Thursday, July 16, 2020

How a city becomes a city in the times of the MidWest (Winnipeg)

I’ll eventually be writing a sequel to my recent release, Torn in Toronto. It will be set in Winnipeg which has a strange and fascinating history. It had its peak of commercial importance around 1920 but it has continued to grow since then. Winnipeg is the perfect setting for this next book in the series the completion of the first direct rail link to eastern Canada in 1881 allowed for mass immigration to the city so there was a boom in population growth and urban development. I love history and the development of a “young” city like this is truly fascinating to me but I will try not to drone on too much ;-) If you don’t love history as much as I do, feel free to skip down to the “Conclusion.”
Royal Tour of Canada 1939

A wee little bit of ancient history:
Winnipeg lies at the juncture where the Assiniboine River and the Red River meet, a historic focal point on canoe river routes travelled by Aboriginal peoples for thousands of years. First Nations people would use the area for camps, hunting, fishing, trading, and further north, agriculture. The rivers provided transportation far and wide and linked many for trade and knowledge sharing. Lake Winnipeg was considered to be an inland sea, with important river links to the mountains out west, the Great Lakes to the east, and the Arctic Ocean in the north. The Red River linked ancient northern and southern peoples along the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers.

Fur trade
The Hudson's Bay Company and British colonialists laid claim to the entire area (called Rupert's Land at the time) in the late 17th century. This entire Hudson Bay drainage basin included the area now known as Winnipeg. Fur traders working with and trading with the Hudson's Bay Company would have traveled and lived along the major rivers, including the Red River. To protect their interests, various forts were built throughout the years.

Early settlement
In 1811, the Scottish aristocrat and humanitarian Thomas Douglas, 5th Earl of Selkirk, received from the Hudson's Bay Company a grant of 116,000 square miles in the basins of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers, which he named Assiniboia. His goal was to establish the first permanent agricultural settlement along the Red River near the junction of the two rivers, to be inhabited by displaced Scottish Highland families and retired Rupert's Land employees of the Hudson's Bay Company. The Red River Settlement was founded in 1812 and the construction of Fort Douglas was overseen by Miles Macdonell, Lord Selkirk's first Governor of Assiniboia, in 1813–14. This would be the first European agricultural colony on the northern great plains.

Selkirk Settlement 1822
All this time, the Hudson’s Bay Company had a monopoly on commercial affairs in the West but beginning in 1862, an unincorporated village began to form a short distance north of Fort Garry (the Company’s main location). This village became home to a cluster of business enterprises of the longtime landowners of this part of the settlement, as well as a small but growing number of entrepreneurs and small landholders who had recently arriving from the United States and Ontario. While open commercial trade that was independent of the Hudson's Bay Company had been occurring in the Red River settlement since 1849, this concentration of businesses would form the basis of a new urban centre. As the city grew, this area would remain its commercial heart well into the 20th century.

Early post-Confederation Winnipeg (1870–1913)
In 1869, the Hudson's Bay Company formally surrendered its charter rights over Rupert's Land, a territory that includes Winnipeg, back to the Crown. In 1870, the British ceded the territory to the Canadian government, under s. 146 of the Constitution Act, 1867. Some didn’t love how this was handled and the resulting rebellion and negotiations led to the passage of the Manitoba Act, and the admittance of Manitoba as a province into Canadian Confederation on 15 July 1870. Shortly before the passage of the Manitoba Act, the Wolseley expedition was dispatched from Toronto to Fort Garry in May 1870. Led by General Garnet Wolseley, and manned by British Army and Canadian militia units, the expedition was sent to quell the rebellion, and counter American settlers encroaching the Canada–United States border.

Railways and economic growth
The first locomotive in Winnipeg, the Countess of Dufferin, arrived in Winnipeg via steamboat in 1877, and railway connection to St. Paul began the following year, via the Pembina Branch. The Pembina Branch ran on the east side of the Red River and terminated in St. Boniface. From there, passengers and goods were transported across the river to Winnipeg by ferry. The Canadian Pacific Railway completed the first direct rail link from eastern Canada in 1881, when the railway crossed the newly-constructed bridge across the Red River at Point Douglas, the Louise Bridge. The arrival of the Canadian Pacific Railway opened the door to mass immigration and settlement of Winnipeg and the Canadian Prairies.

With the arrival of the railways, Winnipeg experienced a period of significant population growth, beginning in 1881 and lasting well until the 1910s. The city's population grew from 7,900 in 1881 to more than 179,000 in 1921. The only large city on the Canadian prairies in 1891, and a centre of railway transportation between eastern and western Canada, Winnipeg became the leading commercial centre of the prairie territories and provinces. In succeeding decades as other prairie centres such as Calgary, Edmonton, and Regina become regional centres of trade, Winnipeg's importance as the chief economic centre of Western Canada was reduced, though it retained a strong regional importance, particularly as a Western Canadian centre of finance and the grain trade.
Owing to its place as a transportation hub between eastern and western Canada, Winnipeg became a major wholesaling centre in the late 19th century, and many substantial wholesaling warehouses and light manufacturing buildings were constructed on the northern end of the central business district, to the east and west of Main Street. 

The Manitoba Legislative Building reflects the optimism of the boom years. Built mainly of Tyndall Stone and opened in 1920, its dome supports a bronze statue finished in gold leaf titled, "Eternal Youth and the Spirit of Enterprise" (commonly known as the "Golden Boy"). The Manitoba Legislature was built in the neoclassical style that is common to many other North American state and provincial legislative buildings of the 19th century and early 20th century. The Legislature was built to accommodate representatives for three million people, which was the expected population of Manitoba at the time.

Urban structure
With a rapidly growing population, enlarged urban area, and growing economic importance, a neighbourhood class structure began to form in the 1880s. This structure's most notable character was a general divide based on class and ethnicity between the north and south parts of the city. This began with a real estate boom in 1881 and early 1882, which resulted in the expansion of commercial uses in the centre of the city near Main Street, and significant outward expansion of residential districts.
The North End became home to many of the growing city's working classes and recent immigrants,
1880 Winnipeg
while many of Winnipeg's wealthy and Canadian-born and British-born citizens settled in the south end of the city. This north–south division would generally continue well into the 20th century, as the working class North End and the wealthier south end expanded further out from Winnipeg's downtown core.

Winnipeg took on its distinctive multicultural character during this period. Many new Canadians that settled in Winnipeg lived in the city's North End. For much of the 20th century, the North End was home to many religious, cultural, and economic institutions of the immigrant communities arriving from Eastern Europe.

It’s fascinating how explorers turned to settlers and then technology led to population growth. It’s sad that immigration, so needed for such a young country, also led to divisions. This seems to be a tale as old as time. But I sure wish I could have seen the late nineteenth century Winnipeg with my own eyes instead of just with the eyes of my imagination. But my characters sure are going to have a lot of fun exploring.

In the meantime, if you haven’t read Torn inToronto yet, now’s your chance J

Torn in Toronto
Could love be the greatest adventure of all?

Caitlyn Doherty wanted more adventure than her proper life in upper class Toronto allowed. It took a struggle against her parents’ restrictive views for her to be able to accept a position as telephone operator. She wanted to experience more than just finding a rich husband to marry.

Connor Dalton was too busy overcoming his childhood of poverty by becoming a fabulously wealthy businessman to even consider starting a family. But he feels so drawn to his telephone operator, it puts him in a very awkward position.

When Caitlyn’s mother pushes her toward Connor’s business rival, Connor and Caitlyn must both decide what they value most.

If you like sweet, swoony love stories set in the adventurous, late 19th century, then you’ll enjoy every minute of reading Torn in Toronto.

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1 comment:

  1. Thanks for an intriguing post about Canada. I've only been there once and that was barely into the country but I saw the Canadian Red River. Before that, the Red River with which I was familiar was the one that starts in Colorado and flows south and then along the Texas border.


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