The name Winnipeg comes from the Western Cree words for "muddy waters". The region was a trading centre for aboriginal peoples before the arrival of Europeans. French traders built the first fort on the site in 1738. A settlement was later founded by the Selkirk settlers in 1812, the nucleus of which was incorporated as the City of Winnipeg in 1873. As of 2011, Winnipeg is the seventh most populated municipality in Canada.
Known as the "Gateway to the West", Winnipeg is a railway and transportation hub with a diversified economy. This multicultural city hosts numerous annual festivals, including the Festival du Voyageur, the Winnipeg Folk Festival, the Jazz Winnipeg Festival, the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival, and Folklorama. Winnipeg was the first Canadian host of the Pan American Games and is home to several professional sports franchises, including the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (Canadian football), the Winnipeg Jets (ice hockey), and the Winnipeg Goldeyes (baseball).
Winnipeg lies at the confluence of the Assiniboine and the Red River of the North, a location now known as "The Forks". This point was at the crossroads of canoe routes travelled by First Nations before European contact. The name Winnipeg is a transcription of the Western Cree word wi-nipe-k meaning "muddy waters"; the area was populated for several thousand years by First Nations. Evidence provided by archaeology, petroglyphs, rock art and oral history indicates that native peoples used the area in prehistoric times for camping, hunting, tool making, fishing, trading and, farther north, for agriculture. Estimates of the date of first settlement in this area are varied and range from 11,500 years ago for a site southwest of the present city to 6,000 years ago at the Forks. In 1805, First Nations peoples were observed engaging in farming activity along the Red River. The practice quickly expanded, driven by the demand by traders for provisions. The rivers provided an extensive transportation network linking northern First Peoples with those to the south along the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. The Ojibwe made some of the first maps on birch bark, which helped fur traders navigate the waterways of the area.
Sieur de La Vérendrye built the first fur trading post on the site, called Fort Rouge, in 1738. French trading continued at this site for several decades before the arrival of the British Hudson's Bay Company. Many French and later British men who were trappers married First Nations women; their mixed-race children, the Métis, hunted, traded, and lived in the area. Lord Selkirk was involved with the first permanent settlement (known as the Red River Colony), the purchase of land from the Hudson's Bay Company, and a survey of river lots in the early 19th century. The North West Company built Fort Gibraltar in 1809, and the Hudson's Bay Company built Fort Douglas in 1812, both in the area of present-day Winnipeg. The two companies competed fiercely over trade. The Métis and Lord Selkirk's settlers fought at the Battle of Seven Oaks in 1816. In 1821, the Hudson's Bay and North West Companies merged, ending their long-standing rivalry. Fort Gibraltar was renamed Fort Garry in 1822 and became the leading post in the region for the Hudson's Bay Company. The fort was destroyed by a flood in 1826 and was not rebuilt until 1835. A rebuilt section of the fort, consisting of the front gate and a section of the wall, can be found near the modern-day corner of Main Street and Broadway Avenue in downtown Winnipeg.
In 1869–70, present-day Winnipeg was the site of the Red River Rebellion, a conflict between the local provisional government of Métis, led by Louis Riel, and newcomers from eastern Canada. General Garnet Wolseley was sent to put down the uprising. The Manitoba Act of 1870 made Manitoba the fifth province of the three-year-old Canadian Confederation. On 8 November 1873, Winnipeg was incorporated as a city, with the Selkirk settlement as its nucleus. Métis legislator and interpreter James McKay named the city.
Winnipeg developed rapidly after the coming of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1881. The railway divided the North End, which housed mainly Eastern Europeans, from the richer Anglo-Saxon southern part of the city. It also contributed to a demographic shift beginning shortly after Confederation that saw the francophone population decrease from a majority to a small minority group. This shift resulted in Premier Thomas Greenway controversially ending legislative bilingualism and removing funding for French Catholic Schools in 1890.
By 1911, Winnipeg was Canada's third-largest city. However, the city faced financial difficulty when the Panama Canal opened in 1914. The canal reduced reliance on Canada's rail system for international trade; the increase in shipping traffic helped Vancouver to surpass Winnipeg in both prosperity and population by the end of World War I.
1919 Strike to present
More than 30,000 workers walked off their jobs in May 1919 in what came to be known as the Winnipeg General Strike. The strike was a product of postwar recession, labour conditions, the activity of union organizers and a large influx of returning World War I soldiers seeking work. After many arrests, deportations, and incidents of violence, the strike ended on 21 June 1919, when the Riot Act was read and a group of Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers charged a group of strikers. Two strikers were killed and at least thirty others were injured on the day that became known as Bloody Saturday; the event polarized the population. One of the leaders of the strike, J. S. Woodsworth, went on to found Canada's first major socialist party, the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, which later became the New Democratic Party.
The Manitoba Legislative Building, constructed mainly of Tyndall stone, opened in 1920; its dome supports a bronze statue finished in gold leaf, titled "Eternal Youth and the Spirit of Enterprise" (commonly known as the "Golden Boy"). The stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression resulted in widespread unemployment, worsened by drought and low agricultural prices. The Depression ended after the start of World War II in 1939. In the Battle of Hong Kong, The Winnipeg Grenadiers were among the first Canadians to engage in combat against Japan. Battalion members who survived combat were taken prisoner and endured brutal treatment in prisoner of war camps. In 1942, the Victory Loan Campaign staged a mock Nazi invasion of Winnipeg to promote awareness of the stakes of the war in Europe. When the war ended, pent-up demand generated a boom in housing development, although building activity was checked by the 1950 Red River Flood. The federal government estimated damages at over $26 million, although the province indicated that it was at least double that.
Prior to 1972, Winnipeg was the largest of thirteen cities and towns in a metropolitan area around the Red and Assiniboine Rivers. A consolidated metropolitan "unicity" government was established on 27 July 1971, taking effect in 1972. The City of Winnipeg Act incorporated the current city. Winnipeg experienced a severe economic downturn in advance of the early 1980s recession, during which the city incurred closures of prominent businesses, including the Winnipeg Tribune, as well as the Swift's and Canada Packers meat packing plants. In 1981, Winnipeg was one of the first cities in Canada to sign a tripartite agreement with the province and federal government to redevelop its downtown area, and the three levels of government contributed over $271 million to its development. In 1989, the reclamation and redevelopment of the CNR rail yards turned The Forks into Winnipeg's most popular tourist attraction. The city was threatened by the 1997 Red River Flood as well as further floods in 2009 and 2011.