The Forks National Historic Site

The Forks of The Red and Assiniboine Rivers

A Brief History

Located at the junction of two major rivers that form part of a vast continental network, The Forks has witnessed many key events in the history of Western Canada. As the site of the first permanent European settlement in the Canadian West it would become the cradle of the province of Manitoba and the nucleus of the city of Winnipeg.

As early as 4000 B.C.E., long before European explorers arrived here, this was a traditional native peoples' stopping place. First Nations' groups camped in this area, using it as a place to gather provisions and trade among other tribes. The Forks was a rest stop on seasonal migration routes from northern forests to southern plains; and a key transcontinental trade link.

Between 1734 and 1760, the arrival of European fur traders changed life forever for First Nations peoples. The Assiniboine people became fur trade middlemen between other First Nations peoples and Europeans. From The Forks, they used the rivers to carry on commerce with English and eventually French trading posts located hundreds of miles away.

Between 1760 and 1821, the Hudson's Bay Company and North West Company competed fiercely for furs. Both fur trading companies used The Forks to store and ship supplies to trappers and furs to traders. By 1821, the competing fur companies had amalgamated into the Hudson's Bay Company.

The fur trade saw voyageurs, traders, and Indigenous peoples inter-marry. Their children became known as Métis-- a distinct cultural group that is an important part of Manitoba society today. But in the last half of the nineteenth century, the Métis of the Red River Settlement were increasingly concerned about the influx of settlers. Decades of discord and struggle began.

As the 19th century gave way to the 20th, settlers began to move to Western Canada and railways were built and large rail yards sprang up to transport people and the goods they needed for their new lives. Many of the buildings at The Forks date from that time.

After Manitoba became part of Canada in 1870, immigration from Eastern Canada, Europe, and the United States increased dramatically, spurred by the prospect of fertile, abundant land. These immigrants would change forever the nature of the city and the country. The city of Winnipeg, centered at the Forks, boomed and become the "Gateway to the Canadian West."

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