In 1857 an Irish explorer named John Palliser came to the western plains to gather geographical information and to judge whether or not the West was suitable for settlement. He concluded that, indeed, much of the plains would be ideal for farming, but that much of it was too dry. He also described deposits of coal and other minerals. In 1860 a Canadian explorer, Henry Youle Hind, wrote more optimistically about the suitability of the land for farming.
The single greatest event in Alberta history was the arrival of the railway in 1883. The railway made the Canadian settlement of the West possible. In 1881 there were about 1,000 non-Native settlers in Alberta. Ten years later that number had grown to 17,500.
The most successful early settlers were the ranchers, who found Alberta's foothills ideal ranching country. Most of Alberta's ranchers were English settlers, but the cowboys - such as John Ware who in 1876 brought the first cattle into the province - were American.
Farming the prairie proved more difficult. Most newcomers preferred to settle in the United States West, but by the 1890s, most of the American land was taken. In 1897, Canada's minister of the interior, Clifford Sifton, began a massive advertising campaign in Europe to encourage people to come to the Canadian West.
While most of the early settlers came from Ontario, Britain or the United States, many of the people who came as a result of Sifton's campaign were of German, Ukrainian, and Romanian descent, giving Alberta the diverse population that it has today. The result of Sifton's campaign was spectacular. Alberta's population grew to 73,000 in 1901; to 374,000 in 1911; and to 584,000 in 1921!
Living in poorly insulated sod huts or flimsy frame huts, the newcomers transformed the plains' open grassland into farms - narrowly surviving Alberta's harsh winters.
Villages soon popped up at crossroads and were strung along the railway lines. Calgary got an early start in the competition to be Alberta's main city. However, Edmonton got an advantage when it was selected as the provincial capital over Calgary.
Conflict and Setbacks
When Alberta became a province in 1905, it was not given control of its own resources - creating a dispute with the federal government. Alberta was given control 25 years later.
Another source of discontent was the control banks and railways had over the lives of the farmers. The farmers organized co-operatives to sell their wheat, and formed their own political party - the United Farmers of Alberta.
Alberta suffered severely during the Great Depression of the early 1930s. Droughts, grasshopper plagues, and soil erosion drove many farmers from their land. Even harder to bear was the falling price of wheat. Many farmers went bankrupt and lost their land altogether.