Manitoba's Environmental Zones and Culture Areas

The Manitoba environment can be divided into four broad zones -- Plains, Forest, Subartic, and Arctic -- which are distinguishable on the basis of geomorphology, climate, and vegetation. This ecological variation has led to the development of different cultural adaptations among the human groups in response to the characteristic food supply and other natural resources of each environment. Accordingly, anthropologists have observed a broad correlation between "culture areas" and delimited vegetation zones all across North America. (Cf. Alfred Kroeber, Natural and Cultural Areas of North America).

Natural and Cultural Regions of Manitoba

The Plains

The Plains Region consists of open prairie grassland merging into aspen parkland in better watered areas. This vegetation covers the southern tier of the Province and includes the Red and Assiniboine rivers valleys. The corresponding Plains Culture Area constitutes Manitoba's longest and most continuously and densely populated human settlement zone. It occupies the northeasternmost part of a wider region which extends to Texas in the south and Alberta in the west. The most significant resource for local societies was the bison, which formed a major hunting tradition from the times of the earliest Paleoindian immigrants to those of horse-using groups in the Postcontact period.

The Boreal Forest

The Forest Region forms a continuous expanse of northern woodlands over a vast part of the province primarily overlying the ancient Canadian Shield. There is a great deal of diversity in the forest composition, ranging from southern aspen parkland with open grassy areas to mixed broadleaf and conferous forest to continuous stands of northern spruce and pine . Forest cover is interrupted by the numerous lakes, rivers, and swamps that supproted an abundant supply of moose, caribou, fish, and riverine mammals such as beaver, the mainstay of the fur trade period. Culturally, this zone formed the northern and western margin of the Eastern Woodland Culture Area that extended from the Mississippi Valley to the Atlantic coast.

The Subarctic

The Subarctic Region is characterized by sparse and stunted growths of coniferous trees decreasing to stands on the uplands and in valleys along th northern edge. Caribou herds yielded bountiful resoures for the Dene (Chipewyan) peoples in the western portion.

The Arctic

The Arctic Region is composed of treeless tundra along the Hudson Bay coast and merges into the sparsely Northern Transition or sub-arctic zone to the west and south. Lengthy winters have led to a condition of permafrost, in which the sub-soil remains frozen throughout the year. Human habitation in this region has been sporadic. Archaeological remains so far have been confined to the Pre-Dorset (Arctic Small Tools) and Dorset phases that cluster along the Hudson Bay Coast and extend into the Northwest Territories. (See Robert Park's treatment of Archaeology in Arctic North America from the University of Waterloo for more details on the wider region.)

It should be noted that neither envirnomental zones nor culture areas are delimited by rigid boundaries between one region and the next and that the extent of specific environment zones has changed over time. Moreover correlations between culture traits and environmental features are never exact. Thus the transmission of Eastern Woodland cultural elements and complexes into the Plains has resulted in the paradoxical designation of an archaeological period as "Plains Woodland".


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