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Seasonal use of the area known as Winnipeg has occurred for thousands of years, as First Nations groups took advantage of the area's abundant wildlife and plants to feed and clothe themselves. The confluence of the region's two major rivers, the Red and Assiniboine, increased the area's importance as a meeting and trading place.

European occupation of the area began in 1783 with the construction of Fort Rouge by the trader La Vérendrye, although it was nearly 30 years before a permanent settlement was begun. This was the Red River Settlement, championed by Lord Selkirk (1771-1820), part owner of the Hudson's Bay Company, who brought a group of Scottish and Irish farmers and their families in 1812 and 1813 and settled them on land north of what today is the RedwoodBridge. These Settlers were joined by the First Nations people, by the Métis, the so-called Children of the Fur Trade, American traders, Francophone settlers in St. Boniface, eastern Canadians and others from all parts of the globe in this frontier community.

In the late 1860s, the Canadian government, in an attempt to secure its claim of control over the land west of the Great Lakes, moved to bring the territory into the Dominion of Canada. Many in the area looked on this with contempt because the government had reached this decision without satisfactory consultation with local groups. The result was the Riel Rebellion of 1869, led by Métis leader Louis Riel (1844-1885) whose followers blocked the entrance of Canadian officials to the area and successfully negotiated more favourable terms for the creation of the Province of Manitoba.

In 1874, the City of Winnipeg was incorporated, a collection of small buildings concentrated along the Main Road (now Main Street), a cart trail running between the Hudson's Bay Company's two main trading posts: Upper Fort Garry near the present-day intersection of Main Street and Broadway; and it's Lower Fort Garry, approximately 30 kilometres to the north near present-day Selkirk, Manitoba.

But this would not last long; the coming of Canada's first transcontinental railway, the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), in 1881 changed everything. Almost overnight, Winnipeg was connected to the established centres of Eastern Canada and by extension, Europe. It meant a permanent, modern and swift communication system that allowed Winnipeg to develop as the entire region's premier city, taking advantage of its geographical location and favourable freight rates over the CPR that guaranteed Winnipeg businesses would profit from all goods traveling to the West. The associated real estate boom of 1881-1882 created Winnipeg's downtown, leading to the re-organization of its commercial and residential districts and the creation of a large warehouse district. Despite the end of the boom and an economic depression, the stage had been set for future growth.

It was the first decade of the 20th century that saw the emergence of the modern City of Winnipeg, as new transcontinental railway construction, millions of dollars of overseas capital, a spike in population growth and the expansion of agriculture and settlement in Western Canada combined with other factors to make Winnipeg one of the fastest growing cities on earth.

As the early downtown residential districts were replaced by massive banks, office towers, department stores and warehouses, new residential districts were developed and older areas expanded - Wolseley and the West End, FortRouge & RiverHeights (annexed in 1882) and Elmwood (annexed in 1906). The small lots in these neighbourhoods filled with single family detached homes and a newer form of residential development, the apartment block, which was more popular in Winnipeg than any other Canadian city during the pre-1920 period.

Winnipeg assumed a leadership role in other areas: its modern school buildings were the envy of divisions throughout North America; its water, brought from the Shoal Lake Aqueduct and its high pressure fire protection systems were both highly acclaimed; its railway facilities, which include two magnificent railway stations and miles of switching tracks, could handle thousands of visitors and travellers and hundreds of thousands of boxcars of manufactured goods and other products daily; its Grain exchange was a world leader in the buying and selling of wheat and other commodities; it had an extensive collection of parks and public spaces throughout the city; and it had a vibrant arts scene with some of the finest live theatre available on the continent and dozens of motion picture houses showing the latest movies.

Added to the growth of the central region was an expansion and modernization of the areas surrounding the city - rural municipalities that matured and evolved and themselves incorporated as towns and cities, including St. Boniface, East Kildonan, West Kildonan and Transcona.

Growth stalled with World War I and related global changes and although they were renewed for a short time after the War, it would not be until after the Second World War that Winnipeg would again see significant growth.

Beginning in the early 1950s, large Canadian cities were experimenting with two-tiered or metropolitan governments whereby a Metropolitan Council would provide leadership over strategic functions such as planning, public transportation, housing and sewage and water and many financial activities (taxation and money borrowing). The smaller surrounding entities, municipalities, towns and cities, would come under the guidance of the new Council while retaining many of their traditional services - a system, many felt, was preferable to amalgamation because it retained some of the autonomy for older neighbourhoods and its citizens. 

This system was introduced in Toronto in 1953 and in 1960 Winnipeg adopted a similar style of civic government. But a decade later, after a series of studies and reports, the City of Winnipeg began to move to a single tier system. On July 27, 1971, the City of Winnipeg Act received Royal assent, incorporating the rural municipalities of Charleswood, FortGarry, North Kildonan and Old Kildonan, Town of Tuxedo, and the cities of East Kildonan, West Kildonan, St. Vital, Transcona, St. Boniface, St. James-Assiniboine, Winnipeg and the Metropolitan Corporation of Greater Winnipeg into a unified City of Winnipeg, known as Unicity. The new City came into legal existence on January 1st, 1972. The new unified City Council consisted of 50 Councillors elected on the basis of one from each of the 50 wards, a Mayor elected from the City-at-large and 13 community committees. In 1977, the wards were reduced to 29 and the community committees to 6; further reduced to 15 and 5 in 1992.