The river was discovered (1734) by the LA VÉRENDRYE expedition; a French post, Fort Maurepas, was built on the delta that year and Fort Rouge (1738) at the forks. Retired voyageurs and their Métis offspring settled along the river, but systematic farming only began with the SELKIRK colonists (1812). The river was the heart of the RED RIVER COLONY; farms were laid in narrow strips along the riverbanks for irrigation and easy transport. By 1831 enough wheat was being grown to provision part of the HBC operation. The MENNONITES (1870s) were the first to farm the prairie, away from the river. Key settlements on the river were Upper and Lower Fort Garry (see FORT GARRY, LOWER; FORT GARRY, UPPER), Selkirk and, after 1865, the growing town of Winnipeg. The south-north course of the river encouraged commerce with the US, but this attraction lessened with the arrival of the railway from Canada. Works to prevent flooding began as early as 1844, but the major project began after the devastating flood of 1950; it drove 100 000 people from their homes and inundated 15 000 farm buildings and businesses. The Red River Floodway, a wide channel 47 km long, diverts floodwaters around Winnipeg. Other major floods occurred in 1997 and 2009. After the 1997 flood when the flood waters came close to reaching the floodway's capacity, the floodway was expanded to handle a one-in-700-year flood.
The river's name is a translation of the French Rivière Rouge (about 1740), which in turn is a translation of the Cree Miscousipi, "red water river." The river takes its red colour from the clay deep in its trench.
Author JAMES MARSH
Links to Other Sites
Rivers of Canada
This site highlights the political and economic importance of Canada’s major river systems. From the Canadian Geographic Magazine.
Surface Geology of the Red River and Assiniboine Valleys
The text of an 1891 lecture delivered by a Rev. Dr. Bryce on the topic of "Old Lake Agassiz," and the surface geology of the Red River and Assiniboine valleys. From the website for the Manitoba Historical Society.
Top Ten Manitoba Floods Since 1800
Facts about Manitoba's major flood events. From the Government of Manitoba.
The Red River Flood of 1950
Detailed accounts of Red River flooding in the Winnipeg region. From the Manitoba Historical Society.
A description of the Red River and its role in the settlement of the Canadian West. Click on the links at the bottom of the page for more information. From the Canadian Council for Geographic Education.
Red River Floodway
The website for the Red River Floodway, an extensive infrastructure system designed to redirect flood waters around the City of Winnipeg. See a detailed history of the project, dramatic annimations showing the coures of floodwater with and without the floodway, and much more.