History of Ag in Manitoba
Prepared by Morris Deveson
Agricultural settlement and farming in Manitoba is really not very old, less than 200 years, and is young by world standards. Historians like Grant MacEwan, W.L. Morton, J.H. Ellis, E.S. Russenholt and many others have researched, documented and recorded development over the years. Two aspects of our agricultural development make history particularly interesting, first the rapid progress in technology and secondly the people who made it all happen.
The first recorded Agricultural immigrants in Manitoba were the Selkirk Settlers, also known as the Red River Settlers, who arrived in 1812 and settled near the junction of the Red and Assiniboine rivers, or The Forks, generally referred to as the District of Assiniboia. These first settlers arrived by boat via York Landing (Hudson Bay) and Lake Winnipeg with little more than the clothes on their backs. They were forced to live off the land, with some help from the fur traders and natives, who really did not make them very welcome. This was fur country. It is hard to believe, in 2007, that Lord Selkirk, who Grant MacEwan called the founder of agriculture in Western Canada, was repeatedly told by both foes and friends alike that his scheme to farm in Western Canada was an adventure in folly, assured only to failure. Fur traders said “This is fur country. What stupidity to expect settlers to succeed in this land of ice and snow. This country is doomed to external sterility.” This was 1812, only 195 years ago.
Originally the only inhabitants of the Western Canadian Plains, including Manitoba, were various Indian tribes, who essentially lived off the land. They depended on the buffalo for food, clothing, shelter and fuel. When the buffalo failed, or when they failed to harvest buffalo, like crop failures, starvation was imminent. The only “white men” were fur traders and explorers. Names such as Henry Hudson, Radisson and Groseilliers, Jens Munck, Henry Kelsey and La Verendrye were among the early explorers in Canada.
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