There has been human habitation in the region of Winnipeg for thousands of years, beginning with the First Nations who settled there in prehistoric times. The area was rich in Aboriginal cultures for much of its early existence due to the use of its extensive waterways as transportation and trade hubs. European settlement in the area began with first contact in 1738 by French trader Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, who built the fur trading Fort Rouge on the Assiniboine River. French dominance of trade remained in place until the arrival of the anglophone Hudson's Bay Company. During this time, intermarriage between traders and Aboriginals was commonplace, giving rise to the large Métis population in the area. In 1809 the first English fort, called Fort Gibraltar, was established by the North West Company. Competition between the North West Company and Hudson's Bay Company was fierce at this time, and continued until their 1821 merger, when Fort Gibraltar was renamed Fort Garry. It acted as the trade hub for the region until its destruction by fire in 1826, by which time the area had taken on importance as a town of its own. In 1869 the Red River Rebellion, lead by Métis leader Louis Riel, occurred in and around the settlement, spurring its development as a city. The rebellion was put down by 1870, and the city was incorporated three years later, officially gaining the name Winnipeg. The area saw rapid development through the latter half of the 18th century, particularly with the arrival of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1881. By the early 20th century, however, fortunes were declining as the Panama Canal and Vancouver's shipping industry somewhat overtook Winnipeg's trade importance.
Numerous social issues in the postwar Winnipeg caused the Winnipeg General Strike in 1919, during which over 30,000 workers walked off their jobs and refused to return for well over a month despite police intervention and instances of serious violence. It was brought to an end following the violent intervention of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, resulting in two deaths and numerous injuries. This event also fomented socialist ideology in the province. The Great Depression hit Winnipeg extremely hard, coming as it did with a drought that nearly destroyed agriculture in the area. The city limped through the decade until its economy, like that of the rest of Canada, was reinvigorated by the Second World War. In 1942 Winnipeg was the site of If Day, a staged Nazi invasion and occupation designed to raise awareness and funds for the war effort. Following the war there was a boom in housing that was checked somewhat by the 1950 Red River Flood which caused some $26 million worth of damage and the evacuation of 100,000 residents. In 1953 the region was struck by polio, the worst outbreak in the country's history, resulting in 80 deaths.
In 1972 the Old City of Winnipeg was amalgamated with the surrounding thirteen districts into a "unicity", officially incorporating the city in its current form. The city again suffered though economic depression in the early 1980s recession following the 1979 energy crisis. Numerous business closed during this period. Soon afterwards, the city signed an agreement with the provincial and federal governments to support redevelopment of its downtown core. In 1989 revitalization of the railways in the area made the confluence of the Assiniboine and Red Rivers into a popular tourist destination.
Winnipeg is the capital and largest city of Manitoba. It has a population of just under 684,000 people living in the city proper, which makes up just under 55% of the total population of Manitoba. A majority of the population reports being white. The next largest ethnic group is Aboriginal, 5% are First Nations and 6% are Métis for a total of 11% of the population; this is the largest First Nations population in any one metropolitan area in Canada. It also has the largest Filipino population percentage in Canada. There are also small populations reporting other ethnic origins such as South Asian, East Asian, Black, and Latin American, none of which exceed 5% of the population. A majority of the population speaks English at home, with 99% of the population reporting fluency. 11% of the population reports fluency in English and French, while 0.1% speaks only French. 0.9% of the population reports nonfluency in both official languages. Other languages commonoly spoken include German, Tagalog, Ukrainian, and dozens of other languages that are spoken by small populations. Numerous Aboriginal languages are also spoken. Just under 64% of the population reports adherence to some Christian denomination. There are also Muslim, Jewish, Sikh, Hindu, and Buddhist populations; none of these exceed 2% of the population. Just under 29% of the population reports no religious affiliation.
Winnipeg is located in the province of Manitoba, one of the prairie provinces in the centre of the country. It is located in the southeast of the province, in the Red River Valley at the confluence of the Assiniboine River and the Red River. It is composed of 236 neighbourhoods.