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The Romantic Settlement of Lord Selkirk's Colonists
Chapter 29 Manitoba in the Making

Close in the wake of Wolseley's Expedition, there arrived on the 2nd of September, Adams G. Archibald, the newly-appointed Governor of the new Province of Manitoba. His arrival was greeted with joy, for he was a man of high character, and of much experience in his native Province of Nova Scotia. The two volunteer regiments, the Quebec and Ontario battalions, were quartered for the winter, the former in Lower Fort Garry, the latter in Fort Garry. The new Governor took up his abode in Fort Garry, in the residence with which our story is so familiar. The organization of his government began at once. The first Government Building stood back from the street in Winnipeg on the corner of Main Street and McDermott Avenue East, of the present-day. The Legislative Council—a miniature House of Lords—of seven members, was appointed, and electoral divisions for the election of members to the Legislative Assembly were made to the number of twenty-four—twelve French and twelve English. The time for the opening of Parliament was the spring of 1871. It was a notable day, for the citizens were much interested in scrutinizing those who were to be their future rulers. The opening passed off with eclat. During the first session certain elementary legislation was passed including a short school act. There was yet no division of parties, and a sufficient cabinet was chosen by the Governor. Thus, institutions after the model of the mother of Parliaments at Westminster were evolved and Manitoba—the successor of our Red River Settlement—had conceded to it the right of local self-government.

In the year of the first parliament of Manitoba it was the fortune of the writer to take up his abode here. Winnipeg, a village of less than three hundred inhabitants was in that year, still four hundred miles distant from a railway. From the railway terminus in Minnesota, the stage coach drawn by four horses with relays every twenty miles, sped rapidly over prairies, smooth as a lawn to the site of the future city of the plains.

Since that time well-nigh forty years has passed away. The stage coach, the Red River cart, and the shaganappi pony are things of the past, and several railways with richly furnished trains connect St. Paul and Minneapolis with the City of Winnipeg. More important, the skill of the engineer has surpassed what we then even dreamt of in his blasting of rock cuttings and tunnels through the Archæan rocks to Fort William, and this has been done by three main trunk lines of railway. The old amphibious route of the fur traders and of Wolseley's Expedition has been superseded, the tremendous cliffs of the north shore of Lake Superior have been levelled and the chasm bridged. To the west the whole wide prairie land has been gridironed by railways all tributary to Winnipeg, the enormous ascent of the four Rocky Mountain ranges, rising a mile above the sea, have been crossed by the Canadian Pacific Railway. The giddy heights of the Fraser River Canyon are traversed, and this is but the beginning, for three other great corporations are bending their strength to pierce the passes of the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. We see to-day scenes more after the manner of the Arabian Nights Entertainments than of the humble dream that Lord Selkirk dreamt one hundred years ago.

Hon. John Norquay
A native of Red River Settlement.
Became Cabinet Minister in 1871 afterward Premier of Manitoba.

The towns and cities of Manitoba have sprung up on every hand where the railway has gone and these are but the centres of business of twenty thousand farms whose owners have come to this land, many of them empty-handed, and are now blessed with competence and in many cases wealth. What a vindication of Lord Selkirk's prospectus of a hundred years ago when he said: "The soil on the Red River and the Assiniboine is generally a good soil, susceptible of culture and capable of bearing rich crops." Lord Selkirk's dream is fulfilled, for his land is fast becoming the grainary of the world. As the traveller of to-day passes along the railways in the last days of August or early in September, he beholds the sight of a life-time, in the rattling reapers, each drawn by four great horses, turning off the golden sheaves of wheat and other cereals. A little later the giant threshers, driven by steam power, pour forth the precious grain, which is hurried off to the high elevators for storage, till the railways can carry it to the markets of the world to feed earth's hungry millions. When the historian recalls the statement that the few cattle of the early settlers had degenerated in size on account of the climatic conditions, that the shaganappi pony could never do the work of the stalwart Clydesdale, and that nothing could result from the straggling flock of foot-sore and dying sheep, driven by Burke and Campbell from far-distant Missouri, we look with astonishment at the horses now taken away by hundreds to supply with chargers the crack cavalry regiments of the Empire, at the vast consignments of cattle passing through Winnipeg every day to feed the hungry, and flocks of sheep supplying wool for Eastern manufacturers to clothe the naked.

One of the greatest trials of the early Selkirk Settlers was to get schools sufficient to give the children scattered along the river belt, even the three R's of education. Kildonan parish manfully raised by subscription the means, unaided by Government help, to give some opportunity to their children. It is a notable fact which emerged in the great School Contention of twenty years ago in Manitoba, that not a dollar had been given to schools as aid by the old Government of Assiniboia. To-day the glory of Manitoba is its school system. For school buildings, school organization, attainments of the teachers, and efficient school management, the schools of Winnipeg are probably unsurpassed in any country, and the same is true of many other places in the Province. Two Winnipeg schools bear the names of Selkirk and Isbister. The University of Manitoba, with its seven affiliated colleges and twelve hundred and forty candidates in 1909 for its several examinations has its seat at the forks of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers, and one of the colleges is on the very lot where Lord Selkirk stood and divided up their lands to the Colonists.

Alexander Isbister, LL.B.
Red River Patriot and Benefactor of University of Manitoba.

One of the most continued and aggressive struggles which Lord Selkirk's Colonists maintained was seen in the efforts put forth to worship God according to the dictates of their own consciences, and after the manner of their fathers. Their perseverance which showed itself in the erection of old Kildonan Church in the year immediately after the destructive flood of 1852, bore fruit in succeeding years. They were always a religious people. No one can even estimate what their religious disposition did in amiscellaneous gathering of people who had, being scattered over the posts of the fur traders, been in most cases, without any religious opportunities whatever, before their coming to settle on Red River. The sturdy stand for principle which the Selkirk Colonists made created an atmosphere which has remained until this day. The well-nigh forty years of religious life of Manitoba has been marked by a good understanding among the several churches, by an energetic zeal in carrying church services in the very first year of their settlement to hundreds of new communities. The generosity of the people in erecting churches for themselves in maintaining among themselves their cherished beliefs, is in striking contrast to the new settlements of the United States. In the new Western States the religious movements fell behind the Western march of the immigrant. In the Canadian West from the very day that old Verandrye took his priest with him, from the time when the first Colonists brought a devout layman as their religious teacher with them, from the hour when the stalwart Provencher came, from the era when the self-denying West visited the Indian camps and Settlers' camp alike, from the time when the saintly Black came as the natural leader of the Selkirk Colonists, and during the forty years of the development of Manitoba, the foundations have been laid in that righteousness which exalteth a nation.

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