The people of the Red River Settlement lived along river banks. ‘Home’ spread from the Town of Winnipeg up the Assiniboine River to Portage la Prairie; down the Red River to Lake Winnipeg; up the Red River to the border with the United States; along the Seine River to Ste. Anne; and overland to the shores of Lake Manitoba. Aside from the spread-out nature of the settlement, geographical dimensions were distinctive in another respect. Land holdings were arranged in the long lot settlement pattern. Each home fronted on a river, which supplied ready access to water for household use as well as for transportation.[i]
Maps of the settlement illustrate that to form a local government political representatives had to contend with separation, one from another, over considerable distances. Their commitment — to self-government, instituting representative and responsible government, and confederating with Canada — is apparent in their having travelled on foot, on horseback and by sled to overcome uncertainty, opposition and significant distance, to form a government.
Map, giving a tentative indication of the location of parishes from which representatives to the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia were elected; derived from, and illustrating differences with the map “The Red River Settlement, 1870,” drawn by C.C.J. Bond and printed in The Birth of Western Canada: A history of the Riel Rebellions by George F.G. Stanley (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1961), which illustrated the electoral parishes of the new province of Manitoba.[ii]
Note: an indication of the circular boundary of the district of Assiniboia is also shown.
Clarifying the scope of political representation held by the members of the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia is one instance where an illustrative map is helpful. Each member represented constituents of a particular parish, or part of a parish, either in Red River Settlement proper, or within its vicinity. The parishes were important markers of Red River and Assiniboia’s distinctive character as a settlement community during the colonial era. Yet, to date, what maps exist tend to obscure rather than clarify where the parishes represented by members of the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia were located and what their extent might have been.
The map most commonly used by historians to illustrate the extent of settlement in Assiniboia and the parish divisions during the late 1860s and early 1870s is that printed in George F.G. Stanley’s The Birth of Western Canada.[iii] That map, however, reflects the electoral divisions devised for the first general election held after Manitoba had entered Confederation. The parish divisions for that election were not identical to those relied on for the elections that had gone before, while the country was known as Assiniboia.
In the election for the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia, for example, the Town of Winnipeg, which had been designated the capital of the North-West, figured as a riding separate from St. John’s Parish and had two seats to be filled by elected representatives. There were other differences as well. St. Laurent (a.k.a. Manitoba), a riding in the Manitoba general election, does not appear to have had separate representation in the Assiniboia election. In addition, the provincial riding of St. Agathe appears to have had different dimensions during the Assiniboia elections, and was divided into two sections. It also had a different name — Point Coupée.
Place naming on the Birth of Western Canada map has perhaps the greatest potential for generating confusion with respect to pre-provincial application — the names of the parishes on that map do not reflect the names of parishes alluded to in the debates of the Convention of Forty and the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia. Nor does the Birth of Western Canada map make note of the multiple names that might have applied to one parish, a multiplicity that reflected the multi-lingual character of Red River and environs. Like the people of Assiniboia, the places that they inhabited — and the topographical features that defined those places — carried French, English, and Aboriginal names.
During the Convention of Forty, there was debate about the geographical reach that a locally instituted government would have. The HBC municipal district of Assiniboia, by local regulations of 1841, had been “limited to a circle of a hundred miles in diameter, with the Forks as a centre.”[iv] On the 8th Day of the convention (2 February 1870), the members enlarged this circle to extend their control to the American border and to encompass the parish of St. Mary’s Laprairie (also known as Portage la Prairie and ‘the Portage’).[v]
On 18 March 1870, during Session 1, Day 4 of its debates, the Legislative Assembly of the Provisional Government, though it did not claim jurisdiction over all of Rupert’s Land, did presume the right to rename it. Hon. Dr. Curtis James Bird, representative for St. Paul’s Parish, moved that the members of the assembly do so, arguing, “We ought to retain the Indian names as far as possible, for they are appropriate and euphonious.” He proposed the name “Assiniboia” and his motion carried unanimously. ‘Assiniboia’ was then added to the names of the Provisional Government and the Legislative Assembly. Thus, the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia governed a district known as Assiniboia in a country also named Assiniboia.[vi]