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When is a City Not a City?


Do you ever wonder how cities become built? I don’t mean constructed; I mean, when a municipality officially becomes a city.

Depending on where in the world it is might impact a city’s status. However, in Alberta, things are done a little differently.

Sherwood Park, Alberta, is one of many communities that are not officially incorporated. So how is it that we’re a city if we never formally were founded?

The answer is a bit confusing because it involves a lot of official titles. But if you’re interested in how municipalities work, then you may want to hear our story.

A Land of Hamlets


Most people think of the Shakespeare work when they hear “Hamlet”. Like how a “Ford” is often where you buy new vehicles, or it’s a shallow stream.

However, a hamlet is a term for any small settlement. Think of it as a more developed homestead.

Alberta has over 380 hamlets, and much more scattered throughout the rest of the country. However, Alberta has the two most prominent hamlets with regards to population size.

All a community needs to be considered a hamlet is for five dwellings to be on the same parcel of land, a “city” boundary and community name, and have land parcels not used for residences. In short, you could have a substantial subdivision qualify as a hamlet.

How Many People is Too Many?


As you can imagine, most hamlets then would be small. Heck, a big family could, and did, found a hamlet!

However, Sherwood Park has over 70,000 people, big enough to be the 7th largest community in the province. That’s quite a lot of residents not to have some form of local government.

That is why in Alberta, hamlets remain legally considered as some form of a municipality, or at least the equivalent of one on paper. Sort of how a car dealership gives used cars the distinction of certified pre-owned vehicles.

We’re one of two hamlets that have the distinction of being an “urban service area”. What this means is that we have the size of a city, and for the sake of programs, grants, and funding, we get a specialized distinction.

So, what counts as “too many” residents for a hamlet, and what is populated enough to be a city? Believe it or not, it only takes 10,000 permanent residents.

10,000 residents aren’t much. In fact, some Ford Dealerships have more cars on their lot than some cities have residents!

Who is in Charge Around Here?


With all the election drama going on with our neighbors to the south, should you be worried about who’s running Sherwood Park?

Although we are under the jurisdiction of Strathcona County, our local government is like anywhere else. We have a council, a mayor, and ordinances to follow.

We have nearly 40 parks and sporting fields, as well as recreational centers, options in car dealership¸ art galleries, and more! Just because we were never formally incorporated doesn’t mean that we aren’t like any other city.

When Did Sherwood Park First Begin?


Believe it or not, our community isn’t all that old. A farming family, the Smeltzers, first started using the land to Edmonton’s east in 1955, and it was designated a hamlet shortly after.

It wasn’t called “Sherwood Park”, however. In 1953, the site became founded as a bedroom community by John Hook Campbell and John Mitchell.

As is the case with most communities, it originally became named after one of the founders as “Campbelltown”. But it was soon realized that he wasn’t the first to use this name.

Canada Post was forced to step in because too many communities already founded and using that name. By 1956, it scrapped it in favor of Sherwood Park.

Today, we have at least 50 different neighborhoods that call us home. That’s quite a step up from empty farmlands!

Should We Become a City?


Every so often we hear the debate about whether or not we should incorporate into a proper city. However, it seems most of us are relatively happy with how things are.

If we were to incorporate, we’d more than likely lose quite a few neighborhoods which would prefer to stay as a unified local municipality. In becoming more independent, it would make things a lot more complicated for ourselves, as well as those who rely on us.

We held a public vote in 1987 asking our residents if we should separate. The overwhelming 88% at the time voted in favor of remaining an urban service area.

Just a short nine years later, Alberta awarded us specialized municipality title. They were worried about what would happen if we did decide to incorporate.

Today, developers are continuing to integrate government buildings with the arts and even residential construction. Projects like Centre in the Park are weaving the community together at its heart.

Unless something drastic happens, it’s unlikely that we’ll need the distinction of a city. Until then, we’ll just have to keep performing like one.

Urban Service Area


The province of Alberta distinguishes ten different municipality types. Sherwood Park falls under several, the most prominent being “urban service area”.

The responsibilities that we adopted in 1996 aren’t much different from any other city. At a minimum, an urban service area cares for roads, ditches, highways, and most of what you’d expect a town to handle.

Think of an urban service area as going to a truck dealership for an oil change. It takes care of the essentials and makes sure everything that works does.

We have a fire department, police force, and health care services. And we have a surprising amount of grade schools for our children!

And just as Vegreville Ford works hard to offer better new and used vehicles for sale, the city council of Sherwood Park does what they can for its people. While our citizens could choose to live in a “real” city, it seems most of us feel at home in our unique town.

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