Like many western Canadian communities, Edmonton was founded largely as a fur trading outpost by explorers and settlers connected with the Hudson’s Bay Company. The fertile area on the banks of the Saskatchewan River had been occupied intermittently by aboriginal groups for thousands of years prior to European arrival.
Some permanent settlement may have begun near the end of the 18th century, but Edmonton retained its frontier outpost status throughout the 1800s. In the first years of the 20th century, railroad expansion had begun to contribute to Edmonton’s growth. With the establishment of the province of Alberta, Edmonton was declared capital. At this time, it was still a town of just a few thousand residents.
In another characteristically Albertan piece of Edmonton history, the city experienced dramatic growth with the discovery of oil, at least during periods of high demand or high prices. The 1940s saw Edmonton’s population reaching into the hundreds of thousands, and the 1970s brought it to half a million.
Through all of this, however, Edmonton remained the northernmost major city in Alberta, indeed in all of North America. No other metropolis lies further north on the continent and supports as many residents, and given this position it long been known as the “Gateway to the North.” Beyond it lies a vast stretch of largely uninhabited territory. For lovers of the outdoors, this can be a real asset. The Rocky Mountains and famous Jasper National Park can be found just a couple of hours to the west. Jasper offers some of the most stunning, iconic views in Canada – awe-inspiring peaks, the undisturbed purity of glacial lakes, and a bounty of wildlife matching that of anywhere in North America. Even closer, Elk Island National Park is open year round and is known for its roaming herds of bison.
Edmonton also has plenty of magnificent green within the city limits. The North Saskatchewan River Valley is lined with parks, paths, and golf courses, all easily accessible from much of Edmonton proper.
As the provincial capital, Edmonton also attracts significant educational, research, economic, recreational, and cultural activity. It’s known for impressive history and art museums, including the Royal Alberta Museum, a gigantic collection of objects representative of both the natural heritage of the province and the aboriginal civilizations whose presence stretches back millennia. Add in the well-regarded Art Gallery of Alberta and living history at Fort Edmonton Park, and Edmonton is boasting some real cultural-historical chops.
Of course, no explanation of Edmonton’s attractions would be complete without an account of its shopping prowess. Who would have thought this prairie outpost would be home to North America’s largest mall? The West Edmonton Mall is also the tenth biggest in the world, and is home to some seriously outrageous attractions. A water park, tanks full of aquatic life and replica reefs, a shooting range, mini-golf, and an indoor amusement park complete with roller coasters – all are here. While it’s far and away the largest, with over 800 stores, this isn’t the only mall in Edmonton. Vine Vera Edmonton takes up residence at Kingsway Mall, a retail destination in its own right located in central Edmonton and featuring over 200 stores.