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Grande Prairie
City of Grande Prairie
Skyline of Grande Prairie viewed from the northeast
Skyline of Grande Prairie viewed from the northeast
Official seal of Grande Prairie
Seal
Nickname(s): 
Swan City
City boundaries
City boundaries
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Coordinates: 55°10′15″N 118°47′46″W / 55.17083°N 118.79611°W / 55.17083; -118.79611Coordinates: 55°10′15″N 118°47′46″W / 55.17083°N 118.79611°W / 55.17083; -118.79611
Country Canada
Province Alberta
Region Northern Alberta
Planning region Upper Peace
Municipal district County of Grande Prairie No. 1
Federal electoral district Grande Prairie—Mackenzie
Provincial electoral districts Grande Prairie
Grande Prairie-Wapiti
Incorporated  
 • Village April 30, 1914
 • Town March 15, 1919
 • City January 1, 1958
Area
 (2016)
 • Land 132.72 km2 (51.24 sq mi)
Elevation
650 m (2,130 ft)
Population
 (2016)
 • Total 63,166
 • Density 475.9/km2 (1,233/sq mi)
 • Municipal census (2018)
69,088
 • Estimate (2020)
69,355
Time zone UTC−07:00 (MST)
 • Summer (DST) UTC−06:00 (MDT)
Forward sortation areas
T8V - T8X
Area code(s) 780, , 587, 825, 368
Highways 40, 43, 43X
Waterways Wapiti River Bear River (Bear Creek)

Grande Prairie is a city in northwest Alberta, Canada within the southern portion of an area known as Peace River Country. It is located at the intersection of Highway 43 (part of the CANAMEX Corridor) and Highway 40 (the Bighorn Highway), approximately 456 km (283 mi) northwest of Edmonton. The city is surrounded by the County of Grande Prairie No. 1.

Grande Prairie was the seventh-largest city in Alberta in 2016 with a population of 63,166, and was one of Canada's fastest growing cities between 2001 and 2006.

The city adopted the trumpeter swan as an official symbol due to its proximity to the migration route and summer nesting grounds of this bird. For that reason, Grande Prairie is sometimes nicknamed the "Swan City". The dinosaur has emerged as an unofficial symbol of the city due to paleontology discoveries in the areas north and west of Grande Prairie.

History

Grande Prairie was named for the large prairie which lies to the north, east, and west of it. In the 18th century, the prairie was occupied by bands of the Dane-zaa (Beaver) peoples, who began trading with the North West Company at Dunvegan in the early 19th century. The earliest recorded reference to the prairie was by trader Samuel Black in 1824. In 1880, a Hudson's Bay Company post called La Grande Prairie was established by George Kennedy 15 miles (24 km) northwest of the present city. In the late 19th century, the prairie was settled by 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 the Edson Trail. In 1910, the Grande Prairie Townsite was sub-divided. By 1912, it included a bank, hotel, post office, and land office, making it a district metropolis. In 1916, it became the terminus of the Edmonton, Dunvegan and British Columbia Railway from Edmonton.

Village of Grande Prairie, Alberta
A view of downtown Grande Prairie, circa 1914

The Edson Trail from Edson to Grande Prairie was opened in 1911 as a means for settlers to reach the Grande Prairie area. It was basically nothing more than a tract of clear cut bush and forest, and thus was a very difficult route for many settlers, especially during wet weather. Because of this, large scale settlement came late compared to other major farming regions further south in Canada. Grande Prairie was incorporated as a village by the Province of Alberta in 1914. It was not until the arrival of the railway in 1916 that farmland quickly expanded as waves of settlers came into the Peace region. This drove up Grande Prairie's population past the 1,000 mark, allowing it to incorporate as a town on March 27, 1919. A local recession in the 1920s caused a temporary depopulation of Grande Prairie. But the population rebounded afterwards by the 1930s, by which time the population had reached 1,464. Settlement continued unabated even into the 1930s during the Dust Bowl era because the Peace Region was able to escape the severe drought conditions that plagued the Canadian Prairies further south at the time.

The Second World War saw the US and Canadian military establish Grande Prairie as a part of the Northwest Staging Route for the construction of the Alaska Highway from Dawson Creek to Alaska. Although Dawson Creek was chosen as the major starting point of the construction of the Alaska highway, Grande Prairie was a major stopover point for military aircraft during the war, and benefited economically from this.

Although Grande Prairie was well located in the southern edge of the Peace Country, it was competing with the towns of Peace River and Dawson Creek for the title of the most important centre of commerce and agriculture in the region until the late 1950s, when its population growth began to outstrip these towns as oil and natural gas exploration was underway in the Peace Region, especially since the first major discovery of oil further south in Leduc near Edmonton in 1947 and the construction of a large pulp mill in the early 1970s.

The construction and paving of Highway 43 (originally sections of Highways 2, 34, and 43 from the BC border to the Yellowhead Highway just west of Edmonton) in 1956 cut down on the travel time by road significantly, further enhancing Grande Prairie's accessibility and economic status. The town was incorporated as a city in 1958. At that time, its population was approximately 7,600.

The opening of the Procter & Gamble kraft pulp mill in 1972 and the discovery of the Elmworth deep basin gas field spurred an economic boom. Grande Prairie's population went from just over 12,000 in the early 1970s to over 24,000 by the time the oil boom went bust in 1981.

A tornado struck the downtown area and east side of Grande Prairie on July 8, 2004. Although the tornado was considered a very weak one (F0-F1 on the Fujita scale) and the weather was not severe at the time, it was still strong enough to incur damage to houses and flip vehicles over. There were no casualties or fatalities.

Geography

Grande Prairie-aerial
Aerial view of Grande Prairie and farmland to the north

Grande Prairie is located just north of the 55th parallel north, and is 465 km (289 mi) northwest of Edmonton, lying at an elevation of 669 metres (2,195 ft) above sea level. The city is surrounded by farmland to the north, east, and west. To the south lies a vast boreal forest with aspen, tamarack, lodgepole pine, jack pine, and black spruce extending well into the foothills of the Canadian Rockies south and southwest of the city.

Bear Creek goes through the city from the northwest to the south end and is a tributary of the Wapiti River to the south. The Bear Creek Reservoir is the small body of water by Grande Prairie Regional College in the northwest part of the city, and is ringed by marshy wetland. The terrain immediately surrounding Grande Prairie is largely flat to gently rolling, but rises gradually to hilly terrain closer to the foothills to the south and southwest. On clear days, some peaks in the Rockies are visible to the southwest from Grande Prairie.

The city lies on the southern edge of aspen parkland, which is a transitional biome between boreal forest and prairie. The Peace Country contains the northernmost area of aspen parkland in North America. However, much of the aspen parkland in the region has long since been destroyed by extensive farming and oil/gas drilling activity.

Climate

Grande Prairie has a northern continental climate typical of northwestern Alberta and northeastern British Columbia, classified as humid continental (Dfb), bordering closely on a subarctic climate (Dfc) under the Köppen climate classification. Winters are generally very cold with some mild spells. Summers are often fairly cool to pleasantly warm in the daytime, but nights can be cool despite the long summer days typical for its latitude. Hot days over 30 °C (86 °F) are rare, occurring on average, only two to three days a year, which is not unexpected this far north. Winter conditions can vary tremendously from year to year. Winters have been known to be mild enough to produce "brown Christmas" conditions, where little or no snow may fall until after Christmas due to unusually mild early winter conditions.

The average January temperature is −13.6 °C (7.5 °F), while the average July temperature is 16.2 °C (61.2 °F). However, temperatures as low as −52.2 °C (−62 °F) and as high as 35.6 °C (96 °F) have been recorded; the extreme humidex and wind chill readings are 40.8 and −63.0 °C (105 and −81 °F), respectively. The city receives 445 millimetres (17.5 in) of precipitation annually, including 322 mm (12.7 in) of rain and 154 cm (61 in) of snow. Snowfall amounts, however, vary greatly from year to year. Being fairly close to the foothills of the Canadian Rockies, it can get quite windy in Grande Prairie, especially in the spring and fall. Chinooks may occur in and bring winter thaws to the Grande Prairie area. Grande Prairie has 314 days with measureable sunshine per year on average, and just above 2,200 hours of bright sunshine or about 46.1% of possible sunshine, ranging from a low of 31.2% in November to a high of 59.1% in July.

Summers can bring thunderstorms, although they are not as frequent nor as severe as those further south in Central Alberta. Rainfall can vary from year to year, but the Peace Region is noted for never having experienced truly severe drought conditions more typical of Southern Alberta and neighbouring Saskatchewan. Tornadoes are rare but not unheard of in the Peace Region and, as noted above, a weak tornado actually struck the core of the city in 2004.

Demographics

In the 2016 Census of Population conducted by Statistics Canada, the City of Grande Prairie recorded a population of 63,166 living in 23,676 of its 26,204 total private dwellings, a change of 13.5% from its 2011 population of 55,655. With a land area of 132.73 km2 (51.25 sq mi), it had a population density of 475.9/km2 (1,233/sq mi) in 2016.

The population of the City of Grande Prairie according to its 2015 municipal census was 68,556, a change of 36.5% from its 2007 municipal census population of 50,227.

In the 2016 Census, 11.9% of residents were visible minorities, while 12.6% were aboriginal and 75.5% were white. The largest visible minority groups were Filipino (5.0%), Black (2.1%), South Asian (1.9%), and Chinese (0.8%).

As of 2016, 85.7% of residents claimed English as their first language. Other common mother tongues were Tagalog (2.9%), French (2.6%), German (1.1%) and Spanish (0.7%).

In the 2011 Census, the City of Grande Prairie had a population of 55,032 living in 21,180 of its 22,979 total dwellings, a change of 16.8% from its 2006 adjusted population of 47,107. With a land area of 72.8 km2 (28.1 sq mi), it had a population density of 755.9/km2 (1,958/sq mi) in 2011.

58.5% of residents identified themselves as Christian at the time of the 2011 census while 39.2% indicated they had no religious affiliation. The largest denomination was Catholic (23.1%), followed by Other Christian (14.8%), United Church (6.0%), Anglican (5.3%), Pentecostal (3.4%), Lutheran (2.7%) and Baptist (2.1%). The largest non-Christian religion in Grande Prairie was Islam, making up 0.9% of the population.

Arts and culture

Live music can be found in several downtown bars and intermittently at all-ages locations such as Tito's Restaurant and the GP Curling Club. Summer-long music festivals have been organized by community-minded individuals and charitable organizations. Grande Prairie has a wide range of local music genres including country (such as Tenille, Brad Sims, and more), Reggae (Tasman Jude ), Metal (Arrival Of Autumn ), folk, rock and much more

Cultural venues include Revolution Place (a concert hall and hockey rink — the local AJHL team, the Grande Prairie Storm, plays there), the Grande Prairie Museum, the Art Gallery of Grande Prairie, and Second Street Theatre. Grande Prairie is also home to a professional musical theatre company, "Broadway Live Broadway".

The Reel Shorts Film Festival is a five-day international festival of short films in Grande Prairie that takes place at Grande Prairie Live Theatre's Second Street Theatre in early May.

Sports and recreation

The city has a number of parks and golf courses, including the large Muskoseepi Park in the Bear Creek valley and the Dunes Golf Course south of the city. Muskoseepi Park has excellent bike trails extending nearly the entire length of Bear Creek within the city. The park also has an outdoor swimming pool (currently closed) and an outdoor pond which converts into a skating rink in the winter. Crystal Lake in the northeast part of the city also has parkland, preserved wetlands (great for birdwatching), and walking/bike paths around its entire circumference.

Grande Prairie has three 18-hole golf courses nearby including The Dunes Golf and Winter Club, the Bear Creek Golf Club, and the Grande Prairie Golf and Country Club), and a fourth, Grovedale Golf Course, approximately 20 km (12 mi) to the southwest of Grande Prairie.

Cross-country skiing and snowmobiling are popular activities during the winter in the Grande Prairie area. A local ski hill called Nitehawk is located south of the city on the south bank of the Wapiti River. Aside from skiing, Nitehawk also has the only North American natural luge track certified for international events and over the summer months freestyle ski jumpers can practice using the Northern Extreme water ramp facility. It is also active in luge as a naturally refrigerated venue, hosting the FIL World Luge Natural Track Championships in 2007.

The foothills south of Grande Prairie and around Grande Cache are popular year-round for hiking in the summer and for snowmobiling and other winter sports in the winter. Kakwa Wildland Park on the Alberta-BC border, about 180 kilometres (110 miles) south of the city, is a beautiful and mountainous natural area and is known for a beautiful waterfall called Kakwa Falls.

The Eastlink Centre, briefly known as the Multiplex, is an indoor fitness facility that has an indoor pool, splash park, lazy river, and surf simulator. It also includes a weight room and fitness classes, a daycare service and a multi-use basketball court among other amenities and classes. The Eastlink Centre is located in southwest Grande Prairie and connects St. Joseph High School, the Grande Prairie Gymnastics Centre, and the Coca-Cola Centre. In March 2012 the Eastlink Centre received an award for its exceptional accessibility features.

The Leisure Centre, formerly the Rec-Plex, is located in northwest Grande Prairie near the Bear Creek Reservoir. In December 2011, after the Eastlink Centre opened, the majority of the Leisure Centre was closed, with unrealized plans to reopen in the second half of 2013. Currently the swimming pool and gym remain closed, but the indoor soccer pitch is open.

Club League Sport Venue Established Championships
Grande Prairie Storm
AJHL
Ice Hockey Revolution Place
1966
3
Grande Prairie Kings
NWJHL
Ice Hockey Coca-Cola Centre
1994
1
Grande Prairie Athletics
NPHL
Ice Hockey Coca-Cola Centre
1960
7

Economy

Grande Prairie-aerial
Aerial view of Grande Prairie and farmland to the north

Grande Prairie possesses a diversified economy. Major industries include oil and gas, agriculture, forestry, and food services.

Agriculture was the first economic mainstay of Grande Prairie since settlement began in the early 20th century. It remains part of the local economy today. A variety of crops such as barley, wheat, canola, and oats are grown in the area. Livestock such as cattle and buffalo (bison) are also raised in the area. Despite being north of the 55th parallel, the climate is mild enough to allow for farming on a large scale to prosper. Longer daylight hours during the summer at this latitude aid in crop production. The Peace Country is the northernmost major farming region in North America. Land within the region is still being cleared for new farmland.

Although some oil and gas drilling has been ongoing in the area since the 1950s, oil and gas exploration did not begin to occur on a large scale until the late 1970s. It was in the mid to late-1970s that the Elmworth gas field was discovered and developed, causing the city to grow rapidly until the oil boom ended in 1981. Today Grande Prairie's location atop both the Montney and Duvernay geological formations have seen local extraction activities focused on natural-gas condensate and shale gas. As a result of this focus the region has maintained relatively high levels of activity when compared to areas where conventional resources, shallow gas or heavy oil are the primary resources.

Forestry is a major part of Grande Prairie's economy, for large tracts of forest lie to the south in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies. International Paper (formerly Weyerhaeuser Canada) kraft pulp mill, opened in 1972 by Procter & Gamble, is one of Grande Prairie's largest employers. Canfor runs a sawmill and lumber yard operation on the west side of the city. Norbord (formerly Ainsworth) oriented strand board plant opened in late 1995.

Grande Prairie serves as the economic and transportation hub for a trading area of nearly 290,000 people. Grande Prairie is also on the CANAMEX trade route linking Canada, the United States, and Mexico.

Education

Elementary and secondary schools

Four school districts operate schools within Grande Prairie.

The Grande Prairie Public School District (GPPSD) operates 18 schools.

Grande Prairie Roman Catholic Separate School District No. 28 operates ten schools within Grande Prairie.

The Peace Wapiti School Division No. 76 (PWSD) operates three schools in Grande Prairie that serve students of the surrounding County of Grande Prairie No. 1.

The Northwest Francophone Education Region No. 1 [1] operates École Nouvelle Frontière for students in kindergarten to grade 12.

Aside from the two outreach schools that provide alternative curriculum for high school students, Grande Prairie's high schools are the Grande Prairie Composite High School (GPPSD), St. Joseph's Catholic High School (GP&DCS), Ecole Nouvelle Frontiere, Charles Spencer High School (GPPSD) and Peace Wapiti Academy (PWSD).

Post-secondary

Grande Prairie Regional College was originally incorporated as the Grande Prairie Junior College in 1965 and opened its doors in 1966. After being renamed Grande Prairie Regional College (GPRC) in 1970, construction of the present campus began in 1973 based on a plan prepared by Canadian architect Douglas Cardinal. The first phase opened in 1974 followed by the second phase in 1991. The President of the GPRC is Robert W Murray.

Transportation

Air

The Grande Prairie Airport is located at the west end of the city and serves the region with daily scheduled flights to Calgary and Edmonton. Two airlines, Air Canada Express and WestJet Encore, offer service to the airport. The airport has seen growth in both passenger and aircraft traffic in recent years, and now serves just under a half a million passengers annually. The Grande Prairie Airport was originally developed in the 1930s as a grass only strip at its present site. In 1941 in support of the war effort, and the building of the Alaska Highway, the facility was expanded for utilization by the Royal Canadian Air Force and the United States Air Force. In 1950 the airport came under the authority of the Federal Government until February 1, 1997, at which time it was transferred to the City of Grande Prairie.

The terminal, built in 1981, was renovated in 2009 making it twice its original size. In 2014, one of the two asphalt runways was extended to 8,502 ft (2,591 m), with the other one being 6,200 ft (1,900 m). A forthcoming expansion includes an upgrade to the parking system. Currently the airport has no customs capabilities (although a temporary customs facility was set up for the 2010 Arctic Winter Games).

Swanberg Air formerly operated out of the airport until they ceased operations in 2011. They flew cargo, scheduled, and charter passenger services in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and British Columbia.

City public transit

Grande Prairie Transit is a small public transit system with modern buses and a route system integrated throughout the city.

Intercity bus

Greyhound Canada offered scheduled bus service from its Grande Prairie terminal to Edmonton and Dawson Creek. This service was terminated in October 2018. Red Arrow once connected Grande Prairie to Edmonton, but that service was also cancelled. Bus service to Edmonton is now provided by Cold Shot Bus Service.

Highways and roads

Highway 43 is the main east–west highway through the city providing a connection from Edmonton to the southeast through to British Columbia to the west. Highway 43 meets Highway 2 a few kilometres north of the city at the Four Mile Interchange, then continues south into the city, via the city bypass, and exits the city at the west end near the airport. The short stretch of Highway 2 extending just north and just west of Grande Prairie was renumbered to Highway 43 in the late 1990s to link with the rest of Highway 43 ie: the Yellowhead Highway from Edmonton. This explains why newer maps no longer show both short stretches as Highway 2. The renumbering was also due to Highway 43 now being a part of the CANAMEX trade route and being widened to a four-lane divided highway.

The four lane Highway 43X bypass, skirts the northwest corner of the city from the Four Mile Interchange to Highway 43 just west of the airport. The "Four Mile Interchange" (previously called "Four Mile Corner") is an interchange so-named because it is 4 mi (6.4 km) north of Richmond Avenue (100th Avenue, at 100 street). The Highway 43X bypass was completed in stages, over several years, and was fully opened to traffic in September 2019. The Highway 43X Bypass permits traffic to go around the city's north west region, and reduces traffic on the city bypass, which was built in the 1960s, had become fully engulfed within the city, and was somewhat congested with traffic.

Highway 40 is the primary access road into Grande Prairie from the south, and extends southward to Grande Cache, and Jasper National Park. It is part of the shortest fully paved route to Alaska from the lower 48 states, so Grande Prairie sees many vacationers heading to Alaska by road during the summer via Highway 40 northward into Grande Prairie, then Highway 43 westward towards Dawson Creek, BC, which is "Mile 0" of the Alaska Highway.

Rail

The City of Grande Prairie has rail freight service provided by CN. Trackage runs south from Grande Prairie to Grande Cache and Hinton, where it joins CN's main transcontinental line. CN also operates local freight service out of Grande Prairie on former Northern Alberta Railways tracks - north to Sexsmith and Rycroft, and west to Beaverlodge and Hythe.

Savage Alberta Railway, which operated from 1999 to 2006, was owned by North American RailNet and had its headquarters in the city prior to being purchased by CN.

Notable people

See also: :Category:People from Grande Prairie
  • Theodore deWit "Willie deWit", former professional and Olympic boxer
  • Tanner Fritz, professional ice hockey player for the New York Islanders of the NHL
  • Leslie Greentree, poet
  • Carolyn Dawn Johnson, country music singer-songwriter
  • Kelly Sutherland (chuckwagon) retired professional chuckwagon driver
  • Tenille Townes, country music singer
  • Chris Warkentin, Canadian politician, Conservative Member of Parliament (2006-)
  • William Paul Young, novelist
  • Alex Zahara, actor

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