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Chapter 6: Pre-historic and Early Historic Settlements


The earliest inhabitants of Manitoba were nomadic and left no solid evidence of their existence that could be identified on remotely sensed images.

However, air photos can be used to demonstrate the locations in which settlements existed, their existence having been established by finding artifacts during ground surveys. It was only during the early historic period that forts were constructed, some of which, with the help of reconstruction, have persisted to this day.

6.1: The Location of Fort Desjarlais on the Souris River, North of Lauder

Fort Desjarlais, located on the north bank of the Souris River, was one of many Métis villages scattered across the Prairies.[i] It was quite large with upwards of 75 men stationed at it during the 1840s. It probably served as an important rendezvous point for the annual bison hunt and as a depot for Métis traders seeking to overcome the HBC monopoly. Bison hunting continued until about 1865 by which time the herds had been virtually exterminated. Some Métis families continued to use the Lauder Sand Hills and are believed to be the source of mid to late nineteenth century artifacts found further west in Township 5, Range 25WI.[ii]

This old photograph shows the northeast flowing Souris River 1 above Hartney. Nothing on the photo indicates the existence of Fort Desjarlais, but a map in Hamilton and Nicholson (figure 4) shows that it was located at an area of flat grass-covered land on the north bank of the Souris River2. It is surrounded by dark-toned wooded areas 3; possibly the inhabitants of the post removed trees from the grass-covered area. Other things to note on this photo are:

1)  steep river cliffs—usually light-toned because they are cut into sand—on the outside of meanders on the Souris River 4.

2)  meander scrolls indicating previous river positions 5.

3)  dunes, some of which have no plant cover and are therefore very light-toned 6, some of which are grass covered—medium grey-toned 7, and some wooded—dark-toned 8.

4)  land has been cleared for agriculture in the west 9 and south of the river 10. The sandy nature of the soils is indicated by the mottled tones in these areas.

5)  there are just 3 farms in the area 11.

Figure 6.1: The Location of Fort Desjarlais on the Souris River, North of Lauder

Figure 6.1: The Location of Fort Desjarlais on the Souris River, North of Lauder

Figure 6.1

Vertical air photograph: A5591-61

Flight height: 9,520 feet; lens focal length: 6 inches

Scale: 1:18,000 (approx.)

Date: 1947

Location: Township 5; Ranges 24 and 25W1

Map sheets: 1:250,000 62F Virden

1:50,000 62F/7 Hartney



[i] For details see Ens, G. J. “The Buffalo Robe Trade and Hivernant Communities on the Northern Plains” in The Geography of Manitoba: Its Land and Its People eds. J. Welsted, J. Everitt and C. Stadel. Winnipeg: The University of Manitoba Press, 1996, 89-91.

[ii] This information is taken from Hamilton, S. and Nicholson, B. A. “Métis Land Use of the Lauder Sandhills of Southwestern Manitoba.” Prairie Forum, vol. 25, no. 2 (Fall 2000), 243-270.

6.2: Fort Prince of Wales at the Mouth of the Churchill River

The photograph shows the mouth of the Churchill River 1 that empties into Hudson Bay 2 between Cape Merry 3 and Eskimo Point (just off the photo to the north). This is the northern terminus of the Hudson Bay Railway line, sidings from which can be seen in the southeast corner 4. Grain is transported from Churchill, Canada’s only Arctic seaport to Europe, during the short shipping season. A ship can be seen at dock 5.

Across the river is an indicator of a much earlier export item—furs. Fort Prince of Wales 6 in this almost vertical viewpoint displays the classical star shape that the British favoured for defence in the 18th century (figure 6.2a). The Hudson’s Bay Company built the fort in the 1700s to protect its fur shipping routes from attack. It took 40 years to build but was surrendered to the French by its governor, Samuel Hearne, without resistance, soon after it was completed.[i] The French looted the fort and blew up sections of the walls. The French released Hearne, but on his return he abandoned the fort in favour of a more inland location, above tide level where fresh water was always available.

This section of the coast is rising rapidly, rebounding from the release of weight on it with the melting of the last ice sheet. A result is the occurrence of raised strandlines seen near Fort Prince of Wales 7. On the ground, iron mooring rings where boats were once tied up are now well above sea level, as is the famous inscription by “S. L. Hearne, July ye 1, 1767” located at Sloop’s Cove 8.

Figure 6.2: Fort Prince of Wales at the Mouth of the Churchill River

Figure 6.2: Fort Prince of Wales at the Mouth of the Churchill River

Figure 6.2

Vertical air photograph: MH827068402-218

Flight height: 6,000 feet a.s.l.; lens focal length 152.034 mm

Scale: 1:12,000 (approx.)

Date: September 20, 1982

Location of Fort Prince of Wales: 59° 48' N, 94° 13' W

Map sheets: 1:250,000 54L Churchill

1:50,000 54L/16 Churchill


[i] For a discussion of his motives see McGoogan, K. Ancient Mariner. New York: Carroll and Graf Publishers, 2004.


Figure 6.2.a: Plan of Fort Prince of Wales

Figure 6.2.a: Plan of Fort Prince of Wales

6.3: Lower Fort Garry and Long Lots on the Red River Plain

The Red River 1 flows northeastward across the flat Red River Plain eventually emptying into Lake Winnipeg. Interrupting the flatness of the plain are several gravel pits 2 cut into a glacially deposited ridge almost buried by Lake Agassiz sediments.

On the northwest bank of the river is Lower Fort Garry 3 built during the period 1831-1839 “at the foot of the St. Andrews Rapids [just off the photo to the south] to replace the original Fort Garry, which was abandoned as a result of flooding in the spring of 1826. The new location eliminated the need for heavily laden York boats to portage the St. Andrews Rapids. Although in 1835 the original Fort Garry was rebuilt, Lower Fort Garry remained an important entrepôt centre because of its favourable location. It became the head of schooner traffic on Lake Winnipeg, and a large farm was developed at the fort…. The Hudson’s Bay Company used the fort as a trading port until 1911 from which time the Motor Country Club of Winnipeg leased it. In 1951, it was declared a National Historic Park[i] and since then the buildings have been restored. As can be seen on the photo and on the map (figure 6.3a) the fort was square with round turrets at each corner. Captions on the map show that the fort was “of some importance during the Riel Resistance.”

Most of agricultural Manitoba was surveyed by the DLS system that results in a series of uniform squares. However, “in 1812 a small agricultural settlement was established by Lord Selkirk on the site of the present Winnipeg…. The settlement pattern…was derived from the “rang” or river lot system of Quebec. The lots were established facing the river with their long axes running as nearly as possible at right angles to the riverfront. The majority had a twelve-chain frontage (1 chain=66 feet=20 m) and extended 2 mi (3 km) in depth. In addition, “hay privileges” on more poorly drained lands beyond the natural levees were granted to each settler, thereby extending the lots an additional two miles in depth.” This system is used along both the Red River and the Assiniboine River as far west as Portage la Prairie as well as in other smaller areas—along the Seine near Lorrette and Ste. Anne, and at St. Malo. “When the Hudson Bay Company lands were transferred to the Dominion of Canada in 1870, the river-lots varied from one chain to over half a mile in width because of both subdivision and consolidation.”[ii] This pattern of long lots is well illustrated on both sides of the Red River although in the west—west of PTH 9A 4—consolidation has occurred resulting in wider strips 5.

Two roads (4 and 6) roughly parallel the Red River. The river-lots result in a linear settlement pattern 7 particularly on the east side of the Red. In addition to the roads are two railway lines: in the west is the Canadian Pacific Line 8 which subsequently runs along the west side of Lake Winnipeg; and in the east is the Canadian National 9 line which runs to Pine Falls on the Winnipeg River. Finally, in the south is the northern end of the Red River Floodway 10 with a drop structure 11 where water runs into the Red. At this date there is only a small trickle of water in the floodway 12.

Figure 6.3: Lower Fort Garry and Long Lots on the Red River Plain

Figure 6.3: Lower Fort Garry and Long Lots on the Red River Plain

Figure 6.3

Vertical air photograph: A20410-35

Flight height: 11,000 feet a.s.l.; lens focal length: 152.44 mm

Date: May 20, 1968

Scale: 1:29,000 (approx.)

Location of Lower Fort Garry: 50º 07', 96º 55' W

Map sheets: 1:250,000 62I Selkirk

1:50,000 62I/2 Selkirk

Figure 6.3a Lower Fort Garry

Plate 80 Warkentin and Ruggles op. cit p 197.


[i] Farley A. L. ed.. Trans-Canada Field Excursion Guide Book. Vancouver: University of British Columbia, Department of Geography. 1972, 74.

[ii] Farley, A. L. op. cit. 1972, 74.

Figure 6.3.a: Plan of Lower Fort Garry

Figure 6.3.a: Plan of Lower Fort Garry

6.4: The Location of Fort Ellice on the Assiniboine River South of St. Lazare

Fort Ellice 1, a Hudson’s Bay Company Trading post, was established in 1831 on the west side of the Assiniboine Valley overlooking the Assiniboine 2 to the east and Beaver Creek 3 to the south. The latter is now dammed 4 to produce a reservoir 5 for agricultural water supply. In 1870 when the Hudson Bay Company possessions were taken over by the Dominion of Canada, the company received compensation including a 3000-acre reserve (bounded by the dashed line) at Fort Ellice.

One of the Prairie trails that preceded the railway era crossed the Assiniboine at Fort Ellice en route to locations now in Saskatchewan. Riverboats were active on the Assiniboine for a short period in the late 1800s. Steamers travelled from Winnipeg to Fort Ellice and returned in 12 days. For most of the steamship era, Fort Ellice was regarded as the head of navigation on the Assiniboine, but in 1881 The Manitoba travelled upstream to Fort Pelly, now in Saskatchewan.[i] However, neither this stretch of river nor the Fort Ellice-Winnipeg stretch was used for long: with the arrival of the railway, steamship travel on the Assiniboine became obsolete by the mid 1880s.

Figure 6.4: The Location of Fort Ellice on the Assiniboine River South of St. Lazare

Figure 6.4: The Location of Fort Ellice on the Assiniboine River South of St. Lazare

Figure 6.4

Vertical air photograph: A18623-12

Flight height: 9,700 feet a.s.l.; lens focal length: 152.13 mm

Scale: 1:16,500 (approx.)

Date: September 27, 1964

Location: Township 17; Range 28 WI

Map sheets: 1:250,000 62K Riding Mountain

1:50,000 62K/6 Birtle


[i] Macoun, J. Manitoba and the Great Northwest. Guelph, Ontario:World Publishing Company, 1882,584.

6.5: Location of Brandon House 1 and 2 Near the Junction of the Souris and Assiniboine Rivers


The photograph shows the southward-flowing Assiniboine River 1 just above its junction with the Souris River (off the photo to the southeast). When at its highest level, Lake Agassiz extended up the Assiniboine Valley as far west as eastern Brandon. The gravel pit 2 is excavated into one of the highest Lake Agassiz strandlines. At the date the photo was taken—late October—aspen (Populus tremuloides) trees, that are common along river and creek valleys, had bright yellow leaves resulting in light tones on the photo 3.

During the fur trade era, rivers were the main transport routes in Manitoba, and the Hudson’s Bay Company, the North West Company, as well as some independent traders, established trading posts along rivers. Several were located in the vicinity of the Assiniboine-Souris junction. Hudson’s Bay Company posts, Brandon House 1 and 2, were located east 4 and west 5 of the river respectively. Brandon House 1 operated during 1793-1818 before being burned and looted, and then again from 1821 to 1824. Brandon House 2 was shorter lived—1821 to 1824. Neither can be seen on the photo although in 1966, it was claimed that the outlines of Brandon House 2 could be seen in wheat fields.[i]

Figure 6.5: Location of Brandon House 1 and 2 Near the Junction of the Souris and Assiniboine Rivers

Figure 6.5: Location of Brandon House 1 and 2 Near the Junction of the Souris and Assiniboine Rivers

Figure 6.5

Vertical air photograph

Flight height: 13,700 feet a.s.l.; lens focal length 151.87 mm

Scale: 1:24,400 (approx.)

Date: October 11, 1966

Location: Township 8; Range 17 WI

Map sheets: 1:250,000 62G Brandon 

1:50,000 62G/12 Wawanesa


[i] Kavanagh, M. The Assiniboine Basin (Second Edition). Old Woking, Surrey, England: n.p., 1966, 31.