Spirit River, Alta, incorporated as a town in 1951, population 1025 (2011c), 1148 (2006c). The Town of Spirit River is located in the middle of a large prairie 78 km north of GRANDE PRAIRIE. It is named for the small river flowing nearby, which was identified by resident Cree as cîpay sîpîy, the "ghost" or "spirit river." There are a number of legends explaining its origin ranging from the voice of a dead woman in the trees on a nearby hill to the spirits of dead warriors from a battle between the local Cree and the Beaver First Nation. In 1888 the Hudson's Bay Company opened a ranch there to serve Dunvegan (see HISTORIC DUNVEGAN). A Roman Catholic mission was established in 1903, with trading posts coming soon after. In 1907 the Spirit River Settlement was surveyed. When the railway arrived in 1915, a townsite called Spirit River Station was subdivided 5 km northwest of the settlement, which died as a result. In 1916 Spirit River Station was incorporated as the Village of Spirit River.
Spirit River remains at the center of a rich farming district, and in the late 20th century emerged as a service center for the natural gas and oil industry.