Its Struggle to Remain Distinct

By George Siamandas



St Boniface incorporated as a city on Feb 25, 1908, and has struggled to remain distinct. Fifty years before Manitoba was even a province, there was a thriving community in St Boniface. In 1734 La Verendrye had reached the Forks and built Fort Rouge. In 1818 Lord Selkirk asked Bishop Plessis of Quebec to send missionaries to care for the emerging Metis population. Upon arrival in 1818, Father Provencher named the mission St Boniface. There were already more than 200 people living at the Forks.


The first white woman in the west was Marie Anne Gaboury. Her great-great granddaughter, Diane Landry would be Miss Canada in 1967. The west's first French Radio station CKSB went on the air May 27, 1946. St Boniface was also first to have a railway connection. Since 1844, the Grey Nuns have taken care of educational and health needs, In 1870 they gave 3,000 smallpox vaccinations, and in 1871 the Grey Nuns built the first hospital with 4 beds. Winnipeg had been incorporated in 1873. In 1876 St Boniface considered incorporation as a city but rejected the idea. In 1880 it was incorporated as a municipality as required by a new provincial law. In 1908 with a population of 5,930 it finally became a city.


By 1883 St Boniface had a police and fire dept. But financial difficulties in the 1890s saw them cut fire protection services. The first hydro poles were put up in 1890 by the Northwest Power Company. First electrical service went to the Archbishop's palace and the St Boniface College. Water had initially come from the Red River, but in 1884 they put in artesian wells. In 1905, a water works plant and reservoir were built. Till the first bridge, all crossings were by a ferry near where the Norwood Bridge stands today. And where the ferry operated, so sprang up the first industries.


At the turn of the century English people began to move into Norwood and the issue of annexation came up. In a struggle to remain French and distinct, St Boniface chose to incorporate instead. Norwood grew with its own services. Houses replaced a golf course and marshland including several small lakes. Norwood's first minister, JS Woodsworth, preached from a tent at Marion and Kenny.


Some early industries included a soap factory in 1876, a brick plant in 1879, a wool factory, brewery, and a sawmill. After a major industrial development strategy in 1909, industry boomed in St Boniface. The St Boniface Archdiocese Corp began to sell off their lands for development. First with the railway and with abundant electrical power, St Boniface offered grants for industries to locate there. Tanneries, stockyards, meat packers and flourmills poured in.

The stockyards and meat packing plants began to be built in 1913 on 20 acres of land. The Shell refinery was built in 1920. A dye works, grain companies, a roofing manufacturer, and a steel plant followed.

Today, more than 190 years after its founding, St Boniface remains the bastion of French Canadian culture in western Canada. In so many ways, the new Metis nation and the people of St Boniface, had more to do with the creation of Manitoba than did the English-speaking people of Winnipeg.



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