Alberta

History and Politics

Alberta was originally part of the vast territory granted to the Hudson's Bay Company by King Charles II in 1670, and its early history was dominated by the fur trade. The first European known to have reached (1754) present-day Alberta was Anthony Hendon of the Hudson's Bay Company. There was also much exploration of the region by the Montreal-based North West Company, which merged with the Hudson's Bay Company in 1821. Traders arrived from the upper Great Lakes before Sir Alexander Mackenzie crossed (1793) the region on his way to the Pacific. In 1794 a Hudson's Bay Company fort was built at the site of present-day Edmonton. Destroyed by natives in 1807, it was rebuilt 12 years later and for 50 years thereafter served traders and missionaries within a wide radius.

The area remained under the control of the Hudson's Bay Company until 1870 when it was sold to the newly created confederation of Canada. In 1874 the Northwest Mounted Police established Fort Macleod in S Alberta, and the following year they built a log fort on the site of present-day Calgary. An act of 1882 created four administrative divisions from the Northwest Territories, and one was named Alberta in honor of Queen Victoria's daughter, Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, whose husband was then governor-general of Canada.

The Canadian Pacific Railway came through in the mid-1880s, opening up the area to ranchers and homesteaders, but settlement was slow. In 1891 there were only 14,500 nonnative settlers in the present province. To populate the vast, fertile land, the Canadian government advertised for immigrants, offering many free acres as inducement. Over the next five years immigrants poured in owing to the government's vigorous immigration policy, dwindling available arable land in the U.S. West, the introduction of a new strain of fast-maturing hard spring wheat, and the easing of the 22-year-long depression endured by North America. Edmonton boomed as a supply base during the 1898 Klondike gold rush, and its growth continued during the early 1900s as immigrants began settling surrounding farmlands.

Alberta became a province in 1905. The discovery (1914) of oil at Turner Valley, near Calgary, presaged a new era for the mineral-rich province, but it was not until 1947, when the Leduc fields near Edmonton were opened, that the basic change in Alberta's economy began. By then agriculture had suffered extensively: The 1929 crash—followed by droughts, early frosts, grasshopper plagues, and dust storms—had triggered substantial emigration from the area. In 2013 heavy June rains led to extensive damaging flooding, the worst in provincial history, in Calgary and other areas in S Alberta.

Politically, Albertans in that period turned to the Social Credit party, with its mixture of religious fundamentalism and radical monetary theory. In 1935, William Aberhart became premier of the first Social Credit government. Social Credit administrations were elected for years after Aberhart's death in 1943, but their attempts to reform banking and money control were declared unconstitutional by the courts. The Progressive Conservatives gained control of the provincial government in 1971 with Peter Lougheed as premier (1971–85). Ralph Steinhauer, a Cree, was lieutenant governor (1974–79) of Alberta; he was the first Canadian of indigenous descent to hold such a high executive post. The Progressive Conservatives have continued to control the provincial government, with Lougheed being succeeded by Donald Getty (1985–92), Ralph Klein (1993–2006), Ed Stelmach (2006–11), and Alison Redford (2011–).

Alberta sends 6 senators and 26 representatives to the national parliament.

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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