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History of Settlement in the Canadian Prairies

The Canadian Prairies were peopled in six great waves of migration, spanning from prehistory to the present. The migration from Asia, about 13,300 years ago, produced an Indigenous population of 20,000 to 50,000 by about 1640. Between 1640 and 1840, several thousand European and Canadian fur traders arrived, followed by several hundred British immigrants. They created dozens of small outposts and a settlement in the Red River Colony, where the Métis became the largest part of the population. The third wave, from the 1840s to the 1890s, consisted mainly but not solely of Canadians of British heritage. The fourth and by far the largest wave was drawn from many nations, mostly European. It occurred from 1897 to 1929, with a pause (1914–22) during and after the First World War. The fifth wave, drawn from other Canadian provinces and from Europe and elsewhere, commenced in the late 1940s. It lasted through the 1960s. The sixth wave, beginning in the 1970s, drew especially upon peoples of the southern hemisphere. It has continued, with fluctuations, to the present. Throughout the last century, the region has also steadily lost residents, as a result of migration to other parts of Canada, to the United States, and elsewhere.

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Dominion of Canada

Dominion of Canada is the country’s formal title, though it is rarely used. It was first applied to Canada at Confederation in 1867. It was also used in the formal titles of other countries in the British Commonwealth. Government institutions in Canada effectively stopped using the word Dominion by the early 1960s. The last hold-over was the term Dominion Day, which was officially changed to Canada Day in 1982. Today, the word Dominion is seldom used in either private or government circles.

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Rupert's Land

Rupert’s Land was a vast territory of northern wilderness. It represented a third of what is now Canada. From 1670 to 1870, it was the exclusive commercial domain of the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) and the primary trapping grounds of the fur trade. The territory was named after Prince Rupert, the HBC’s first governor. Three years after Confederation, the Government of Canada acquired Rupert’s Land from the HBC for $1.5-million. It is the largest real estate transaction (by land area) in the country’s history. The purchase of Rupert’s Land transformed Canada geographically. It changed from a modest country in the northeast of the continent into an expansive one that reached across North America. Rupert’s Land was eventually divided among Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and the Northwest Territories.

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Transportation in the North

Inuit and subarctic Indigenous peoples have traversed the North since time immemorial. Indigenous knowledge and modes of transportation helped early European explorers and traders travel and survive on these expanses. Later settlement depended to an extraordinary degree on the development of transportation systems. Today, the transportation connections of northern communities vary from place to place. While the most remote settlements are often only accessible by air, some have road, rail and marine connections. These are often tied to industrial projects such as mines.

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Fraser River Gold Rush

In 1858, around 30,000 gold seekers flooded the banks of the Fraser River from Hope to just north of Lillooet in British Columbia’s first significant gold rush. Although it dissipated by the mid-1860s, the Fraser River Gold Rush had a significant impact on the area’s Indigenous peoples and resulted in the Fraser Canyon War. Fears that the massive influx of American miners would lead the United States to annex the non-sovereign British territory known as New Caledonia also resulted in the founding of British Columbia as a colony on 2 August 1858 (see The Fraser River Gold Rush and the Founding of British Columbia). By the mid-1860s, the Fraser Rush collapsed, and British Columbia sank into a recession.