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The permanent settlement of the area that is now known as St. Vital began with the arrival of the Selkirk settlers at present-day Winnipeg in 1812. It signalled the beginning of a fundamental change in the lives of the people who worked and lived in the area, most of whom were Métis. The lives of this large group, offspring of Indian mothers and European fathers, centred on the fur trade and the buffalo hunt, agriculture was practiced but not as the primary activity. When the Hudson’s Bay Company and its rival, the North West Company of Montréal, merged in 1821, it resulted in the loss of work for many Métis families who were engaged in various fur trade activities. Many of these families turned to farming as an alternative. Support for this change came from the Roman Catholic church in St. Boniface, which began a program of bringing francophone families, farmers and professionals, from Quebec, thereby increasing the population and partially transplanting French society in the West.

Along the Seine River, Métis families were known to have settled along its banks in the early 1820s. Other francophone families followed – names like Riel, Genthon, Lavallee, St. Germain, Guay, Mager, Ritchot and Mouard - intent on becoming farmers.[1] The population also grew as a result of Métis families from Fort Daer, North Dakota moving north to escape the Sioux unrest.[2] Slowly the area developed, although drought, flood and grasshopper infestation often stunted the community’s growth. The first school was organized in 1860 and named St. Vital.[3] In 1883, the Rural Municipality of St. Vital was created, but in 1891 it became part of the Rural Municipality of St. Boniface (which had incorporated in 1880). In 1903, a Market Gardeners’ Society was formed, acknowledging the importance of the activity to the community and the name of the Municipality was changed to St. Vital to avoid confusion with the Town of St. Boniface (which would incorporate as a city in 1908).

The Rural Municipality of St. Vital in the early 1910s was a fascinating place. While still a rural area with many large landowners and market gardeners, real estate developers were applying increasing pressure on these owners to sell their property to allow subdivision of the land into small residential lots. The Winnipeg newspapers were full of advertisements touting St. Mary’s Road as “the Portage Avenue of St. Vital.”[4] The growth of the Municipality was also shown by the 1911 construction of its new municipal hall on St. Mary’s Road. This pressure was also seen politically where the Municipal council, largely controlled by established Francophone farmers and dairymen fought to block the activities of a new group of mainly Anglophone developers trying to subdivide property, extend streetcar lines and introduce sweeping changes to life in St. Vital.

In 1912, the boundaries changed as part of St. Vital’s territory became the Municipality of Fort Garry[5] and a new Anglophone-led council was elected in St. Vital.[6] By 1913, the Municipal council was tendering large sewer, paving and other construction contracts as parts of the area “urbanized.” There was also pressure being applied by leaders of the nearby City of St. Boniface who were lobbying for an amalgamation between the two entities. But this aggressive program of expansion was not matched by an increased tax base – much of the Municipality was still open farm land – and with less than 10,000 people in the area, St. Vital verged on bankruptcy in 1926. The provincial government stepped in and St. Vital’s affairs were taken over by the Municipal and Public Utilities Board for 1927, with the municipal offices and council chambers vacating their own building for second and third storey space in the Fire Hall on St. Mary’s Road.[7] This arrangement continued until the construction of new civic offices immediately south of the fire hall in 1960.[8] The community of St. Vital grew at a healthy rate but was never anxious for extensive commercial development.

The municipal council, housed in the fire hall, resisted incorporation until the City of St. Vital was formed in 1962. At this point, the population was 27,000 people. Likewise, in 1971 St. Vital joined Unicity with great reluctance and the former council marked the event with a mock burial for the crest of the former municipality.

[1] V. and M. Wyatt, “A History of St. Vital,” unpublished paper prepared for the St. Vital Historical Society, June 1962, pp. 1-13.

[2] Information supplied by Bob Holliday, President, St. Vital Historical Society, May 8, 2010.

[3] History of Settlement and Development of St. Vital, 1822-1970 (Winnipeg, MB: St. Vital Historical Society, no date), p. 3.

[4] Manitoba Free Press, January 11, 1913, p. 40.

[5] “St. Vital,” unpublished history supplied by the St. Vital Historical Society, p. 2. Below as “St. Vital.”

[6] Richard Wilson, “St. Vital - 1912”, The Dominion, December 1912. Wilson was, coincidentally, St. Vital Municipality’s first English-speaking reeve.

[7] Winnipeg Free Press, 4 March 1960. [8] “New Civic Offices Opened in 1960”, St. Vital Lance, September 10, 1970.