Calgary Alberta stands at the point where the vast Canadian prairie meets the jagged, snow-capped peaks of the Rocky Mountains. Its young, glittering skyscrapers rise out of older suburban neighbourhoods and seem oddly superimposed on this breathtakingly diverse western landscape, as though dropped from the sky onto the confluence of the Bow and Elbow rivers. Accordingly, the land is never far from the minds of the people of Calgary. The oil that lies beneath it drives the citys vibrant economy; the distant mountains attract legions of skiers and snowboarders during the chilly winters; and, during balmy summers, cattle roam the flat expanse of grassland, marking this out as cowboy country.
Before Calgary was settled by white Europeans, it was the domain of the Blackfoot natives, whose presence has been traced back 11,000 years. The first recorded European presence in the region around Calgary took place in 1787 and by 1860 settlers began arriving to hunt buffalo and sell illegal whisky. In response, Canadas first Prime Minister sent a troop of Mounties to impose the law and make the prairie suitable for immigration. As a result of this, the sleepy little trading post of Fort Calgary was born (it was named by Colonel James Macleod after Calgary Bay on the Isle of Mull, Scotland). The settlement did not experience much in the way of population growth until the arrival of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1883 and it was not until 1894 that Calgary became a city.
However, 1914 was the year that Calgary experienced its most significant development: the discovery of oil in the Turner Valley, 35km (22 miles) southwest of the city. Overnight, Calgary became a boomtown, attracting settlers and investors and generating massive amounts of money. Additional oil discoveries throughout the century saw continued growth in the city that became the administrative centre for the Canadian oil industry.
As well as being the gateway to the Rocky Mountains, Calgary also grew into a tourist destination in its own right. Visitors flocked to take in the citys burgeoning cowboy culture, expressed every year in the Calgary Stampede (held formally for the first time in 1912). The Rocky Mountains and, in particular, Banff National Park, attracted thousands more who were drawn by the parks stunning alpine beauty and its famous hotel. As the popularity of winter leisure sports (such as downhill skiing and bobsleighing) increased, so did Calgarys own popularity, all culminating in the citys hosting of the XV Olympic Winter Games in 1988.
Many have likened the Calgary of today to a Canadian Dallas, a comparison that is not without merit. Like Dallas, Calgary is a confident, often-brash cowboy town that grew wealthy on oil, where they play country and western music in noisy taverns and eat thick and juicy steaks in the restaurants. As an image, however, this captures only a small part of what the city and its people are actually like. Calgary is also a city of diverse and vibrant neighbourhoods, where its citizens relax in cafés, stroll the scenic streets or take in the opera, although they are just as likely to head off to the great outdoors. Its technology industries have grown immensely, diversifying the economy and making it less of a one-horse cowboy town and more of a 21st-century city.
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