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Red River

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.

More on the Red River:
Red River:
The Passageway to the prairies

Bison Hunters:
How the Métis dominated the bison hunt

Red River Colony:
A brave experiment in westward expansion

Dig at the Forks:
Unearthing Winnipeg's Human Heritage

Duff's Ditch:
A Drain for the flood plain

First Farmers:
Aboriginal people pioneered grain growing

Fish Tales:
Chasing catfish to track the river's health

Just Plains Folks:
Winnipeg welcomes the world

Trails to Rails:
Railways replace wagon routes

Prairie Sea:
The Great Flood of 1950

Economic exchanges among First Nations

Louis Riel leads the Red River Rebellion

Wagons West:
Red River carts tracked the grasslands

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.

Adobe PDF downloadRed River (Adobe PDF document) Adobe PDF downloadRivers of Canada (All pages in a zipped file)


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