is the place to be!
Take off to the Great White North!
By THOMAS LARK
BLACKFALDS, ALTA.––It’s a small city with a big heart.
It’s Blackfalds, Alta., and if you and your family want a summer vacation that will allow you to beat the heat, Blackfalds is the place for you.
We recently spoke with Mayor Jamie Hoover. He was joined by Sean Barnes, manager of the Eagle Builders Centre, a local recreation and sports arena. Barnes also manages many events and projects for the City of Blackfalds. They told us what makes their community so unique.
According to Statistics Canada, the city had 10,470 residents as of 2021. Its land area is just more than 6.3 square miles.
There’s a lot to enjoy. Blackfalds All-Wheels Park and Blackfalds Bike Skills Park are located on Womacks Road, just off Vista Trail. Tayles Water Spray Park is adjacent the Cultural Centre. And Blackfalds All-Star Park is in the city’s southwest corner.
“Blackfalds is very centrally located in the province along the main corridor of Highway Two-A in Central Alberta, Canada, just outside the city of Red Deer but centrally located between Edmonton and Calgary,” said Hoover. “It’s very difficult to beat in terms of a central corridor or trade-access route. We have experienced unprecedented growth within the last two decades. We have essentially doubled our population each decade for the last 20 years. That is residential growth, not physical size. With that there has been a substantial amount of infrastructure that the town has had to add to meet the needs of all the new residents. Sean has been a part of that growth for a long time.
“In terms of physical size,” he added, “Blackfalds is still a small community––a small town. But between 2010 and now, the town size has more than doubled. Our downtown core itself is quite small. But there have been two new schools added in the last few years. We are in the process of building a high school, which is a first in a town of over 11,000. That tells you how quickly the community has grown. Sean can tell you more about the parks and trails. The last few years have seen very rapid growth.”
Barnes arrived in Blackfalds in 2006.
“And when I got here,” he said, “it was quite the small, little town. It was starting to grow, but what they didn’t have here was a lot of developed parks. So in 2008, we did a recreational parks master plan, and in that plan, people were saying we needed more trails. When I got here, we had one to two kilometres’ worth of trails. And now, today, we have between 18 and 20 kilometres’ worth of trails. We have a large regional trail system that goes from here to Lacombe. It took us two years to complete that. People are also looking at more playgrounds. When I got here, we had four playgrounds, and today we have 14. We have themed playgrounds. For example, one playground in a subdivision is a pirate ship, and another is a Western theme or dinosaur theme. It brought a bit more excitement for the families in the community.”
The other thing people wanted from the master plan was better events, Barnes explained. That spurred the creation of the “Light up Blackfalds” event, now known as one of the best of its kind in Central Alberta.
“We also added the Winterfest,” Barnes continued, “and what’s cool is we built an amphitheatre here in 2013 by our Abbey Centre. We built two new baseball diamonds. We had to build two more because of our growth in baseball. We built one on the west side of town and one on the east side of town. We built the Abbey Centre in 2013. It opened in May, 2014, so that was our last project for the recreational parks master plan.
“We built a facility that houses an indoor playground,” he added. “It’s a three-storey indoor playground. It has three big gymnasiums and a fitness centre with a running track and also a massive outdoor pool. So that’s what we did from 2008 to 2014.”
Another recreational master plan soon followed in 2015, Barnes informed.
“The biggest thing we had to do was build another arena for our existing facility,” he said, “because our minor hockey and skating had to be housed in facilities outside this community. When we were planning it, we decided to go all in, so we built a 1,442-seat arena. It’s got a beautiful lounge in it. It also has a luge. It meets the needs for our sports association out in the community.
“Also,” he added, “we built another outdoor rink on the east side of town. We had to have two outdoor rinks, one of each side of town. That came forth in the 2015 recreational master plan. We also renovated the community hall in 2017, so we could house our seniors and also parent-link with our families in the community.”
Community of choice
The average age of Blackfalds residents is 31, Barnes revealed, so activities for the young and fit are most important.
“We also added a dog park in the community with this master plan, which is a huge success,” he said. “We have to build another one, because we have people who’d like to see one on the other side of town. We have Highway Two-A that separates our town. We have the east side and the west side. We are trying to even things out, so people don’t get jealous of each other. We don’t want to have more on one side of town than the other.
“Also,” he continued, “we’re looking at a new high school. It’s also our responsibility through the master plan to build a new football field. The biggest thing we are seeing here in the next year or two is the new high school. We have never had a high school. We have kids ages 15 to 18 having to go out of our community: either going to Lacombe or to Red Deer. They are building a $42 million state-of-the-art high school here. I say this to people, and I know I’m right on this: this community has become a community of choice for Central Alberta. In 2006, it wasn’t a community of choice. But now, you’re seeing a community of choice in Central Alberta, and families want to move here. Because of the strong amenities that we bring forth to families, they want to move here.”
And according to Hoover, the proximity between Calgary and Edmonton is very good for working and commuting.
“Burman University in Lacombe is slightly closer to us than Red Deer Polytechnic,” he said. “We are nestled between Lacombe and Red Deer, and each of them has a post-secondary institute. Red Deer Polytechnic is quite aggressively growing, which is highly beneficial to such a community as Blackfalds. In terms of the work force, our location here in Central Alberta does give us an advantage. We know there is great opportunity surrounding us, but we are trying to make living and working in Blackfalds sustainable for more people. We have had substantial growth in our residential population in recent years. With our new arena building, we have co-located a new library. It is a public library that has doubled in size. The one building will house both the library and the arena.
“I’m aware of at least four fairly substantial area structure plans for development,” the mayor continued. “Some of those are mixed-residential and commercial. We expect to have at least four developers that would be continuing residential and commercial development in the community within the next year or two.”
In 2011, said Barnes, a new protective services building and fire department were built.
“It’s more of a regional base,” he said, “so we have the county cops in there, too.”
Barnes added that Blackfalds has seen much improvement in its safety and security in the past 12 years. Hoover concurred, and he praised the part the Eagle Builders Centre is playing in the community’s improvement.
“Eagle Builders is an essential partner for growth within this community,” said Hoover. “Some of our important business partnerships include Eagle Builders as part the name brand. The new multiplex expansion is called the Eagle Builders Centre. The naming rights for Eagle Builders was (because they’re) a substantial partner for us. They’re a big, growing company within the area. Hundreds of their employees live in our community, even though the company is located a bit outside of town. Eagle Builders is an essential partner in terms of growth for this community. They’re a huge employer. We see their structures and their work all around us.”
Formerly the Blackfalds Multiplex, the Eagle Builders Centre is home to the Blackfalds Bulldogs ice hockey team. The Bulldogs were formerly the Calgary Mustangs. The multi-purpose athletic facility also boasts an outdoor aquatic centre.