The capital of Alberta, Edmonton is situated on the North Saskatchewan River, in the centre of the province. The site attracted Native Canadian settlers for thousands of years before the arrival of the early fur traders in the eighteenth century. The first European to reach Alberta was the fur trader Anthony Henday, who explored the area in 1754–55, spending the winter with a tribe of Blackfoot Indians.
The city proper developed from Fort Edmonton, the Hudson’s Bay Company’s fur-trading post. This was established in 1795 at a site 20 miles downstream from the present city.
The Fort was abandoned in 1810 but another trading settlement developed on the site after 1864 and survived the Cree Indian Rebellion of 1885.
With the Hudson Bay Company’s sale of its rights to the Dominion of Canada in 1870, Edmonton’s growth accelerated. It became an important grain producer, encouraging many new settlers to move to the city. After the Yukon gold rush of 1897 they were joined by thousands of gold prospectors who arrived in the city having mistakenly followed newspaper promises of an ‘All Canadian Route’ to the gold fields that would avoid the dangerous Chilkoot Trail.
Edmonton continued to prosper as a centre for agricultural distribution with the arrival of the Canadian Pacific Railway at nearby Strathcona. In 1905 the Canadian Northern Railway reached the city, leading to its designation as the capital of the Province of Alberta.
To encourage settlement on a larger scale, the Canadian government launched a massive advertising campaign across Canada, the United States and Europe with the slogan ‘COME SETTLE THE WEST!’. Cheap or even free land was offered as an incentive.
In 1912, Edmonton on the North side of the river and the town of Strathcona on the South amalgamated with a combined population of over 53,000. The High Level Bridge was completed in 1913, creating another link between the north and south sides of the city. The elegant Hotel Macdonald was completed in 1915.
With the discovery of oil at Leduc (just south of the city) in 1947, Edmonton’s industrial economy developed further. By the end of the year, there were 30 wells producing 3,500 barrels of oil a day. As further discoveries were made, natural gas also proved to be a valuable resource. Oil and agriculture continue to dominate the city’s economy.
Places of Interest
Edmonton’s main attractions are the West Edmonton Mall—one of the world’s largest shopping centres—and Fort Edmonton Park, Canada’s largest living history museum. The city’s historic Old Strathcona district has recently been developed, with several museums, restaurants and bars opening up.