Airdrie, located in the Nose Creek Valley, began as a stopping point that was one day’sjourney north of Calgary in the late 1800s. The area was named after a village northeast of Glasgow, Scotland. The name “Airdrie” means “The King’s Height.” William McKenzie, a contracting engineer for the Calgary and Edmonton Railway, named the village in 1889. A unique feature of Airdrie is that its elevation makes it the highest city in Canada. It was incorporated as a village in 1909 with a population of 250.
Airdrie’s first inhabitants were railway workers of the Calgary and Edmonton Railway, who lived in the station house. The railway also brought in settlers to live in Airdrie. The locomotives would stop in town and could pick up water because Nose Creek remained ice free year round. This created jobs for people who, in turn, created a need for housing and services.
In 1891, the Calgary and Edmonton Railway came winding up the coulee from Calgary. The valley was 11/2 miles wide, with a stream winding through it. Many freight engines took on this water through the years. The Airdrie water was good for engines, as the alkali content was low; however the Carstairs point was avoided because of the foaming caused by alkali.
It was not until 1929 that the first Pool grain elevator, a 40,000-bushel structure was built in Airdrie. In August 1923, J.E. Gustus of Yankee Valley signed a marketing contract No.1 with the Alberta Wheat Pool and within a few days, many of the area’s farmers had signed up. During the early years, Airdrie was regarded as one of the strongest Alberta Wheat Pool points in the province.
Interest in the highway to Edmonton was revived with the invention of the automobile after 1900. In 1906, the first auto trip was made from Calgary to Edmonton over a decaying trail system. The new province of Alberta was already in the midst of a wave of public works development, and the new Provincial Highway was added to the list, becoming Highway No. 1, following the railway line to the many towns that had sprung up as sidings, section points and grain elevator service centres.
Until the post office arrived in 1901, the railway was the only businesses of consequence in Airdrie. The boom began, and six to 10 years later, there was a hotel, restaurant, three grocery and general stores, three blacksmith shops, a livery stable, butcher shop, drug store and a country doctor.
WWII and After
The main roads were gravelled rather than paved. Main Street North ended in a farmer’s field. There were few new houses in the area. Airdrie experienced flooding in many areas including the golf course. In 1959, a water and sewage system was built and by 1960 Airdrie re-organized a fire brigade and the old steam locomotives between Calgary and Edmonton were replaced by diesel engines. In 1966, the village purchased some land and extended Main Street for two blocks north. In the 1970s, the most important event in Airdrie’s history was the construction of a six-lane divided highway to Calgary.
Airdrie is a vibrant city of 20,000 with a projected growth of 65,000 within the next 30 years. This growth can be attributed to the benefits of Airdrie’s location – far enough away from Calgary to preserve its small-town identity, it nevertheless gains from its proximity to a larger city. Airdrie’s relation to Calgary makes it an attractive place for industrial and residential projects.
Airdrie is also strategically positioned between Calgary and the Cities of Red Deer and Edmonton. This location has increased growth throughout the area over the last 15 years. Airdrie offers industrial land at 25 percent less than Calgary’s price has resulted in Airdrie being an area of high economic growth. Airdrie does not have a traditional agricultural role but has become diversified in industrial development. Economically, Airdrie has oil and gas activity, manufacturing, high-technology enterprises and recycling. It also features a mix of independent, regional and national retailers.
Airdrie’s amenities focus on recreation and fitness. The Nose Creek Valley Museum documents Airdrie’s development from an agricultural community to a young city with a diverse economic base. Airdrie is also home to a wide variety of industries and has attracted many well-known companies. The industrial park has increased construction activity due to Airdrie’s pro-business attitude.