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The Story of Manitoba

It is well for a community to know its beginnings and to study the way in which it has grown. The history of Manitoba is a story of marvelous commercial, social, and political development; it is a story tinged with heroism, romance, tragedy, and comedy in the past; it is a story replete with lessons for the future. Because the area of the province has just been increased so greatly, the story haa never before covered so much territory and such a wide range of events, nor has it been so full of meaning.

The course of a country's history is determined in a great measure by its physical features, soil, and climate, by the character of its people, and by the great events which occur in other lands. It is also true that the character of a race is modified by the physical conditions of the country which it inhabits and by its own experiences there. The history of Manitoba illustrates these truths, and the student will understand its significance better if he gives some thought to the fundamental factors in the development of our province.

For this reason the story of Manitoba may properly begin with a brief account of those geological changes, which, occurring many thousands of years ago and extending over long periods of time, gave Manitoba her surface and soil and greatly modified her climate. Surface, soil, and climate determined the character of her vegetation, arid, to some extent, the character of her animal life; and these, in turn, determined the habits and occupations of the first inhabitants of the country. Indeed, the physical conditions of the country and its vegetable and animal life determine the occupations and the trade of the people who inhabit Manitoba to-day, while the country and their life in it have left an impress upon their character that is reflected in the institutions which they have established.

We do not know what race was the first to roam over the plains of Manitoba and follow the streams of its wooded regions, and we know very little of the people who were the first to leave traces of their occupation of the country; but we may be sure that the life and habits of the Mound-Builders and their predecessors were very like those of the Indian tribes living in the country when the white man first came to it. The Mound-Builders vanished long ago, and the Indians are disappearing; but some phases of their life were adopted by the first white men who lived in the west and influenced its history for more than two hundred years. Therefore a short account of the aboriginal inhabitants of the province may help the student to understand its later history.

The student should also have some knowledge of the characters of the two white races which first settled in Manitoba. The Gallic and the Anglo-Celtic races differ in temperament, language, religion, and traditions ; each sought to im press its own ideals upon the life and institutions of the new land to which it came;

and this rivalry affected all the subsequent history of the country. They came by different routes and with different aims; and so the canoes of the French, paddled laboriously up the Ottawa River, across the Great Lakes, and over the tangle of waterways between Lake Superior and the prairies, and the clumsy sailing vessels of the British, battling with the storms of the North Atlantic and the ice-floes of Hudson Strait, were freighted with more than provisions for the voyagers and goods for the Indian tribes. They carried the germs of many of Manitoba 's institutions and the seeds of some of her troubles.

Familiarity with the leading events in the histories of other countries will illuminate the history of our province, for these events have often given a new direction to the story of Manitoba. Many of the incidents in the early part of that story are near or remote echoes of the long enmity between England and France, whose manifestations were not confined to wars on the continent of Europe and attacks by each nation on the colonies of the other. Its dying embers, occasionally fanned into flame by circumstances, gave a spur to rival explorers in Manitoba, added bitterness to the long contest between the great fur com ponies, and stood in the way of a union of races which would have made the Red River rebellion impossible. In recent years territorial, political, and social changes in the countries of Europe have been dominant causes in sending emigrants from them to Manitoba. But events influencing Manitoba's development have not been confined to European history. Its development has been affected by the growth of the United States, and for two generations its history has been closely connected with that of eastern Canada.

About three hundred years have elapsed since Europeans began to explore the northern part of Manitoba; and as there have been three stages in the progress of the country during that time, its history may be divided into three periods— the period of exploration, the period of the fur trade, and the period of agricultural development. These periods overlap one another and cannot be defined by exact dates, but each may be considered as covering about a century.

Three hundred years ago the dream of finding a western sea route to China and the East Indies often came to navigators eager for fame, merchants seeking new sources of wealth, and kings anxious for wider domains. It was this dream which brought the first explorers to Hudson Bay and the northern shores of Manitoba. For many decades the work of these men seemed somewhat futile; but the dream of finding a northwest passage by sea was gradually merged into the vision of an overland route to the Pacific, and it led explorers west and north with more practical results. The records of these maritime and irdand explora tions are an essential part of Manitoba's history.

The story of early exploration in the Canadian west and the story of the fur trade cannot be separated; for nearly all the inland explorers were fur traders, and many of the fur traders were daring and resourceful explorers. The combined stories must be told at some length, since they form the history of Manitoba for a hundred and fifty years.

The work of uavigators in the northern seas, the inland explorations, and the marvelous growth of the fur trade did little to develop the rich resources of Manitoba. Two hundred years ago the "War of the Spanish Succession came to an end, and the Treaty of LTtrecht (1713) gave a temporary rest to the war-wearied nations of Europe. By this pact France ceded to Great Britain all the country which lies around Hudson Bay. This vast territory, out of which half a dozen European states might he carved, was considered of so little value that it was a mere pawn ia the game of international politics. The present province of Manitoba was included in the ceded territory. It was then a region almost unknown to the civilize* world. Its prairies were, as vast then as they are now, its soil as fertile, its summer days as long and bright; but it •was only a pasture for herds of buffaloes, a habitat for the bear and the beaver, a hunting ground for Indians, who hail made little progress towards civilization. The oldest of the fur companies had established one or two posts on the northern coast of the province, and the French traders were approaching it from the east; but its pristine wildness had hardly been disturbed.

The fur trade was prosecuted with marvelous energy and enriched many of those engaged io it, but it brought few permanent settlers to the country. A hundred years ago Manitoba was still a land of unpeopled prairies and undeveloped resources. A few white men had come to it, but they were little better than nomads, and scarcely suspected the richness of the country over which they roamed. They traveled back and forward between a score of scattered trading posts—mere dots on the map to show that civilization had marked the vast region as her own. There were no farms, 110 towns, no roads, no schools. The only means of travel were the canoe, the pony, and the cart. There were no telegraphs, no post-office, and only a primitive form of organized government.

A century is a short period of time, as history often measures it; yet in a single century the miracle has been wrought. The solitary land has become the permanent home of hundreds of thousands of people. They represent a dozen races, but the passing years are fusing them into one nationality. The unbroken prairie has been converted into thousands of farms, which produce wheat enough co feed the whole population of Canada and some of the bread hungry people elsewhere; the forests, the rocky wastes, the lakes and streams have proved sources of wealth. Prosperous towns, busy with trade and manufacturing have sprung up where the buffaloes used to graze. Railways cross the country in all directions, and steamers ply on the lakes and rivers. There are telegraphs and telephones, newspapers and magazines, schools, churches, and hospitals, and all the social and political organizations to be found in the most advanced communities.

The marvelous change began when the first permanent settlers came to the province, just a hundred years ago. The nations of Europe were then seeking peace after the Napoleonic wars, and once more the policies of European statesmen changed the course of Manitoba's history. Disbanded soldiers, joining with other unemployed and landless men, sought homes in America, and some of them settled in that distant and isolated region which has since become the province of Manitoba. These men aimed to live by agriculture rather than hunting, and their arrival marks the opening of the third period of the history of the province —the beginning of its real progress. For this reason the account of their migration and settlement must be given at some length.

The story of Manitoba's progress during the century which has elapsed since the first white settlers came is the story of a series of struggles. First of all, there was the long struggle against the hardships which could not be eliminated from pioneer life in a remote and isolated colony, the misfortunes growing out of the hostility of the two great fur companies, and losses caused by drought, floods, and swarms of grasshoppers. A generation was to pass before the settlers were assured that they could overcome the disadvantages of their remote situation and the apparent hostility of some of nature's forces and win the homes and the competence which they sought. When comfortable homes and a good livelihood had been secured, the struggle did not cease. It took a new form and became a struggle for freedom of trade and self-government. This struggle, too, went on for nearly a generation and ended in the confederation of the country with Canada and the organization of the province of Manitoba. The people found that the disabilities due to the government of the Hudson's Bay Company had been removed only to be followed by others growing out of the Manitoba Act, and that the company's restrictions were succeeded by those imposed by the Dominion government; and so the struggle had to be renewed in a new field, where it was carried on for another generation. Although a large measure of success has attended these efforts of the people to secure their rights, some of their expectations have not been realized yet.

In this century of struggle the people of Manitoba have developed some marked characteristics—self-reliance, determination to solve their problems and mould their institutions in their own way, impatience under restrictions imposed by outside authority. They have shown great persistence in their efforts to realize their ideals. The dictum of one of Canada's greatest statesmen, "You cannot check Manitoba," has been illustrated on many occasions, for self-reliance, independence, and determination were inherent to the temperament of the people who first found their way to the west, and they have been fostered and developed by a century of life in the freedom and broadness of the prairies. In these characteristics of the people we may find hints of the course which the future development of the life- and institutions of the province will follow.

The small beginnings of Manitoba's history grow in importance as they recede further into the past and we see them in clearer perspective. The actors in the early parts of this history become greater, too. Whether they were French, accepting with a laugh and a song the adventures which fate flung into their lives, or Scotch, clinging with the tenacity of their race to the land which they had adopted, whether they were explorers or traders, farmers or missionaries, there is something heroic in the men who made the first chapters of Manitoba's history. An atmosphere of romance will always surround some of them—Radissonjjphe adventurer, Sieur de la Verandrye, the intrepid explorer, Madame Lajimoniere, first of French women to reach the province, and many others, There are heroic figures, too, among the men who came to the province later to give shape to the work of her pioneers, to organize her trade, her government, her judicial system, and her educational institutions.

The story of Manitoba, possessing many heroic and some tragic features, is not devoid of humorous aspects. Its events are seen in truer proportions now, and many, which once appeared important, seem trivial at the present time, while the contests over them and the feelings which they roused suggest the action of a comic opera. That tragedy lay very close to the comedy of some of the situations need not prevent us from smiling at the comedy now.


Honor be theirs, and evening peace,
"With harvest of desire,
Ere to the halls of silence pass
These souls of faith and fire!
Blithely they served the land they loved, "
As we, who serve in their stead,
This brave young land that breeds us men,
And cradles our sacred dead.

They came and dwelt by the evening star,
Unheralded and unsped;
The fields they claimed with their stubborn pain,
That their children might be fed.
And a vision glowed in their faithful hearts
Of the generous years in store,
Of a million hearth-fires gleaming bright
To beckon a million more.

Their sturdy feet took the aching trail
That we might ride at our ease;
Where beat ten thousand at our gates,
They came in their two's and three's.
They came where a man found elbow-room
And a healing of ancient scars,
Where he learned the voice of the western wind,
The friendship of the stars.

The royal land they gave to us
Be ours the happy part
From idle pride and from base content
To guard with loving heart,—
True heart, and undivided will
To purpose and endure,
That with foundation deep and still
The building may be sure.

0 ancient Mother, dwelling alone,
Silent, austere, and free,
Flesh of thy flesh, and bone of thy bone,
"We are, and are proud to be!
And still, and forever, as of old.
In spite of the sundering sea,
What God has given to gain and hold "
We gam and hold for thee.

Norman C. Cragg.

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