Portage la Prairie, Manitoba Canada

Discover Portage la Prairie, Manitoba: A Rich Blend of History and Tourism

Portage la Prairie, a small city nestled in the Central Plains Region of Manitoba, Canada, is a hidden gem with a rich history and vibrant tourism scene. With a population of 13,304 as of 2016, this city spans a land area of 24.68 square kilometres. Located approximately 75 kilometres west of Winnipeg, Portage la Prairie is a community that sits on the Assiniboine River, surrounded by the Rural Municipality of Portage la Prairie.

The Historical Journey of Portage la Prairie, Manitoba

Pre-colonial Era

Long before European settlers arrived in the mid-1800s, the Portage la Prairie area was inhabited by several Indigenous nations, including the Anishinaabe/Ojibwe, Cree, and Dakota/Sioux peoples. Anthropological evidence suggests the emergence of pre-historic plains cultures in southwestern Manitoba as early as 12,000 years ago. However, inhabitable grasslands and human activity likely never emerged around present-day Portage la Prairie until the receding of Lake Agassiz 8,000-10,000 years ago.

The Fur Trade Era

The mid-17th century saw the arrival of notable coureurs des bois Pierre-Esprit Radisson and Médard des Groseilliers, who played instrumental roles in the founding of the Hudson's Bay Company. The name "Portage la Prairie" is derived from the French word portage, which means to carry a canoe overland between waterways, in this case over "the prairie". This particular "portage" route, used by Indigenous peoples even before the global Fur Trade, ran for 25 kilometres between the Assiniboine River and Lake Manitoba.

Arrival of European Settlers

The first permanent land in the area was acquired in 1851 by Archdeacon William Cochrane of the Anglican Church, John McLean, and other ambitious settlers. The community began to develop with the establishment of a school, a church, and numerous local businesses. 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.

The Republic of Manitobah

For a brief period between 1867-68, Thomas Spence, a councillor for Louis Riel's Provisional Government, led an organized movement to establish an independent state around the community of Portage la Prairie, known as the Republic of Manitobah. However, Spence's hopeful plans for a new republic were soon quashed as his movement was never recognized as an official government nor granted any royal assent by the British monarchy.

Birth and Growth of a Prairie City

The 1870s marked a decade of rapid growth for Portage la Prairie, with many more settlers moving to town establishing farms and opening new businesses. By the 1880s, the community's population had increased by approximately 10 times. The arrival of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) in 1880 further boosted the town's growth. 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.

The Geography of Portage la Prairie, Manitoba

Portage la Prairie's location near the river and the main lines of the country's national railways has made it a major transportation centre. The city is one of the few places in Canada where the CPR and Canadian National Railways intersect, making it an ideal spot for railway aficionados. 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.

The city is known for its aggressive tree-planting program and 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, and, along with many other species like Manitoba maple, bur oak and green ash, are present throughout the city.

The Climate of Portage la Prairie, Manitoba

According to Environment Canada, Portage la Prairie has the most sunny days during the warm months in Canada. The city has a humid continental climate with warm summers and very 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.

The Demographics of Portage la Prairie, Manitoba

In the 2021 Census of Population conducted by Statistics Canada, Portage la Prairie had a population of 13,270 living in 5,644 of its 6,109 total private dwellings, a change of -0.3% from its 2016 population of 13,304. With a land area of 24.72 km2 (9.54 sq mi), it had a population density of 536.8/km2 (1,390.3/sq mi) in 2021. 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 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.

Ethnicity in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba

Portage la Prairie is almost exclusively inhabited by people of Indigenous or European ancestry (89.6%).

Transportation in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba

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. Rider Express operates an intercity bus route Winnipeg to Regina once a week. For road travellers, the city is served by the Manitoba Highway 1, part of the Trans-Canada Highway.

Arts and Culture in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba


Fort la Reine Museum is a heritage museum and Manitoba Star Attraction located on the east end of Portage, operational since Canada's Centennial in 1967. The museum is home to an array of buildings from Portage and the surrounding region, and covers cultural and natural prairie history from the 18th century to the present day.

Festivals and Events

Portage la Prairie celebrates a number of annual events and festivals, which include the Portage Exhibition & Fair held every July since 1872, the Portage Potato Festival which takes place in mid-August, Whoop & Hollar Folk Festival in late August, and the Manitoba Air Show in June at Southport.

Galleries and Performing Art Venues

Heritage Square, located downtown, is an outdoor community event plaza and centre of the community's arts and culture district with murals on some of the nearby buildings. Prairie Fusion houses the William Glesby Theatre, a popular performing arts facility, and the Portage & District Art Gallery, featuring a new display of the works of local visual artists every month.


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

Music Scene

The punk rock band Propagandhi was formed in the city in 1986 by guitarist Chris Hannah and drummer Jord Samolesky. Award-winning Canadian country band Doc Walker also hails from the Portage la Prairie area.

Parks and Outdoor Recreation in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba

In central Portage la Prairie, residents and tourists can enjoy the amenities and beauty of the renowned Island Park. The sprawling city park is located on a peninsula, known as "The Island", and bounded by Crescent Lake, an ancient oxbow lake that is popular among birdwatchers, photographers, and canoeists/kayakers.

Attractions in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba

Aside from Island Park, Fort la Reine Museum, and Prairie Fusion Arts & Entertainment, Portage la Prairie is home to a variety of other attractions to visit, including the Community Walkway, the World's Largest Coca-Cola Can, and the BDO Centre for the Community.

Military Presence in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba

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