History of Plains Bison: Manitoba’s Mascot

by Jacob Doerksen

For centuries, First Nations used bison for food, clothing, and shelter. European influence caused overhunting, which drove bison nearly to extinction in the late 1800s.

Painting circa 1840 by Sir Henry James Warre; Courtesy of Library and Archives Canada, MIKAN no. 2834161.

Europeans brought the widespread use of guns and horses, which aided in the rapid destruction of the bison herds.

A massive stack of bison skulls and bones, date unknown; Photographer: J. Klima; Courtesy of the Glenbow Archives, NA-2242-2.

Bison bones were cleaned up to make way for agriculture. They were made into fertilizer for farmers to replenish field nitrogen.

Thankfully, through agriculture and preservation attempts, the bison population has been brought back from the brink. The traditional food source of the prairies has returned, and bison can be observed in zoos and parks across North America.

Riding Mountain National Park Bison Enclosure, 2018; Photographer: Monroe Doerksen.

Riding Mountain National Park bison enclosure (pictured above) is a conservation effort that allows visitors to learn about Manitoba’s prairie history.

Today, the bison is used as Manitoba’s official mammal and is the mascot of the province’s largest university. Bison are a symbol of prairie history that represents Manitoba.

Leave a Reply