Strathcona County recognizes 25 years as a specialized municipality
For Strathcona County, 2021 marks 25 years as a specialized municipality. As one of only a few specialized municipalities in Alberta, Strathcona practices a more regional approach to governance, one that is unique in part because it is both urban and rural.
How did Strathcona County evolve into the specialized municipality we know today?
Land in this area of Canada was first surveyed and opened up to settlement in the 1880s. As more and more settlers came, the then governing North-West Territories urged homesteaders to band together into districts to address for themselves their challenges involving trails, roads, wandering livestock and wildfires. Residents of this area responded by petitioning the North-West Territorial Legislature, then on April 14, 1893 an area of Clover Bar was declared Statute Labor and Fire District No. 2, the first such district to form in what is now Alberta.
By 1905, when Alberta became a province, the population in the Edmonton area was booming. With rapid growth through the first two decades of the 20th century, the province sought to meet some of the needs of the growing communities by enlarging these early labor districts and then eventually combining them. Mid-century, in a move to achieve greater efficiencies, the province in 1943 combined the Municipal District of Clover Bar with the Municipal District of Strathcona. Then in 1962, in yet another action to streamline, the municipal district was merged with the Clover Bar school division under the County Act to form the newly renamed County of Strathcona No. 20.
Through the first half of the 20th century, the fertile fields of Clover Bar were the foundation of a hearty agricultural economy. Successful farms meant communities flourished. In these earlier days, coal and timber were major industries alongside rural livelihoods involving dairy and mixed farming. Then, following the discovery of oil at Leduc in 1947, the provincial government agreed to allow industrial development in the capital region. Strathcona stepped up to the plate and developed Refinery Row, which in time expanded with spinoff petrochemical companies.
To house the growing workforce, the municipality began considering an initiative to develop a new satellite community. Eventually named Sherwood Park, the first homes in this planned residential subdivision came on the market in 1956, and the population grew rapidly in its first 20 years to 25,000-plus.
Also in the 1950s, the municipal district began to allow the subdivision of farms into acreages and country residential properties, offering a new kind of rural lifestyle. To the end of the 1960s there were 16 country residential subdivisions created, then their popularity exploded with another 135 start-ups through the 1970s. And so began Strathcona’s evolution into a combined urban and rural community.
After using the name County of Strathcona for 20-plus years, in the mid-1980s the municipality informally updated its name to Strathcona County; yet it was more than 10 years—in 1995—before the name became official. Further provincial reform included a repeal of the County Act in 1994, which meant Strathcona’s status reverted back to a municipal district (for a brief time) and the responsibility of running the public school system returned to the public school board.
On January 1, 1996, Strathcona County was incorporated as a specialized municipality. As such, the urban area of Sherwood Park (albeit technically a hamlet) is equivalent to a city, and eligible for city funding. Meanwhile, the large rural area—made up of family farms, country residential subdivisions and eight small hamlets—remains eligible for rural funding.
Offering a wide variety of lifestyles, Strathcona County balances the needs of all residents—those living in Sherwood Park and those living in rural areas. Today, with its status as a specialized municipality, Strathcona County continues to thrive as a blended community with the advantages that stem from a dynamic urban centre so closely tied to its rich and (still) vibrant rural roots.