Fort la Reine was a trading post established by La Verendrye in1738 in the general area of Portage la Prairie, although its exact location is not known. Later the Hudson’s Bay Company established a port on the Assiniboine River in 1832 about two miles from the centre of Portage la Prairie.[i] The present city of Portage la Prairie (12,728 in 2006))—Manitoba’s fourth largest city—is located on the north side of the Assiniboine River 1 between the river and Lake Manitoba a few miles to the north, an “easy” portage in fur trading days.
The eastward flowing Assiniboine 1 meanders across the southeastern corner with three abandoned channels north of it, the largest of which is Crescent Lake 2, an important recreational area for the city. South and east is George Lake 3 and a larger unnamed abandoned channel 4. The latter is recent in origin; George McPhillips’ 1874 “Survey of the Parish of Portage la Prairie” shows it as part of the main Assiniboine channel.[ii] Palaeochannels—previous river positions—of the Assiniboine can be seen both north and south of the present channel (5 and 6), the most obvious being Willowhead Channel in the northwest 7.[iii]
The Assiniboine has been dammed 8 resulting in a wider channel upstream and flooding of land on either side of the channel 9—a situation that caused some legal problems. Some of the water that is held back is diverted into the Portage Floodway 10 at times of high flow. This is part of a three-pronged flood control scheme—the Portage Floodway, the Red River Floodway and the Shellmouth Dam—designed principally to prevent flooding of Winnipeg. The 700 cms capacity Portage Floodway carries water into Lake Manitoba.
The whole of the area is located on the Lake Agassiz Plain on which have developed fertile agricultural soils. As a result most of the area is intensively farmed although there is a surprising amount of woodland 11—dark-toned—on either side of the Assiniboine in the south.
The area displays both the long lot system and the DLS system. The long lot system extends west along the Assiniboine from Winnipeg to Portage la Prairie. Lots extend back from the river and also radiate out from Crescent Lake. On the eastern part of the lake this resulted in lots oriented just east of north 12, whereas on the western part lots were oriented just west of north 13. These lines are followed by the present-day road system (14 and 15) with cross roads at right angles, that is, just off east/west (16 and 17).
“In 1874 a special order-in-council was passed, making it possible to survey wooded areas in the belts along the Assiniboine and Red rivers into 10 and 20 acre lots, to be assigned by lot to nearby homestead settlers who had no timber on their farms. The settlers did not receive permanent possession but only the authorization to remove timber over a five-year period. South of the Assiniboine the forested area was divided into 20-acre wood lots for this purpose. This appears to be the only place in Manitoba where this was done.”[iv] The only place where the influence of this system can be seen is south of the Assiniboine near the newly formed cutoff 18 where a series of north/south strips can be seen. The DLS system covers the area away from the river. Sections 19 and quarter sections 20 can be seen. However, given the intensity of farming in the area, quarter sections are often divided into many fields 21.
Portage la Prairie is a railway hub with a complex of lines and sidings 22 separating the northern part of the city from the south. The central business district 23, light-toned on the photo, is strung out along PTH 1A that runs almost east/west through the southern part of the city.
Approaching from the east are a CP line 24 and a CN line 25, with another linear feature 26 from the southeast that may be the route of an abandoned line. Fanning out to the west are no fewer than five lines anticlockwise they are: a CN line 27, a CP line 28, another CN line 29, another CP line 30, and an abandoned line 31.
Portage used to lie on the Trans-Canada Highway, but a bypass has been constructed to the south 32. PR 240 33 leads north to Delta Beach on Lake Manitoba. South of Portage is what used to be CFB Portage la Prairie. North of the runways 34 is accommodation for people living at the base 35. The base has closed as a military base and is now functioning as a training centre. Near the southern edge of the photo is a light-toned line 36, the location of a buried pipeline.