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The area known as Fort Garry, located in the south, both east and west of the Red River, began as the result of the expansion of the Métis settlements on the east side of the Red River. Most of the Métis of the area were buffalo hunters and ox-cart freighters, taking advantage of the nearby river and overland transportation networks. [1] The east side, with a population of approximately 600, would incorporate as the Rural Municipality of St. Vital in 1903, named after Bishop Vital-Justin Grandin (1829-1902), who was the religious leader of the Roman Catholic Church in the area and had been a long-time spokesman for Métis rights. [2] West of the river, the area was also settled by Francophone families and became known as West St. Vital. Through it ran the Pembina Trail, an important early overland link between Upper Fort Garry (Winnipeg) and the international border leading to St. Paul, Minnesota.

The traditional semi-nomadic life of these families began to change in the 1850s, first with the arrival of steamboats traveling from the Minnesota territory to the Red River Settlement beginning in June 1859. This would mark a reduction of dependence on the Pembina Trail for trade and commerce and also a reduction in the need for Métis freighters. Less than a decade later came the end of the organized buffalo hunt and in 1871 the last brigade of Red River carts left from the Red River Settlement for St. Cloud, Minnesota. [3] All these changes radically altered life in West St. Vital, but even more drastic changes were to occur with the construction of the transcontinental railway. [4]

Construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway in the early 1880s had a profound effect on all of Western Canada. In West St. Vital, the influx of Anglophone settlers caused almost all of the original Francophone families to sell their property and move further west or south into the established Métis community of St. Norbert.

The area continued its slow pace of development until after 1900, when Winnipeg's population began to boom, causing the expansion of residential districts outwards from the City's core. West St. Vital's population had grown to approximately 1,000 by 1905, [5] and a short time later, the provincial government announced the purchase of 220 hectares of land for its new agricultural college in the south end of the region. Opened in 1912, the University of Manitoba remains one of Fort Garry's main institutions. The Rural Municipality of Fort Garry was incorporated on April 6, 1912, a community comprised mainly of sparsely settled market gardeners and other agricultural operations. [6]

Population growth after World War II led to an increase in residential development. One of the most unique neighbourhoods is Wildwood, located on the inside of a curve of the Red River. Completed in the late 1940s, this planned community adhering to the 'Radburn' concept with no front streets, was one of the first of its type in North America. Newer districts, such as Fort Richmond, Waverley Heights and Fairfield Park have developed as the need for modern homes in Fort Garry evolved.

[1] N. Shipley, Road to the Forks: A History of the Community of Fort Garry (Winnipeg, MB: Stovel-Advocate Press Ltd., 1969), p. 15.

[2] William J. Fraser, "Bishop Grandin Remembered," in Manitoba Pageant (Winnipeg, MB: Manitoba Historical Society, Volume 24, Number 2, Winter 1979).

[3] Ibid., p. 29. When regularly scheduled stagecoaches began using the Pembina Trail in the late 1870s, it became known as the Pembina Highway.

[4] Ibid., pp. 15-17.

[5] Information from Legislative Assembly of Manitoba Hansard, December 1, 2003 found at www.gov.mb.ca/legislature/hansard/2nd-38th/vol_08.

[6] N. Shipley, op. cit., pp. 44-45. After the purchase of the land for the agricultural college, a rumour surfaced that the area would become the site of extensive real estate speculation and take the name South Winnipeg. Public opposition to this scheme resulted in a name change to Fort Garry.