Manitoba and Confederation

​Manitoba became Canada's fifth province when it entered Confederation in 1870, after a massive land transfer, a violent rebellion and a famous execution.

Manitoba became Canada's fifth province when it entered Confederation in 1870, after a massive land transfer, a violent resistance and a famous execution.

Hudson's Bay Company

When Confederation took place in 1867, the new country of Canada reached only from the Atlantic to the Great Lakes. West of Ontario, the territory now called Manitoba was split between First Nations, European settlers, the Hudson’s Bay Company and a Métis population. The Assiniboine, Dakota, Cree and the Dene peoples had occupied the land for 12,000 to 15,000 years. The Ojibwa arrived about 300 years ago. Métis are people of mixed European and Indigenous ancestry.

Beginning in 1670, the Hudson’s Bay Company controlled the vast territory of Rupert's Land, which included all of modern-day Manitoba. The company tried to limit white settlement to maintain its fur trade monopoly, but after 1812, European migrants began arriving in earnest. Many settled in land granted by the British Crown to Lord Selkirk. It became known as the Red River Colony at what is now Winnipeg.

Transfer of Rupert's Land

The United States purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867, prompting fears in the Canadian and British governments that an expansionist US would try to take control of all the territory west and north of the Dominion of Canada including Rupert's Land.

Determined that Rupert's Land should be Canadian, the government of Prime Minister John A. Macdonald, with help from Britain, purchased the territory from the Hudson's Bay Company. No residents of the area — including the First Nations, Métis and Europeans in Manitoba — were consulted about the transfer to Canada.

Red River Resistance

Although many Aboriginal people opposed the transfer, the stiffest resistance came from the Métis of the Red River Colony, who feared the loss of their land, their Roman Catholic religion, and their culture under Canadian control. In 1869, under Louis Riel, the Métis declared their own provisional government, which announced that it would negotiate the colony's terms of entry into Confederation. A group of Protestants from Ontario, including Thomas Scott, disagreed with Riel’s group. Scott was court-martialed by Riel and executed by firing squad.

After a long standoff and lengthy negotiations in Ottawa, the resistance came to an end and the Red River colonists agreed to enter Confederation. The Manitoba Act of 1870 gave the Dominion of Canada the lands it wanted, created Manitoba as a province, and granted the Métis title to their lands on the Assiniboine and Red Rivers.

Canada carved off most of modern-day Manitoba into the North-West Territories, leaving only a “postage stamp-sized” province around the Red River Valley. Riel fled as British and Canadian troops arrived in the area.

Ontario Immigration

Canada mismanaged its promise to guarantee the Métis rights to their land. After Manitoba entered Confederation, an influx of settlers from Ontario threatened to overwhelm the previous inhabitants. Meanwhile, the Canadian government signed a series of Numbered Treaties with First Nations in Manitoba and other parts of the West, separately spelling out their constitutional relationship to the Crown.

Some 40,000 migrants from Ontario poured into Manitoba between 1876 and 1881, pushing north past established boundaries and greatly expanding the new province. Settlers from Iceland, as well as Mennonite migrants and others populated the area. The federal government set Manitoba's existing western and eastern boundaries in 1881, and the final northern boundary in 1912.

Fathers of Confederation

The “Fathers of Confederation" are the men who attended one or more of the conferences at Charlottetown, Québec and London. For Manitoba, that means William McDougall, an Ontario journalist and politician who Canada named the first lieutenant-governor of the Northwest Territories. Although considered a founder of Manitoba, Louis Riel is not officially recognized as a Father of Confederation, however a debate exists today about whether he should be.

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