The Land

Bordered by Ontario, Saskatchewan, the Northwest Territories, Hudson Bay and the United States, Manitoba is one of the three Prairie provinces and is located in the centre of Canada. Its 650 000 km2 of landscape offer few extremes. Elevations rise slowly to the south and west from sea level at Hudson Bay. Most of Manitoba lies between 150 and 300 m above sea level, but in the Turtle, Riding, Duck and Baldy mountains, heights rise to 700 m or higher. The highest point in Manitoba is Baldy Mountain, in Duck Mountain Provincial Park, at 831 m.

Manitoba is known as the land of 100 000 lakes, a legacy of enormous Lake Agassiz, which covered much of the province after the glaciers retreated. The major rivers of western Canada flow into the lowland region of Manitoba, giving Manitoba 90 percent of the hydro-electric potential of the Prairie region. The northern topography is heavily glaciated and covered in forest, dominated by pine, hemlock and birch.

Manitoba is one of the sunniest provinces in Canada. It has a continental climate, with great temperatures extremes. Typical of southern Manitoba, the mean January temperature in Winnipeg is about -20oC; the July average is about 19oC. In Thompson, in the centre of northern Manitoba, the averages for the same months are about -27oC and 15oC.

The History

The name Manitoba likely comes from the Cree words "Manitou bou," which mean "the narrows of the Great Spirit." The words applied to Lake Manitoba, which narrows to less than a kilometre at its centre. The waves hitting the loose surface rocks of its north shore produce curious bell-like and wailing sounds, which the first Aboriginal peoples believed came from a huge drum beaten by the spirit Manitou. The Assiniboine Indians were the first inhabitants of Manitoba. Other tribes included the nomadic Cree, who followed the herds of bison and caribou on their seasonal migrations.

In their search for the rich Orient through the Northwest Passage, Europeans reached Manitoba through Hudson Bay. Unlike most of the rest of Canada, the northern parts of the province were settled before the south. In 1612, Captain Thomas Button wintered two ships at the mouth of the Nelson River, on Hudson Bay. Later, a party led by La Vérendrye explored the Red and Winnipeg rivers in the years 1733-38 and built several outposts.

Early European interest in Manitoba centred on the fur trade. In 1670, the Hudson's Bay Company was created, and King Charles II of England granted it a large tract of land named Rupert's Land. The company set up fur-trading posts to exploit the country's wealth. During the 18th century, intense rivalry for fur-trade supremacy developed between the Montreal-based North West Company and the Hudson's Bay Company.

In 1812, the first European agricultural settlement was established in the area around the junction of the Red and Assiniboine rivers by Lord Selkirk, a Scottish nobleman who sent a number of Scottish Highlanders to settle land he had secured from the Hudson's Bay Company. He called the area Assiniboia. The Selkirk colony suffered through floods and problems arising from unfamiliarity with the environment and rivalries within the fur trade. Nevertheless, the settlement survived.

In 1836, Assiniboia was transferred to the Hudson's Bay Company by the Selkirk family. In the 1860s, the provinces of Canada, anxious to expand into the great northwest, offered to buy the land from the Hudson's Bay Company. Negotiations for the transfer of sovereignty of the Hudson's Bay Company lands to Canada followed, but with little regard to the wishes of the inhabitants.

During the lengthy negotiations, this lack of consultation and the movement of American and Canadian settlers into the territory led the Métis (people of mixed Aboriginal and European blood) to fear for the preservation of their land rights and culture. The Métis, under the leadership of Louis Riel, opposed the Canadian proposals in an insurgency known as the Red River Rebellion. Riel succeeded in establishing a locally-elected, provisional government in December, 1869. Delegates of this provisional government negotiated terms with the new federal government of Canada, making Manitoba a province of the Dominion of Canada on July 15, 1870.

The new "postage stamp" province (so named because of its square shape and small size) consisted then of 36 000 km2 surrounding the Red River Valley. However, the province did not remain that small; its boundaries were expanded in 1881 and again in 1912.

Bolstered by its central location as the entry point to western Canada, Manitoba grew quickly over the next 50 years. With the help of the railway, thousands of settlers from eastern Canada and from countries all over the world made Manitoba their home.

The People

For many years, most Manitobans were of British origin. But changes in migration and immigration patterns have produced an ethnically diverse population. Manitoba is home to dozens of groups from all over the world, who have enriched the province's economy, culture and society. It boasts a significant Francophone community.

Although Manitoba is one of the smaller provinces in population, it is an important centre for a number of ethnic groups. It is one of the most important centres of Ukrainian culture outside Ukraine and has one of the largest populations of Mennonites in the world. More than 115 000 people are of Amerindian or Métis origin.

About 60 percent of Manitoba's 1 138 934 people live in metropolitan Winnipeg, the provincial capital. The second-largest city is Brandon, in southwestern Manitoba.

The Economy

The early provincial economy was based on agriculture, with manufacturing and transportation later becoming vital sectors. Manitoba now has a very diversified economy, but the services sector is the most important. The central location of the province makes Manitoba an attractive base for a wide variety of services, notably in transportation and wholesale distribution.

Manufacturing is the largest goods-producing economic sector. Food and transportation equipment have long been the leading manufacturing industries. Other important industries are primary and fabricated metals, electrical goods, clothing and textiles, and printing and publishing.

Agriculture is the backbone of rural Manitoba, as well as supporting thousands of jobs in towns and cities. The strong balance in the Manitoba economy is reflected in agriculture, where both crops and livestock are important sectors. Wheat is the most important crop, accounting for about a third of crop production value, followed by barley and canola. The province is the leading Canadian producer of flaxseed, sunflower seeds, buckwheat and field peas.

Mining is another major Manitoba industry, with metals normally accounting for three-quarters of the value of production. The most important metals are nickel (of which the province is a world leader in production), copper and zinc. Manitoba also produces petroleum and a number of industrial minerals. Camping grounds, parks, lakes and rivers as well as historic sites are the principal attractions for Manitoba's visitors. Tourism also relies on dozens of community festivals, a number of which have international reputations.