Manitoba Expands Northward: A Special Edition of Manitoba History

By Mochoruk, Jim | Manitoba History, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview

Manitoba Expands Northward: A Special Edition of Manitoba History


Mochoruk, Jim, Manitoba History


The fifteenth of May 2012 marks the one-hundredth anniversary of Manitoba's dramatic expansion northwards to the shores of Hudson Bay and the 60th parallel. Understandably, this expansion was cause for much congratulation and excitement in the Manitoba of 1912 as it represented the culmination of a battle waged by local political leaders for many years and opened up whole new vistas for provincial economic development. "New Manitoba," as it was then called, was to be the province's new frontier, the place where the old prairie province would break the shackles of wheat monoculture and enter the brave new world of 20th-century natural resource development. Of course, as matters turned out, the addition of all this new territory was not entirely without a downside--either for the people of "southern" Manitoba or for the people who already lived in the north. However, in 1912 there were few people who harboured any serious reservations about provincial expansion or the incredible benefits this territory would bring to the people of the province. Perhaps even more to the point is this: the addition of New Manitoba changed the face and the future of Manitoba irrevocably. Thus, it is entirely appropriate that Manitoba History should issue a special "northern edition" to commemorate this centennial.

The readers of this special edition will be treated to what I think is a particularly interesting assortment of contributions related to the history of the provincial north. In the Gazette section, we have three pieces. The first is Rosemary Malaher's contribution on the diaries of an obscure, but intriguing, trapper who lived and worked out of his base at "Mile 445" of the Hudson Bay Railway from the 1920s through the 1940s. Next there is a fascinating analysis by Jim Burns and Gordon Goldsborough of the 1912 plan for the model northern town, Roblin City--the town that never got built. Finally, from Scott Stephen we have a look at the eighteenth-century construction works of James Isham at Prince of Wales Fort at the mouth of the Churchill River and York Factory at the mouth of the Hayes River. In regards to full-length articles Will Steinburg provides a compelling examination of an important, but vastly understudied mining community in northern Manitoba--Herb Lake--between 1914 and 1950; an examination which poses and answers important questions about the nature of northern development and the human impact of changing modes of economic production. Sarah Ramsden's contribution takes us into the 1970s with its theoretically sophisticated analysis of the attempts of the provincial government to integrate aboriginals into the workforce and community of the newly created mining town of Leaf Rapids. Finally, Jennifer Marchant and Tom Mitchell provide the readers of Manitoba History with a detailed analysis of the successful struggle to establish, retain, and improve post-secondary educational opportunities for northerners through Inter-Universities North throughout the 1970s.

Before turning to these pieces, however, it is useful to consider exactly how Manitoba came into possession of its new hinterland. It is worthy of note that if Louis Riel had had his druthers in 1869-1870, Manitoba--or rather the super province of Assiniboia he was then proposing--would have come into Confederation consisting of all the land of "Rupert's Land and the North-West," roughly the region stretching from Lake Superior to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. (1) Moreover, Riel and his principal advisors wanted control over this vast region's public lands and natural resources to be vested in the provincial government, as was the case in all other Canadian provinces. (2) This, however, was not to be. The Dominion government, led by Sir John A. Macdonald, admitted Manitoba to Confederation as the rather minuscule "Postage Stamp Province"--barely 100 miles square, (3) and, adding insult to injury, did not allow even this tiny jurisdiction to control its public lands, reserving them instead "for the purposes of the Dominion. …

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