The Passageway to the prairies
Cree name: Miscousipi, meaning 'Red Water River.'
Current official name: Red, a translation from the Cree name.
Source: Lake Traverse, North Dakota
Mouth: Lake Winnipeg
Direction of flow: north
Length : 877 kilometres
Main Characteristic: witness to the struggle for control of the West.
Because of its muddy bottom, its lazy flow, and its suddenly
changing moods, Manitoba's Red River has earned its old nickname,
the 'Mississippi of the North'.
The Red River and the mighty Mississippi River are siblings,
starting near each other as trickles in the midwest of the
United States. They are slow, murky and lazy - usually. But
both rivers can flash into a rage that devastates the towns
and cities that are in the way of their periodic spring floods.
Other times they can almost dry up.
Before railways and highways were built, steam-powered, paddle-wheeled
riverboats plied both the Red and the Mississippi Rivers. Today,
both rivers are prized by fishers for the huge catfish that
lurk in their dark, turbid depths.
At the end of the last ice age, the Red River flowed south,
just like the Mississippi. But, when the glaciers receded,
the Red River changed direction, flowing north into the depression
created by the tremendous weight of the departed glaciers.
The Red River's origin is in the United States, in Lake Traverse
on the border between Minnesota and North Dakota. It flows
north through North Dakota and enters Canada at Emerson, Manitoba.
The Forks, in the centre of Winnipeg, where the Red joins
its major tributary, the Assiniboine, was the main arena of
the struggles for control of the Canadian West. Here, at The
Forks, Natives met and mingled with Europeans. Europeans battled
each other for control of the trade with Native trappers and
hunters. French-Canadians claimed a share of life on the Prairies.
Finally, waves of European immigrants arrived to turn the wild
grasslands into rich, sprawling grain farms that would help
feed the world.
The waves of newcomers and the cultural clashes that resulted
made the Red River valley one of Canada's most important theatres
in struggles for political and economic rights. Natives, Métis,
and French-Canadians battled for cultural and property rights.
Manitoba women were the first in Canada to demand and win the
right to vote. Winnipeg saw the country's biggest battle between
union organizers, businesses, and governments.
Today, the downtown banks of the Red are the site the most
successful urban renewal in Canada. Century-old railway yards
have been converted into public spaces for recreation and commerce.
Throughout its history the Red River, particularly at The
Forks, has retained its role as a place of meeting and remaking
the culture of the Canadian West.
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