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Completing the Design, Territorial Expansion

Red River Rebellion, Arctic Archipelago, Louis Riel, Canadian territory, provisional government

Westward expansion was an early Canadian priority. In 1869 the Hudson’s Bay Company agreed to sell to Canada its northern territories—Rupert’s Land and The North-Western Territory—which together became the Northwest Territories. This new territory made Canada, with just 3.7 million people, one of the world’s largest nations in land area. The traditionally autonomous Metis of Red River, who had never been consulted, resisted annexation. They feared that they would lose their land and be overwhelmed by farmers migrating west from Ontario.

They organized in the Red River Rebellion to protect their land rights, their way of life, and—for the French-speaking Metis—their language and religion. Louis Riel, a young Red River Metis educated in Montreal, declared a provisional government for the Red River area and blocked the arrival of Canadian officials. Negotiations resulted in Red River entering the Confederation as the province of Manitoba, and the French language, Catholic education, and other rights were protected. The Canadian government promised to reserve 566,580 hectares (1.4 million acres) of land for the Metis. However, when British troops established Canadian authority in Red River, anti-Metis feeling was so strong that Riel was obliged to go into exile. Waves of immigration from Ontario soon made the Metis a minority in Manitoba, and the newcomers were hostile to them. In addition, most of the land grants that had been promised to the Metis were delayed by the government. As a result, many of the Metis who were bison hunters migrated farther west to the Saskatchewan River valley.

Confederation soon expanded in the west, east, and north. British Columbia agreed to join after Canada committed to building a railroad to the Pacific coast within ten years. It became the sixth province in 1871. On the east coast, Prince Edward Island became the seventh province in 1873. Britain transferred the Arctic Archipelago to Canada in 1880, completing the Canadian territory except for Newfoundland and Labrador, which remained separate until 1949. Also in 1880, land was taken from the Northwest Territories to enlarge Manitoba. In 1912 Manitoba received another grant of land, and the remainder of the Northwest Territories on the south and east of Hudson Bay was divided between Ontario and Quebec.

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