Grande Prairie

Grande Prairie is a city in the northwestern part of the province of Alberta in Western Canada. It is located on the southern edge of the Peace River Country (part of the Peace Region or simply "The Peace", as is often locally known, which encompasses much of northwestern Alberta and northeastern British Columbia). The city is surrounded by the County of Grande Prairie No. 1.

Grande Prairie was one of Canada's fastest growing cities between 2001 and 2006.  As of its 2007 civic census, its population was 50,227, up 6.9% from the Canada 2006 Census figure of 47,076. As of 2006, the population of the Grande Prairie Census Agglomeration was at 71,868;  the census agglomeration has now been expanded to cover the County of Grande Prairie No. 1 in its entirety. It is currently Alberta's seventh largest incorporated city by population.

Grande Prairie is the largest city between Edmonton and Fairbanks, Alaska on the route via Highway 43, the Alaska Highway, and the Richardson Highway. It lies about 460 km (290 mi) and 2,480 km (1,540 mi) from each city respectively.

The city has adopted the Trumpeter swan as an official symbol because it is near the migration route and summer nesting grounds of this large and graceful swan. For that reason, Grande Prairie is sometimes nicknamed the "Swan City".

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 Beaver First Nation 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 Grand 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.

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 Region, 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 is located just north of the 55th Parallel, and is 465 km (289 mi) northwest of Edmonton. The City of Grande Prairie lies at an elevation of 669 m (2195 ft) above sea level. The city is surrounded by farmland to the north, east, and west. To the south, it is mostly 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 altered by extensive farming and oil/gas drilling activity.

Climate

Grande Prairie has a northern continental climate typical of northwestern Alberta and northeastern BC. Winters are generally 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 one to two 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 −15 °C (−9 °C average high and −19 °C average low) and the average July temperature is 15.9 °C (22 °C average high and 10 °C average low). However, temperatures as low as −52 °C and as high as 34.5 °C have been recorded. Grande Prairie gets 317.7 mm (12.5 inches) of rain and 158.6 cm (62.4 inches) of snow per year on average. The total annual precipitation is 446.6 mm (17.6 inches)  which includes both rain and 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 are not an unheard of occurrence in the Grande Prairie area. Grande Prairie has 314 sunshine days per year on average.

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 Saskatchewan. Tornadoes are rare but not unknown in the Peace Region.

October 28, 2006, heralded a new record for the city: nearly 40 centimetres (15 inches) of snow fell in 24 hours. It was the greatest single-day snow fall in nearly fifty years.

 Climate data for Grande Prairie
MonthJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDecYear
Record high °C (°F) 12.6
(54.7)
11.8
(53.2)
16.1
(61.0)
29.2
(84.6)
31.3
(88.3)
33.3
(91.9)
33.3
(91.9)
34.5
(94.1)
31.5
(88.7)
28.9
(84.0)
22.2
(72.0)
13.3
(55.9)
34.5
(94.1)
Average high °C (°F) −9.5
(14.9)
−5.8
(21.6)
0.6
(33.1)
10.1
(50.2)
16.9
(62.4)
20.2
(68.4)
22.1
(71.8)
21.4
(70.5)
16.4
(61.5)
9.6
(49.3)
−1.8
(28.8)
−7.2
(19.0)
7.7
(45.9)
Daily mean °C (°F) −15
(5.0)
−11.5
(11.3)
−4.9
(23.2)
4.1
(39.4)
10.3
(50.5)
14.1
(57.4)
15.9
(60.6)
14.9
(58.8)
10.1
(50.2)
4.0
(39.2)
−6.6
(20.1)
−12.6
(9.3)
1.9
(35.4)
Average low °C (°F) −20.5
(−4.9)
−17.1
(1.2)
−10.4
(13.3)
−2
(28.4)
3.7
(38.7)
8.0
(46.4)
9.6
(49.3)
8.3
(46.9)
3.7
(38.7)
−1.7
(28.9)
−11.4
(11.5)
−17.9
(−0.2)
−4
(24.8)
Record low °C (°F) −52.2
(−62.0)
−48.3
(−54.9)
−42.8
(−45.0)
−35.6
(−32.1)
−8.1
(17.4)
−2.2
(28.0)
0.6
(33.1)
−2.8
(27.0)
−10.6
(12.9)
−31.7
(−25.1)
−40.6
(−41.1)
−47.2
(−53.0)
−52.2
(−62.0)
Precipitation mm (inches) 30.7
(1.209)
18.5
(0.728)
15.5
(0.61)
17.3
(0.681)
36.9
(1.453)
76.5
(3.012)
70.4
(2.772)
61.8
(2.433)
42.6
(1.677)
23.8
(0.937)
26.2
(1.031)
26.4
(1.039)
446.6
(17.583)
Mean monthly sunshine hours 78.8 107.4 170.5 234.5 275.3 295.0 308.3 271.7 168.4 137.4 83.1 72.9 2,203.1
Source: Environment Canada 

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 55°N, 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 Region 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-1970s that the Elmworth gas field was discovered and developed, causing the city to grow rapidly until the last oil boom ended in 1981.

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. The 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. The Ainsworth Oriented Strand Board plant opened in late 1995.

Grande Prairie serves as the economic and transportation hub for a trading area of nearly 250,000 people. Grande Prairie is also on the CANAMEX trade route linking Canada, the United States, and Mexico.

Recreation and culture

Muskoseepi Park PavilionThe 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. Muskoseepi Park also has an outdoor swimming pool and a pavilion with a cafeteria 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.

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. Genre-wise the music scene is typically dominated by punk, rock, and metal bands. Well attended shows tend to be high-energy and mosh-pits are usually expected from engaged audiences. More established acts include This Conviction, Arrival Of Autumn, Calculating Collapse, Reject, The Damn Plastards, Stacy Lloyd Brown / The Goodbye Generation, and Emerson Drive. 

Cultural venues include the Bowes Family Crystal Centre (a concert hall and hockey rink — the local AJHL team, the Grande Prairie Storm, plays there), the Grande Prairie Museum, the Prairie Art Gallery (closed due to a structural disaster ), The Rabbit Hole bookstore, Second Street Theatre, and Studio "Y?". Grande Prairie is also home to a professional musical theatre company, "Broadway Live Broadway", which engages equity actors and performs on the college campus.

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. 

Golfing is possible as late as after 11 o'clock in the evening in early summer due to the northern latitude. Grande Prairie has three 18-hole golf courses nearby (Dunes Golf and Winter Club, Bear Creek Golf Club, and Grande Prairie Golf & Country Club) as well as smaller nine-hole golf courses within an hour drive.

Cross-country skiing and snowmobiling are popular activities during the winter in the Grande Prairie area. There is a local ski hill called Nitehawk 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 km 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 the St. Joseph High School, Gymnastics Centre and Coca-Cola Centre.

The Leisure Centre, formerly the Rec-Plex, is located in northwest Grande Prairie near the Bear Creek Reservoir. It features a pool, an indoor soccer pitch, fitness equipment and aerobics facilities.

There is a lot for families to do in Grande Prairie for little to no cost. Many families enjoy the free entertainment offered at Muskoseepi Park, Studio Y?, The Public Library, and at other city-run organizations.

Some thirty churches of various denominations can be found in the city.

 

Education

Secondary

Three school districts operate secondary schools within Grande Prairie. 

The Grande Prairie Public School District #2357 (GPPSD) operates 14 secondary schools including Grande Prairie Christian School and the Bridge Network Outreach,  a school specially geared for students who cannot or will not attend the traditional high school education system due to various challenges or a need for alternative education.

Grande Prairie and District Catholic Schools (GP&DCS) operates eight schools, including the St. John Bosco Outreach.  

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

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

Post-secondary

Grande Prairie Regional College (GPRC), established in 1966, is the primary post-secondary institution in the city and offers degrees in a few programs. The present college campus was built in 1974 and expanded later in the early 1990s. Its unique architecture was originally designed by the renowned Canadian architect Douglas Cardinal.

GPRC recently adopted the Dean-system of administration. Its largest faculty, Arts and Education, is currently headed by Dr. Scott McAlpine. As of Jan. 2007, the college is administered by Don Gnatiuk, following the resignation of former institution President Jim Henderson.

In 1995, the city hosted the Canada Games. The event was televised nationally on CBC Television. Hundreds of performers competed in the events and the city gained status and recognition as a result. The city played host to the 2010 Arctic Winter Games from March 6–13, 2010.