Monday, June 11, 2012

Epistle to Dumb Yanks - Part V - Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta

This entry is the fifth part of a series. To read the whole series (recommended), click: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part VI, Part VII; I also recommend reading them in chronological order. 
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Traveling from the East, the first of the Prairie Provinces is Manitoba.  You literally can travel from the East by water, provided you are willing to endure a few portages along the way. Into the "bottom" east corner of Lake Winnipeg flows a river that empties north-west from Lake of the Woods, which, in turn collects water from a large part of North West Ontario and Northern Minnesota.

As with so many things related to Canada's waterways, this one too was used by French explorers and fur-traders in the 1600s. Both this route and the Red River were important transportation routes for furs collected in trade with Indians, or by the  Indians themselves.

Furs destined for trade with the Hudson's Bay Company went north, into Lake Winnipeg, up to the north end of that massive lake, and into rivers that flowed into Hudson Bay, such as the Nelson, Hayes and Severn Rivers.

It was via Lake of the Woods and its rivers that the French began competing with the English for favourable trade with the Indians, introducing trade goods, such as alcohol, into the array of much sought goods of European manufacture, which, by the way, worked very well with the Indians, and against the English, as the Indians refused to trade their furs unless they were offered alcohol.  But I digress.

Back to the point, the earliest European settlements in what is now Manitoba were fur trading establishments. Fort Garry, a Hudson's Bay Company trading post, was built on the "Forks", as they now call it, where the Assiniboine River flows into the Red River and which is in the centre of the modern city of Winnipeg.

Winnipeg is now the seventh largest city in Canada (pop. 663,617) It is perhaps a wee bit less than a hundred miles from the American border, but at the time of its earliest settlement, the location of the border had not even been settled or even entertained. Human activity and settlement was concentrated up and down the length of the Red River, and if one were to look at the area through the eyes of its inhabitants at the time, the Metis (mixed blood people of French and Indian origin), the notion of drawing a border through the centre of it may have seemed absurd.

Just a bit north of Winnipeg is the City of Selkirk, which is the location of the first deliberately formed British agricultural settlement in Western Canada, organized by this dude.  The original Selkirk Settlement was destroyed by flooding, a fate that befell earlier French fur trading forts as well.

Long story short, both French and British interests stomped all over this area, long before (as early as 1738, in fact) the international border was established, and left population centres to tell the tale.  And once again, it was waterways, one with an especially flat and fertile valley, and the fur trade that enticed and enabled European settlement.

Next to Manitoba is Saskatchewan.  As Canadian cities go, Saskatchewan is a little brother to Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia.  Saskatchewan's largest city is Saskatoon, (pop. 222,189). Although Regina is the capital, it is smaller (pop.193,100).

Saskatoon is located on the shores of the South Saskatchewan River.  The headwaters of this river are in the Rocky Mountains and they flow, ultimately, into Lake Winnipeg, and from there to Hudson's Bay.

Again, there is both a waterway and a fur trade connection, although, it is generally recognized that Saskatoon began its settled life as a temperance colony - tea-totalers - no rum or whiskey trade there. Saskatoon is roughly 610 miles from the American border, straight south.

The rivers all run in the general west-east direction, with perhaps a bit of a northward tilt for some of them.  The waters of almost all Saskatchewan's rivers flow eventually into Hudson Bay and they begin in Alberta.

Regina, the capital, on the other hand, is much closer to the American border.  It's earliest history was as a buffalo jump, which gave it it's earliest name - "Pile-o-Bones".  It was the seat of the territorial, and later, provincial, government from 1882 onward. (A previous capital had been at the Battlefords, on the North Saskatchewan River, which had historical connections to the fur trade.)  Regina, Latin for Queen, was named after Queen Victoria. (There is a Victoria street, avenue, park or bridge in nearly every town and city in this region, more proof of the loyalties of the area's early settlers.)

Regina is on the route established by the Canadian Pacific Railroad, in fact, it is the largest community on the Saskatchewan part of that rail road. This railroad, too, plays a major role in the settlement of the prairies. The railroad was built for several reasons,  but two stand out, in particular, in support of the theme of this blog entry:
  • One was to fulfill a promise to the British colony of British Columbia, which had indicated it would join the Canadian federation if a railroad was built to join it to the heartland of Upper and Lower Canada, (Ontario and Quebec, or Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal).
  • The other was to fill the prairies with immigrants, farmers especially, so the Americans would not be able to swallow it up first.
Thanks to the existence of the CPR running straight across the southern region of the North-Western Territory, the task of bringing in homesteaders was fairly easily accomplished.

(I might as well insert that bit about Sitting Bull right here. Sitting Bull, as you may recall, was one of the American Indian chiefs who led his warriors on a fruitless battle to protect their homeland from the advancing Yanks as the Americans rushed West to fill up the plains with settlers.

Movies used to be made about this era in history, movies that are now considered politically incorrect, but are nonetheless based on actual events. "Custer's Last Stand" is another story from the same era, now near mythic since the Indians actually won that one.

As this was happening, the Canadian government rushed to pacify Indians on this side of the border with treaties. The British government had decreed that treaties with the Indians, in which their lands would be ceded, had to be made before settlement of the Canadian prairies could take place. They did not want to be faced with an Indian war at the same time as they were trying to fill the West.


This is the same area that had been granted to the Company of Adventurers Trading into Hudson's Bay or the Hudson's Bay Company, for short. The fur trade had declined precipitously in the early part of the 1800s and the land belonging to the Hudson's Bay Company had been sold to Canada.  But still being a British colony, Britain called the shots and decreed that treaties with the Indians had to be negotiated.  So, during the 1870s, treaties were negotiated and Sitting Bull and his people soon learned that there was line which, when crossed, landed them in safe territory. Yankee soldiers would not cross it.  Sitting Bull called that line, the Medicine Line, otherwise known as the 49th parallel.)

In other words, the population pattern of southern Saskatchewan was created with a view to keeping the Yanks at bay, not the other way around. (See Canada Before 1891)

Not only that, but the earliest settlements in Saskatchewan are much further North. The Village of Cumberland House is the oldest continuously occupied community in Saskatchewan. It is situated on the Saskatchewan River, east of the City of Prince Albert and is the strategically sited locale of an old fur trade post.

The City of Prince Albert, itself, is older than either Saskatoon or Regina. There is fur trading, agriculture and missionary work in its early years, which were the 1700s and early 1800s, whereas Saskatoon's establishment is generally traced to the tea-totalling Barr Colonists who located there in 1882. Regina's beginning is normally said to be 1882, as well.  With the exception of Regina, none of these early settlements are anywhere close to the American border.

Now to Alberta.

As with Saskatchewan, the earliest settlements are along the northern branch of the Saskatchewan River.  The City of Edmonton (pop.812,201) grew from a Hudson's Bay Company fur trade post. For many years, Edmonton was considered the "Gateway to the North", a jumping off point to Canada's North West Territories.  In other words, the orientation of its commerce was North and East. No looking to the Yanks, who were 320 miles to the south, for protection.

Calgary (pop.1,096,833), on the other hand, was propelled into the economic stratosphere only after oil was discovered in the early part of the 20th century and it became the locale of the corporate headquarters of numerous companies involved in the oil industry. Until then, the economy of Calgary was primarily centred on cattle ranching, and even earlier, the fur trade.

There was a North West Mounted Police presence in the early history of the city. Their mission was to stop the flow of whiskey from American whiskey traders.  The same is true of south-west Saskatchewan.

Calgary is now Alberta's largest city (and Canada's 4th largest) BECAUSE OF OIL!!!! Calgary is probably the most American-friendly of Canadian cities, and that's likely because Americans were heavily involved in the early years of the development of Alberta's oil resources.  But again, it has no need to cling to the American border.

Next up, British Columbia.

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2 Comments:

Blogger Dave in Pa. said...

What's with this "Dumb Yank" name-calling??? Any reasonably informed Yank knows Canada is one of the great democratic nations of the world, with a magnificent, rich history.

We'd even let Canadian provinces join the Union, if they wanted. (Except for Quebec. Entitled-to-their-entitlements Euro-wannabe leftard weenies not welcome. We've got enough of them already in our blue states.)

Think about that! A United States of North America, from Ellesmere Island to the Gulf of Mexico; from Alaska to Newfoundland! (Again, except for the People's Republic of Quebec)

June 12, 2012 5:07 pm  
Blogger Louise said...

Allow me to refer you to Part 1, wherein I explain who the dumb yanks are. They are anything but "reasonably informed".

They should follow Mark Twain's advice and keep their mouths shut.

Oh. And when Western Canada becomes a country in it's own right, we'd let you join us, too.

June 12, 2012 9:12 pm  

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