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Alberta, Canada

This is the master portail for the Province of Alberta, Canada.

The People of Alberta

This section of the project will explore the relationships and links between families who lived in Alberta. Please add each family name alphabetically below and add profiles of those who lived or were born in Alberta to the project.

Native Groups

The ancestors of today's First Nations in Alberta arrived in the area at least 8,000 years BC, according to the Bering land bridge theory. Southerly tribes, the Plain Indians, such as the Blackfoot, Blood, and Peigans eventually adapted to semi-nomadic Plains Bison hunting, originally without the aid of horses, but later with horses Europeans had introduced. More northerly tribes, like the Woodland Cree and the Chipewyan also hunted, trapped, and fished for other types of game in the aspen parkland and boreal forest regions.[1]

Later, the mixture of these native peoples with French fur traders created a new cultural group, the Métis. The Métis established themselves to the east of Alberta, but after being displaced by white settlement, many migrated to Alberta.[2]


The first European to reach Alberta was likely a Frenchman such as Pierre La Vérendrye or one of his sons, who had travelled inland to Manitoba in 1730, establishing forts and trading furs directly with the native peoples there. Exploring the river system further, the French furtraders would have likely engaged the Blackfoot speaking people of Alberta directly; proof of this being that the word for "Frenchman" in the Blackfoot language means, "real white man". By the mid eighteenth century, they were siphoning off most of the best furs before they could reach the Hudson's Bay trading posts further inland, sparking tension between the rival companies.[3]

The first written account of present-day Alberta comes to us from the fur trader Anthony Henday, who explored the vicinity of present-day Red Deer and Edmonton in 1754–55. He spent the winter with a group of Blackfoot, with whom he traded and went buffalo hunting.[4] Other important early explorers of Alberta include Peter Fidler,[5] David Thompson, Peter Pond, Alexander MacKenzie, and George Simpson. The first European settlement was founded at Fort Chipewyan by MacKenzie in 1788, although Fort Vermilion disputes this claim, having also been founded in 1788.

The early history of Alberta is closely tied to the fur trade, and the rivalries associated with it. The first battle was between English and French traders, and often took the form of open warfare. Most of central and southern Alberta is part of the Hudson Bay watershed, and in 1670 was claimed by the English Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) as part of its monopoly territory, Rupert's Land. This was contested by French traders operating from Montreal, the Coureurs des bois. When France’s power on the continent was crushed after the fall of Quebec in 1759, the British HBC was left with unfettered control of the trade, and exercised its monopoly powers.

This was soon challenged in the 1770s by the North West Company (NWC), a private Montreal-based company that hoped to recreate the old French trading network in the waters that did not drain to the Hudson Bay, such as the Mackenzie River, and waters draining to the Pacific Ocean. Many of Alberta’s cities and towns started as either HBC or NWC trading posts, including Fort Edmonton. The HBC and NWC eventually merged in 1821, and in 1870 the new HBC’s trade monopoly was abolished and trade in the region was opened to any entrepreneur. The company ceded Rupert's Land and the North-Western Territory to the Dominion of Canada as the Northwest Territories as part of the Rupert's Land Act 1868.

The economic struggle represented by the fur trade was paralleled by a spiritual struggle between rival Christian churches hoping to win converts among the native Indians. The first Roman Catholic missionary was Jean-Baptiste Thibault, who arrived at Lac Sainte Anne in 1842.[4] The Methodist Robert Rundle arrived in 1840 and established a mission in 1847.

In 1864, the Roman Catholic Church in Canada tasked Father Albert Lacombe with evangelizing the Plains Indians, which he had some success with. Several Alberta towns and regions were first settled by French missionary activity, such as St. Albert, and St. Paul. The Anglican Church of Canada and several other Protestant denominations also sent missions to the Natives.

The area later to become Alberta was acquired by the fledging Dominion of Canada in 1870 in the hopes that it would become an agricultural frontier settled by White Canadians. In order to “open up” the land to settlement, the government began negotiating the Numbered Treaties with the various Native nations, which offered them reserved lands and the right to government support in exchange for ceding all claims to the majority of the lands to the Crown. At the same time the decline of the HBC’s power had allowed American whiskey traders and hunters to expand into southern Alberta, disrupting the Native way of life. Of particular concern was the infamous Fort Whoop-Up near present-day Lethbridge, and the associated Cypress Hills massacre of 1873.

At the same as whiskey was being introduced to the First Nations, firearms were becoming more easily available. Meanwhile white hunters were shooting huge numbers of Plains Bison, the primary food source of the plains tribes. Diseases were also spreading among the tribes. Warfare and starvation became rampant on the plains. Eventually disease and starvation weakened the tribes to the point where warfare became impossible. This culminated in 1870 with the Battle of the Belly River between the Blackfoot Confederacy and the Cree. It was the last major battle fought between native nations on Canadian soil.

In order to bring law and order to the West, the government created the North-West Mounted Police, the “mounties”, in 1873. In July 1874, 275 officers began their legendary “march west” towards Alberta. They reached the western end of trek by setting up a new headquarters at Fort MacLeod. The force was then divided, half going north to Edmonton, and half heading back to Manitoba. The next year, new outposts were founded: Fort Walsh in the Cypress Hills, and Fort Calgary, around which the city of Calgary would form.

As the bison disappeared from the Canadian west, cattle ranches moved in to take their place. Ranchers were among the most successful early settlers. The arid prairies and foothills were well suited to American-style, dry-land, open-range ranching. Black American cowboy John Ware brought the first cattle into the province in 1876. Like most hired hands, Ware was American, but the industry was dominated by powerful British- and Ontario-born magnates such Patrick Burns.[4]

The peace and stability the Mounties brought fostered dreams of mass settlement on the Canadian Prairies. The land was surveyed by the Canadian Pacific Railway for possible routes to the Pacific. The early favourite was a northerly line that went through Edmonton and the Yellowhead Pass. The success of the Mounties in the South, coupled with a government desire to establish Canadian sovereignty of that area, and the CPR’s desire to undercut land speculators, prompted the CPR to announce a last minute switch of the route to a more southerly path passing through Calgary and the Kicking Horse Pass. This was against the advice of some surveyors who said that the south was an arid zone not suitable for agricultural settlement.

In 1882 the District of Alberta was created as part of the Northwest Territories, and named for Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, fourth daughter of Queen Victoria, and wife of the Marquess of Lorne who served as Governor General of Canada at the time.[6]


The CPR went ahead and was nearly completed in 1885 when the North West Rebellion, led by Louis Riel, broke out between Metis and First Nations groups and the Canadian government. The rebellion stretched over what is now Saskatchewan and Alberta. After the Cree war party attacked a white settlement at Frog Lake, Saskatchewan (now in Alberta), Canadian militia from Ontario were sent to the District of Alberta via the CPR and fought against the rebels. The rebels were defeated at Batoche, Saskatchewan and Riel was later taken prisoner.

After the 1885 Northwest Rebellion was put down, settlers began to pour into Alberta. The closing of the American frontier around 1890 led 600,000 Americans to move to Saskatchewan and Alberta, where the farming frontier flourished 1897-1914.

The railways developed town sites six to ten miles apart and lumber companies and speculators loaned money to encourage building on the lots. Immigrants faced an unfamiliar, harsh environment. Building a home, clearing and cultivating thirty acres, and fencing the entire property, all of which were requirements of homesteaders seeking title to their new land, were difficult tasks in the glacier-carved valleys.


Americans, British, Germans & UkrainiansInitially,in the government preferred English-speaking settlers from Eastern Canada or Great Britain and to a lesser extent, the United States. However, in order to speed up the rate of settlement, the government under the direction of Minister of the Interior Clifford Sifton soon began advertising to attract settlers from continental Europe. Large numbers of Germans, Ukrainians and Scandinavians moved in, among others, often coalescing into distinct ethnic settlement blocks, giving parts of Alberta distinctive ethnic clusters.[8]

Wiseman (2011) argues that the heavy influx of 600,000 immigrants from the United States brought along such political ideals such as liberalism, individualism, and egalitarianism, as opposed to traditional English Canadian themes such as toryism and socialism. One result was the growth of the Non-Partisan League.[9]


One typical settlement involved Norwegians from Minnesota. In 1894, Norwegian farmers from Minnesota's Red River Valley, originally from Bardo, Norway, resettled on Amisk Creek south of Beaverhill Lake, Alberta, naming their new settlement Bardo, after their homeland. Since the Land Act of 1872, Canada had eagerly sought to establish planned single-nationality immigrant colonies in the Western Provinces. The settlement at Bardo grew steadily, and from 1900 on most settlers came directly from Bardo, Norway, joining family and former neighbors. While somewhat primitive living conditions were the norm for many years into the 20th century, the settlers quickly established institutions and social outlets, including a Lutheran congregation, a school, the Bardo Ladies' Aid Society, a literary society, a youth choir, and a brass band.[10]


In July 1897 the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) began work on a railway passing through Crow's Nest Pass, Alberta. To attract a thousand workers from Wales who would eventually settle in Canada, the British government offered workers $1.50 a day and land through the homestead process. Publicized by shipping companies and newspapers, the scheme drew many workers from Bangor, North Wales, where quarrymen had been on strike for nearly a year. However, the transport costs alone were more than many Welsh workers could afford, and this limited the number of people responding to the offer to under 150. By November letters began to arrive in Wales complaining about the living and working conditions in the CPR camps. Government officials, seeking to populate the Canadian prairies, began to downplay the criticisms and present more positive views. Although some of the immigrants eventually found prosperity in Canada, the immigration scheme envisioned by government and railroad officials was canceled in 1898.[11]


About 3,200 Mormons arrived from Utah, where their practice of polygamy had been outlawed. They were very community oriented, setting up 17 farm settlements; they pioneered in irrigation techniques. They flourished and in 1923 opened the Cardston Alberta Temple in their centre of Cardston. In the 21st century about 50,000 Mormons live in Alberta.[12]

Drive to provincehood

Alexander Rutherford, Alberta's first premier took advantage of the political power handed to him by the Federal GovernmentAt the dawn of the 20th century, Alberta was simply a district of the North-West Territories. Local leaders lobbied hard for provincial status. The premier of the territories, Sir Frederick Haultain, was one the most persistent and vocal supporters of provincehood for the West. However, his plan for provincial status in the West was not a plan for the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan that was eventually adopted; rather he favoured the creation of one very large province called Buffalo. Other proposals called for three provinces, or two provinces with a border running east-west instead of north-south.

The prime minister of the day, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, did not want to concentrate too much power in one province, which might grow to rival Quebec and Ontario, but neither did he think three provinces were viable, and so opted for the two-province plan. Alberta became a province along with her sister Saskatchewan on September 1, 1905.

Haultain might have been expected to be appointed as the first Premier of Alberta. However, Haultain was Conservative while Laurier was Liberal. Laurier opted to have Lieutenant Governor George H. V. Bulyea appoint the Liberal Alexander Rutherford, whose government would later fall in the Alberta and Great Waterways Railway scandal.

Alberta's other main leader at the time was Frank Oliver. He founded Edmonton's influential Bulletin newspaper in 1880 from which he espoused a sharp criticism of Liberal policies in the West. He was especially disapproving of Ukrainian settlement. He was elected to the territorial assembly, but resigned to become a federal MP. He replaced Sifton as Minister of the Interior and set about reducing support for European immigration. At the same time he was in charge of drawing up the boundaries of the provincial ridings for the 1905 Alberta elections. He is accused by some of gerrymandering the boundaries to favour Liberal Edmonton over Tory Calgary.[13]

Together Oliver and Rutherford made sure that Edmonton became Alberta's capital.

Early 20th century

The new province of Alberta had a population of 78,000 but apart from the Canadian Pacific railway it lacked infrastructure. The people were farmers and they lacked schools and medical facilities. Ottawa retained control of its natural resources until 1930, making economic development difficult and complicating federal-provincial relations. Indeed, battles over oil poisoned relations with the federal government, especially after 1970.


The Liberals formed the first government of Alberta and remained in office until 1921. After the election of 1905, Premier Alexander C. Rutherford's government started work on the governmental infrastructure, especially regarding legal and municipal affairs. Rutherford, a gentleman of the old school, was a weak leader but he was supportive of education, pushing for the establishment of a Provincial University. If Calgary was annoyed when Edmonton was chosen as the capital,[14] that annoyance grew into outrage in 1906 when the University of Alberta was given to Strathcona (a suburb that soon was annexed into Edmonton in 1912). Talented Conservatives sought their political fortune in national rather than provincial politics, most notably R. B. Bennett, who became Prime Minister in 1930.

Communication was enhanced when a telephone system was set up for the towns and cities. Long-term economic growth was stimulated by the construction through Edmonton of two additional transcontinental railroads, which later became part of the Canadian National Railway. Their main role was to ship people in, and wheat out. Drawn by cheap farm land and high wheat prices, immigration reached record levels, and the population reached 470,000 by 1914.

Farm movements

Feeling abused by the railroads and the grain elevators, militant farm organizations appeared, notably the United Farmers of Alberta (UFA), formed in 1909. Guided by the ideas of William Irvine and later by Henry Wise Wood, the UFA was intended to represent economic interests rather than to act as another political party. But the farmers' dissatisfaction with Liberal provincial policies and Conservative federal policies, combined with falling wheat prices and a railroad scandal, produced an overwhelming UFA landslide in the provincial legislature in 1921. Alberta also gave strong support to the Progressive Party of Canada, a national farm organization, which held a bloc of seats in the federal parliament

John E. Brownlee led the UFA to a second majority government in the 1926 election. It repealed prohibition, passed a Debt Adjustment Act to help indebted farmers, and aided workers. It abolished the provincial police, leaving law enforcement to the RCMP. The government bailed-out the bankrupt Alberta Wheat Pool in 1929. The high point of Brownlee's administration came after long negotiations with the federal government concerning Alberta's natural resources. In 1930, control of these resources was turned over to the province. Riding a wave of popularity, Brownlee led the UFA to a third majority government in the 1930 election. As he moved to the right, he wound up alienating socialists and labour groups.

In 1934 the UFA collapsed politically, and returned to being a cooperative. Its defeat was in part due to the John Brownlee sex scandal and in part due to the government's inability to raise wheat prices or otherwise mitigate the Great Depression in Canada. A prolonged drought in the southern two thirds of the province forced the abandonment of thousands of farms, and cut grain output at a time prices were falling in half.

For more on the History of Alberta go to



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