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Alberta: History and People


The Aboriginal people, the Piegan, Cree, Blackfoot, Blood, Gros Ventre, Sarcee, Kootenay, Beaver and Slavey Indians, speaking a variety of Athapaskan and Algonkian languages, were the first people to live in what is now Alberta. They inhabited a vast wilderness territory, living nomadically hunting and trapping and foraging the rich natural resources of the land. The woodland tribes of the central and northern regions, became partners of the European fur traders who arrived in the 18th century. The first European to reach what is now Alberta was Anthony Henday in 1754, although the land was claimed by the Hudson's Bay Company in 1670. Peter Pond, of the North West Company, established the first fur-trading post in 1778. The rival Hudson's Bay Company built competing fur-trading posts over the next century and a half. The rivalry ended in 1821, when the two companies merged.

Interest in colonization of the west increased in Britain after the American Civil War. In 1867 with the passage of the British North America Act (BNA) and the establishment of the Dominion of Canada the new Canadian Government acquired the North West Territories, including present day Alberta from the Hudson's Bay Company.

With the arrival of the railway in 1885, a new immigrant population of farmers and settlers started to grow. In the early years of the twentieth century the population swelled with the great settling of the prairies by farmers from many lands. Discoveries of new strains of wheat suited to the short growing season and the harsh climate of the Canadian Prairies contributed to this growth.

On September 1, 1905, Alberta, named for Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, fourth daughter of Queen Victoria, became a province of Canada with Edmonton as its capital city. The province of Alberta was created by joining the District of Alberta with parts of the districts of Athabasca, Assiniboia and Saskatchewan.

The fourth phase of Alberta's history began with the discovery and rapid growth of the oil and gas industry after 1947, which modernized the province.

The People:

In the early 1880's, there were fewer than 1000 non-Aboriginal people in the area that was to become the province of Alberta. The government's aggressive efforts to promote immigration and encourage agricultural development between the 1890s and the 1920s increased the Alberta population to half a million by 1920. Today, roughly 3 percent of the population in Alberta is Indigenous Canadian, 44 percent are of British descent; other large ethnic groups are the German, Ukrainian, French, and Scandinavian. Approximately 24 percent of the population can trace their heritage to virtually every country in the world. Approximately 80 percent of Albertans live in urban areas, and more than half live in the two main cities of Edmonton, the province's capital, and Calgary.

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