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One of the smallest, but economically and historically one of the most important, of the Canadian provinces. Its name is derived from two Sauteux words meaning Manitou Narrows , first applied to the lake of the same name which lies within the present boundaries of that commonwealth. These are: 52° 50' N. lat; 95° W. long.; 101° 20' W. long. and in the south, the American States of North Dakota and Minnesota. From its square and relatively small area, it is sometimes jocularly called the postage-stamp province; yet it is not less than 74,000 square miles in extent, or only 8782 less than England and Scotland combined. Physically it is remarkable for its level plains and the fine, shallow sheets of water it contains: Lake Winnipeg, 270 miles long, with an average width of 30; Lake Winnipegosis, 150 miles by 18; and Lake Manitoba, 130 miles by about 10. The first named is the only lake entirely within the limits of the province. These and other more or less considerable sheets of water, by the immense shoals of white fish they contain, give rise to a remunerative industry. The only rivers worth mentioning are the Red, the Assiniboine, and the Winnipeg. But the principal wealth of the country consists in its fertile plains, which are yearly covered with endless fields of the famous hard Canadian wheat and other cereals. The area under crop in 1909 was somewhat smaller than in preceding years.
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The climate of Manitoba is bracing and healthy. Its winters are somewhat long and severe, but the constant dryness of the atmosphere makes them bearable. The total population of the province in Feb., 1910, was computed at 466,368 inhabitants, of whom 8327 were Indians. Among the whites there were in May, 1909, 51,794 Catholics, with, officially, 1734 Indians. Some 25,000 of the Catholics follow the Graeco-Ruthenian rite. The capital, Winnipeg, contains an estimated population of 142,000. Its chief cities are Brandon, pop. 14,000 inhabitants; St. Boniface (the cathedral town), pop. 6700, and Portage la Prairie, pop. 6500. The region which has become the province of Manitoba was discovered and settled in a way by the Sieur de Laverendrye, between 1732 and 1739. Shortly prior to the cession of Canada to Great Britain, the trading posts he had established were abandoned, and English-speaking adventurers from the East for the first time tried their fortunes on the Western plains. These, with their purveyors in Montreal, founded the famous North-west company, which soon became a formidable rival to the long established Hudson Bay Company, the representative of the English interests. Then Lord Selkirk, a Scottish nobleman, and an important shareholder in the latter corporation, who had secured a vast tract of land at the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers, planted there (1812) a colony of Scotch and Irish settlers, whose presence excited the hostility of the North-west Company and the numerous French Canadians and half-breeds in its employ. This culminated (19 June, 1816) in the Battle of Seven Oaks, wherein Robert Semple, governor for the Hudson Bay Company and twenty of his men fell. The immediate result was the disbanding of the colonists, who, however, were soon recalled by Lord Selkirk at the head of a strong force of hired soldiers (1817). The following year (16 June, 1818) there arrived in the colony the first two resident Catholic priests (see PROVENCHER ), and in the fall of 1820 the first Protestant minister, Rev. John West, similarly reached the Red River Settlement, as the country was long called.
In March, 1821, the two contending companies were united under the name already borne by the English body. Twelve years later, the increase in the population led to the formation of a sort of home government, with a deliberative assembly termed the Council of Assiniboia, the name then assumed by the settlement. Meantime the country was seriously dissatisfied at the severity with which the Hudson Bay Company - still practically the governing body - was asserting its monopoly in the fur trade. In the spring of 1849 the French half-breeds, or Metis, took advantage of the arrest of a few of their number, accused of having infringed on said vested rights, to rise for the purpose of forcibly establishing freedom of commerce. Ten years later whites from Ontario began to arrive in the settlement, established a newspaper, and waged war on the Hudson Bay Company. Immediately on the formation (1867) of the Dominion of Canada steps were taken to acquire the colony and the entire country tributary to Hudson Bay. Without consulting the inhabitants, now numbering 12,000, those immense regions were sold to Canada for the sum of £300,000, and, even before their transfer to the new confederation, surveyors and prospective settlers were dispatched who, by their arrogance, greed, and lack of respect for acquired rights, gave rise to the Red River Insurrection under Louis Riel. The outcome of this was a list of demands from the federal authorities, practically all of which were granted, the concessions being embodied in the Manitoba Act. This Act created a province with, at first (1870), an area of only 14,340 square miles. In 1881 its limits were enlarged.
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When, however, settlers form Ontario and English-speaking provinces had outnumbered the Catholics, who were chiefly of the French race, both rights were ignored by the Provincial Legislature in the spring of 1890, despite the unequivocal declarations of the Constitution. The Catholics immediately protested, especially on behalf of their schools, and had recourse to various tribunals in the dominion and even to the Crown. In 1895 the Privy Council admitted that they had a real grievance and that they were entitled to redress at the hands of the Federal Parliament. A sort of compromise was effected which fell short of Catholic aspirations, and at present, as a result of a kindly interpretation of the law birie, those Catholics who have made the greatest pecuniary sacrifices for the education of their children have received absolutely no redress from the unjust burden of taxation for non-Catholic and from the refusal of government or municipal grants for the school which they maintain at great expense.