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The Story of Manitoba
Chapter I Nature's Preparation for Man


In its earliest stages the history of a country depends more upon nature's work than upon that done by man. Her preparation for his advent—the position of the country, its climate, soil, and resources—determine the time of his coming to it, his mode of life in it, and the character he develops there. In Manitoba her preparation for man's coming was long and thorough, and her powerful agents—the summer's heat, the winter's snow, the winds, the rivers, the lakes, and above all, the glaciers—worked tirelessly for thousands of years to complete her task. So a brief account of the physical features of Manitoba may help the reader to understand more clearly the story of man's achievements ra the country.

When the province of Manitoba was formed in 1869, it included only the small quadrilateral which lies between the 49 th parallel and the parallel of 50° 30' of north latitude and between the !)6th and 99th meridians of west longitude. Its area was 14,340 sq. miles. It was enlarged in 1881, its northern boundary being fixed at the parallel of 52° 51', its eastern boundary at the meridian of 95° 9', and its western limit near the meridian of 101° 25' This extension gave the province a total area of 73,956 sq. miles. As a result of legislation passed by the Dominion parliament and the Manitoba legislature in 1912, the province was extended to Hudson Bay, and its present area is 251,832 sq. miles. The territory recently added to the province is bounded on the north by the 60th parallel of north latitude, on the northeast by the shore of Hudson Bay, on the southeast by a line drawn from the point where the shore line of the bay is intersected by the 89th meridian of west longitude to the northeast corner of the province as fixed in 1881, on the south by the northern boundary of the province as it was laid down then, and on the west by a line which approximates the meridian of 102° west longitude. The area of the added territory is more than double that of the province before the addition was made.

In studying the topography of Manitoba it will be convenient to divide the country into three sections. These three sections have some features in common, yet each has characteristics which distinguish it from the others. There is a very low and level prairie region in the south central part, a more elevated and less level prairie region in the southwest and the west, and there is a slightly higher and much more uneven district on the east and north. The last includes much more than half of the province as now constituted. The slightly elevated regions on the east and west slope gently towards the central depression, and the three districts all have a general slope to the north, reaching a fairly uniform level in the region which borders Hudson Bay.

The great prairie region of Canada comprises three successive steppes. The lirst, or eastern steppe, has a general level of 700 or 800 feet above the sea. Its width on the 49th parallel is about 60 miles, but it increases rapidly as the plain extends northward. The second steppe rises somewhat abruptly from the first and has an average elevation of 1,600 feet. Its width on the 49tli parallel is about 250 miles, but it contracts as it extends northward. The third steppe rises more gradually from the second and extends to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Its width on the international boundary is about 450 miles, and it also grows narrower as it extends towards the north. The elevatiun of the second and third steppes diminishes with their width, and both are gradually merged into the great low-lying plain along the Arctic coast.

The lowest of these prairie steppes lies wholly in Manitoba and forms the valley in the south central part of the province. Geologists tell us that in ages long past immense glaciers, moving slowly from the north or northwest and from the northeast, plowed out a broad trench whose axis is now marked by the valley of the Red River, and that in the last glacial epoch this valley was covered by a great ice-sheet many thousands of feet in thickness. This immense body of ice extended far south of the 49th parallel at one time; but as the climate of the northern hemisphere became warmer, the southern rim of the ice-sheet broke into fragments, melted, anil retreated northwards, while the water so produced formed great glacial rivers or lakes according as its outward flow was free or impeded.

Such a lake was formed in the great depression which the glaciers had excavated through a part of the country that we now call Manitoba, and geologists have named it Lake Agassiz. Its southern boundary was probably the height of land which divides the streams flowing into the Red River from those flowing into the Mississippi, while its northern boundary was the retreating edge of the glacier itself until the latter had reached the ridge of land a short distance liortn of Lakes Winnipeg and Manitoba. On the cast its shore was probably the rocky and elevated region forming the eastern part of Manitoba, which is divided from the prairie by a fairly regular line running from the Lake of the Woods to Lake Manitoba and along the eastern shore of the latter. The western shore of the glacial lake is marked by those irregular chains of hills wbich we now call Pembina Mountains, Tiger Hills, Brandon Hills. Riding Mountains, Duck Mountains, Porcupine Hills, and Pasquia Hills. The bed of this lake extends north and south nearly 700 miles, and its greatest extent east and west is also about 700 miles; but its shape was very irregular, and its area is estimated at 110,000 sq. miles. Scientists do not think that the lake filled all parts of this great bed at the same time. That would have given it an area greater that the aggregate area of the five Great Lakes at the present time. It is more than probable that the southern part of the lake-bed had become dry before the ice had melted from the northern part.

Some geologists have estimated the maximum depth of this great glacial

lake at 600 feet; but the area of its bed increased as the edge of the ice retreated, the source of its supply diminished as the surface and thickness of the ice-sheet decreased under the increasing heat, its outlets wore deeper channels for themselves as the centuries passed, and so the depth of the lake steadily grew less. Geological upheavals may have hastened the process, and ultimately most of the lake bed was left hare, and the lake itself shrunk to its present representatives— Lakes Winnipeg, Manitoba, Winnipegosis, Dauphin, and others in their neighborhood. These lakes have an aggregate area of about 13,000 sq. miles—a large body of water, as we consider it at the present time, but a small area as compared with the great inland sea which filled the central part of Canada at the close of the glacial period.

For ages the river which drained Lake Agassiz flowed southward to the Mississippi, and the channel which it cut through the ridge forming the southern shore of the lake is well defined still. It is marked by the Minnesota River and Big Stone and Traverse Lakes in the state of Minnesota. But in time the retiring glacier uncovered the valleys of the Hayes and Nelson Rivers, and then the subsiding waters of the lake found an outlet through these channels to Hudson Bay, as its representatives do to-day. Of course it is not possible to tell how many thousands of years were required to work all these changes.

The contracting margins of Lake Agassiz are fairly well marked on the southern and western sides of its basin. Mr. Upham believes that he has found sixteen beaches, formed at lower and lower levels while the outflow of the lake was southward, and eleven others, formed after its waters found an outlet to the northeast. Many of these beaches are easily traced in Manitoba, for they are similar to beaches found around the present day representatives of Lake Agassiz. They consist of continuous, rounded ridges of sand and gravel, from ten to thirty rods in width, rising from three to ten feet above the level prairie on the outward or land side and from ten to twenty feet above it on the inner or lake side. These old beaches have determined the location of highways in some parts of the province. They must not be confused with shorter and less regular ridges, composed largely of boulders, which are observed in many parts of the country. These are terminal moraines deposited by the great glacier in its retreat northward, just as a defeated and retreating army throws away its weapons and baggage.

Nature's forces probably spent thousands of years in preparing the bed of the great glacial lake for occupation by man. On the rocky bottom the glacier itself deposited a fairly uniform layer of stiff clay, formed of material that it had gathered from the country to the north and east over which it had passed. This material it had ground fine, as only glaciers can. The lower layers of this clay are of a bluish color, the upper layers have a pink tint. The remark able hardness of the lower layers is probably due to the tremendous weight of the overlying glacier which deposited them; the upper layers, having been laid down when the glacier was much thinner, were not pressed down so solidly. Over the clay beds which the glacier had deposited, layer after layer of fine surface soil was laid down, some being material which the waters of the great lake could no longer hold in suspension, some being material carried directly to the bed of the lake by the rivers flowing into it. To obtain this finishing material for the deep, rich soil of the central plain of Manitoba nature's agents

levied on the country to the west as far as the mountains as well as the country to the north and east.

The area of that part of the continent which was once drained into Lake Agassiz is estimated at more than 350,000 sq. miles. The waters collected in many subsidiary lakes were drained from them into Lake Agassiz. Such a lake lay along the valley of the Souris River in the second prairie steppe. Geologists suppose that it had an outlet to the Missouri at one time, and that later in its history its waters found their way into Lake Agassiz by the valleys of the James and Cheyenne Rivers in Dakota, while still later they flowed through the depression marked by Lang's Valley, Pelican Lake, and the valley of the Pembina River. When this lake had been drained away, some obstruction at the Elbow of the Souris diverted that stream from its original channel, and it became an affluent of the Assiniboine.

Of all the rivers of Manitoba the Assiniboine was the most important in those far-away glacial ages. As long as the unmelted ice-sheet formed a dam across the depression through which the lower part of the Saskatchewan River flows now, it held back a great glacial lake whose southern shore is probably marked by the Pasquia Hills. The North Saskatchewan and the South Saskatchewan were then distinct streams, and both poured into this glacial lake all the waters which they had collected in their long courses from the mountains. Its outlet was probably near the Elbow of the South Saskatchewan, and its waters found their way by the valley of Qu'Appelle River to the Assiniboine and thus to Lake Agassiz. The Assiniboine, which must have been a wide and deep stream at that time, fell into the lake near the present site of Brandon. The magnitude of the glacial Assiniboine is shown by the great estuary which it excavated in the western shore of the lake—an estuary marked by a gap of more than sixty miles between the Brandon Hills and the Riding Mountains. The great volume of the glacial Assiniboine is also shown by the extent of the delta formed at its mouth, as the river had to flow further and further east to reach the receding lake. This delta extends from Brandon almost to Portage la Prairie, from Glenboro and Treberne almost to Gladstone, and has an area of nearly 2,000 sq. miles. Its maximum depth is two hundred feet and its average depth fifty feet. These figures help us to comprehend what a vast amount of material was brought down by the rivers and deposited on the Jake-bed now drained by the Red River. The fine sand on the surface of the Assiniboine delta has been heaped up by the wind into those rounded dunes, which we call "The Sandhills" and which form a unique feature of the ancient lake bottom.

The Red River itself is the youngest of the rivers of Manitoba, since it occupies the lowest depression of the lake bottom and carries to the present reduced representative of Lake Agassiz the waters of the diminished rivers which once emptied directly into that magnificent inland sea. The origin of the Red River will account for its direct course, the fact that it has not changed its course as the Souris and the Saskatchewan have done, the fact that it has not cut its way through impeding ridges as the Souris and the Pembina were obliged to do, and the fact that it has not worn for itself a wide, deep valley as nearlv all the other considerable streams of the western prairies have done. The others are rivers which have had a grand past, but are in sadly reduced circumstances now; the Red is as important now as it ever was in its history.

The eastern part of Canada's second prairie steppe lies in Manitoba, forming the elevated region found in the southwestern part of the province. It rises rather steeply from the lower plain on the east, and its edge is marked by the lines of hills already named as the western shore line of Lake Agassiz. It may be considered an older section of the country than the lower plain beside it, for it was probably released from the grip of the great northern ice-sheet much sooner; and, having been subject to erosions of various kinds for a longer period, its surface is more uneven that that of the ancient lake bottom. Its greater elevation has given its rivers a more rapid current than those of the lower steppe, and they have had a longer time in which to work; so they have wrought greater changes in the character of the country than has been possible for the streams which flow over the bottom of Lake Agassiz. They have in this way dug out those wide, deep valleys which seem out of all proportion to the streams which meander through them at the present time. The plateau of southwestern Manitoba has less timber than the lower plain beside it. Its soil is somewhat similar to that of the old lake-bed, but the underlying rocks belong to different orders.

The slightly elevated district which occupies a narrow strip along the eastern side of Manitoba and all the territory recently added to the province on the north are a portion of the Archaean formation which prevails over so much of eastern Canada. A part of the district is drained into Lake "Winnipeg, and a part directly into Hudson Bay. It is a region of rocky hills and ridges, denuded of much of their soil, worn down, and rounded by centuries of glacial grinding. The thin soil which covers the underlying rocks and clay beds is very porous, and the rainfall readily finds its way to the hollows between the hills, where it forms a multitude of small lakes connected by numberless streams. There they lie like a vast number of irregular gems strung on an intricate network of silver threads. The surface and soil of the Archaean region on the east and north of Manitoba are in complete contrast to those of its two prairie sections. There is another contrast, for the Archaean district is a wooded area, except where the forest is interrupted by the numerous lakes mentioned or by meadows and muskegs.

It has been said that the Canadian prairies are separated from the Great Lakes on the east and from the sea on the north by the hundreds of miles of rock, forest, and muskeg comprised in the' rough Archaean area which bounds the first prairie steppe on the east and north. But that was not the thought of the first people who reached the prairies. For them the intricate network of water ways which covers the rugged and wooded region connected the northern sea and the Great Lakes with the prairies. The conveyance which the first people to reach the plains used was the canoe, and the interlacing watercourses of the Archaean region are specially adapted to canoe travel. If the traveller points to any spot in this vast area, an Indian familiar with it can take him within a few miles of that spot by canoe. Some portages may be necessary, but they will be surprisingly short and few.

The canoe was the only conveyance which could be used in crossing the prairies by either red or white men when they first occupied the country, and nature seems to have laid out the river systems for that method of travel. The Red River, running from south to north along the eastern edge of the level plain, is a great canoe highway. Its sources are so close to those of the Mississippi that boats can be transported from one river to the other; it empties into Lake Winnipeg, which adds three hundred miles to the highway; and then the Nelson and its companion stream, the Hayes River, continue the route to the sea. Travellers, furs, and provisions have been transported along this highway for centuries.

A glance at the map will show several great highways, which come across the plains for hundreds of leagues to intersect the great trunk road running north. There is the Assiniboine, one of whose branches curves so far to the southwest that it is close to the Missouri, while another reaches so far to the northwest that its source is almost on the bank of the Saskatchewan. In the far-distant ages when the glaciers and the glacial waters were leveling the prairies, covering them with rich soil, and draining them in preparation for the coming of man, they did not fail to lay out very convenient routes of communication between different parts of the country. North of the Assiniboine is the Saskatchewan which furnishes a great waterway to the mountains and whose two brauehes with their affluents give access to many hundred miles of the eastern range. At several points it is comparatively easy to cross from the valley of the Saskatchewan to that of the Churchill River, another of the great cross-roads which nature constructed across the prairies of Manitoba to connect it with the far west.

Nor did nature's preparation for the advent of man cease when she had leveled the country, covered it with deep, rich soil, drained it, and laid out routes of intercommunication across it. She was careful to prepare a plentiful supply of food in advance. She planted the prairie soil with rich grasses on which numberless herds of buffaloes could graze. She covered the great rocky region on the east and north with forest, making it a veritable paradise for moose, elk, and other members of the deer family. She showed the beavers that they could find no better habitat than the solitary ravines in this vast forest; and so these wise little animals built their dams across the silver streams, turned the pretty lakes into beaver ponds, constructed their curious houses; and there reared their young in countless thousands. Thus nature provided a source from which man could supplement the clothing obtained from the deer and the moose. There were other supplies of food besides the buffaloes of the plains and the deer of the forests. All the lakes and streams of prairie and woodland were stocked with many kinds of fish, and wild fruits and edible roots of various kinds grew and ripened in the long summer sunshine.

All these careful and long-continued preparations—the level, open plains, the tree-clad hills, the fertile soil, the lakes and streams, the abundant vegetation, the varied and prolific animal life, the clear skies, the summer heat, and even the winter's cold—were nature's invitations to man to come and occupy the country. Like an eager hostess she kept on reiterating her invitation through the long centuries and waited for the expected guest.


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