Wide open places

Many Albertans yearning for that rural experience

As Alberta’s major cities continue to grow, it would appear more people are being drawn in by the urban experience.

Yet many Albertans are still choosing the prairie skies over city streetlights. Perhaps unfathomable to urbanites, these rural dwellers are all too willing to cast aside conveniences of the “big city,” and instead stake their claim in the hills, prairies and valleys of Wild Rose Country.

“I enjoy the opportunity to do what I want, within reason,” said Ray Howell, who’s lived on an acreage west of Calgary for the last 22 years. “We have a large garden and have had many animals throughout the years. Overall, you have more freedom to do what you want.”

More than three million Albertans reside in urban areas, leaving 17 per cent of the province’s population of 3.65 million – precisely 614,855 people – living in the country, according to Statistics Canada.

With Alberta measuring 661,190 square kilometres in size, that leaves a lot of wide open space for those who live outside of Alberta’s 109 population centres.

Yet the value of living outside of the city extends beyond having a little extra room to roam, said Howell.

“We have always had very close community ties that I don’t think you get in the city,” he said. “As well, one of the main benefits was to have the opportunity for our daughter to experience a rural environment. She was able to have her own horse, have a small teacher-to-student ratio at school and participate in the local 4-H club where she learned many life skills.”

Ironically, despite the discrepancy in the number of urbanites versus rural dwellers, it would appear some “city folk” are attempting to go a little country themselves.

Taking a cue from their neighbour to the north, some city councillors have begun exploring the idea of allowing Calgarians to bring a little bit of the country to the big city in the form of backyard chicken coops. Currently, a bylaw prohibits keeping the animals inside the city.

More than 400 cities in North America allow the coops, including Edmonton where residents can keep up to 12 chickens.

In another display of how eager city dwellers are to embrace the country way of life is the growing popularity of community gardens. A feature found on most farms and acreages, urbanites’ desire to have access to fresh herbs and vegetables harkens back to a time when the majority of the population lived in a more rural setting.

Howell admits there are arguments for and against acreage living, but argues the pros easily outweigh the cons.

“You have a lot of space and actually get to see the stars. You also get a lot more land for your money in the country,” he said. “Add the lack of traffic and congestion and I much prefer the country. If were to move anywhere, it would be to a small town.”

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