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Red River: Wagons West

Red River carts tracked the grasslands

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

The Red River cart has become the historic symbol of the settlement of Manitoba. The cart, drawn by oxen, provided transportation to bison hunters, merchants, and settlers in the Red River Valley.

Based on carts commonly used in Scotland, the Red River cart was made entirely of wood and leather. Because it had no metal parts, it could easily be repaired and could be floated across streams.

The design was adopted from Lord Selkirk's settlers by their neighbors, the Métis hunters, who used the carts to carry bison meat and hides home from the interior plains.

When they lost their main market with the takeover of the North West Company by the Hudson's Bay Company, the Métis employed their Red River carts to set up a freight business between present-day Winnipeg and St. Paul, Minnesota.

The Métis cart trains operated in violation of the Hudson's Bay Company's business monopoly. The Métis called themselves "free-traders". The company treated them as smugglers. Ultimately, the Hudson's Bay Company gave up its attempts to enforce its monopoly.

The Red River cart trains were driven out of business by the steam-driven riverboats which linked St. Paul and Winnipeg in half the time the carts had taken.

In 1859, the first steamboat surprised the townsfolk at Winnipeg with a loud bellow from its steam whistle. This first riverboat on the Red River had actually come from the Mississippi River. It had been hauled over the snow from the Mississippi and then relaunched in the Red River, earning a $2,000 prize offered by the merchants of St. Paul, Minnesota for the first riverboat service on the Canada-bound river.

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