Manitoba is home to a number of North American aboriginal groups, including the Assiniboin and Ojibwa Indians (First Nations) in the south, the Cree and Chipewyan Indians in the north, and the Inuit (aboriginal Arctic people of Canada, called Eskimo in the United States) on the Hudson Bay coast. The aboriginal peoples have occupied the region for thousands of years, although historically there has been considerable population movement. In addition, their numbers were greatly reduced as a result of exposure to European diseases, particularly smallpox. In the early 19th century the Métis (people of mixed Indian and European ancestry, whom the Canadian government granted legal recognition as a native group at the beginning of the 21st century) developed a unique plains culture. The early agricultural Red River Settlement attracted a number of Scottish farmers, and improvements to river and rail transportation led to the rapid growth of European settlement between 1870 and 1900. Most early settlers were from elsewhere in Canada, but Icelanders and German-speaking Mennonites also arrived beginning in the 1870s. After 1896 immigration from eastern Europe began in considerable numbers. Manitoba’s population declined during the Great Depression in the 1930s and World War II but grew steadily thereafter, largely through natural increase.
Manitoba is noted for its ethnic diversity. There are many ethnic enclaves within the city of Winnipeg. Notably, the north end of the city retains a strong eastern European character, and the St. Boniface district has one of the largest Francophone communities outside Quebec. Francophones established a number of communities south of Winnipeg; Germans settled in south-central Manitoba; and a sizable Icelandic settlement developed around Gimli, on the shores of Lake Winnipeg. Although more than two-fifths of the current population is of British descent, significant ethnic minorities include Germans, Ukrainians, French, South Asians, Italians, Filipinos, Vietnamese, and Poles. Roman Catholicism and the United Church of Canada are the largest religious denominations, although there are substantial numbers of Anglicans, Lutherans, Mennonites, and adherents to Eastern Orthodoxy and the Ukrainian Catholic (Eastern rite) church, plus many smaller groups. Winnipeg’s Jewish community is the largest in the Prairie Provinces.