It’s hard to believe how far Winnipeg has come in just over 100 years. Take a look at the photos below to see the city’s humble beginnings:

West Ward, Point Douglas north of Browns Bridge, ca. 1875

Winnipeg 1800s Photo: Winnipeg.ca

The neighbourhood of Point Douglas in Winnipeg was just a sparse collection of houses in the late 19th century. Located next to a bend in the Manitoba River, the area was named after Thomas Douglas, the Fifth Earl of Selkirk from Scotland. As the founder of the Red River Colony, a large settlement preceding the establishment of Winnipeg and Manitoba, Douglas helped hundreds of people immigrate to Canada from the Scottish Highlands to establish the area’s farming industry.

East Ward, north of Browns Bridge, ca. 1875

Winnipeg 1800s Photo: Winnipeg.ca 

Before Winnipeg was established as a city, it was just a small, insignificant portion of the larger Red River Colony. In fact, the tiny area, consisting of just a few stores in the 1870s, wasn’t given a name until 1866, when a local newspaper referred to it as “Winnipeg,” meaning muddy water in Cree. Prior to this issue, the paper’s masthead simply read “Red River Settlement, Assiniboia.”  

Main Street looking north from Portage Avenue, ca. 1874

Winnipeg 1800s Photo: Winnipeg.ca

By 1870, Manitoba had entered the Dominion of Canada, and Winnipeg’s development was beginning to pick up speed. That year, the population was a meagre 100, and by the year this photo was taken, it had skyrocketed to about 3,700. The boom was due to new immigrants from England and Ontario as well as fur traders looking to take advantage of the industry in the area.

Main Street Winnipeg looking south from City Hall, ca. 1882

Winnipeg 1800s Photo: Winnipeg.ca 

Winnipeg’s growth during the 1870s and 1880s can be attributed to a few factors. For one, it was close to the Hudson’s Bay Upper Fort Garry post. At this time, the Hudson’s Bay Company was essentially the government for Manitoba and the Northwest Territories, so agencies and institutions were drawn to the area of the post. Also, the Fort Osborne Barracks were situated in the Winnipeg area, meaning troops from the Canadian Garrison were there to encourage local business and set the economy in motion.

View of Main Street looking north, ca. 1880

Winnipeg 1800s Photo: Winnipeg.ca 

The dominant role of the commercial class in local government is one indicator of the strong economic growth and prosperous business industries of Winnipeg in the late 19th century. During the years 1874 to 1914, 39 per cent of the mayor’s office was made up of merchants and businessmen, while 37 per cent was comprised of real estate agents and financiers. Also, during the years 1874 to 1885, the City Council was 33 per cent merchants and businessmen and 47 per cent real estate agents and financiers.

Countess of Dufferin, ca. 1887

Winnipeg 1800s Photo: Musée McCord Museum/Flickr 

Arriving in Saint Boniface on October 8th, 1877, the Countess of Dufferin was the first steam train to hit western Canada. Costing $9,850 to build, the train weighs 29,030 kg (67,000 lbs), and measures 15 metres long. Today, the Countess of Dufferin can be found on display at the Via Rail Depot at Main and Broadway.

City of Winnipeg Steamboat, ca. 1881

Winnipeg 1800s Photo: Wikimedia Commons

This steamboat, originally dubbed the Minnesota, was bought by the Winnipeg and Western Transportation Co. in 1881. Less than one year later, the ship was wrecked on Lake Winnipeg. In a letter to his superiors in England, Charles Brydges of the Hudson’s Bay Company, explained the incident: “Altho’ it was very late in the year, the urgency of the case caused us to decide to make the effort to tow her across Lake Winnipeg, but unfortunately a storm overtook her, and she had to be abandoned, and became a wreck. Her machinery was all safely landed at Grand Rapids and a good deal of her cabin work was saved, but the hull is a wreck.”

City Hall and Volunteer Monument, ca. 1887

Winnipeg 1800s Photo: Wikimedia Commons 

In 1883, plans were in the works for a new City Hall building, Winnipeg’s second. Just three years later, an elaborate, Victorian-style building was up and running, and it continued to do so until 1962 when it was demolished to make way for the present building. Also unveiled in 1886 was the Volunteer Monument, which stood in front of the building to honour the men of the 90th Winnipeg Battalion.

Map of Winnipeg, ca. 1881

Winnipeg 1800s Photo: Wikimedia Commons

T.M. Fowler was an American cartographer during the late 19th century and early 20th century. He sketched this bird’s-eye map of Winnipeg in 1881, showcasing the built-up area north of Notre Dame, Fort Garry and Louise Bridge over the Red River.

Main Street, ca. 1887

Winnipeg 1800s Photo: Wikimedia Commons

During the late 19th century, Winnipeg was in the midst of a slight economic recession. Sir Clifford Sifton, Minister of the Interior under Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier from 1896 to 1905, knew the city was in need of immigrants, and he thought Europeans would be the best people to endure the harsh climates and tough farm life. “A stalwart peasant in a sheep-skin coat, born on the soil, whose forefathers have been farmers for ten generations, with a stout wife and a half dozen children, is a good quality,” he said. With plenty of advertising and promotion, many Europeans did come to settle in Winnipeg during the late 19th century and early 20th century, causing the population to balloon from 20,000 in 1886 to 150,000 in 1911.

CPR Station, ca. 1884

Winnipeg 1800s Photo: Wikimedia Commons 

Before the grand, stately CPR depot was built at 181 Higgins Avenue, a more modest structure stood in its place. The first building was destroyed in a fire around the turn of the century, making way for the new edifice, which now serves as the Neeginan Centre, a gathering place for First Nations peoples in Winnipeg.

HBC Post on Lake Winnipeg, ca. 1884

Winnipeg 1800s Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Before Manitoba even became a province, the Hudson’s Bay Company dominated the education, government and business organizations of the area. Beginning as a fur trading business with just a handful posts and forts around the Hudson’s Bay area in the 17th century, the company has since evolved into a multi-billion-dollar franchise with multiple locations across Canada.

Corner of Portage and Main, ca. 1872

Winnipeg 1800s Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The corner of Portage and Main, Winnipeg’s busiest intersection, wasn’t always so bustling. It all began when Henry McKenney, a merchant from what’s now Ontario, made the controversial decision to open a store on a swampy plot of land a good distance away from the Red River. While most thought his choice was crazy, it later proved to be quite a felicitous one, as today that mucky plot of land is the centre of banking, business and tourism in the city.

Manitoba Hotel, ca. 1890s

Winnipeg 1800s Photo: Wikimedia Commons

If you’re thinking you like the look of this building, you won’t enjoy this next bit of information. The Manitoba Hotel was located at Main and Water Avenue before it burned down right before the turn of the century. The fire was one of the worst in Winnipeg’s history and it cost the owners of the once-grand building almost $1 million in losses.

Looking south on Main Street, ca. 1875

Winnipeg 1800s Photo: Winnipeg.ca

As part of the massive growth and expansion of the 1870s in Winnipeg, several industries and businesses were forming. By 1874, 27 manufactories had been established, including the first planing mill, Winnipeg’s first foundry and the Hercher and Batkin Brewery.

Note: All dates are approximations and have been taken from Wikimedia Commons, Flickr and Winnipeg.ca. BuzzBuzzHome apologizes for any errors. Please notify us of inaccuracies below in the comments section.

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