Wet Prairie
264 pages, 6 x 9
10 maps
Release Date:01 Jan 2012
Release Date:29 Jun 2011
Release Date:02 Apr 2011

Wet Prairie

People, Land, and Water in Agricultural Manitoba

UBC Press

The Canadian prairies are often envisioned as dry, windswept fields; however, much of southern Manitoba is not arid plain but wet prairie, poorly drained land subject to frequent flooding.

Wet Prairie brings to light the problems and complexities of surface water management in Manitoba, from early efforts to drain the landscape to late-twentieth-century attempts to establish watershed management. Irregular water-flow patterns challenged the checkerboard landscape of the 1872 federal Dominion Lands Act, and homesteaders found their agricultural ambitions at odds with local environmental realities. Thus, in keeping with liberal principles, the provincial government undertook substantial drainage efforts. Flooding and drainage became the subjects of intense and persistent debate among provincial officials, drainage experts, and Manitoba residents. New alliances and rivalries emerged amid shifting social, political and environmental contexts, affecting how Manitobans related to each other and to the provincial state. All of this has had enduring consequences for both the landscapes and people of the wet prairie.

This account of an overlooked aspect of Prairie environmental history traces how the biophysical nature of southern Manitoba was an important factor in the formation of Manitoba society and the provincial state.

This book will be of interest to environmental historians, Canadian historians, and historical geographers, as well as anyone concerned with water management or the history of liberalism and the state.


  • 2013, Winner - Manitoba Day Award, Association for Manitoba Archives
  • 2012, Winner - Clio Prize for the Prairies, Canadian Historical Association
  • 2012, Joint winner - K.D. Srivastava Prize
Wet Prairie is excellent environmental history that evaluates the human/nature relationship. Sterling Evans, Department of History, University of Oklahoma, Great Plains Research Vol. 22 No.2, Fall 2012
A welcome addition to the growing global literature on wetland historical geography and environmental history. Carefully researched, well argued, and clearly written, Stunden Bower’s first book is a valuable read for scholars in these fields. Adam Mandelman, H-Net online, H-HistGeog
Brings to light the often overlooked problems and complexities of dealing with surface water in Manitoba, from early efforts to drain the landscape to late-twentieth-century attempts to establish watershed management. Prairie Books Now, No. 59, Summer 2012
This book offers a finely tuned narrative of back-and-forth interactions ... between human desires and environmental circumstances. More than this, however, Stunden Bower’s work offers a convincing demonstration that environmental history is ... a wide-ranging, integrative approach to the past capable of providing new perspectives on, and a more complete understanding of, topics and themes long of interest to historians. from the Foreword by Graeme Wynn
The work represents environmental history at its best ... As Canadian history, it further illuminates the federal-provincial contest over natural resources in the west, arguing that the political jurisdictional battle had real consequences on Manitoba’s wet agricultural landscape, even as wetlands forced the various levels of government to adjust their relationships with one another. Drainage, to many, seems rather uninteresting; Stunden Bower shows how important it really is, even to people who live far from the Red River. Geoff Cunfer, Department of History, University of Saskatchewan
Shannon Stunden Bower is the research director for the Parkland Institute at the University of Alberta.

Foreword: Wetland Elegy? / Graeme Wynn

Introduction: The Wet Prairie

1 Drains and Cultural Communities: The Early Years of Manitoba Drainage, 1870-1915

2 Jurisdictional Quagmires: Dominion Authority and Prairie Wetlands, 1870-1930

3 Drains and Geographical Communities: Experts, Highlanders, and Lowlanders Assess Drainage

4 International Bioregions and Local Momentum: The International Joint Commission, Ducks Unlimited, and Continued Drainage

5 Permanence, Maintenance, and Change: Watershed Management in Manitoba

Conclusion: Chequer Board Squares in a Dynamic Landscape



Selected Bibliography


Find what you’re looking for...

Free shipping on online orders over $40

Stay Informed

Receive the latest UBC Press news, including events, catalogues, and announcements.

Read past newsletters

Publishers Represented
UBC Press is the Canadian agent for several international publishers. Visit our Publishers Represented page to learn more.