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The Forks National Historic Site of Canada

History

Land Use in the Precontact Period

The confluence of the Red and Assiniboine rivers has been a focal point for human use for at least six thousand years. The Forks has served as meeting place, fishing camp and fur trade camp.

Bison grazing on prairie grasses
Bison grazing on prairie grasses
© Parks Canada

The first inhabitants of The Forks were large game hunters who stayed seasonally near this important source of water to hunt and fish. Large runs of sturgeon, sauger, walleye and other fish, travelling from the headwaters of the Red and Assiniboine rivers to Lake Winnipeg, made The Forks a rich fishing ground several times a year. The forests and plains that surrounded the confluence were plentiful in game: deer, elk, bear, and, during the winter, bison.

The remains of two campfires along the banks of the Assiniboine River show that Aboriginal groups used the area as early as 4000 BC. By 1000 BC, Aboriginal groups were camping here for extended periods of time, taking advantage of the rich food resources along a major transportation and trade route. Archaeological explorations have produced items from this era originating from as far away as the Lake Superior region and northern Texas. These items show that The Forks played many important roles for the people living in this area: a provisioning site; a route in seasonal migrations from the coniferous forests to the north and the plains to the south and west; and part of a transcontinental trade route.

Village
Village
© Parks Canada

The Forks was occupied by the Assiniboin when French explorers first heard of this region and its inhabitants. The Assiniboin (meaning Warriors of the Rock) are a Siouan group that had moved north into this area during the 17th century when they split from the Sioux (Dakota) in Minnesota. Despite the fact that the Assiniboin were settled around this area, they did not establish permanent settlements along the Red River, and for good reason. As the principal transportation route from the south, the Red River was extremely convenient for raiding parties. The Forks was a meeting place during this time, but people didn't linger. Periodic raiding and warfare characterized the relations between the Sioux (Dakota) on one hand, and on the other hand the Assiniboin and their allies, the Cree and the Ojibway, until the 1870s. (Please note that although the river is the Assiniboine, Assiniboin without the 'e' is how the people themselves prefer their name to be spelled.)