Manitoba — History and Culture
Much of Manitoba’s culture and history has revolved around the fur trade, and many of Manitoba’s Métis and First Nations people have worked hard to preserve their own unique traditions amongst the influx of visitors. Métis and First Nations influence is especially evident in traditional Manitoba’s traditional Red River Jig. Many smaller Manitoba communities founded by immigrants have also managed to maintain unique cultures not found anywhere else in Canada, from Gimli’s Icelandic population to Steinbach’s German-speaking Mennonites.
Present-day Winnipeg was already a significant trading post for many of Manitoba’s First Nations people long before the first Europeans laid eyes on the province’s future capital. The Assiniboine, Sioux, Ojibway, Cree, and Anishinaabe all used the area’s numerous lakes and rivers as a transportation network to ship their crops far down the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. Visitors can learn even more about Manitoba’s First Nations at the Aboriginal Center (181 Higgins Avenue, Winnipeg) inside Winnipeg’s historic CP Rail Station.
However, the first European to arrive in Manitoba, Henry Hudson, landed much further north along Hudson Bay’s shores. Hudson stumbled upon the bay which now bears his name during his 1610 voyage in search of the Northwest Passage. However, the Hudson’s Bay Company was not formally established until 1670. Many of Manitoba’s modern communities were first established as tiny fur trading posts during the 17th and 18th centuries, including Winnipeg, which went through three different names before its official incorporation in 1873.
The most tumultuous time in Manitoba’s history was the Red River Rebellion between the province’s Métis population and the English-speaking settlers and governor whom the Métis considered threats to their French language and culture. The Métis rebellion leader, Louis Riel, was executed for high treason after the rebellion ended in 1870. English and French speaking populations across Canada were left deeply divided after Riel’s hanging.
After Manitoba became a Canadian province in 1870, the area enjoyed its highest immigration levels. Most Manitoba immigrants came from Great Britain, the United States, and eastern European nations such as Ukraine. Although many of these immigrants settled in smaller farming communities, 50 percent of Manitoba’s newcomers moved to Winnipeg, which became western Canada’s biggest and richest city between the 19th and 20th centuries.
In 1914, the Panama Canal ended Winnipeg’s boom years after international trade markets stopped depending on the city’s railways. Job numbers, working conditions, and wages all plummeted, resulting in a 1919 strike involving over 30,000 workers. The general strike ended violently with 30 injuries, the loss of two lives, and leader JS Woodsworth’s eventual founding Canada’s New Democratic Party during the Great Depression.
Today, much of Manitoba’s economic growth is found in northern communities like Thompson, founded after the discovery of nickel, and Churchill, home to Canada’s only Arctic port. A giant limestone hydroelectric plant now stands on the Nelson River. The province’s history is depicted in its greatest detail within the nine galleries of the Manitoba Museum (190 Rupert Avenue, Winnipeg).
Beneath Manitoba’s prairies and wilderness lies one of Canada’s richest art scenes. Manitoba contains some of Canada’s best preserved First Nations communities, as well as many of the country’s most fascinating immigrant cultures. Manitoba’s Red River Jig combines European reels, First Nations pow-wow music, and Métis fiddling.
No Canadian ballet company has a longer history than the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, which has operated over a longer time period than any other North American company. Winnipeg’s Centennial Concert Hall hosts Manitoba Opera and Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra performances. Canada’s oldest regional English theater, the Manitoba Theatre Center, and Canada’s oldest French-language theatre, Le Cercle Molière, both originated in Manitoba.