Located in the northwestern part of the province of Alberta in Western Canada, the city of Grande Prairie is quickly becoming one of Canada’s fastest growing cities. It is located on the southern edge of the Peace River Country (part of the Peace Region) which encompasses much of northwestern Alberta and northeastern British Columbia.
Grande Prairie is the largest city between Edmonton and Fairbanks, Alaska on the route via Highway 43, the Alaska Highway, and the Richardson Highway. It lies about 460 km (290 mi) and 2,480 km (1,540 mi) from each city respectively.The city has adopted the Trumpeter swan as an official symbol because it is near the migration route and summer nesting grounds of this large and graceful swan. For that reason, Grande Prairie is sometimes nicknamed the “Swan City”.
Grande Prairie is located just north of the 55th Parallel, and is 465 km (289 mi) northwest of Edmonton. The City of Grande Prairie lies at an elevation of 669 m (2195 ft) above sea level. The city is surrounded by farmland to the north, east, and west. To the south, it is mostly a vast boreal forest with aspen, tamarack, lodgepole pine, jack pine, and black spruce extending well into the foothills of the Canadian Rockies south and southwest of the city.
Bear Creek goes through the city from the northwest to the south end and is a tributary of the Wapiti River to the south. The Bear Creek Reservoir is the small body of water by Grande Prairie Regional College in the northwest part of the city, and is ringed by marshy wetland. The terrain immediately surrounding Grande Prairie is largely flat to gently rolling, but rises gradually to hilly terrain closer to the foothills to the south and southwest. On clear days, some peaks in the Rockies are visible to the southwest from Grande Prairie.
The city lies on the southern edge of aspen parkland, which is a transitional biome between boreal forest and prairie. The Peace Country contains the northernmost area of aspen parkland in North America. However, much of the aspen parkland in the region has long since been altered by extensive farming and oil/gas drilling activity.
Grande Prairie has a northern continental climate typical of northwestern Alberta and northeastern BC. Winters are generally cold with some mild spells. Summers are often fairly cool to pleasantly warm in the daytime, but nights can be cool despite the long summer days typical for its latitude. Hot days over 30 °C (86 °F) are rare, occurring on average, only one to two days a year, which is not unexpected this far north. Winter conditions can vary tremendously from year to year. Winters have been known to be mild enough to produce “brown Christmas” conditions, where little or no snow may fall until after Christmas due to unusually mild early winter conditions.
The average January temperature is −15 °C (−9 °C average high and −19 °C average low) and the average July temperature is 15.9 °C (22 °C average high and 10 °C average low). However, temperatures as low as −52 °C and as high as 34.5 °C have been recorded. Grande Prairie gets 317.7 mm (12.5 inches) of rain and 158.6 cm (62.4 inches) of snow per year on average. The total annual precipitation is 446.6 mm (17.6 inches) which includes both rain and snow. Snowfall amounts, however, vary greatly from year to year. Being fairly close to the foothills of the Canadian Rockies, it can get quite windy in Grande Prairie, especially in the spring and fall. Chinooks are not an unheard of occurrence in the Grande Prairie area. Grande Prairie has 314 sunshine days per year on average.
Summers can bring thunderstorms, although they are not as frequent nor as severe as those further south in Central Alberta. Rainfall can vary from year to year, but the Peace Region is noted for never having experienced truly severe drought conditions more typical of Southern Alberta and Saskatchewan. Tornadoes are rare but not unknown in the Peace Region.
Recreation and Culture
The city has a number of parks and golf courses including the large Muskoseepi Park in the Bear Creek Valley and the Dunes Golf Course south of the city. Muskoseepi Park has excellent bike trails extending nearly the entire length of Bear Creek within the city. Muskoseepi Park also has an outdoor swimming pool and a pavilion with a cafeteria and an outdoor pond which converts into a skating rink in the winter. Crystal Lake in the northeast part of the city also has parkland, preserved wetlands (great for birdwatching), and walking/bike paths around its entire circumference.
Live music can be found in several downtown bars and intermittently at all-ages locations such as Tito’s Restaurant and the GP Curling Club. Summer-long music festivals have been organized by community-minded individuals and charitable organizations.
Cultural venues include the Bowes Family Crystal Centre (a concert hall and hockey rink — the local AJHL team, the Grande Prairie Storm, plays there), the Grande Prairie Museum, the Prairie Art Gallery (closed due to a structural disaster), The Rabbit Hole bookstore, Second Street Theatre, and Studio “Y?”. Grande Prairie is also home to a professional musical theatre company, “Broadway Live Broadway”, which engages equity actors and performs on the college campus.
Golfing is possible as late as after 11 o’clock in the evening in early summer due to the northern latitude. Grande Prairie has three 18-hole golf courses nearby (Dunes, Bear Creek, and Grande Prairie Golf & Country Club) and a couple of 9-hole courses as well.
Cross-country skiing and snowmobiling are popular activities during the winter in the Grande Prairie area. There is a local ski hill called Nitehawk located south of the city on the south bank of the Wapiti River. Aside from skiing, Nitehawk also has the only North American natural luge track certified for international events and over the summer months freestyle ski jumpers can practice using the Northern Extreme water ramp facility. It is also active in luge as a naturally refrigerated venue, hosting the FIL World Luge Natural Track Championships in 2007.
The foothills south of Grande Prairie and around Grande Cache are popular year-round for hiking in the summer and for snowmobiling and other winter sports in the winter. Kakwa Wildland Park on the Alberta-BC border, about 180 km south of the city, is a beautiful and mountainous natural area and is known for a beautiful waterfall called Kakwa Falls.
The newly constructed Eastlink Centre is attached to the Coca Cola Centre which is the home rink of the Grande Prairie JDA Kings. Eastlink Centre consists of a large area for indoor swimming, a workout facility including a running track, multiple gym courts for a wide variety of sports, along with many options for other activites (including yoga, spin classes, and more).
There is a lot for families to do in Grande Prairie for little to no cost. Many families enjoy the free entertainment offered at Muskoseepi Park, The Public Library, and at other city-run organizations. Some thirty churches of various denominations can be found in the city.