Ancient Lake Agassiz
( Originally Published 1900 )
The Minnesota River, rising on the western boundary of the State, flows nearly five hundred miles in a deeply carved valley through the "Big Woods" to the Mississippi. Its source is in the Big Stone Lake, which, with Lake Traverse to the northward, forms part of the Dakota boundary. The Red River of the North, rising in Lake Traverse and gathering together the streams on the western slope of the Itascan plateau, flows northward between Minnesota and North Dakota, and into Manitoba, two hundred and fifty miles to Lake Winnipeg. This river has cut its channel in a nearly level plain, and it is curious that in times of freshet its waters connect, through Lakes Traverse and the Big Stone, with the Minnesota, so that steamboats of light draught can then occasionally pass from the Mississippi waters north to Lake Winnipeg. It was this rich and level plain of the valley of the Red River that in the glacial epoch formed the bed of a vast lake which scientists have named Lake Agassiz. Its area, as indicated by well-marked shore-lines and deltas, was a hundred miles wide and over four hundred miles long, stretching far into Manitoba, and the waters were two to four hundred feet deep. It was held up on the north by the retreating ice-sheet of the great glacier, the outlet being southward, where a channel fifty feet deep, fifty miles long and over a mile wide can now be distinctly traced leading its outflow into the Minnesota River, whose valley its floods then greatly enlarged on the way to the Mississippi. The plain of this lake bed is almost level, descending to-wards the northward about a foot to the mile, and here the ancient lake deposited the thick, rich, black soils. which have made the greatest wheat-growing region of North America.
The first settlement of Dakota was on the Big Sioux River at Sioux Falls, where flour-mills and other manufacturing establishments have gathered around a fine water-power, and there are nearly fifty thousand people in the two towns of Sioux Falls. in South Dakota and Sioux City in Iowa. The whole region to the northward and far over the Canadian boundary is a land of wheat-fields, with grain elevators dotting the fiat prairie at the railway stations, for all the roads have lines to tap the lucrative trade of this prolific region. The Northern Pacific Rail-way crosses Red River at Fargo, which, with the town of Moorhead, both being wheat and flour centres, has a population of fifteen thousand. To the westward are the vast " Bonanza" wheat farms of Dakota, of which the best known is the Dalrymple farm, covering forty-five thousand acres. Steam-ploughs make continuous furrows for many miles in the cultivation, and in the spring the seeding is done. The whole country is covered with a vast expanse of waving, yellow grain in the summer, and the harvest comes in August. To the westward flows James River through a similar district, and the country beyond rises into the higher plateau stretching to the Missouri. This fertile wheat-growing region extends far northward over the Canadian border forming the Province of Manitoba, the name coming from Lake Manitoba, Which in the Cree Indian dialect means the "home of Manitou, the Great Spirit." Its enormous wheat product makes the business of the flouring-mills of Minneapolis, Duluth and many other cities, and furnishes a vast stream of grain to go through the Soo Canal down the lakes and St. Lawrence, much being exported to Europe.
The Canadian Pacific Railway, which provides the traffic outlet for Manitoba, comes from the northern shore of Lake Superior at Port Arthur northwestward up the valley of the Kaministiquia River, and its tributary the Wabigoon, the Indian " Stream of the Lilies." This was the ancient portage, and by this trail and Winnipeg River, the canoe route of the Hudson Bay Company voyageurs, Lord Wolseley led the British army in 1870 to Fort Garry (Winnipeg) that suppressed Louis Riel's French-Indian half-breed rebellion, which had possession of the post. The railway route is through an extensive forest, and leads near the northern shore of the Lake of the Woods, crossing its outlet stream at Rat Portage, so named from the numerous colonies of muskrats, a town of sawmills standing at the rocky rim of the lake, where its waters break through and down rapes of twenty feet fall to seek Winnipeg River, the Ounipigon or " water" of the Crees. Here, and at Keewatin beyond, are grand water-powers, the latter having mammoth mills that grind the Manitoba wheat and send the flour to England. Then, emerging from the forests, the railway crosses the rich black soils of the Red River Valley, and beyond that river enters Winnipeg, the "Prairie City" and commercial metropolis of the. Canadian Northwest. For nearly eight hundred miles this alluvial region spreads west and northwest of Winnipeg, with varying degrees of fertility, to the Rocky Mountains. Here, at the junction of the Assiniboine River, coming from the remote northwest, with Red River, has grown a Canadian Chicago of fifty thousand people, developed almost as if by magic, from the little settlement of two hundred and forty souls, whom Wolseley found in 1870, around what was then regarded as the distant Hudson Bay Company frontier post of Fort Garry. Its original name when first established was Fort Gibraltar. The two rivers wander crookedly over the flat land, and between them the city covers an extensive surface. A half-dozen railways radiate in various directions, and there are spacious car-yards and stations. Winnipeg has an energetic. population, largely Scotch and Americans, bat with picturesque touches given by the copper-colored India and French half-breeds, who wander about in their native costumes, though most of these have gone away from Red River Valley to the far North-west. The city has good streets, many fine buildings and attractive stores. The Manitoba Government Buildings adjoin the Assiniboine River, and the military barracks of Fort Osborne are alongside. Near the junction of the rivers is the little stone gate-way left standing, which is almost all that remains of the original trading-post buildings of Fort Garry, representing the venerable Hudson Bay Company, chartered by King Charles II. in 1670, that controlled the whole vast empire of the Canadian Northwest. This Company was a grant by the king originally to Prince Rupert and a few associates of a monopoly of the fur trade over a vast territory in North America, extending from Lake Superior to Hudson Bay and the Pacific Ocean. In this way that portion of British America came to be popularly known in England as " Prince Rupert's Land." The great Company existed for nearly two hundred years, had one hundred and fifty-two trading-posts, and employed three thousand traders, agents and voyageurs, and many thousands of Indians. In the bartering with the red men, the unit of account was the beaver skin, which was the equivalent of two martens or twenty muskrats, while the pelt of a silver fox was five times as valuable as a beaver. In 1869, when the Dominion of Canada was formed, England bought the sovereignty of the Company for $1,500,000 and transferred its territory to Canada. The Company still retains its posts and stores, however, and con-duets throughout the Northwest a mercantile business. Far to the westward of Winnipeg spread the fertile prairies of Manitoba and Assiniboia Provinces, until they gradually blend into the rounded and grass-covered foothills making the grazing ranges of Alberta that finally rise into the snow-capped peaks of the Rockies.