In the last 100 years, Alberta has seen a great influx of people from around the world. The Dominion census of 1881 recorded only 18,072 nonnatives in the province; Calgary had a population of only 75. The French, predominantly fur traders and missionaries, were the first permanent settlers and today constitute the fourth-largest ethnic group in the province. The first Asians to settle in the province were Chinese who came seeking gold in the 1860s and later settled, took up trades, and opened businesses.
One of the largest migrant influxes occurred between 1901 and 1906, when the Canadian government was selling tracts of land to homesteaders for $10. During this time, the population increased from 73,000 to 185,400; in another five years it doubled again. A large percentage of settlers during this period were British, and this group now constitutes Alberta’s largest ethnic group. Germans also migrated to Alberta for various reasons and now constitute the province’s second-largest ethnic group. Many people were lured by cheap land. Others, such as Hutterites, were persecuted in their homeland for refusing to fulfill military service. Sharing ancestry with the Amish (the main difference between the two is that Hutterites work and live as a cooperative). Around half of the world’s 40,000 Hutterites call Alberta home. They have become the most successful of all ethnic groups at working the land, overseeing huge pork and poultry operations. They live a self-sufficient lifestyle in 180 tight-knit “colonies” throughout southern and central Alberta. Ukrainians make up the third-largest ethnic group. They were also attracted by the province’s agricultural potential, and today more than 130,000 residents of Ukrainian descent live mostly in Edmonton and to the east.
The oil and gas boom brought a population explosion similar to that of 1901–1906, but this time, with one exception, the immigrants came from eastern provinces rather than from other countries. The exception was a wave of Americans, whose oil-business acumen and technological know-how were vital to the burgeoning industry. In Fort McMurray, there are enough Newfoundlanders to justify direct flights from St. John’s and “Newfie nights” at local restaurants.
© Andrew Hempstead, from Moon Western Canada, 3rd Edition