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]

[i] This arrangement was not due to a seigniorial system having been in place, as it had been in Canada East/ Lower Canada/ Quebec. The only seigneurial grant at Red River was that made to the Catholic Church, at St. Boniface. The long lot settlement pattern was also found in Spanish settlements in New Mexico, Texas, and Colorado, as well as in Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina. Long lots are still found in north-central Europe. See Jerome Donald Fellmann, Arthur Getis, and Judith Getis, Human Geography: Landscapes of Human Activities (Madison, WI: Brown and Benchmark, 1997); Paul R. Baumann, “The Spanish Long-Lots in Southwestern United States,” http://www.geocarto.com.hk/cgi-bin/pages1/sep03/theearth.pdf (accessed 1 March 2013); and Richard Campanella, Time and Place in New Orleans: Past Geographies in the Present Day (Gretna, LA: Pelican, 2002), 85.

[ii] This map is tentative, pending further research.

[iii] C.C.J. Bond, “The Red River Settlement, 1870,” map, in The Birth of Western Canada: A history of the Riel Rebellions by George F.G. Stanley (1936; reprint with extended preface, new maps and illustrations, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1961). See also: Inge Wilson, “Map 1. Red River Settlement, 1869-70,” in The Collected Writings of Louis Riel/ Les Ecrits complets de Louis Riel, vol 5, ed. Glen Campbell (Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 1985), 118-119 [the Google books partial preview online reveals little more than the list of parish names], which replicates the parish names and divisions of the Birth of Western Canada Map; Darren Stranger, “Map 1 Plan of the Red River Settlement Showing River-Lot Parishes, circa 1871,” in Homeland to Hinterland: The Changing Worlds of the Red River Metis [sic] in the Nineteenth Century, by Gerhard J. Ens (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1996), based on surveys conducted from 1871 to 1873, and showing an even greater variance in the numbers, dimensions, and naming of parishes when compared to pre-Manitoba conditions of 1870. The map is viewable online, see Gerhard Ens, “Dispossession or Adaptation? Migration and Persistence of the Red River Metis, 1835-1890,” in The Prairie West: historical readings, ed. R. Douglas Francis and Howard Palmer (Edmonton: University of Alberta, 1992), 141, Google Books, http://books.google.ca/books?id=1ZmNzmaUDokC&lpg=PA118&dq=manitoba%20lands%20question&pg=PA141#v=onepage&q=manitoba%20lands%20question&f=false; and Grant & Simmers Real Estate Agents, “Map of Winnipeg District,” 1:253,440 (Winnipeg: [Rolph and Clarke Ltd.], [1900]), available online, https://www.flickr.com/photos/manitobamaps/2363697713/in/photostream/, which, in showing the layout of all of the riverlots in southern Manitoba at that time, is suggestive of parish boundaries (where patterns break), delineates Catholic and First Nations allotments, and shows the location of rivers — such as the Scratching River (Morris River) — mentioned in the debates of the Convention of Forty and the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia.

[iv] Archer, Hudson’s Bay Company Land Tenures, 8.

[v] See also “Convention at Fort Garry, Very Important Debates, The Bill of Rights,” New Nation (11 February 1870), 1. Riel, on 2 February 1870, moved, “That the local Legislature of the Territory have full control of all the lands inside a circumference having Upper Fort Garry as a centre, and that the radii of this circumference be the number of miles that the American line is distant from Fort Garry.” During discussion he added, “For my part, I wish the whole country was under the control of the Local Legislature. We have to work for the country, in case the Canadians will not work for us.” The motion was carried on a division: Yeas 21, Nays 18. Mr. K. McKenzie, representing the Portage, “protested against this decision of the Convention, on the ground that it appeared to stretch beyond the limits of Assiniboia proper and encroached on the Portage boundary.”

[vi] See also Norma Hall, with Clifford P. Hall, and Erin Verrier, A History of the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia/le Consiel du Gouvernement Provisoire (Winnipeg:  Manitoba, Department of Aboriginal and Northern Affairs, 2010), 7.