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Portage la Prairie
City of Portage la Prairie
Clockwise from top left to centre: City Welcome Sign, Aerial View of Portage la Prairie, World's Largest Coca-Cola Can, Birds' Eye View of Crescent Lake and Island Park, Waterfront Active Transport Route, Island Park, City Hall
Clockwise from top left to centre: City Welcome Sign, Aerial View of Portage la Prairie, World's Largest Coca-Cola Can, Birds' Eye View of Crescent Lake and Island Park, Waterfront Active Transport Route, Island Park, City Hall
Flag of Portage la Prairie
Portage, P. la P., Plaptown
Country Canada
Province Manitoba
Region Central Plains
Established 1738 (Fort La Reine)
Settled 1851 (village)
Incorporated 1880 (town)
1907 (city)
 • Land 24.68 km2 (9.53 sq mi)
 • Metro
2,029.94 km2 (783.76 sq mi)
261 m (856 ft)
 • City 13,304 (5th)
 • Density 539.1/km2 (1,396/sq mi)
 • Metro
20,494 ('06 Census)
 • Metro density 10.1/km2 (26/sq mi)
Time zone UTC-6 (Central Time zone)
 • Summer (DST) UTC-5
Area code(s) 204

Portage la Prairie /ˈpɔːrt lə ˈprri/ is a small city in the Central Plains Region of Manitoba, Canada. As of 2016, the population was 13,304 and the land area of the city was 24.68 square kilometres (9.53 sq mi). Portage la Prairie is located approximately 75 kilometres (47 mi) west of Winnipeg, along the Trans-Canada Highway (located exactly between the provincial boundaries of Saskatchewan and Ontario), and sits on the Assiniboine River, which flooded the town persistently until a diversion channel north to Lake Manitoba (the Portage Diversion) was built to divert the flood waters. The city is surrounded by the Rural Municipality of Portage la Prairie.

According to Environment Canada, Portage la Prairie has the most sunny days during the warm months in Canada.

It is the administrative headquarters of the Dakota Tipi First Nations reserve.


Fort La Reine1
Fort La Reine

The area was first inhabited by Indigenous peoples (Plains Indians), long before European settlers began to arrive prior to 1850. In September 1738, after the fur trade had extended into Western Canada. Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, sieur de La Vérendrye (a French Canadian explorer and fur trader) built Fort La Reine north of the Assiniboine River to serve as a fur trading post, and provide the explorers with a "home" operating base, from which they would explore other parts of central Manitoba and western North America.

In 1851, Archdeacon William Cochrane (Cockran) of the Anglican Church, John McLean, as well as other ambitious settlers, were among the first to purchase the first land in the area from the local Aboriginals, around what is now Crescent Lake (formerly known as "The Slough"). A school was soon built as settlers poured in from the east, followed by a church (St. Mary's La Prairie, 1854), and numerous local businesses as the community began to form. The fertile soils of the Portage la Prairie area were discovered in the 1850s, giving birth to the future agriculturally based economy of the village; Archdeacon Cochrane encouraged people to start growing crops and gardens on their properties to fulfill the needs of the growing food demand. A local government was formed in 1857, and by the 1860s, there were sixty homes situated in the community.

The 1870s was a decade of rapid growth, as many more settlers moved to Portage, establishing farms and opening new businesses. By this time, the village had an operating flour mill, a local newspaper, and a community fair; just to name a few of Portage's highlights. From the 1870s to the 1880s, the community increased in population by approximately 10 times (300-3,000). Freight and supplies were transported by ox-cart and steamboat until the arrival of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) in 1881, the year Portage was incorporated as a town. Thomas Collins was the first mayor of Portage la Prairie.

In 1907, Portage was incorporated as a city, and from that point on, managed to keep a gradual rate of growth and development, serving as a regional hub for agriculture, retail, manufacturing and transportation in central Manitoba.

During WWII, the Royal Canadian Air Force constructed Canadian Forces Base Portage la Prairie in support of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. The station was controlled by the RCAF but used naval personnel as high-frequency direction finding operators. The station's priority was German U-boat traffic. This site and CFB Rivers located at Rivers, Manitoba helped to increase the fix accuracy immensely.

The name is derived from the French word portage, which means to carry a canoe overland between waterways. In this case the "portage" was between the Assiniboine River and Lake Manitoba, over la prairie.


Portage La Prairie Manitoba Canada
Portage la Prairie, Manitoba

The city became a major transportation centre due to its proximity to the river, and later, the location of the main lines of the country's national railways passing through the community. Both the CPR and Canadian National Railways (CNR) intersect in Portage; one of the few places in Canada where the two railways meet. This has made Portage la Prairie one of the most ideal places for railway aficionados to view trains; approximately 72 trains pass through the city each day. The Trans-Canada Highway, a major national transportation route, runs past the city and provides the community with business if highway travellers decide to make a trek into Portage. Also, since the land is very fertile, with soils abundant in nutrients, Portage la Prairie is a major agricultural centre in Manitoba, as well as Canada. The rural area surrounding the community is undoubtedly a breadbasket in Canada, having some of the best soils in the country for producing a wide array of vegetables, berries, grains and lentils.

The city has an aggressive tree planting program and is known for its mature urban forest. A collection of some of the largest cottonwood trees in Canada line the west end of the main street known as Saskatchewan Avenue (as well as Crescent Road which runs adjacent to Crescent Lake), and, along with many other varieties, are present throughout the city.

It is also the home of former Prime Minister of Canada Arthur Meighen; a school and an avenue are named in his honour.


According to Environment Canada, Portage la Prairie has the most sunny days during the warm months in Canada. Portage has a humid continental climate (Köppen climate classification Dfb, United States Department of Agriculture, Plant Hardiness Zone 3a) with warm summers and cold, dry winters. The highest temperature ever recorded in Portage La Prairie was 41.1 °C (106 °F) on 11 July 1936. The coldest temperature ever recorded was −44.0 °C (−47.2 °F) on 2 February 1996.

Climate data for Portage la Prairie, 1981–2010 normals, extremes 1886–present
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 10.3
Average high °C (°F) -10.6
Daily mean °C (°F) -16.0
Average low °C (°F) -21.4
Record low °C (°F) -42.0
Precipitation mm (inches) 22.6
Rainfall mm (inches) 0.3
Snowfall cm (inches) 22.3
Avg. precipitation days (≥ 0.2 mm) 9.5 5.4 5.6 5.4 8.6 10.7 10.6 9.1 9.2 8.5 6.3 8.8 97.7
Avg. rainy days (≥ 0.2 mm) 0.1 0.1 1.7 3.7 8.3 10.7 10.6 9.1 9.1 7.2 1.6 0.3 62.5
Avg. snowy days (≥ 0.2 cm) 9.7 5.3 4.4 2.1 0.4 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.2 1.6 4.9 8.5 37.2
Source: Environment Canada


Historical populations
Year Pop. ±%
1891 3,363 —    
1901 3,901 +16.0%
1911 5,892 +51.0%
1921 6,766 +14.8%
1931 6,597 −2.5%
1941 7,095 +7.5%
1951 8,511 +20.0%
1961 12,388 +45.6%
1971 12,950 +4.5%
1981 13,086 +1.1%
1991 13,186 +0.8%
2001 12,976 −1.6%
2006 12,728 −1.9%
2011 12,996 +2.1%
2016 13,304 +2.4%

According to the 2016 Census, Portage la Prairie was home to 13,304 people, which was a 2.4% increase from the prior census in 2011. The land area of Portage la Prairie is 24.68 km2 (9.53 sq mi), making the population density of 539.1/km2 (1,396/sq mi). There are 5,794 private dwellings in the city, 5,576 which are occupied (96.2% occupancy rate). The median value of a dwelling is $150,297 in Portage la Prairie, almost half as low as the national median at $280,552. The average household has 2.3 people and the average family has 1.1 children. The median (after-tax) household income in the area is $46,963, lower than the national rate at $54,089. The median age of Portage la Prairie is 40.8, essentially par with the national median at 40.6 years old.

The census also reports that 89.9% of the residents' mother tongue was English, followed by French (2.5%) and German (2.5%).

Portage la Prairie is mostly inhabited by Aboriginal and White people (97.2%). The racial make up is as followed:

Religiously speaking, most of the residents either practice a form of Christianity (66.4%) or have no religious affiliation at all (30.9%). 1.7% of the population practice a form of traditional Aboriginal spirituality.


Portage la Prairie railway station is served by Via Rail with both the Canadian and Winnipeg – Churchill trains calling at the station.

The Portage la Prairie Canadian Pacific Railway Station no longer receives passenger rail service, and is operated as a museum.

The Portage la Prairie Southport Airport is a former air force base and the primary airport in the city. The Portage la Prairie (North) Airport is also located near Portage la Prairie and consists of a grass field.


Scenes for the documentary film We Were Children were shot at the former residential school in Portage la Prairie, now the Rufus Prince building.

The punk rock band Propagandhi was formed in the city in 1986 by guitarist Chris Hannah and drummer Jord Samolesky.


In central Portage la Prairie, there is a peninsula known as Island Park, bounded by an oxbow lake called Crescent Lake (however, an extensive marsh located at the south ends of the lake connects the two halves of Crescent Lake, as a creek runs from one end to the other, but since two land bridges cross the oxbow, the island is no longer an official "island"). Every winter, the "island" has a festival of lights consisting of Christmas lights decorating a driving path around the perimeter. In addition, a highly popular winter lights parade is held. The island has an 18-hole golf course, Portage Industrial Exhibition grounds which hosts various agricultural competitions and midway, an outdoor water park, a large pen enclosure for deer, a birdcage area featuring peacocks, playgrounds, walking trails, tennis courts, a duck pond, various monuments, and an extensive arboretum. It is also the site of the new Portage Credit Union Centre; the new home of the Portage Terriers hockey club and an indoor water park. As well, Crescent Lake is home to flocks of migrating and nesting Canada geese.

Just south of the Portage la Prairie by-pass is the Portage Spillway, where the Assiniboine River empties into a diversion which in recent years has protected the city from flooding. Not only does this area mark the importance of the river in Portage's history, but it is home to Portage Spillway-Wayside Provincial Park, a park that is especially popular with fishermen in the summer months. Also not far southwest lies Spruce Woods Provincial Park and not far north lies St. Ambroise Beach Provincial Park. The city is also home to a network of multi-use recreational trails running through the parks and forested areas, which provide an oasis for sightseers to view wildlife. Geocaching has become popular in these areas, as people are finding more innovative ways to get out hiking in this scenic urban forest.

Aside from parks, the Portage la Prairie/Central Plains Region features many fine campgrounds located within a 15-30 minute drive of the city, and offers a few public beaches including Delta Beach, home to the Delta Marsh Field Station/Wildlife Reserve (part of this beach/area has been destroyed due to recent flooding in the spring of 2011), Jackson Lake (located 2 mi (3.2 km) southeast of Sidney, Manitoba, about a 35-minute drive west of Portage la Prairie) and Twin Lakes Beach, located an hour northeast of Portage, also on Lake Manitoba.


Portage La Prairie Manitoba Canada (8)
Portage la Prairie

One of Portage la Prairie's most popular attractions, the Community Walkway, which parallels Crescent Lake, is a 5.2 km (3.2 mi), multi-use trail used for walking, bicycling, skateboarding and rollerblading, running past many grand heritage homes and the tranquil, picturesque sites along the lake.

Other attractions include the world's largest Coca-Cola can. It was constructed from an old water tower and is now located between the local Canadian Tire and Canad Inns hotel on Saskatchewan Avenue West.

World's largest Coke can, Portage la Prairie, MB
Portage la Prairie, MB is home to the world's largest Coke can, formerly a water tower.

Portage la Prairie is considered to be the world strawberry capital. Many U-pick strawberry and Saskatoon berry farms are within a 15-minute drive by car.

Heritage Square is an outdoor community meeting place (particularly in the summer months), located downtown. Surrounding Heritage Square are the Cinema Centre, Portage la Prairie Regional Library, and the William Glesby Centre—a performing arts facility which offers a live theatre & community art gallery. The William Glesby Centre is considered to be the cultural gathering place of Portage, and is used for many local events and live venues.

The Portage Credit Union Centre opened in February 2010 and features two National Hockey League regulation size indoor arenas, one with seating capacity for 1,680, as well as an indoor pool and wave pool, it is also home to the farmers market.

Fort la Reine Museum is a heritage museum located on the east end of Portage. The original Fort la Reine was built in 1738 by the French explorer Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, sieur de La Vérendrye and served as his headquarters for 15 years. Today the museum is home to an array of buildings from Portage and the surrounding region, and covers local prairie history from the 18th century (the period of French exploration) to the present day. Currently there are 25 buildings open to the public, each containing hundreds of artifacts, on display. Some of the highlights of the museum are a railway caboose and the 1882 official rail car of Sir William Cornelius Van Horne, builder of the Canadian Pacific Railway; a fully restored Ukrainian Pioneer Church; a number of houses that are more than 100 years old; a replica of Fort la Reine; a firehall with a fully restored 1931 Seagrave Fire Truck; the Old Officers Mess from the now retired Canadian Forces Base in Southport; and a school house and church built in the 1880s from West Prospect (a pioneer farming community that no longer exists).

The Manitoba Softball Hall of Fame/Museum is dedicated to the history of softball in Manitoba. It has memorabilia from the 1930s to the present.

Portage la Prairie's City Hall is a limestone structure that was designed by Thomas Fuller, who also designed the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa. It was opened in 1898 as a Dominion Post Office and became City Hall in 1960. The building was declared a historical site in 1986. On the roof is a bell which tolls for a few seconds daily at 9 am, noon, 3 pm, 6 pm and 9 pm.

Aside from City Hall, the city is home to many other heritage buildings. St. Mary's la Prairie Anglican Church, built in 1854, is located near the downtown. Saskatchewan Avenue (the city's main thoroughfare) contains many historical buildings, as well as Tupper Street and Royal Road (named after the Royal Visit of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother and King George VI in 1939). Crescent Road, which follows Crescent Lake for over 5 km, is lined with many large, grand heritage homes dating back to the late 19th century and early 20th century.

Portage's largest hotel, part of Canad-Inns, is located in the west end of the city. This hotel includes the rink of the Portage Curling Club, Aalto's Garden Cafe, a pub known as Tavern United, and many banquet halls.

There are several events held annually in Portage la Prairie, which include the Manitoba Hydro Power Smart Island of Lights running from November through January, Hot Blizzard Folk Festival in February, the Portage Exhibition & Fair ("PortageX") held every July, the Portage Potato Festival which takes place in August, Whoop & Hollar Folk Festival in September, and Canadian Forces Day in early June at Southport. The Fort la Reine Museum hosts a number of annual cultural and theatrical events, including the National Aboriginal Day celebrations, Canada Day festivities, Mystery at the Museum murder mystery tours, Ghost Walk, and A Dickens Christmas.

The community of Southport, located about 5 km (3.1 mi) south of Portage la Prairie, is home to a small recreation complex featuring a gymnasium and 5-pin bowling alley, aside from the proudly displayed military/air force history throughout the town and airport.


CT-156 Harvard II trainers
CT-156 Harvard II trainers at the airshow

Portage la Prairie had a military airbase south of the community known as Canadian Forces Base Portage la Prairie, now 3 Canadian Forces Flying Training School. It was established as part of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan during the Second World War and trained thousands of pilots for military service from around the world.

In 1990, the federal government transferred the assets of the property to Southport Aerospace Centre Inc., a not-for-profit property management and development company whose goal was to successfully manage the site.

The 13th Field Battery of the 26th Field Artillery Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery is based out of Portage la Prairie.

During the Second World War an Algerine-class minesweeper commissioned into the Royal Canadian Navy was named after Portage la Prairie. The Portage was active during the war as an escort and afterwards as a training vessel. As part of the 100th Anniversary of the Royal Canadian Navy, in 2010, the Navy provided the city with a display on the ship that is currently located in City Hall.

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