The Significance of The Narrows

Being a Manitoban and whatnot, I’d always heard about The Narrows… but I’d never been there, nor did I know why it was A Thing.

The summer of 2020, Andrew and I explored our home province, setting off on an epic road trip. Okay, it wasn’t THAT epic. But, it was epic for us. We explored a lot of places we’d never seen before, and that included The Narrows, and this is how I learned that this place is where the name “Manitoba” came from.

Look, there’s even one of those Historic Sites of Manitoba markers! It says: “Origin of the name ‘Manitoba’. Although Lake Manitoba was named lac des Prairies in 1738 by La Verendrye, the Indians knew these waters from time immemorial as the ‘narrows of the Great Spirit’ (in Cree, Manito bau). In stormy weather waves crashing on the limestone rocks of the narrows resounded eerily and the Indians believed the sound came from a huge drum beaten by Manitou. In 1868 Thomas Spence of Portage la Prairie attempted to create a republic outside the district of Assiniboia to be named Manitobah. His plan failed, but a year later when he joined Louis Riel’s council at Fort Garry, Spence’s choice was selected as the name of the new province, and the letter H was dropped.” 

I did learn a little, though there’s definitely some problematic language in this sign that could use an update.

So why did this site resurface in my awareness after a two-year hiatus? Well, I’m halfway through reading Bill Redekop’s book Lake Agassiz: The Rise and Demise of the World’s Greatest Lake. This book delves into the geological history of Manitoba and I can’t wait to tell you my thoughts on this but first I want to finish reading it. However, at the halfway point I’ve encountered The Narrows, and that it’s responsible for the naming of the entire province. Page 104 features a full-page photo of The Narrows, I recognized it immediately, just from our visit in 2020. Redekop’s caption states, “the Cree called it manitou-wapow and the Objibwe manidoobaa, ‘the place where the Great Spirit speaks’.”

Let the learning continue.