Medicine Hat

Medicine Hat, Alta, incorporated as a city in 1906, population 60 005 (2011c), 56 997 (2006c). The City of Medicine Hat is one of Alberta's largest cities.

Medicine Hat, Alta, incorporated as a city in 1906, population 60 005 (2011c), 56 997 (2006c). The City of Medicine Hat is one of Alberta's largest cities. It is located on the Canadian Pacific Railway main line and the Trans-Canada Highway in the southeastern corner of the province, bisected by the South Saskatchewan River. Canada's driest city, Medicine Hat averages 271 days of sunshine annually with little precipitation. The area also enjoys a growing season of 120 days. A council of 8 aldermen and a mayor govern the city.

Medicine Hat City Hall
The Medicine Hat City Hall was completed in 1983, and is built on the banks of the South Saskatchewan River (courtesy City of Medicine Hat).
Law Courts Building, Medicine Hat
Alberta (photo by James Marsh).


A tent city sprang up in the valley of the South Saskatchewan River in 1883 while work crews were constructing a bridge, the only river crossing in the prairie railway system. The valley was also well known to itinerant Cree and Blackfoot who frequented it. Numerous legends account for Medicine Hat's unique name. Evidence of early native activity is found in the Saamis Archaelogical Site. Located in the valley of Seven Persons Creek, the site is important because of the range of activities represented, the abundance and variety of features and the fact that it has been extensively excavated. Today a gigantic landmark teepee overlooks the site.

Early setlers, some Métis, others Ontario-born, were first to arrive in the area. By the 1890s German-speaking immigrants occupied parts of the hinterland that were not previously set aside for farming and ranching. The discovery of natural gas, coal and clay deposits stimulated early industrial development. Unfortunately, economic depression before and then following World War I, as well as the severe drought conditions during the 1920s and 1930s, drove many from the land and severely curtailed economic development. The years following World War II saw a gradual restoration of prosperity and an increase in population.


The Suffield military base and research station, petrochemical industries and manufacturing industries such as Goodyear Canada and Wittke Waste Products, together with the traditional industries of brick manufacturing and agriculture, form the basis of a robust local economy. Numerous greenhouse operations and other smaller manufacturing outlets enjoy the advantages of reasonable energy costs from city-owned natural gas. Today, Medicine Hat serves a large retail network for southeastern Alberta and southwestern Saskatchewan. Over 130 000 people regularly shop and use services provided by the city.


Medicine Hat, with its 3 converging valley systems, is an oasis on the vast arid plains. It has numerous parks and provides a variety of recreational facilities. As well, the magnificent Cypress Hills, a favourite recreation area for residents, is located 66 km southeast of the city.

A community college offers post-secondary educational opportunities. Baseball and hockey franchises are also located in Medicine Hat. The city takes pride in a number of visual artists who have won recognition for their work nationally. Area residents are served by a daily newspaper, 2 radio stations, a television station and a community cable company.

Further Reading

  • R. Common, "Early Settlement About Medicine Hat, Alberta," Geographical Bulletin, 4:3 (1967); Ed Gould, All Hell for a Basement (1981); David C. Jones, et al, The Weather Factory: A Pictorial History of Medicine Hat (1988); Laurie Milne, The Saamis Site: A Late Prehistoric-Protohistoric Campsite in Medicine Hat, Alberta (1978).

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