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Source of the Name Manitoba

by J. J. Wilson

Manitoba Pageant, Winter 1970, Volume 15, Number 2

This article was published originally in Manitoba Pageant by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make it available here as a free, public service.

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I was for some years in charge of Manitoba House Fur Trading Post on the west shore of Lake Manitoba, about fifteen miles up from the Narrows. Just adjacent and strung along the lake shore with its long and narrow lots - thus affording each settler a lake frontage - lay Manitoba House Settlement, with its little Anglican Mission Church, log tower belfry and parsonage in the centre. Nearby was the school house and post office named "Kinosota P.O." [1] The people of this little community were all descendants of employees of the Hudson's Bay Company and the North West Trading Company of French, English, and mostly Scottish extraction, who had intermarried with the Indians. The Ebb and Flow Indian Reserve was nearby and the Dog Creek Reserve was directly opposite on the east shore of the lake. From these sources the post derived its trade. It was here that I became intimately acquainted with the Indians and other native settlers of the district among whom I lived on neighborly and friendly terms for some years and made friendships that will last all my life. One of my neighbors, especially Mr. Hebron Moar (now deceased), who was postmaster, might well be termed the Patriarch of the Community. He had a good English education and could speak Indian fluently; he was considered all around the country as the best interpreter of the Indian language and was familiar with Indian traditions and legends. From him I learned the facts which I am now about to relate.

Stating it briefly: as the Hudson's Bay Company contemplated closing their post, I decided to take a venture on my own account and accordingly resigned and bought the old Manito-Wapa Indian Agency building so picturesquely located on the west shore of The Narrows - at the point about a half-mile or a mile wide - and looking out on Manitou Island in the gap between the east and west shores of the lake. Here I carried on successfully for a number of years the business of a "Free Trader," mostly in furs and fish and my customers were my old friends the Ebb & Flow, Dog Creek and Fairford Indians. They called it The Narrows-Manito Wapaw; Manito from the island which they believed to be the dwelling place of the Great Spirit; and Wapaw, meaning The Narrows or Narrow Waters. Literally therefore, the meaning is "Spirit of the Narrow Waters." Manito-Wapaw became in the mouths of the white man, Manitoba, a word easier to pronounce.

In Indian mythology it was believed that the weird sound produced by the rapid current passing over the shingly lime stone rocks on the shore of the island, especially during high winds, was the voice of the Great Spirit. This, no doubt, gave rise to the erroneous idea entertained by some writers on the subject that Manitoba meant God's voice, which, with others of extra patriotic fervor, became God's country.

Public Archives of Manitoba, 100-1-13 (1931)

Editor's Note

1. Kinosoto P.O. Originally manitowapta or strait of the spirit; name suggested by Honourable John Norquay and adopted for Post Office in 1889. Geographic Board of Canada.

Page revised: 19 July 2009

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