Date of Manitoba’s official ‘birthday’ debatable, but importance of province’s history is not

The Manitoba Legislative Building. Bob Pearson / Getty Images / File

Wednesday is a special day for Manitoba — it’s the province’s 150th birthday.

…well, kind of.

Traditionally, May 12 has been celebrated as Manitoba Day, in recognition of the Manitoba Act — the document that formally created the province — receiving Royal Assent in 1870.

July 15, however, is the date the province was officially incorporated into Confederation.

According to a University of Manitoba history professor, however, there’s a third date that could also be seen as the province’s birthday.

“The crucial date is June 24, when the people of Red River Assiniboia district —  when their legislature passed the Manitoba Act — in other words, they approved entering Canada on June 24,” Gerald Friesen, professor emeritus, told 680 CJOB.

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“Louis Riel was the president of that district… the legislative assembly had sat and passed the act on June 24, and then it adjourned.”

Will Goodon of the MMF.
Will Goodon of the MMF.

For Will Goodon of the Manitoba Metis Federation, Wednesday’s 150th anniversary of Manitoba’s proclamation is one of many important historical dates on the 2020 calendar.

“The proclamation today 150 years ago could very well be seen as the day that we need to celebrate,” Goodon, the MMF’s minister of housing and property management, told 680 CJOB.

“At the Manitoba Metis Federation, we have all along said we need to celebrate this whole year of 2020 and this is one of the days that we need to mark and it’s an important one.”

Read more: Coronavirus: Manitoba 150 celebrations postponed, legislature to reconvene April 15

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Goodon said there were clearly high hopes among the Metis people in what would become Manitoba 150 years ago. While there were plenty of difficulties, and while the federal government ‘didn’t treat its Confederation partners too well’, joining Confederation was the start of an ongoing conversation.

“There was that government-to-government relationship — nation-to-nation,” he said. “We went into it in good faith.

“It’s been a struggle, but I think we’re fighting our way back into being recognized as true partners in Confederation.”

Goodon said in 1870, between 85 and 90 per cent of people living in the region were Metis, and they needed to make their demands known as a unique culture with unique needs.

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“We thought they were agreed to and as it turns out, we needed another 150 years to press that and make that happen.

“When you look at today, whether it’s housing or other issues, we’re working very well with Canada at this point.

In addition to being Manitoba’s unofficial birthday, Wednesday marks 100 years of the iconic Manitoba Legislative Building, which will be celebrated with a re-dedication of the building.

Janice Filmon.

Manitoba’s Lieutenant Governor, Janice Filmon, told 680 CJOB she agrees that “if you want to get absolutely technical,” July 15 is the province’s founding day, and that it’s a great tie-in with the anniversary of the building on Broadway.

“I have to say —  not a little bit prejudiced or biased — it’s the most beautiful legislative building across Canada. Nobody has that grand staircase and those bison guarding them. It’s phenomenal.”

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Click to play video: 'Bank building at Portage and Main to become Métis Nation Heritage Centre' Bank building at Portage and Main to become Métis Nation Heritage Centre
Bank building at Portage and Main to become Métis Nation Heritage Centre – May 12, 2020

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