of Manitoba’s most popular sports – curling. On Nov. 5, a group of about 70 men gathered to set up the province’s first curling club, and on Dec. 11, James Barclay and Alex Brown skipped the first two rinks to play on the Manitoba Curling Club ice. The prize was a barrel of oatmeal which the winner donated to the Winnipeg General Hospital. In an expanding province, the first decade was bound to include many “firsts” in various fields. So the years between 1870 and 1880 saw the first Winnipeg directory, printed by Cook and Fletcher, and the first Manitoba Directory, published by La Riviere and Gauvin of St. Boniface, the first chimney sweep and the first city band under the leadership of Harry Walker, all in 1878. In addition, the first branch of the Bank of Montreal opened, and Winnipeg completed its first sewer system, 20,000 feet at a cost of $45,000.
Only way to beat the fever was to go to Manitoba
It struck all sorts of people, in Ontario, in the United states, in Britain, even in Europe. It varied, from individual to individual in the length of time which would pass before treatment was required, but the treatment was the same in all cases. Between 1876 and 1881, 40,000 men, women and children smitten by the disease in varying degrees, swarmed into the province, some staying in Winnipeg, others fanning out to the rich land south and west of the city, still others selecting a spot that looked as if it might, with luck, hard work and a railway become a town or even a city. The fever got its start when it became clear that the fertile soil of Manitoba, the Dakotas and Minnesota could produce an outstanding hard spring what, and was given an impetus by the development of new milling methods which could produce from that wheat a fine, high-gluten content white flour which suddenly was in great demand. After the millers of Minneapolis had demonstrated the quality of their product, seekers of wheat land looked north for new fields to plow and sow, and the great boom was on. It wasn’t all easy going, however. The fat five years the new province was to experience however preceded, in 1875, by a plague of grasshoppers which ate everything in sight. In the settlements to the west, the damage was particularly heavy and around Westbourne on the Whitemud River, the farmers lost even their potatoes. While actual want was less than in some of the lean years of the Selkirk settlement era, the loss of crop was still grave enough to force many settlers to work at other jobs for a while, and in both 1875 and 1876, loans for seed grain were in heavy demand, and were available through the Provincial Agricultural Society or through the dominion government.
Emerson – the Gateway City
The 1876 crop was good, and in the next five years, new groups of Mennonites, Icelanders, Ontarians, British and many Canadians who had gone to the U.S. earlier, moved in and either started in business or took up land. From Emerson and from Winnipeg, the newcomers spread out. Emerson, styling itself the “Gateway City,” was the centre from which the Pembina Hills were settled, and from Winnipeg, new Manitobans moved west and south. The high hopes for the future, nourished by good crops and the sudden and increasing demands for goods and services which followed the influx of people, produced a rapid rise in land values, and a rash of speculation. Tiny communities, some only a year or two old, saw a golden future ahead, and dreamed of incorporation as cities. Emerson actually did become a city in 1879, and in a bid to offset the HBC-sponsored township of West Lynne, on the west bank of the Red River, plunged into a vast development plan.
Other centres adopted ambitious names, such as Rapid City and Crystal City. The former got its start in 1878 when R. W. Prittie organized groups of settlers from Ontario, Quebec and the United States. These took up land around the point where the South Trail to the territories crossed the Little Saskatchewan River, and construction of a saw mill and a flour mill assured the centre of its future. Crystal City grew from the arrival the same year of Ontario newcomers brought in by Thomas Greenway, later to become premier of his adopted province. By 1879, settlers had reached Shoal Lake, where the building of a Mounted Police barracks gave the town its start, and the Birdtail Valley, now Birtle, was occupied the same year by an organized movement started by the Hamilton and North-West Colonization Society.
Selkirk had enjoyed a brief boom, when it looked as if it might be the point at which the transcontinental railway would cross the Red River and in addition to its role as a river port for Lake Winnipeg shipping, it boasted a thriving brick yard and pottery works. But the change in the railway route ended the town’s hopes of becoming a metropolis. The disappointment brought to some centres by the decisions of the railway builders was balanced by the opportunity given to other new towns by the advent of the CPR. Brandon, for instance, sprang out of the prairie when the line reached a crossing of the Assiniboine just north of Grand Valley, in 1881. “Soon stores and houses were rising along the staked-out streets,” W. L. Morton writes. “The speculators poured in, and soon lots on which the startled gophers still whistled, were changing hands at very high prices.” Being on the main line, surrounded by rich farm land and far enough from Winnipeg to avoid competition, Brandon grew quickly until, in 1883 it had a population of 2,000. It was in Winnipeg, however, that the boom reached its height. In spite of the limitations of transport by river boat and the railway to the U.S. (limitations which would only be overcome when the east-west rails were completed) many firms in the city were shipping grain – Bannatyne, Kew, Stobart and Eden, the Higgins and Young partnership, Gerrie and Company and even J. H. Ashdown and Company. Flour mills were quickly established, using the newest methods of steel rollers and silk screens, and the older mills such as McDermot’s were soon outpaced by the new Hudson’s Bay Company, the MacMillan, Ogilvie and MacLeod operations.
However, land speculation reached its peak when the Pembina railway began operating and the westward route of the CPR had been fixed. Considering the city’s isolated position and its turbulent past, land prices in Winnipeg had been comparatively good as far back as 1872-73, but following a quiet period in the mid-Seventies, prices began to rise, and spurted ahead suddenly in 1881-2. “Nothing to equal it had ever before occurred on Canadian or British soil,” declared a writer in Manitoba and the Great North-West. Established real estate firms were unable to cope with the rush of business, and auctioneers took over, operating at street corners all day and long after sunset. Syndicates – either local or imported – provided the easy credit required to enable even those of modest means to share for a short time in the illusion of wealth. “The homesteader, the merchant, and the clergyman and the speculating traveller joined in the reckless scramble,” wrote historian Chester Martin. “The struggling farmer found himself lifted from comparative poverty to opulence, the names of places unknown before and long since forgotten appeared in the advertising columns of the press.” One or two examples should be enough to show how high the fever ran. Lots in St. John’s parish were selling for $78,700 and a Main St. property brought $70,000 as late as February, 1882, while an Ontario syndicate picked up the land at the corner of Broadway and Main Street for a quarter of a million dollars.
Two of the more colorful land salesmen in a time when colorful characters abounded were Jim Coolican, “The Real Estate King,” and Joe Wolfe. Coolican, with his flowing black moustache, sealskin coat and tireless voice, chanted the merits of his clients’ properties and found no plot of land, no subdivision or projected city too far-fetched for him to handle. Wolfe, less striking to the eye, gained fame through the rumor that when he had had a particularly good day, he would indulge in a champagne bath. When the boom broke, Coolican and Wolfe stayed on for a time, the former selling less profitable but more tangible items such as wagons and buggies, the latter in the second-hand furniture and stove business.
Land Boom Ended Suddenly
Like all booms, all over the world, Manitoba’s came to an end. The more daring or foolish had used non-existent profits on original speculations to indulge in still further flights into the great land gamble, and in 1883, the whole pyramid crumbled into a litter of bankrupt businesses, over-mortgaged land and vast projects and subdivisions which existed only on paper. While the Manitoba boom was only part of a similar period of expansion and speculation which affected the whole country in various forms, it left its mark on both the province and the city. While the city’s credit was fairly quickly re-established, that of the province was slower to recover. However, improvements and advances in the city were produced by the boom and provided a firm basis for future development. W. J. Healey, in his Winnipeg’s Early Days, quotes Principal Grant of Queen’s University, who compared his 1872 visit to Winnipeg with his stay there in 1881: “The first thing that strikes us is that incongruous blending of the new and the old, of barbarism jostling against civilization, that distinguishes every corner of Winnipeg and every phase of its life.”
Grasshoppers, Economic Depression Failed to Slow Growth of Agriculture
The expansion of Manitoba, both in size and population, which took place between 1870 and 1881, brought with it great advances in farming. Many of the individuals and groups arriving in the province brought with them a considerable degree of knowledge and skill (some were graduates of Ontario Agriculture College) as well as sufficient capital to set them up with a reasonable amount of stock and equipment. While newly-opened areas might still see ox-drawn plows and carts, hand seeding, scythe and cradle reaping and flail threshing, more and more farmers were being worked with machinery, although animals were still the sole source of power. In the early years of the decade, fencing was with the post and rail method, where the materials were available, and as quickly as possible, homes and other buildings were frame-built, in an advance from the log construction days.
Even into the 80s, the old strains of Red River wheat were still being grown, among them the Black Sea wheat imported at the time of the short crop of 1846, and the probably ancestor of the famous red Fife strain. By the end of the 1870s, two types were dominant in the market and the seed displays at fairs. One was Red Fife, an early-maturing hard spring wheat of definite amber color which produced excellent baking flour. The other was Golden Drop, favored by farmers because of its great yield, but a softer variety than Red Fife.
Grasshoppers and the mid-70s depression failed to dampen the growth of agriculture. “The established settler in Manitoba was able to ride out more than two bad years,” says W. L. Morton in Manitoba: A History: “the pioneer society was simple, hard working, and capable of living at a very modest level. Like all pioneer communities, it lived and worked for the morrow which was sure to compensate for present hardship.”
In addition to improved seed, new machinery was coming into use, all designed to make farm operations easier and to increase the amount of land a single family could handle. Gang plows with their chilled steel moldboards, reapers, binders, mechanical seed drills and the steam thresher all added to the profitability of prairie farming, although at the same time, they involved greater debt for many agriculturists. As the size of cultivated fields grew, and as more livestock were raised, there was increasing need for good fencing, a need that in many cases could not be met by the traditional pole and post method. Barbed wire came to the rescue. Easily installed, cheap and effective, it widened the farm horizon and added further to productivity. Although early crops were shipped to market in the south and east, first by Red River steamer and later by the Pembina railway, the transcontinental line really freed the farmer from the restrictions under which he had been working. The first storage facilities for grain at railways were long, flat warehouses, but in 1880 the first elevator in the present style was built in St. Boniface. Gradually, this distinctive shape became a familiar feature of the prairie skyline, as new railways pushed out into settled areas, and the farms began to produce a steadily-increasing flood of grain.
New Towns Continued to Rise
While there was some rise in values of agricultural land during the 1879-83 boom, the speculation was largely in urban property, although the building of a railway branch line was certain to produce a corresponding increase in farm values. As settlement, production and crop sales increased, many farmers took advantage of federal land regulations to file on additions to their original quarter-section homestead, expansion which would have been impossible without the introduction of machinery and transportation facilities. As settlement increased, new towns continued to rise to serve the rapidly-filling farmlands. DeWinton became Carberry; Virden, Oak Lake and Pipestone were established; Deloraine, Boissevain and Killarney came into being south of Brandon and to the north, Russell, Minnedosa and Neepawa, Shoal Lake, Birtle, Strathclair and Newdale were started.
“The Plains had become one solid wheat field by 1881,” says Morton.
For motive power, the horse was replacing the ox, and required the seeding of a certain amount of land to feed grains. More and more steam threshers were employed, and threshing machines worked from stacks of wheat. The separated grain was bagged and hauled to storage, and the straw was burned. Meanwhile, in small areas of the province, experiments were starting in growing crops other than wheat, and some farmers were specializing in livestock in a large way, importing purebred and thoroughbred lines. Beef and dairy cattle of good quality began to make their appearance, and heavy draught horse breeding got its start. In less than 70 years, farming had progressed from the primitive and barely-productive scratching of the soil by the first Selkirk settlers, to a huge and expanding industry which increasingly required new equipment and technologies and in turn, sent a flood of food to the markets of a demanding world.
Land boom increased prices, brought debt, disappointment
Boom times in Manitoba during 1880-1883 brought inflated land prices for a time and left an aftermath of debt, disappointment and frustration. But it also brought to the fore a number of vexing problems which affected the rapidly growing farm industry and produced new political action and alignments. The Canadian Pacific Railway’s agreement with the federal government gave it freedom from competition in the west for 20 years, a large quantity of land and ownership of the successfully operating line between Winnipeg and the international boundary, which linked Manitoba to St. Paul, Minn. The no-competition clause in the agreement gave the CPR a virtual monopoly of rail transport in Manitoba which was effective immediately, since the railway now owned the only operating rail line in the province. And when attempts were made to form other railway companies within Manitoba to build lines to the border, they ran head-on into the no-competition provision.
The farmers were demanding more branch railway lines to make it easier, in those days of horse-drawn loads, to get their grain into the boxcars. In addition, they were becoming increasingly bitter about the prohibitive freight rates charged on the CPR line to Pembina, and felt that competitive railways which could haul their grain to market would benefit them in the most understandable terms – hard cash. The federal government, on the other hand, was vitally interested in maintaining the CPR’s monopoly position for a time, in order to ensure that the transcontinental line got built. This was a deliberate policy, followed in order to strengthen the still somewhat shaky fabric of the new nation along east-west lines. Someone, it appeared, had to pay the price of that phase of nationhood, and many Manitobans got the feeling that that someone was them.
Railway Branch Lines and the CPR Monopoly
The CPR was, it must be conceded, intent on the main line construction and was, for a while, ready to leave the business of branch line building to others, provided the branch lines were feeders for the CPR and did not threaten to give U.S. railways a foothold in Manitoba by running lines to the border. Many branch lines were formed, and some, in fact, went into operation. The Portage, Westbourne and North Western was one example. This line, started out from Portage la Prairie, and by 1885, it had gone beyond the western boundary of Manitoba, passing through Gladstone and Minnedosa on the way. Inefficient management doomed it, however, and it was sold to the CPR in 1894. A similar fate befell the Manitoba and South Western, which only got as far as the Boyne River. The CPR itself built the branch line south from Brandon which reached the new town of Souris in 1886. However, such provincially-chartered companies as the Winnipeg South Eastern, the Emerson North Western and the Manitoba Tramway Company, approved in the 1881 session of the provincial legislature, were disallowed the following year as a result of action by the CPR. The Norquay government, while generally supporting Sir John A. Macdonald’s Conservatives federally, faced growing anti-CPR public opinion, and had to publicly oppose Ottawa’s railway policy.
Norquay had to go further, however, to maintain his political power. In 1886, he obtained passage of the Red River Valley Railway bill, authorizing a provincial rail line from Winnipeg to West Lynne, across the Red River from Emerson, to be connected to U.S. lines. Although this bill was disallowed by Ottawa, Manitoba continued construction. The project ran into financial trouble, however, and all Norquay’s efforts to raise money were foiled by Macdonald. The railway construction halted, two byelections were lost by the government and Norquay was forced to resign Dec. 24, 1887. His successor, D. H. Harrison lasted less than a year, and on Jan. 19, 1888 Thomas Greenway, the Liberal leader became premier. The June, 1888 election confirmed him in office, with 35 members to Norquay’s decimated group of five.
Greenway immediately began a two-pronged assault on the CPR’s monopoly – by resuming building of the Red River Valley Railway, and by tough negotiations with Ottawa and the CPR. Greenway and members of his cabinet went to Ottawa, where some groundwork against the monopoly clause and federal disallowance had been done by Winnipeg banker W. F. Alloway, and Col. Thomas C. Scoble, of the Manitoba Central Railway Co. Macdonald and the CPR stalled Greenway for some days, and the determined Manitoba premier finally got tired of waiting around the capital. He left for home, to the dismay of Manitoba, where the Free Press had editorialized earlier: “If the Dominion Government think they have no sterner stuff than Mr. Norquay and his colleagues to deal with on this occasion, they will be afflicted with violent sudden surprise . . . . The men now in power will sound no retreat.” But if Greenway seemed to be retreating by heading west, it proved to be the winning strategy. Both the Dominion government and the CPR, subjected to a flood of bitter criticism, decided to change their policy. Greenway went back to Ottawa and obtained from Macdonald a letter which, in effect, spelled the end of the CPR’s monopoly and of federal disallowance of provincial railway bills. The CPR, in one of its frequent periods of financial difficulty at the time, received $15,000,000 in compensation.
The settlement was greeted with jubilation in Manitoba. The Free Press praised Greenway and the Liberals; the Call said the outcome was largely due to the Conservative party, while the Commercial said “the people of Manitoba, irrespective of party, have shown clearly that the Province was determined to get rid of monopoly . . . . Briefly, the credit for the removal of monopoly is due to the persistency and determination of the united people of Manitoba.” Greenway’s government went ahead with the Red River Valley Railroads as a provincial enterprise, with power to sell or lease it according to future circumstances. Meanwhile, rumors reached the premier that the CPR, through J. J. Hill and the St. Paul, Minnesota and Manitoba Railway, was trying to get control of the RRV Railway.
To forestall this possibility, Greenway made a deal with the Northern Pacific, the St. Paul line’s greatest rival by which a new company, the Northern Pacific and Manitoba railway was to be formed, with two directors named by the government and three by the U.S. company. Manitoba would build a line from Winnipeg to Portage la Prairie; rate-fixing would be in the hands of the cabinet; the new company would buy the RRVR and under no circumstances was stock in the new company to get into the hands of the CPR or the St. Paul line. That agreement caused the Free Press to turn its heavy artillery on its erstwhile hero, Greenway. The paper charged that instead of one monopoly, the farmer would be at the mercy of two monopolies, and urged that all railway lines from the U.S. should have running rights on the government’s RRVR.
Roughshod Tactics by The CPR
However, the legislature passed the bill creating the new company. A new snag appeared when the government began the Portage la Prairie branch. It was necessary for the branch to cross the CPR line at what is now Fort Whyte, southwest of Winnipeg. The government crews put in a diamond crossing, at night, and next morning, it was ripped out by CPR workmen. The CPR had asked for an injunction against the government’s action but the government ignored it. Special police were enrolled to protect the crossing, and the CPR brought in a trainload of burley men to do their utmost to prevent its being re-installed. The potential “civil war” was not allowed to come to a head, however. The issue was left to the Supreme Court which found, in February 1889 for Manitoba, both regards the validity of the Northern Pacific and Manitoba charter and the contested railway crossing at Fort Whyte. There was no further obstruction from the CPR, although the Fort Whyte stand-off was regarded by many Manitobans of the time as a new instance of the allegations of roughshod tactics by the CPR. The Greenway government’s first year in office had been crowned by victory.
Special Manitoba Centennial Edition
July 14, 1970