These four paintings were part of the recent Robert Houle exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. Houle is a respected artist with an international reputation who comes from Manitoba’s Sandy Bay First Nation.
Houle says his four paintings depict a spiritual place, the Narrows of Lake Manitoba where the water beating against the limestone cliffs and pounding on the pebbled shore creates the sound of Saulteaux ancestors’ voices, believed to be the voice of Manitou.
“To the Saulteaux,” Houle says, “the Narrows are known as Manito-waban, meaning the ‘divine straits’ or ‘the place where god lives.'”
On the official government site for Manitoba, it says that newcomers to the province were told by the Indigenous people on the prairies that at the Lake Manitoba Narrows the sound of the waves crashing against the rocks of an offshore island was the voice of Manitou or the Great Spirit.
A man named Thomas Spence used the word first in an official way. He was the leader of a settlement near Portage la Prairie and they decided in 1868 to call their community and the district around it The Republic of Manitobah.
Thomas Spence was part of Louis Riel’s provisional government whose delegates went to Ottawa to negotiate the terms for the establishment of a new province they initially wanted to call Assiniboia.
Louis Riel didn’t think Assiniboia was the best choice however and in a letter of instructions to one of the Ottawa delegates suggested either North-West or Manitoba be the name chosen.
When Sir John A Macdonald the prime minister announced the name of the new province as Manitoba in 1870 he said it was chosen for its pleasant sound and importance to the original inhabitants of Manitoba.
In May we celebrate the official founding of Manitoba and so it’s a good month to remember that the name of our province has strong roots in its Indigenous and Metis heritage.
Storied Land- Metis, Indigenous People and Mennonites