Brief history of Manitoba

From 1867-70, the entirety of what is present-day Manitoba was Rupert’s Land. In 1870, the Northwest Territory and Rupert’s Land merged to become one vast territory encompassing modern day Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and northern Quebec.

Map of Ruperts Land 1867-70, Wikimedia Commons

Hudson’s Bay

Prior to the Dominion of Canada, the territory was administered by Great Britain. See the records of the National Archives at Kew, London.

  • 1670 – the Hudson’s Bay Company was created by British royal charter
  • 1763 – the North-West Company was formed to encompass and exploit that part of the territory not covered by the HBC charter
  • 1820 – HBC was joined with the North-West Company
  • 1869 – HBC sold its rights to the two-year old Dominion of Canada

From: Mandy Banton, Administering the Empire, 1801-1968: A Guide to the Records of the Colonial Office in the National Archives of the UK (London, UK: University of London Press, School of Advanced Study, Institute of Historical Research, 2020), : accessed 14 Jun 2021.

Lookup table for the composition of Canada, 1867-1999. © 2018. Past Presence. All rights reserved.

This page last updated 3 Jan 2023. This page contains resources primarily for Manitoba, Canada. Main archives and lesser known locales have location maps. Listings are under the following categories:

  • Archives, Local Histories
  • BMDs and Divorce
  • Cemeteries, Obituaries
  • Censuses – see Western Canadian Censuses
  • Church Records
  • Courts, Law, Legal, Prison
  • Hospitals
  • Land, Directories, Property
  • Lists
  • Maps
  • Newspapers

Archives, Local Histories

Archives of Manitoba

This the provincial archive. Look here for the HBCA holdings (see below), wills, WWI soldier database, and much more.

Archives – FamilySearch Research wiki – Manitoba

The most comprehensive guide on the internet.

Archives – Gabriel Dumont Institute of Native Studies and Applied Research

Site for genealogists looking into Métis ancestry.

Archives – Hudson’s Bay Company Archives (HBCA)

Map of Ruperts Land, abt. 17th cent, BlankMap-USA-states-Canada-provinces.svg: Lokal_ProfilWpdms_ruperts_land.jpg: en:User:Decumanusderivative work: Themightyquill, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

All of what is now present-day Manitoba was Indigenous and HBC territory. The records of this important company have been gifted to the archives of Manitoba. Some thousand reels have been digitized, in addition to ten thousand volumes.

Archives – Manitoba Genealogical Society

1045 St. James Street, Winnipeg. Thank you to the members of the FB group Manitoba Genealogy for recommendations to the society. They were right! I joined up. The society provides a wealth of information and links to all things Manitoba.

Archives – Pembina Manitou Archive

The municipality of Pembina touches the Canada / United State border and encompasses the communities of Darlingford, Kaleida, La Rivière, Manitou, and Snowflake.

Archives – Red River Ancestry Genealogy Centre – St Andrews, MB

The St. Andrews Rectory is a museum run and operated by the St. Andrews Heritage Center who is a Municipal Heritage Committee established by the RM of St. Andrews in 2001.

Archives – Selkirk Museum

Northeast of the provincial capital of Winnipeg, Selkirk’s museum has a small but growing digital collection including city fonds, family biographies, and a timeline of significant events in the area.

Archives – University of Manitoba Library Archives

University of Manitoba, 25 Chancellors Cir, Winnipeg, MB R3T 2N2. An important archive for the province. You wouldn’t go far wrong to start here and explore the many collections.

Archives – Winnipeg Public Library – Local History

Winnipeg’s Local History archivists have assembled some resources for the online genealogist. Among them are Henderson’s Directories 1880-1965, abt. 130 postcards, and Winnipeg neighbourhoods. The newspapers are for library members. Recommended titles for learning more about Manitoba hstory: “Rooster Town: the history of an urban Métis community 1901-1961,” by E.J. Peters, and “the North-West is Our Mother: the story of Louis Riel’s people,” by Jean Teillet.

Local Histories – Local History Books, Manitoba

A unique feature of prairie genealogy, at least in Western Canada, is the local history book. This is a collection of stories put together by the local historical society, and is a total goldmine of genealogical information. If you find one for your family, you are fortunate, because you are guaranteed to find something you wouldn’t normally know, in addition to a deep look at the place they lived and the people they knew. I’m a big proponent of Friends, Acquaintances, and Neighbours (“FAN”) research, and a local history book is stuffed with FAN details: the post office, the history, the homesteads, and sometimes biographies of the locals who served in wartimes.

How do you find if a local history exists for your family? First off, you need to know where your ancestor lived. You’ll get this information from censuses. The censuses ending in “1,” i.e., 1881, 1891, 1901, will have district and subdistrict information avaialble at Library and Archives Canada. The censuses for the prairies 1926 will have the legal land description and the area. Then, you’ll need to find a title.

Here is a bibliography for local histories for Manitoba. It’s a little dated (1989) but it’s a good place to start.

Local Histories – Red River

A volunteer effort about the descendants of the Red River.

Local Histories – Red River Colony and Red River Rebellion

A good summary of the Red River Colony (1812) and the Red River Rebellion (1869-1870).

Local Histories – Virtual Heritage Winnipeg

An old site but still running. Photos of old Winnipeg.

BMDs and Divorce

BMDs – Adoptions

See this page for detailed information on adoptions in Manitoba.

BMDs – Manitoba Vital Statistics scrapes from and links to this site, but you may be able to find the original record details here. You may need to pay if you would like a copy of the actual record. Note that each province has the right to restrict records as they see fit, so here are the limits for the Manitoba vital statistics:

  • Births more than 100 years ago
  • Marriages more than 80 years ago
  • Deaths more than 70 years ago

I found to my delight that the site accepts Boolean searches, which is a huge plus when searching for scrambled names. For example, I was searching for Jacob, and found Jacob, Jakob, Javol in various records. Using a Boolean search for “Ja*” will return all my known variants. Similarly, the year field will accept Boolean searches, in addition to the 3 dropdown choices of “Match”, “Or earlier”, and “Or later.” For example, if you are looking for records in the 1920s, you can specify “192*” to get them all. Like some other provinces, Manitoba charges for documents. Depending on whether your records are unrestricted or restricted, the fees are different. For restricted records, the fee is $30 each. For unrestricted records, the fee is $12/record. I have ordered unrestricted records from Manitoba Vital Stats, and I am finding it takes about 4 months to receive my documents.

Cemeteries, Obituaries

Winnipeg Free Press – Passages 

Obituaries from 2000 onward may be found here. Free.

Church Records

FamilySearch – Manitoba Church Records

Research wiki and valuable info.

Courts, Law, Legal, Prison

Courts – Manitoba Courts

Look here for the Court of Appeal, Court of Kings Bench, and Provincial Court. Each court may be searched for recent judgements.

Legal – Manitoba Estate File Index [probate files 1870-1984]

Look here for probates in Manitoba (1870-1984). You will be able to locate indexed results leading to the file location at the archives of Manitoba. Allow plenty of time to retrieve the files from off-site storage.

Legal – Court Registry System [probates after 1984]

Look here for probate records after 1984.

Legal – Non-BC Wills, Abbotsford Genealogical Society

This is an odd one, and a total Hail Mary shot in the dark, but there is a slim chance your ancestor left a will in …BC. I found 200+ entries for wills for Manitoba residents in this index, which is a list compiled by the AGS. There are also wills for Alberta, SK, England, Scotland, etc.

Legal – Wills, Probate, Land, Tax & Criminal (Ancestry)

Just when you think you’re familiar with it, Ancestry coughs up another collection. I don’t fully understand why a general search doesn’t (always) bring up these interesting nuggets, but where would be the fun in that? Here’s the interesting part: I took a spin through the prairie homestead records found here, and they are different from the ones held at the provincial archives. Here’s the link for the Surrogate Court, Central Judicial District, Estate File Index, May 1884 to Jan 1937.


Brandon Mental Hospital and Cemetery

Originally designed as the Brandon Reformatory for Boys when it was built in 1890, the building was converted to the Brandon Asylum for the Insane in 1891, and renamed the Brandon Hospital for Mental Diseases in 1919. A fire destroyed the complex in 1910, but it was rebuilt to house 700 patients by 1912. For a complete history of the asylum, see the Manitoba Historical Society’s Brandon Mental Health Centre. The 1921 Canada census tallies the staff and patients in 20 startling pages at this link on Ancestry. Just over 390 patients were buried here. Check this link for the north cemetery and this link for the south cemetery. Also see the Manitoba Historical Society’s page here. The facility was closed in 1999.

Land, Directories, Properties

Directories – Ancestor Hunt – Manitoba Directories

Thanks to the work of Kenneth R. Marks and Miriam Robbins, we have a site for Canadian directories. This site is always being updated. As of July 2020 there are directories for Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario, and Saskatchewan. Plans are underway for Alberta, BC, Newfoundland & Labrador, PEI, Quebec, and the Territories.

Land – GridAtlas

If you’re not a farmer, you probably have a little trouble reading the legal land descriptions for the Prairie provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. This is my goto lookup – and it’s free for the first 20 searches / day. [EDIT: This is no longer my goto lookup – see below the Legal land descriptions at Manitoba AgriMaps.]

Land – Legal land descriptions at Manitoba AgriMaps

Wouldn’t it be amazing if somone could put together a legal land description lookup combined with hi-resolution maps so you could not only find your ancestors homesteads but also see the features of their particular piece of land? How much would that be worth to you? Lucky for you, the government of Manitoba has assembled AgriMaps, which does all of the above and much more. The layers of mapping show features from topography, roads and rail lines, and there are tool for measuring and drawing.

Land – Township Canada: Canadian Township Grid System

This is one of the best descriptions of the township system in Canada I have ever seen, because it includes the provinces of BC and Ontario. If you’ve ever wondered what “DLS” meant, or wondered how Ontario was different from Saskatchewan, or why British Columbia was different from Alberta, this is the page to see. This is the only page I’ve ever seen that included Legal Subdivisions (LSDs) subdivisions in its descriptions, encompassing the urban and the rural. Also has a free lookups, limited to ten lookups/month. If you’re wondering why you might need this tool, I have one phrase for you: homestead files.

Land – Prairie Towns (Saskatchewan, Alberta, Manitoba, BC

I had to find a list of small towns in Alberta, and this site was the answer to my question. There are maps as well – a real genealogical find.

Land Exceptions

It’s important to note that not everyone was eligible to participate in the Dominion Land homestead process – one had to be a British subject. For this reason, at least two major communities were specifically excluded: Indigenous and “Orientals,” which included Chinese, Japanese, Persians and more. See the Canada Year Book (1915), p. 632. Thus, homestead records generally will not be available for these populations.
Dominion Lands, p. 632, Canada Year Book, 1915, Internet Archive


to come


1920 map of the Great Northern Railway Line – Washington State University

The GNR served Washington, Montana, and North Dakota, as well as reaching into Oregon, Wyoming, South Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Canadians travelled the GNR, crossing at various points from Sumas, Grand Forks, and Gateway in BC; Sweetgrass, Montana; Northgate, ND; and Bannerman, MB. It’s pretty useful to have a visual.


The Winnipeg newspaper archives are digitized and free online to library patrons of the area. In addition, ($) has holdings of 25 titles as of Oct 2022.

Ancestor Hunt – Manitoba Newspapers

A site for free digitized newspapers in Manitoba.

Newspaper Search – University of Manitoba

The above link will take you directly to the search, however, you may wish to see the overview of the collection before you dig in. This is a free collection of newspapers that include dozens of titles from the Brandon Daily Sun to the intriguingly named Winnipeg Telegram Strike Edition. This is definitely a tool in your toolkit if you are researching Manitoba family roots. As well, if you are new to newspaper searching, or would like a refresher, here are lessons from The Ancestor Hunt which will absolutely improve your search successes.

Newspapers from Peel’s Prairie Provinces (University of Alberta)

When I was at the SK genealogical conference in April, 2018, I attended a lecture about using digitized newspapers for genealogical research.

While this UofA collection naturally focuses on Alberta, there are 3 French language newspapers for Manitoba:

  1. La Liberté, Winnipeg, 1913-1941 available online
  2. La Liberté et le patriote, Winnipeg, 1941-1971 available online
  3. La Liberté, Winnipeg and St. Boniface, 1971-2014 available online

Thank yous

Thank yous to everyone who suggested their favourite places for all things Manitoba + genealogy, particularly the Manitoba Genealogy Society and the FB group Manitoba Genealogy. Building this page has been a collaborative effort.