Sometimes referred to as the “keystone” province because of its position in the centre of the country, Manitoba is bounded by Nunavut and Hudson Bay to the north, Ontario to the east, the United States to the south and Saskatchewan to the west. Lord Dufferin is often credited with coining the nickname, since during an 1877 speech he said, “Manitoba may be regarded as the keystone of that mighty arch of sister provinces which spans the continent from the Atlantic to the Pacific.” Prior to the Manitoba Act of 1870, the province had its beginnings as the Red River Colony at the juncture of the Red and Assiniboine rivers.

Land and Resources

The regions of Manitoba are derived chiefly from its landforms. Since the final retreat of the continental ice sheet some 8,000 years ago, many physical forces have shaped its surface into four major physiographic regions: the Hudson Bay Lowland, Precambrian Upland, Lake Agassiz Lowland and Western Upland.

Manitoba provides a corridor for the Red, Assiniboine, Saskatchewan, Nelson and Churchill rivers. Three large lakes, Winnipeg, Winnipegosis and Manitoba, cover much of the Lake Agassiz Lowland. They are the remnants of Lake Agassiz, which occupied south–central Manitoba during the last ice age. The prolonged duration of this immense lake accounts for the remarkable flatness of one-fifth of the province, as 18–30 m of sediments were laid on the flat, pre-glacial surface.

The Assiniboine, Valley and Swan rivers carved the southwestern part of the province (Western Upland) into low plateaus of variable relief, which with the Agassiz Lowland provide most of Manitoba's arable land. The Precambrian Upland is composed of hard granite and other crystalline rocks that were subject to severe glacial scouring during the Ice Age; its thin soil, rock outcrop and myriad lakes in rock basins are inhospitable to agriculture, but serve as sites for hydroelectric power, freshwater fishing, metal mines and some forestry.

Flat sedimentary rocks underlie the Hudson Bay Lowland, and the climate is extremely cold. Little development or settlement exists other than at Churchill, Manitoba's only saltwater port. A line drawn from southeastern Manitoba to Flin Flon on the western boundary separates the arable and well-populated section to the south and west from the sparsely inhabited wilderness to the north and east. The latter comprises about two-thirds of the area of the province.


The bedrock underlying the province varies from ancient Precambrian (Archean) to young sedimentary rocks of the Cenozoic era. The former has been identified as 2.7 billion years old, among the oldest on Earth, and forms part of the Canadian Shield, a U-shaped band of Precambrian rocks. It consists principally of granites and granite gneisses in contact with volcanic rocks and ancient, metamorphosed sedimentary rocks. Contact zones often contain valuable minerals, including nickel, lead, zinc, copper, gold and silver ¾ all of which are mined in Manitoba.

Over top of the ancient Precambrian rocks are sedimentary rocks ranging from Palaeozoic to Cenozoic age. The Lake Agassiz Lowland comprises a surface cover of lacustrine sediments superimposed on early Palaeozoic rocks of Ordovician, Silurian and Devonian age, from which are mined construction limestone, gypsum, clay, bentonite, sand and gravel. In favourable structures petroleum has also been recovered from rocks of Mississippian age.

West of the Agassiz Lowland rises an escarpment of Cretaceous rocks, which comprise the surface formations of the Western Upland. For long periods the escarpment was the west bank of glacial Lake Agassiz. East-flowing rivers, such as the Assiniboine, the Valley and the Swan, once carried the meltwaters of retreating glaciers, eroding deep valleys (spillways) that opened into this lake. The former lake bottom and the former valleys of tributary streams were veneered with silts and clays, which today constitute the most fertile land in western Canada.

Both the Western Upland and the bed of Lake Agassiz comprise the finest farmlands of Manitoba. In the southwest the geologic structures of the Williston Basin in North Dakota extend into Manitoba and yield small amounts of petroleum. A vast lowland resting on undisturbed Palaeozoic sediments lies between the Precambrian rocks of northern Manitoba and Hudson Bay. Adverse climate, isolation and poorly drained peat bogs make this region unsuitable for agriculture.


Minor terrain features of Manitoba were formed during the retreat of the Wisconsin Glacier at the close of the last ice age. The rocks of the Shield were severely eroded, leaving a marshy, hummocky surface threaded with a myriad of lakes, streams and bogs. Relief is rolling to hilly.

Much of the Agassiz Lowland, the largest lake-plain in North America (286,000 km2), is suitable for irrigation. Much is so flat that it requires an extensive drainage system. Beach ridges identify its margins. The Western Upland is now covered by glacial drift. Rolling ground moraine, broken in places by hilly end moraines, has a relief generally favourable to highly productive cultivated land.


Manitoba's principal resource is fresh water. Of the 10 provinces it ranks third, with 101,590 km2 in lakes and rivers, comprising one-sixth its total area. The largest lakes are Winnipeg (24,387 km2), Winnipegosis (5,374 km2) and Manitoba (4,624 km2). Other freshwater lakes of more than 400 km2 are Southern Indian, Moose, Cedar, Island, Gods, Cross, Playgreen, Dauphin, Granville, Sipiwesk and Oxford. Since southern Manitoba is lower than the regions to the west, east and south, the major rivers of western Canada flow into it, namely the Saskatchewan, Red, Assiniboine and Winnipeg rivers. Lakes Winnipeg, Manitoba and Winnipegosis receive the combined flow of these drainage basins. In turn the water drains into Hudson Bay via the Nelson River. These together with the Churchill, Hayes and other rivers provide a hydroelectric potential of 8,360 megawatts (MW). Lake Winnipeg is the only body of water used today for commercial transportation, but the Hayes, Nelson, Winnipeg, Red and Assiniboine rivers were important during the fur trade and early settlement eras.

Flooding along the Red River and its principal tributaries, the Souris and Assiniboine, has affected towns as well as large expanses of agricultural land. The flood in April and May 1997 was the most severe since 1852. An estimated 1,000 homes were damaged, and 7,000 military personnel were called in to help with evacuation and relocation. Major flood-control programs have been undertaken, beginning with the Red River Floodway and control structures completed in 1968. A 48 km diversion ditch protects Winnipeg from periodic flooding. Upstream from Portage la Prairie a similar diversion was built between the Assiniboine River and Lake Manitoba. Associated control structures include the Shellmouth Dam and Fairford Dam. Dikes protect towns along the Red River.

Climate, Vegetation and Soil

Situated in the upper middle latitudes (49°N to 60°N) and at the heart of a continental landmass, Manitoba experiences large annual temperature ranges: very cold winters and moderately warm summers. The southward sweep of cold, dry arctic and maritime polar air masses in winter is succeeded by mild, humid maritime tropical air in summer. Nearly two-thirds of the precipitation occurs during the six summer months, the remainder appearing mostly as snow. The frost-free period varies greatly according to local conditions, but as a general rule the average 100-day frost-free line extends from Flin Flon southeast to the corner of the province.

Spring comes first to the Red River Valley, which has a frost-free period of about 120 days, and spreads to the north and west. As a result, the mean number of growing degree days (above 5°C) varies from 2,000 to 3,000 within the limits defined. Snowfall tends to be heaviest in the east and diminishes westward. Around Winnipeg the average snowfall is 126 cm per year. Fortunately, 60 per cent of the annual precipitation accompanies the peak growing period for grains: May, June and July. Late August and early September are dry, favouring the harvest of cereal grains.

Manitoba's natural vegetation ranges from open grassland and aspen in the south to mixed forest in the centre, typical boreal forest in the north and bush-tundra by Hudson Bay. In the south high evaporation rates discourage the growth of trees, which are replaced by prairie. Both tall-grass and mixed-grass species were extensive before settlement. Elm, ash and Manitoba maple grow along stream courses, and oak grows on dry sites. With increases in latitude and reduced evaporation, mixed broadleaf forest replaces parkland.

The northern half of the province is characteristically boreal forest, consisting of white and black spruce, jack pine, larch, aspen and birch.

This pattern continues with decreasing density nearly to the shores of Hudson Bay, where cold summers and short growing periods discourage all but stunted growth of mainly spruce, willow and tundra types of moss, lichens and sedges. Spruce, fir and pine are processed for lumber, and pulp and paper products.

In general the province's soil types correlate closely with the distribution of natural vegetation. The most productive are the black soils (chernozems), corresponding to the once dominant prairie grassland of the Red River Valley and southwestern Manitoba. They differ in texture from fine in the former to medium in the latter. Coarse black soils are found in the old Assiniboine delta and the Souris Valley, the former extending from Portage la Prairie to Brandon. Sand dunes are evident in places.

In areas of transition to mixed forest, degraded black soils and grey-wooded soils are common, notably in the area from Minnedosa to Russell south of Riding Mountain. Large areas of the former Lake Agassiz, where drainage is poor, are termed "degraded renzina" because of high lime accumulation. Soils derived from the hard granites and other rocks of the Shield, typically covered with coniferous forest, are described as grey wooded, podsol and peat; they are rated inferior for agriculture.


Conservation of resources focuses mainly on wildlife. Fur-bearing animals are managed through trapping seasons, licensing of trappers and registered traplines. Hunting is managed through the Wildlife Act, which has gone through a series of revisions since 1870. The Endangered Species Act (1990) enables protection of a wider variety of species.

In 1961, a system of wildlife management areas was established and now consists of 82 areas protecting and managing Manitoba's biodiversity. Manitoba is on the staging route of the North American Flyway and these wildlife areas protect land that many migratory birds use.

Hunting of all species of game is closely managed and special management areas have been established to provide increased protection for some game, nongame and endangered species and habitats. Hunting and fishing are also closely managed in provincial parks and forest reserves.

Forest conservation includes fire protection, insect control, and controlled cutting and reforestation programs. Surveillance of forest land by aircraft and from numerous widely dispersed fire towers significantly reduces the incidence and spread of forest fires. Insects and disease are controlled by aerial spraying, tree removal and regulated burning. Among the more virulent pests are jack pine budworm, spruce budworm, aspen tortrix, forest tent caterpillar and birch beetle.

Each year millions of seedlings, mainly jack pine, red pine and white spruce, are planted for reforestation. To ensure future supplies of commercial timber, operators must make annual cuttings by management units on a sustained yield basis.

Riding Mountain National Park, on the Manitoba Escarpment, was the province's only national park until 1996 when Wapusk National Park near Churchill was established. Manitoba has 86 provincial parks of various types. The natural and recreational parks are the most commonly used and include Whiteshell Provincial Park in the east and Duck Mountain in the west. The province's first wilderness park, Atikaki, opened in 1985. At 8,310 km2 Sand Lakes Wilderness Park is Manitoba's largest park.


Since 1961 Manitoba's population growth has been slow but steady, rising from 921,686 in 1961 to 1, 208,268 in 2011. Manitoba's population is disproportionately distributed between the "North" and the "South." Although the northern region, the border of which runs from the southern shore of Lake Winnipegosis in the west to the southern shore of Lake Winnipeg in the east, comprises 79 per cent of the province’s area, it is home to only 7.3 per cent of the province’s population. Settlement of the north is confined to isolated fishing stations and mining towns, scattered Aboriginal reserves and Churchill, a far north trans-shipment centre on the shores of Hudson Bay.

Urban Centres

When Manitoba joined Confederation, only 4 per cent of its population lived in urban centres. Although it became progressively more urbanized, the province’s population continued to be predominantly rural until 1951. Today, 72 per cent of Manitoba’s population is urban.

Winnipeg, the provincial capital, is Manitoba’s largest city. Metropolitan Winnipeg accounts for 60 per cent of the province’s population.

Following the decision to have the Canadian Pacific Railway cross the Red River at Winnipeg (1881), the city became the economic and transportation hub of western Canada, dubbed the “Chicago of the North” during the boom yearsat the turn of the 20th century. Since the Second World War Winnipeg has experienced modest growth. It is the provincial centre of the arts, education, commerce, finance, transportation and government.

Although Winnipeg's pre-eminence within the province is unchallenged, certain urban centres dominate local trading areas. Brandon, Manitoba's second-largest city, is a distribution and manufacturing centre for the southwest, as is the smaller Portage la Prairie, set in the Portage plains, one of the richest agricultural tracts in the province. In the north, Thompson and Flin Flon service the mining industry.

The cities of Selkirk and Dauphin, and the town of The Pas, were founded as fur-trading forts and today serve as distribution centres for their surrounding communities. Bissett is a small northern mining centre.

Labour Force

In recent years, Manitoba boasts of an unemployment rate lower than the national average. By industry, the largest number of Manitobans are employed in healthcare and social assistance, followed by retail trade, manufacturing, public administration and educational services. Although it is not one of the province’s top employers, proportionally, more Manitobans are employed in agriculture than in the rest of Canada.

Language and Ethnicity

The majority of Manitoba’s population (73 per cent) identifies English as their mother tongue. Other prevalent languages are German, French, Aboriginal languages and Tagalog. The dominant Aboriginal languages spoken in Manitoba are Cree, Ojibway, Oji-Cree and Dene; however, the majority of Manitoba’s Aboriginal population speaks English as their mother tongue. In 1870, the Manitoba Act gave French and English equal status before the courts and in the legislature. In 1890, a provincial act made English the only official language of Manitoba. This act was declared ultra vires in 1979; and since 1984, the provincial government has worked to place French on a more equal status with English in the provision of government services.

In schools the Français program provides instruction entirely in French for Franco-Manitobans and the French-immersion program gives all instruction in French to students whose mother tongue is not French. The 1979 Public Schools Act also provides for “Bilingual Heritage” instruction, which allows schools the choice of offering up to 50 per cent of classes in non-official languages such as Ukrainian and German.

More than 70 per cent of Manitoba’s population is of European ethnic origins. Among this group, those of British origin are the largest, followed by those of Western European, German and French origins. Since the establishment of the New Iceland settlement on the western shore of Lake Winnipeg in 1875, Manitoba has also had a significant population with Icelandic origins. Those of Aboriginal origin, including First Nations, Métis and a small number of Inuit, comprise roughly 17 per cent of the population. The province is also home to a large number of persons of Chinese and Filipino origins, concentrated primarily in Winnipeg.


Manitoba’s population is predominantly Christian, though more than one quarter of the population identifies as having no religious affiliation. The largest Christian denomination is the Roman Catholic Church, followed by the United Church and the Anglican Church. Historically, the province also has small but significant numbers of people belonging to the Mennonite, Ukrainian Catholic and Ukrainian Orthodox churches. Those belonging to non-Christian denominations comprise roughly five per cent of the province’s population.


Aboriginal Settlement

The area that became Manitoba is part of the traditional territory of the Assiniboine and Dakota who lived on the plains in the south, the Cree whose vast territory stretched from the plains to the Hudson Bay Lowlands in the north, and the Dene in the far north. The ancestors of these groups arrived in Manitoba between 10,000 and 13,000 BCE. The Ojibwa, today one of the largest Aboriginal groups in Manitoba alongside the Cree, are much more recent arrivals, having lived in Manitoba for less than 300 years.

Prior to the arrival of Europeans, the Aboriginal peoples in Manitoba relied on hunting moose, caribou, bear and beaver, and to a lesser degree fishing, for subsistence. Those who lived in the Hudson Bay Lowlands also hunted waterfowl such as geese, while the Aboriginal peoples of the plains relied on buffalo as a source of food and material for clothing, shelter and tools. Items made of copper, pipestone, obsidian and shells found at archaeological sites in Manitoba indicate that prior to European contact, the Aboriginal peoples participated in long-distance trade networks that stretched as far as the Pacific Coast in the west and the Gulf of Mexico in the south.


The history of European exploration in Manitoba did not begin in the south, but in the coldest and most remote area ¾ the shores of Hudson Bay. A succession of navigators, including Thomas Button (1612), Jens Munk (1619–20), and Luke Fox and Thomas James (1631), searched the shoreline for the Northwest Passage.

The westward expansion of the fur trade encouraged further exploration in Manitoba. In 1670, two French Canadian explorers interested in the fur trade, Des Groseilliers and Radisson, persuaded Charles II of England to establish the Hudson's Bay Company, granting it a huge territory (part of which is modern Manitoba), to be called Rupert’s Land.

Trading posts were soon established along the shores of Hudson Bay: Fort Hayes (1682) (replaced with Fort York in 1684); and Fort Churchill (1717–18) (replaced with Prince of Wales Fort in 1731). In 1690–92, Henry Kelsey, an HBC employee, penetrated southwest across the prairies to the Saskatchewan River. The La Vérendrye family then travelled west via the Great Lakes, building Fort Maurepas on the Red River (1734), followed by four other posts within the present area of Manitoba. The subsequent invasion of lands granted to the HBC by independent traders stimulated an intense rivalry for pelts, which ended only with amalgamation of the HBC and the North West Company in 1821. Although about 20 forts existed at various times south of lat 54°N, the early explorers left little permanent impression on the landscape.

The arrival of the fur trade, however, had a lasting impact on Aboriginal peoples in Manitoba. Participation in the trade altered their traditional social and economic patterns as well as their territorial distribution. The ability to trade furs meant hunters now killed a surplus of animals rather than simply hunting enough for their own needs. With the introduction of European-made goods, Aboriginal peoples abandoned their traditional tools and clothing, and became reliant on the fur trade to provide the necessities of life. The Cree and the Ojibwa, whose traditional territory had been the north shores of Lakes Huron and Superior, both expanded their territories westward in search of furbearing animals in order to retain their position in the trade. The increased interaction between these two neighbouring groups resulted in the creation of a hybrid Oji-Cree language and culture.

Interaction with European traders produced another more well-known culture: the Métis. Although intermarriage between explorers and fur traders and Aboriginal women had occurred from the first arrival of Europeans in North America, in the early 19th century, the Red River Métis formed a distinctive culture which was a blend of Aboriginal, French, English and Scottish influences. The Métis were renowned buffalo hunters and established a role for themselves as intermediaries in the fur trade, supplying North West Company traders with pemmican.

The arrival of Europeans also introduced diseases such as smallpox that devastated Aboriginal populations. An outbreak of smallpox in 1781 is estimated to have killed nine-tenths of the Aboriginal population around Churchill.

European Settlement

Between 1682 and 1812, European settlement in Manitoba consisted of fur-trading posts established by the Hudson’s Bay Company, the North West Company and numerous independent traders. Agricultural settlement began in 1812 when the HBC granted Lord Selkirk a large tract of land at the junction of the Red and Assiniboine rivers to establish a colony for displaced Scottish and Irish tenant farmers. Over the next 45 years, the Red River Colony at Assiniboia survived hail, frost, floods, grasshoppers and skirmishes with the Nor'Westers and Métis over attempts by the colonists to restrict the sale of pemmican and the hunting of buffalo.

Further settlement was discouraged by the HBC monopoly as well as by the prevailing belief that the region was unsuited for agriculture. In 1857, the British government sponsored an expedition to assess the potential of Rupert's Land for agricultural settlement. That same year the Canadian government, spurred by an expansionist movement in Upper Canada, sent Henry Youle Hind to do a similar assessment. The reports of these two expeditions encouraged settlement in the northwest, describing a fertile crescent of land suitable for agriculture extending northwest from the Red River Valley.

In the 1860s, the Canadian and British governments wanted to expand westward, and began negotiating with the HBC for the transfer of Rupert’s Land to the Dominion government. The negotiations were conducted with no concern for the actual inhabitants of the land, many of whom were Métis and First Nations. The Métis, angered that their rights were being ignored, organized to resist the acquisition of their lands. In 1869, under the leadership of Louis Riel, they seized control of Upper Fort Garry from the HBC and declared a provisional government. After a protracted standoff the Canadian government relented. The Manitoba Act of 1870, which transferred the lands of the northwest to the Dominion of Canada and created the new province of Manitoba, guaranteed Métis title to their lands along the Red and Assiniboine rivers and another 1.4 million acres for their descendants. Despite this apparent victory, Louis Riel and the leaders of the rebellion were forced to flee as fugitives to the United States. The Canadian government failed to uphold the promises made to the Métis, while the settlers arriving in droves from Ontario discriminated against them. Many disaffected Métis moved west to continue practicing their way of life, setting the stage for future conflict. See North-West Rebellion.

In 1871, the Canadian government also began negotiating with the Aboriginal peoples in the Northwest with the aim of extinguishing Aboriginal title to the land to facilitate orderly westward expansion, free from the violence that beset the American west. The resulting series of treaties are collectively known as the “Numbered Treaties.” Manitoba is comprised of parts of Treaties 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 10 which were signed between 1871 and 1906. Much like with the Métis, the Canadian government has failed to uphold the promises and assurances made during the negotiation and signing of these treaties.

In 1870, Manitoba was little larger than the Red River Valley; the remainder of what is now Manitoba was still the Northwest Territories at the time, administered directly by the Dominion government. Settlement of the new province followed the Dominion Lands Survey and the projected route of the national railway. The lands of the original province of Manitoba were granted to settlers in quarter-section parcels for homesteading purposes under the Dominion Lands Act of 1872. (See also Manitoba and Confederation.)

It was soon evident that the diminutive province needed to expand. Settlers were rapidly moving to the northwest and spilling over the established boundaries. Between 1876 and 1881, 40,000 immigrants, mainly British Ontarians, were drawn west by the prospect of profitable wheat farming enhanced by new machinery and milling processes. Mennonites and Icelandic immigrants also arrived in the 1870s, the former settling around Steinbach and Winkler, the latter near Gimli and Hecla. Immigration then slowed until the late 1890s and was mostly limited to small groups of Europeans.

In 1881, after years of political wrangling with the federal government, the boundaries were extended to their present western position, as well as being extended farther east, and to lat 53°N. It was not until 1912, however, that the current boundaries of the province were set.

Between 1897 and 1910, there was great prosperity and development, and settlers from eastern Canada, Britain, the United States and Eastern Europe, especially Ukraine, inundated the province and the neighbouring lands. The latter group, previously considered undesirable, were now actively encouraged to immigrate by minister of the Interior and MP from Brandon, Clifford Sifton. Sifton believed that Eastern European peasants were better suited to settling and farming in the often harsh conditions of Canada’s West than the traditionally preferred immigrants from Britain.


From 1897 to 1910 Manitoba enjoyed unprecedented prosperity. Transportation rates fell and wheat prices rose. Grain farming still predominated, but mixed farms prospered and breeders of quality livestock and plants became famous.

Winnipeg swiftly rose to metropolitan stature, accounting for 50 per cent of the increase in the province’s population. In the premier city of the West, a vigorous business centre developed, radiating from the corner of Portage Avenue and Main Street. Department stores, real estate and insurance companies, legal firms and banks thrived. Abattoirs and flour mills directly serviced the agricultural economy while service industries, railway shops, foundries and food industries also expanded.

Both the CPR and the Canadian Northern Railway (later the Canadian National Railway) built marshalling yards in the city, which became the hub of a vast network of rail lines spreading east, west, north and south. In 1906, hydroelectricity was first generated at Pinawa on the Winnipeg River, and the establishment of Winnipeg Hydro on 28 June 1906 guaranteed the availability of cheap power for domestic and industrial use.

The general prosperity ended with the depression of 1913; freight rates rose, land and wheat prices plummeted and the supply of foreign capital dried up. The opening of the Panama Canal in 1914 ended Winnipeg's transportation supremacy, since goods could move more cheaply between east and west by sea than overland.

During the First World War, recruitment, war industry demands and the cessation of immigration sent wages and prices soaring. By 1918 inflation seemed unchecked and unemployment was prevalent. Real wages dropped, working conditions deteriorated and new radical movements grew among farmers and urban workers, culminating in the Winnipeg General Strike of May 1919. The discontent of the farmers found expression in the Progressive Party, which garnered 65 seats (12 from Manitoba) in the federal election of 1921 and won Manitoba’s provincial election in 1922.

The First World War was a particularly difficult period for the Eastern European immigrants who had come to Manitoba in the previous two decades, particularly the Ukrainians whose homeland was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire with which Canada was at war. Several were interned as enemy aliens while those who were not faced discrimination. During the war, Manitoba also became the first province to grant full women’s suffrage, thanks in part to the pioneering efforts of social reformer Nellie McClung.

An industrial boom followed postwar depression in the late 1920s. By 1928, the value of industrial production exceeded that of agricultural production. Agricultural depression continued and deepened in the 1930s, aggravated by drought, pests and low world wheat prices. As a result the movement of the province’s population from farm to city and town accelerated. During the 1930s, however, industry flagged and unemployment was high in urban centres.

To eliminate the traditional boom/bust pattern, attempts have been made to diversify the economy. The continuing expansion of mining since 1911 has underlined the desirability of broadening the basis of the economy. The demands of the Second World War reinforced Manitoba's dependency on agriculture and primary production, but the postwar boom gave the province the opportunity to capitalize on its established industries and to broaden its economic base.


Hunting and trapping constitute Manitoba's oldest industry; however, today it is one of the province’s smallest. For 200 years the HBC dominated trade in furs across western Canada as far as the Rocky Mountains. Alongside the fur trade, buffalo hunting developed into the first commercial return of the plains. First Nations peoples, Métis and voyageurs traded meat, hides and pemmican, which became the staple food of the region.

Until 1875 the fur trade was the main business of Winnipeg, which was by then an incorporated city of 5,000 and the centre of western commerce. In the city the retail and real estate business grew in response to a new pattern of settlement and the development of agriculture. Red Fife wheat then became the export staple that replaced the beaver pelt.

After the westward extension of the main CPR line in the 1880s, farmers and grain traders could expand into world markets and an east-west flow of trade began, with Winnipeg the "gateway" city. Over the next 20 years, this basically agricultural economy consolidated. Lumbering, necessary to early settlement, declined and flour mills multiplied.

During the boom years, 1897 to 1910, there was great commercial and industrial expansion, particularly in Winnipeg, and agriculture began to diversify. The following decades of depression, drought, labour unrest and two world wars sharpened the realization that the economy must diversify further to survive; and since the Second World War, there has been modest growth and commercial consolidation.


Agriculture plays a prominent role in the provincial economy; however, its contribution to the province’s GDP can vary substantially year-to-year because of factors such as crop production and prices, which are generally beyond the control of farmers.

The variety of crops grown in Manitoba has increased significantly since the start of the 20th century, when the only recorded crops in the province were wheat, oats and barley, as well as flaxseed, rye, dry peas and potatoes. Today, the province also grows small amounts of fruit, mushrooms and lentils; however, they do not make a significant contribution to the overall agricultural production. Despite Manitoba’s cool and arid conditions, crop yields have doubled since the 1960s. Since the 1970s, when canola was developed by researchers at the University of Manitoba, oilseed crops such as canola, sunflowers and soybeans have become more prominent. Today, canola, followed by wheat, hay, soybeans and potatoes are the province’s most valuable crops. Manitoba is the nation’s largest producer of sunflower seeds, buckwheat, dry beans and fava beans, and the second largest producer of potatoes.

Pigs are Manitoba’s most important livestock. Manitoba is Canada’s largest pig producing and exporting province, accounting for 30 per cent of all national pig production. In 2005, the value of pig production comprised roughly 30 per cent of the province’s entire agricultural production. Manitoba is Canada’s third largest beef cattle producer with roughly 12 per cent of the national beef herd. The province also has smaller numbers of dairy, poultry and sheep farms.

Agriculture is never likely to expand beyond the limits imposed by the shortness of the growing season (less than 90 days frost-free) and the poor podsolic soils associated with the Shield. Periodic flooding of the upper Red River (south of Winnipeg) has damaged capital structures and reduced income. In recent decades in Manitoba, as well as in the rest of Canada, there has been a trend towards fewer but larger farms. The Government of Manitoba is actively involved in promoting conservation of the province’s water and soil resources.


Mining and oil production contributed $3 billion to the provincial economy in 2013 or roughly 7 per cent of the province’s GDP. The industry also accounted for 8.7 per cent of the province’s total exports.

Over half of Manitoba’s income from this industry (about 56 per cent) comes from oil production. Oil deposits in Manitoba are located in the southwest corner of the province as well as in the Hudson Bay Lowlands. Oil production is a rapidly growing industry in Manitoba. Between 2004 and 2013, for example, it grew by 381 per cent. This growth has been spurred by a dramatic increase in the number of wells drilled: between January 2006 and December 2012, 2,330 oil wells were put into production.

Metals -- chiefly nickel, copper, gold, zinc and silver -- comprise about 37 per cent of the industry’s income. In 2013, Manitoba produced about 19 per cent of Canada’s zinc, 13 per cent of Canada’s nickel and 100 per cent of Canada’s cesium and lithium, which are necessary for the production of electronics, batteries and jet engines. All metals in Manitoba are found in the vast expanse of Canadian Shield. Manitoba's most productive metal mines are at Thompson, which accounts for all of Manitoba's nickel production. The province's oldest mining area, dating from 1930, is at Flin Flon. Along with its satellite property at Snow Lake, it is a major producer of copper and zinc, and small amounts of gold and silver. Ongoing developments are expected to extend mining operations in the Flin Flon–Snow Lake region to 2030, a full century since mining in the region first began.


Manitoba Hydro, a crown corporation, is the sole authority for the generation, development and distribution of electric power in Manitoba as well as the largest distributor of natural gas in the province. The majority of the electricity produced by Manitoba Hydro (roughly 96 per cent) comes from 15 hydroelectric generating stations on the Nelson, Winnipeg, Saskatchewan, Burntwood and Laurie rivers. The remainder comes from two thermal generating stations fueled by coal and natural gas, four diesel generating stations and purchases from independent wind power farms within the province.

The generation and distribution of power in Manitoba was initially conducted by several small companies and municipal utilities. By the time of the Second World War, these smaller entities had mostly amalgamated into three utilities: the Winnipeg Electric Company, City of Winnipeg Hydro Electric System and the Manitoba Power Commission. Desiring further consolidation, in 1949 the Government of Manitoba created the Manitoba Hydro-Electric Board, which purchased the Winnipeg Electric Company in 1952. In 1961, the government amalgamated the Manitoba Hydro-Electric Board and the Manitoba Power Commission forming Manitoba Hydro. In 2002, Manitoba Hydro purchased Winnipeg Hydro from the city of Winnipeg consolidating all of the generation and distribution of power in the province under a single entity.

Roughly one third of Manitoba Hydro’s revenue comes from the export of surplus electricity. The majority of Manitoba Hydro’s electricity exports are to the United States where the peak period of electricity consumption (summer) corresponds with Manitoba’s lowest period of consumption. The revenue generated from extra-provincial sales of surplus electricity allows Manitobans to enjoy electricity rates, which are among the lowest in North America.


Forestry is Manitoba’s fifth largest manufacturing sector. The most productive forestlands extend north of the agricultural zone.

Of the total productive forestland of about 152,000 km2, 94 per cent is owned by the provincial government. From 1870 to 1930 the federal government controlled lands and forests; after the transfer of natural resources in 1930, the province assumed full responsibility

In order of decreasing volume, the most common commercial tree species are black spruce, jack pine, trembling aspen, white spruce, balsam poplar and white birch. Other species common to Manitoba include balsam fir, larch, cedar, bur oak, white elm, green ash, Manitoba maple, and red and white pine.


The commercial inland fishery has been active in Manitoba for over 100 years. Water covers nearly 16 per cent of Manitoba, of which an estimated 57,000 km2 is commercially fished. Lake Winnipeg, the province’s largest commercial fishery, and Lake Manitoba account for the majority of production. Commercial catch is delivered to lakeside receiving stations located throughout the province and is then transported to the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation's central processing plant in Winnipeg. All the commercial catch is processed at this plant.

Thirteen commercial species include whitefish, pike, walleye and sauger. Sauger, pike, walleye, trout and catfish are principal sport fish. The Manitoba Department of Natural Resources maintains hatcheries for pickerel, whitefish and trout.


Manufacturing, which accounts for approximately 10 per cent of the province's GDP and about 10 per cent of jobs, is the largest sector in Manitoba's economy. Manufactured goods in Manitoba are generally for export. These products include: industrial and consumer goods; aerospace products; transit and intercity buses; meat; grain; oilseed-based food products; wood products; and agricultural machinery.

There are also the traditional industries: meatpacking, flour milling, petroleum refining, vegetable processing, lumber, pulp and paper, printing and clothing.


Winnipeg is located in the heart of Canada and at the apex of the western population-transportation triangle. This city has historically been a vital link in all forms of east–west transportation.

The York Boats of the fur trade and the Red River carts of early settlers gave way first to steamboats on the Red River, then to the great railways of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Subsequently, Winnipeg provided facilities for servicing all land and air carriers connecting east and west. Today, rail and road join the principal mining centres of northern Manitoba. During the long, cold winter, a complex system of interconnected lakes creates a network of winter roads. Major northern centres are linked to the south via trunk highways.

Since 1926, bush flying has made remote communities accessible; several small carriers serve the majority of northern communities. In 1928, the Stevenson Aerodrome opened at an airfield in St. James. By 1950, Stevenson Field was the fourth largest civil airport handling more military traffic than any other airport in Canada. Upgrades were also made beginning in 1950s to transform the facility into a modern passenger-oriented terminal. Stevenson Field was renamed Winnipeg International Airport (YWG) in 1958. In 1997, ownership of the airport was transferred from Transport Canada to the Winnipeg Airports Authority Inc. In 2006, the facility, Canada’s longest serving international airport, was renamed once again after aviation pioneer James Armstrong Richardson.

Transcontinental routes of Air Canada and Canadian Airlines International pass through Winnipeg. Greyhound Air began flying between Ottawa and Vancouver with a stop in Winnipeg in the summer of 1996. NWT Air connects Winnipeg with Yellowknife, Northwest Territories and Rankin Inlet, Nunavut. Canadian Airlines International serves northern Manitoba with its partner CALM Air. Perimeter Airlines also serves northern points.

As Canada's principal midcontinent rail centre, both CNR and CPR have extensive maintenance facilities and marshalling yards in and around Winnipeg. The CNR owns Symington Yards, one of the largest and most modern marshalling yards in the world. At Transcona, it maintains repair and servicing shops for rolling stock and locomotives, and Gimli has a national employee-training centre. In addition to repair shops and marshalling yards, the CPR has a large piggyback terminal.

In 1929, the Hudson Bay Railway, now part of the CNR system, was completed to the port of Churchill. Formerly an army base, Churchill is also a research centre and a supply base for eastern arctic communities.

Government and Politics

Provincial Government

On 15 March 1871 the legislature of Manitoba met for the first time. It consisted of an elected legislative assembly with members from 12 English and 12 French electoral districts, an appointed legislative council and an appointed executive council who advised the government head, Lieutenant Governor Adams G. Archibald. When the assembly prorogued systems of courts, education and statutory law had been established, based on British, Ontarian and Nova Scotian models. The legislative council was abolished five years later.

Since 1871, the province has moved from communal representation to representation by population and from nonpartisan to party political government. Today, the lieutenant governor is still the formal head of the provincial legislature and represents the Crown in Manitoba. The premier leads the government. The premier who chooses a cabinet, whose members are sworn in as ministers of the Crown. Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition is customarily headed by the leader of the party winning the second-largest number of seats in a given election. The unicameral legislative assembly, consisting of 57 elected members, passes laws. See Manitoba Premiers: Table; Manitoba Lieutenant-Governors: Table.

While Manitoba's system of responsible government matured during the 1870s, communal loyalties rather than party politics dominated public representation. Throughout the 1880s, however, a strong Liberal opposition to John Norquay’s non-partisan government developed under Thomas Greenway. After the election of 1888, Greenway's Liberals formed Manitoba's first declared partisan government until defeated in 1899 (on issues of extravagance and a weak railway policy) by an invigorated Conservative Party under Hugh John Macdonald. When Macdonald resigned in 1900, hoping to return to federal politics, R.P. Roblin became premier, a position he held until 1915, when a scandal over the contracting of the new legislative buildings brought down the government in its fifth term.

In 1920, against the incumbent Liberal government of T.C. Norris, the United Farmers of Manitoba first entered provincial politics and sent 12 members to the legislative assembly, heralding a new era of nonpartisan politics. In the election of 1922, the UFM won a modest majority and formed the new government.

The farmers chose John Bracken as their leader, and he remained premier until 1943 despite the UFM withdrawal from politics in 1928. Bracken then formed a coalition party, the Liberal-Progressives, which won a majority in the assembly in 1932, but only gained a plurality in the 1936 election, surviving with Social Credit support. He continued as premier in 1940 over a wartime government of Conservative, Liberal-Progressive, CCF and Social Credit members.

Bracken became leader of the federal Conservatives in 1943 and was replaced by Stuart S. Garson. In 1945 the CCF left the coalition, the Conservatives left it in 1950 and the Social Credit Party simply faded. From 1948, Premier Douglas Campbell led the coalition, although after 1950, it was predominantly a Liberal government.

From 1958 the Conservatives under Duff Roblin governed the province until Edward Schreyer’s NDP took over in 1969 with a bare majority. His government survived two terms; during its years in office, many social reforms were introduced and government activity in the private sector was expanded.

Between 1970 and 1990, there was a dramatic realignment of provincial politics, beginning with the virtual disappearance of the provincial Liberal Party and the rise to power of the New Democratic Party under Edward Schreyer and Howard Pawley. In 1977, Sterling Lyon led the Conservative Party to victory on a platform of reducing the provincial debt and returning to free enterprise, but his government lasted only one term. In 1981, the NDP returned to power under Pawley. They were re-elected in 1985. The Lyon government, in fact, was the only one-term government in Manitoba's history to that time, as the political tradition of the province has been notable for its long-term stability, particularly during the era of the UFM and later coalition governments. Typical of the social democratic initiatives of the NDP was the introduction of a government-run automobile insurance plan and the 1987 plan to purchase Inter-City Gas Co. The government's attempt to increase bilingual services within the province aroused old passions, however, and was abandoned.

Pawley's NDP were ousted in 1988 when Gary Filmon led the Conservatives to an upset minority victory. Filmon's government was precarious, and the Liberal opposition was extremely vocal in its opposition to the Meech Lake Accord (see also Meech Lake Accord: Document). Debate over the Accord dominated the provincial agenda and was finally killed by procedural tactics led by NDP Cree MLA Elijah Harper. Filmon went to the polls immediately following the death of the Accord in 1990 and eked out a slim majority victory. This majority enabled Filmon to finally dictate the legislative agenda, and he began concentrating his government's efforts at bringing the province's rising financial debt under control. His government's success in this endeavour won Filmon an increased majority in April 1995.

Beginning with the election of Gary Doer in 1999, the NDP dominated provincial politics until 2016. In 2009, Doer was nominated to serve as ambassador to the United States and selected one of his MLAs, Greg Selinger, to replace him. In the 2011 election, Selinger returned with a majority government.

Selinger’s leadership was challenged in the fall of 2014 when five cabinet members left their posts, sparking an NDP leadership race in the winter of 2015. While Selinger survived the leadership race, he was ousted as premier about a year later. In April 2016, Manitobans elected Progressive Conservative leader Brian Pallister to a majority government, ending nearly 17 years of NDP rule.


The judiciary consists of the superior courts, where judges are federally appointed, and many lesser courts that are presided over by provincial judges. The RCMP is contracted to provide provincial police services and municipal services in some centres; provincial law requires cities and towns to employ enough police to maintain law and order.

Federal Representation

Manitoba is federally represented by 14 MPs and three senators.

Public Finance

The provincial government has three sources of revenue: taxation, “other revenue” and the federal government. Taxes are levied against personal income, corporate income as well as fuel, land transfers, health, education and tobacco among other sources. Examples of revenue classified as “other” include fees from education and advanced learning or royalties and fees from mineral resources.

The province’s major expenditures include health, education as well as community, economic and resource development. The latter category includes Aboriginal and Northern Affairs as well as Conservation and Housing.

Municipal Government

Local government is provided by a system of municipalities. There are 10 cities, 75 Indian Reserves, four Indian Settlements, 117 rural municipalities, 50 towns and 19 villages. In 2015, municipalities with populations of less than 1,000 will undergo a process of amalgamation.

Rural municipalities range in size from four to 22 townships, many of which contain unincorporated towns and villages. Locally elected councils are responsible for maintaining services and administering bylaws. During the Depression, the provincial government created local government districts (LDGs) in order to administer rural municipalities that had gone bankrupt. In 1987, LDGs became a category to designate areas of the province with inhabitants but no specific municipal organization. Manitoba has two LDGs, each administered by an appointed administrator and an elected advisory council: Mystery Lake and Pinawa.

The Department of Northern Affairs has jurisdiction over remote areas in northern Manitoba and uses the community council as an advisory body. Community councils are elected bodies, mostly in Métis settlements, through which the government makes grants. Each has a local government "coordinator" to represent the government.


Manitoba Health provides medical care for all its citizens. Pharmacare is a drug benefit program that supplements the cost of prescription drugs for eligible residents.

The departments of Health and Community Services and Corrections provide services in public and mental health, social services, probations and corrections. The government is responsible for provincial correction and detention facilities and through the Alcoholism Foundation administers drug and alcohol rehabilitation facilities.

Winnipeg is an important centre for medical research; its Health Sciences Centre includes Manitoba's chief referral hospitals and a number of specialist institutions, among them the Children's Centre and the Manitoba Cancer Treatment and Research Foundation.


The denominational school system was guaranteed by the Manitoba Act of 1870 and established by the provincial School Act of 1871. Under these provisions, local schools, Protestant or Roman Catholic, could be established through local initiative and administered by local trustees under the superintendence of the Protestant or Roman Catholic section of a provincial board of education. The board was independent of the government but received grants from it, which were divided among the schools. Until 1875 the grants were equal; disparity in the population and the ensuing Protestant attack on dualism in 1876 made it necessary to divide the grants on the basis of enrolment in each section.

After 1876 the British (predominantly Protestant) and French (Roman Catholic) coexisted peacefully and separately, until agitation against the perceived growing political power of the Catholic clergy spread west from Québec in 1889. A popular movement to abolish the dual system and the official use of French culminated in 1890 in the passage of two provincial bills. English became the only official language and the Public Schools Act was altered. Roman Catholics could have private schools supported by gifts and fees, but a new department of education, over local boards of trustees, would administer nondenominational schools.

French Catholic objections to violations of their constitutional rights were ignored by the Protestant Ontarian majority, who saw a national school system as the crucible wherein an essentially British Manitoba would be formed. Intervention by the courts and the federal government eventually produced the Laurier-Greenway Compromise (1897), which stipulated that a Roman Catholic Teacher would be hired if there were 40 Roman-Catholic children in an urban school or 10 students in a rural school. Where at least 10 pupils spoke a language other than English, instruction would be given in that language. School attendance was not compulsory since Catholics were still outside the provincial system.

After 20 years of decreasing standards and linguistic chaos, the Public Schools Act was amended in 1916; the bilingual clause was removed and the new School Attendance Act made schooling compulsory for Catholics and Protestants alike, whether publicly or privately educated.

Since 1970, Franco-Manitobans can receive instruction entirely in French through the Français program. Non-French students can also receive a French language education in French immersion. Both English- and French-medium schools are organized in 48 school divisions, each administered by an elected school board, under the Department of Education.

In order to meet Manitoba's constitutional obligations as well as the linguistic and cultural needs of the Franco-Manitoban community, a new Francophone School Division was established and was in place for the 1994–95 school year.

There are 14 school districts, of which six are financed mainly from sources other than provincial grants and taxes; these include private schools sponsored by church organizations and by the federal government.

Assiniboine Community College operates in and outside Brandon and is responsible for all community college agricultural training in the province. Keewatin College offers certificate courses of one year or less, and diploma courses, mostly in northern Manitoba. Red River College, located in Winnipeg, provides courses including applied arts, business administration, health services, industrial arts and technology.

In 1877, St Boniface (French, Roman Catholic), St John's (Anglican) and Manitoba (Presbyterian) colleges united as University of Manitoba. Later, other colleges joined them, but in 1967 a realignment resulted in three distinct universities: the University of Manitoba, the University of Winnipeg and Brandon University. The University of Manitoba is one of the largest universities in Canada, with four affiliated colleges that provide instruction in French: St John's and St Paul's (Roman Catholic); St Andrew's (Ukrainian Orthodox); and St Boniface, which is the only college providing instruction entirely in French. Manitoba is also home to the Canadian Mennonite University, which opened its doors in 1999 following the amalgamation of several Mennonite colleges.

Cultural Life

Manitoba's cultural activities and historical institutions reflect the varied ethnic groups that make up the province. The Department of Culture, Heritage and Citizenship, at the provincial level, subsidizes a wide range of cultural activities. Many annual festivals celebrate ethnic customs and history, for example: the Icelandic Festival at Gimli; the Winnipeg Folk Festival, National Ukrainian Festival at Dauphin; Opaskwayak Indian Days and the Northern Manitoba Trappers' Festival at The Pas; Pioneer Days at Steinbach; Fête de la St-Jean-Baptiste at La Broquerie; the midwinter Festival du voyageur in St Boniface; and Folklorama sponsored by the Community Folk Art Council in Winnipeg.

Manitoba's historic past is preserved by the Manitoba Museum (Winnipeg), considered one of the finest interpretive museums in Canada; by the Living Prairie Museum, a 12 ha natural reserve that preserves prairie plants and wildlife; by Le Musée de St. Boniface, rich in artifacts from the Red River colony; and the Provincial Archives and Hudson's Bay Company Archives, all located in Winnipeg. Also in Winnipeg is the Planetarium and Assiniboine Park Zoo, which has a collection of more than 1,000 animals. In 2014, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) opened its doors to visitors as the world’s first museum dedicated to the study and celebration of human rights.

The Arts

The Manitoba Arts Council promotes the study, enjoyment, production and performance of works in the arts. It assists organizations involved in cultural development; offers grants, scholarships and loans to Manitobans for study and research; and makes awards to individuals. The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, Le Cercle Molière, Manitoba Opera Association, School of Contemporary Dancers and Rainbow Stage all contribute to Winnipeg's position as a national centre of the performing arts.

Many famous Canadian musicians and musical groups hail from Manitoba, including bands The Guess Who, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Crash Test Dummies, Harlequin, Streetheart, the Watchmen and the Weakerthans. Notable Manitoba musicians include Randy Bachman, Burton Cummings, Chantal Kreviazuk, jazz musicians Marilyn Lerner and Ron Paley, and children’s singer Fred Penner.

Among well-known and respected Manitoban writers are novelists Margaret Laurence, Gabrielle Roy, Miriam Toews, Sandra Birdsell, Adele Wiseman and Guy Gavriel Kay. In addition, essayist, historian and poet George Woodcock, and popular historian Barry Broadfoot are also from Manitoba. The Winnipeg Art Gallery, in addition to traditional and contemporary works, houses the largest collection of contemporary Inuit art in the world.


Manitoba’s daily newspapers include: the Winnipeg Free Press, the Winnipeg Sun, the Brandon Sun, and the Portage la Prairie Daily Graphic. The Flin Flon Reminder is published three times a week and has been a trusted local news provider since 1946. The French-language weekly La Liberté, is published in St Boniface and celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2013.

Historic Sites

The HBC's Lower Fort Garry is a hallmark historic site that showcases the settlement of the West. Situated on the Red River 32 km northeast of Winnipeg, this oldest intact stone fort in western Canada was built in 1832 and preserves much of the atmosphere of the Red River Colony. The Forks, a waterfront redevelopment and national historic site, is the birthplace of the Winnipeg. Located at the junction of the Red and Assiniboine rivers, this site was an early Aboriginal settlement and has been used as a trade and meeting place for over 6,000 years. Today, it is again a place where recreational, cultural, commercial and historical activities bring people together. Upper Fort Garry Gate, the only remnant of another HBC fort, is nearby.

Among a number of historic houses is Riel House, home of the Riel family. York Factory, located at the mouth of the Nelson River and dating from 1682, was a transhipment point for furs. The partially restored Prince of Wales Fort (1731–82) at the mouth of the Churchill River was built by the HBC and destroyed by the French. Other points of historical significance are St Boniface Basilica, the oldest cathedral in western Canada and the site of Louis Riel’s grave; Macdonald House, home of Sir H. J. Macdonald; Fort Douglas; Ross House; and Seven Oaks House.