Grande Prairie, Alta, incorporated as a city in 1958, population 55 032 (2011c), 47 107 (2006c). The City of Grande Prairie is located 456 km northwest of Edmonton and takes its name from the large prairie that lies to the east, north and west of it. The city is the business and transportation centre of the Alberta portion of the PEACE RIVER region.
By the 18th century, the Grande Prairie (a geographical area) was occupied by people of the BEAVER First Nation, who began trading with the North West Company at Dunvegan (see HISTORIC DUNVEGAN) on the Peace River in the early 1800s. The earliest recorded reference to the prairie was by trader Samuel Black in 1824. In 1881, a Hudson's Bay Company trading post called Grande Prairie was established by George Kennedy 21 km northwest of the present city.
In the late 1800s, the southern prairie was settled by a number of Cree and Iroquois from around Jasper and Lac Ste Anne. When 17 townships were surveyed for homesteading in 1909, a land rush soon followed, with many settlers arriving over a rough wagon trail from EDSON, opened in April 1911. In 1910, the Grande Prairie townsite was subdivided. By 1912, it included a bank, hotel, post office and land office, making it a district metropolis, which lead to its incorporation as a village two years later. In 1916, the village became the terminus of the Edmonton, Dunvegan and British Columbia Railway. After the influx of more settlers, Grande Prairie became a town in 1919.
Until the 1950s, the economy of Grande Prairie and its hinterland was exclusively agricultural, with some coal and lumber produced for domestic use. The district suffered recession and depopulation during the early 1920s, but expanded during the late 1920s, when its reputation for grain production drew international attention largely due to the success of one district farmer, Herman Trelle, who was named world wheat king at the Chicago international grain exhibition 5 times.
World War II and the building of the ALASKA HIGHWAY jolted Grande Prairie out of the Depression of the 1930s, and oil and natural gas discoveries in the area during the 1950s continued the prosperity. In 1955, Grande Prairie was connected directly to Edmonton by Highway 43. A major Proctor & Gamble (now Weyerhaeuser Canada[GK1]) pulp mill built just to the south added to the economy in the 1970s, and, although the district suffered a recession in the 1980s, the international demand for oil, natural gas and forestry resulted in a boom economy in the 1990s.
In the early 21st century, Grande Prairie continued as one of the fastest growing cities in Canada. As with other booming communities, urban sprawl and a high crime rate has detracted from the prosperity of the city and its hinterland. Despite a population of around 50 000, the city has only one high-rise office tower. However, the city has much to offer nature lovers such as Muskoseepi (Cree for "Bear Creek") Park in the heart of the city, where many summer festivals are held. Many areas for enjoying the natural environment, such as Saskatoon Island Provincial Park, surround the city, which has adopted the trumpeter SWAN as its symbol.
Grande Prairie has been served by a newspaper since 1913, and today the Grande Prairie Daily Herald-Tribune provides news to the entire south Peace River Country. The Grande Prairie district is highly regarded for its cultural achievements and has produced many recognized artists such as Euphemia McNaught, Bob Guest and Peter Von Tiesenhausen. The work of these and other artists is featured in several galleries in the city, such as the Prairie Art Gallery and the Centre for Creative Arts, while the Grande Prairie Museum, South Peace Regional Archives and Centre 2000 provide professional interpretation of the district's past. The Grande Prairie Regional College, whose central building was designed by Douglas CARDINAL, offers high quality education to people throughout northwestern Alberta.