The Peace Country is a region that covers the entire northwestern quadrant of Alberta, Canada. Most of northern Alberta is part of the sparsely-populated boreal forest, but here alogn the banks of the Peace River, there is an isolated patch of farmland, separated from the main population centres of Alberta by the Swan Hills. This is the northernmost agricultural region of any size in North America, and is home to most of Canada's farmed bison (buffalo) and honeybees. The entire region, both farmed and forested, is drained by the "mighty Peace", a major river that goes on to empty into the world's largest inland delta at nearby Wood Buffalo National Park.
Many visitors (especially Americans) pass through this region on their way to the Alaska Highway. While here, you can blast through as fast as possible, or if you know where to look, you can find natural gems like Alberta's largest road-accessible lake (Lesser Slake Lake) or indoor actives like a huge new Dinosaur museum (Philip J. Currie Museum in Wembley).
The Peace County only has one city, Grande Prairie. The other places you would stop to buy supplies or look for a hotel are all small towns of one kind or another, ranging to small but well-serviced (those listed here) to barely a crossroads (many others).
- 1 Grande Prairie – by far the largest city and economic hub of the Peace Country; pop. 63,000
- 2 Peace River – situated on the banks of the Peace River, at its confluence with the Smoky River, the Heart River; pop. 7,000
- 3 Fairview – pop. 3,000; an agricultural and college town near Dunvegan Provincial Park which has Alberta's largest suspension bridge
- 4 Falher – "Honey Capital of Canada" and predominately Francophone; pop. 1,000
- 5 Grimshaw – mile zero of the Mackenzie Highway; pop. 2,700
- 6 High Prairie – accessible to the western shore of Lesser Slave Lake; pop. 2,600
- 7 High Level – midway point between Edmonton and Yellowknife and last "major" centre before the Northwest Territories; pop. 3,160
- 8 Valleyview – southern gateway into the Peace County; pop. 1,900
- 1 Dunvegan — site of historic Fort Dunvegan, one of Alberta's earliest fur trade posts and missionary centres. Alberta's largest suspension bridge crosses the Peace River and overlooks the park
Located where the Rocky Mountains give way to the vast Interior Plains of North America, where the southern fringe of the great subarctic boreal forest meets the northernmost tongue of prairie grasses, and deep in the interior of the continent, this vast region is quintessentially Canadian in its wildness and remoteness.
Despite the short growing season found this far north, the Peace Country is of one Canada's richest agricultural areas, with most of the land in cereal crops and hay. Other agriculture here includes beef and bison production, poultry, and pork, and apiculture (honey).
This area has been occupied for thousands of years by indigenous groups; today two main ethnic groups far found here, the Cree and the Dene peoples. The region has been settled by westerners much more recently, and has been explored and lived in by many important figures in Canada's history such as Henry Fuller "Twelve-Foot" Davis, Sir Alexander Mackenzie, David Thompson, and Peter Fidler.
Most Peace Country communities sprang up in response to the building of the railway, and most communities still exist along railway supply lines. The ethnicity of most of the western settlers here derive from England, Ukraine, France, and Germany. There are still many communities of primarily (even exclusively) French or German speaking people. Most of the people who live in this area reside in small towns and are conservative in nature.
This area can be extremely remote, and huge tracts of land remain relatively untouched, even today.
English is the primary language spoken here, virtually everyone speaks fluent English. You may find that there are a few speakers of French, German, Ukrainian, and Cree (an indigenous language), but you should not expect the average waiter or hotel desk clerk to know anything but English. By law, French services will be provided by federal government employees, but aside from police or perhaps postal clerks, most travellers would never meet one of those here.
Although English is the rule all through Western Canada, a small, ageing colony of Francophone farmers can be found in the Municipal District of Smoky River, especially Girouxville, Donnelly, and Falher. With the locals ancestrally from Quebec, geographic isolation has allowed French to survive much longer in this district than in other prairie towns, and you can still hear it spoken in shops - uniquely in Alberta.
The main airport for the region is Grande Prairie Airport (YQU IATA) with service to Edmonton and Calgary, which have international connections. Alternatively, the Peace River Airport (YPE IATA) offers connections to Edmonton and Calgary while the High Level Airport (YOJ IATA) has connections to Edmonton, Hay River, and Fort Smith.
This region has no inter-town bus services of any kind. A private vehicle, whether bought, rented, or shared, is a must. The only exception might be if you're willing to canoe!
See and do
There are plenty of historical destinations, and plenty of wilderness and wildlife to see, museums, festivals (music and cultural), scenic views, fishing, hunting, canoeing, kayaking, whitewater rafting, sledding, skiing, horseback riding, golfing, hiking, and waterskiing.
The Philip J. Currie Dinosaur Museum in Wembley to thewest of Grande Prairie is a beautiful work of architecture housing finds from the nearby "River of Death" that has been the source of significant fossil finds.
Big attractions which are popular include the World's Largest Beaver (in Beaverlodge, by Grande Prairie), Twelve-Foot Davis' grave site (Peace River).
By far the best music festival in this area is the North Country Fair, a celebration of the summer solstice in Driftpile, near Joussard. It is a haven and a destination for alternative music lovers from all over Canada and even the world. It is usually a three-day event punctuated by live folk, country, bluegrass, trance, tribal, and Inuit musical talent 24 hours a day.
For environmental tourists, there is also some of the world's largest and most densely populated bird migrating paths and nesting grounds, including the world's only site for the endangered Whooping Crane. There is plenty of wildlife all over the Peace, deer, moose, beaver, coyotes, silver and red fox, black bear, weasel, bald eagle, various hawks and falcons, duck, loon, swan, pelican, bison, and elk are all very common sites in this area. Less common but also very present are lynx, mountain lion, wolf, egret, grizzly, and caribou.
There are also plenty of ghost towns to explore. You can also find local legend and character in the museums and from local people themselves involving haunted residences and places of healing.
There is the "Mile 0" (kilometre 0) sign for the Mackenzie Highway, (Highway 35) at Grimshaw. There is much history to this highway. Part of the history was made by Hamilton Brothers Trucking, later called Grimshaw Trucking. They proved in the early 1950s that they could transport goods from Edmonton to Yellowknife, much quicker than through rail to Ft. Mackay, near Ft. McMurray, then down the rivers to Yellowknife.
This area is a very safe part of Canada. The only place you might run into a bit of trouble is if you are impolite or aggressive towards others, especially in places which serve alcohol.
Most conflicts can be avoided through diplomacy, and most conflicts never get beyond verbal combat.
If you are openly homosexual, you will likely be received with mixed feelings; some will be very welcoming and polite, others indifferent and will not acknowledge you, and other may be downright hostile and defensive.
Strangers and travellers may find it hard to interact with locals at first, as locals may be wary of newcomers. This is not necessarily hostility, just hesitant curiosity for the most part. When they do open conversation, be prepared for many questions, some of which may be personal. It is not considered rude to decline to answer personal questions. Polite and talkative visitors are generally well received.