Since before the days of the fur traders, Grande Prairie has been know for its large, flat prairie landscape and, as historian Don Wetherall indicates, it became a name enshrined by developers at the turn of the century who capitalized on settlement in the north.
Well, Grande Prairie was developed by a group of Edmonton real estate promoters who established a company called the Argonauts Company in 1909. This company had purchased 80 acres of Métis scrip, near the site of a Roman Catholic mission.
The Company created a town site by surveying the land and laying out lots, which it planned to sell to settlers who were then beginning to arrive in increasing numbers in the Peace River country.
The Company named their new town Grande Prairie City and they began advertising that it had a great future. And they also lobbied for railway connections. And while the railway did not arrive immediately, other important institutions soon set up in the new town.
By 1911, Grande Prairie had a bank, a post office and a Dominion Lands Office where settlers could register their homesteads. By 1916, the Edmonton, Dunvegan and British Columbia Railway built a line north linking Grande Prairie to Edmonton.
The railway company had planned to build westward from Grande Prairie immediately. But this construction was postponed for 12 years because the company was in financial trouble and, ultimately, went bankrupt.
So Grande Prairie became, for a time, the head of steel, and this was good for Grande Prairie. It gave the town's business community a strong advantage over business in neighbouring districts. And Grande Prairie never lost the economic advantage that this head start gave it.
Settlement grew at an ever-increasing pace. By 1916, there were over 30 businesses in Grande Prairie. By 1920, there were over 75. Eventually the rail line was extended further west but, unlike other towns, Grande Prairie continued to prosper.
There was a great deal of concern in Grande Prairie in the mid-1920s when the construction of the line westward from Grande Prairie was under way. And Grande Prairie business leaders openly worried that their trade would be drawn away by towns like Wembley further west. But this did not happen and Grande Prairie's advantages were very solid.
As the years rolled by, more services came to Grande Prairie. All this helped establish the city as the major urban center in the southern Peace River country.
On the Heritage Trail,
I'm Cheryl Croucher.