County of Grande Prairie History

The County of Grande Prairie is located in the northwestern part of the province of Alberta.   Its boundaries are the Saddle Hills to the north, the Wapiti River on the south, the British Columbia border on the west and the Smoky River on the east.  When it was formed in 1951, it was the first and largest County in the Province of Alberta.   Within the boundaries of the County are the hamlets of Clairmont, LaGlace and Valhalla, the towns of Sexsmith, Hythe and Beaverlodge and the City of Grande Prairie.

At the time of first European contact in this area, the land was held by the Beaver and Cree First Nations, but artifacts from an archeological site on Saskatoon Mountain suggest frequent human habitation dating back as far as 9400 to 7500 BP.  When the land was put to the plow, many stone tools were discovered and added to personal and museum collections.

Within recorded history, the First Nations groups who occupied the area have lived in small family groups, meeting in larger groups during the summer for celebrations, singing and dancing.  In the 1800s, their leaders were chiefs like LaGlace and Pouce Coupe, names given by French traders who could not pronounce their Beaver names.  In 1899, after incursions by fur traders, missionaries and Klondike gold seekers, they accepted Treaty No. 8 and gave up their land in exchange for reservations at Dunvegan, Horse Lake and Sturgeon Lake.

Soon after the turn of the century, settlers began to squat on the un-surveyed land.  The first surveyed community in the County was the Metis Settlement of Flying Shot Lake in 1907, surveyed in the French method of long lake lots with frontage on the water and access to the prairie for animal feed.  This group had arrived from Lac St. Anne in the late 1800s.

In 1909, Dominion Land Surveyors began to pound in survey stakes, and serious settlement began.  The Homestead Act offered a quarter section of land for $10.00.  That year, the Bull Outfit, a group of settlers from Ontario came over the Long Trail, along with other settlers.  In 1911 the Edson Trail was opened up as a shorter way to get into the south Peace and a wave of settlement began.  By the time the railway reached the area in 1916, the good land had already been taken up.

In 1912, two Municipal Districts were formed:  the M.D. of Grande Prairie No. 739 extending westfrom the Smoky River  through range 5 and north from the Wapiti River through township 73;  and the M.D. of Bear Lake No. 749, 18 miles square, over townships 71, 72, and 73 in ranges 6, 7, and 8, West of the 6th.  In 1944, the two were combined and territory added to create the M.D. of Grande Prairie No. 127.

Soon after its inception, the Municipal District  “approached the Department of Municipal Affairs suggesting that a form of the County system be tried.”  (County of Grande Prairie No. 1 50th Anniversary Special Edition, Daily Herald Tribune)  The Counry Act became law on July 1, 1950 and the County of Grande Prairie No. 1 was incorporated on January 1, 1951, the first and largest county in the province of Alberta.