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Medicine Hat, Alberta

Medicine Hat, a city in the province of Alberta, Canada, has a population of about 50,000 and is located in southeastern Alberta on the Trans-Canada Highway Number 1 and the South Saskatchewan River. Its major claim to fame is Rudyard Kipling's famous line "all hell for a basement" referring to the vast reserves of natural gas beneath it.

The name "Medicine Hat" has its origins from Aboriginal legends about a battle long ago between the Blackfoot and the Cree Indian tribes in which a retreating "medicine man" (shaman) lost his headdress in the South Saskatchewan River. The story is related in detail at the world's tallest teepee known as the "Saamis Teepee"; it stands over 20 stories high and overlooks the Blackfoot buffalo jump into Seven Persons Creek Coulee. Police Point Park was an early North West Mounted Police outpost and the park is now a nature-lovers' dream with shale paths next to the South Saskatchewan River.

When missionaries and fur traders arrived from Europe in the eighteenth century Alberta was inhabited by several "Indian" nations. Wrangling between the French and British (a continuing theme in Canadian history) kept Alberta from being fully exploited at first, but with the creation of trading posts near Edmonton and up north the squabbling subsided somewhat.

With the arrival of the Canadian Pacific Railway (completed 1885) and the increasing flow of people into the area, a territorial government was created in 1875. The vast herds of bison on which the Indians depended were hunted nearly to extinction and the land was distributed to European homesteaders. Several years later the region overseen by the territorial government was split into four portions, one being named after Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, daughter of Queen Victoria and Albert.

When Canada was formed in 1867, Alberta was still very much the uncontrolled frontier. It was not until 1874 that the North West Mounted Police (precursors to the modern Royal Canadian Mounted Police) established their presence in the area. Alberta became a province of Canada in 1905, when it joined confederation.

Its primary industries are natural-resource based. Trapping opened up the area, and agriculture followed, still a strong point for the Alberta economy. Oil was discovered at Turner Valley in 1914 and has been a centre for growth since then (give or take a "bust" in the 1980s). Forest-related industries are increasingly important, but run the risk of impacting the tourism industry (the third largest industry in Alberta).


Probably the biggest draw for tourists in Alberta is the natural beauty of the province, and its recreational possibilities. During the summer months the province (especially Banff and Jasper national parks) offer chances for hiking, bicycling, mountain climbing, caving, hang-gliding, white-water rafting, swimming, trail riding and picnicing. In addition there are a number of hot springs, camping areas, trophy-lakes, trout streams, vacation resorts and golf courses. As this is Canada, there are also numerous possibilities for hockey, curling and skating.

Alberta facts

Population: 2,974,807 (2001 census, Statistics Canada) 80% urban; 20% rural Alberta 2000 Official Population List

Major Cities: Edmonton (pop. 937,845, 2001 census), Calgary (pop. 951,395, 2001 census)

Transportation: 186,150 km of highways and roads, of which 31,000 km are paved. 9,270 km of operated mainline railroad track

Immigration: 13,925 (1996)

Telephone Area Codes: 780 in the northern part of the province, 403 in the south

Proclaimed a Province: Sept 1, 1905

Time Zone: Mountain Time (two hours behind Toronto or New York; one hour ahead of Vancouver, Seattle or Los Angeles; seven hours behind Greenwich Mean Time (GMT); and six hours behind GMT during Daylight Savings Time)

Origin: Alberta was named after Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, fourth daughter of Queen Victoria. When it was named, Alberta was one of four provisional districts of the North-West Territories, and included only part of the present province with the same name.

The province of Alberta covers an area of over 600,000 square kilometres, and is home to more than 2.5 million people. The capital is Edmonton, located in north-central Alberta. The province is bordered to the east by the province of Saskatchewan, to the west by the Canadian Rockies and the province of British Columbia, to the north by the Northwest Territories and to the south by the USA state of Montana.