It Only Took 56 Years To Prove!

Usually the title “Maritime Province” is reserved for Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, or Prince Edward Island.  Manitoba is grouped with  Saskatchewan and Alberta as a “Prairie Province,” but Manitoba was actually discovered from the sea, and has a coastline on Hudson Bay.

While Champlain was colonizing Nova Scotia and Quebec, he was also hoping to find a route to China through the continent.  At the same time, and even before, British and Danish sailors were trying to find the supposed “Strait of Anian” through the Arctic.  Among them were Hudson, Davis, Frobisher, Baffin and Munck.  On August 26, 1612, two British ships, Resolution and Discovery, came sailing down Hudson Bay under the command of Thomas Button.

Admiral Sir Thomas Button
Admiral Sir Thomas Button (Photo credit: lisby1)

He was searching for the Anian Strait, but all he had seen was shoreline stretching north and south.  He decided to stop in the estuary of a great river flowing from the southwest to rest his crew and make repairs.  Suddenly the weather turned cold and the ships were closed in by ice.  Button knew that he would have to stay for the winter and had his men build dykes to prevent the ice from crushing the hulls of his ships.  They were the first Europeans to spend a winter in Manitoba.  Button called “new Wales,” in honour of his homeland.

It was a hard winter.  Many men died from scurvy, among them Francis Nelson, sailing master of the Resolution; Button named the river after him.  There were only enough men left to handle one ship, so the Resolution was abandoned and they sailed back to Britain in the Discovery, the ship from which Henry Hudson had been put overboard by a mutinous crew.

Although Button had not found the Northwest Passage, he was still hopeful.  His encouraging reports led Gibbons, Bylot and Baffin to make further attempts to discover it.  Still it wasn’t until 1632 that other explorers proved there was no route to China through Hudson Bay, 56 years after Martin Frobisher began the search in 1576.

To read more about Sir Button, I suggest the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, the Manitoba Historic Site of the Day, and the Encyclopedia Britannica.


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