'Nobody here wants to be a city': Alberta town of Cochrane resists city designation despite population leap

Cochrane's population has soared by nearly 50 per cent in five years, making it one of the fastest growing communities in Canada. Yet the southern Alberta community is resisting a "city" designation and treasures its status as a friendly small town.

'That’s why people are moving here,' says Jennifer Foy of Welcome Wagon

Cochrane grows but fights to remain town

6 years ago
Duration 0:50
Population jumped 47% between 2011 and 2016

It's a town and it's fighting to stay that way.

Despite luring people away from large cities in droves — including nearby Calgary — Cochrane, Alta., is resisting the "city" designation, preferring to be a friendly town where people say hi to each other on the street.

  • Scroll down to see a timelapse video of Cochrane's growth from 1984 to 2016

Jennifer Foy has been the town's Welcome Wagon representative for seven years and says she hears that sentiment a lot.

'I will always ask what brought people to Cochrane and nine times out of 10 it's the small town,' says Jennifer Foy, Cochrane's Welcome Wagon rep. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

"That's why people are moving here. In my visits I will always ask what brought people to Cochrane and nine times out of 10 it's the small town," she said. "We could be a city but nobody here wants to be the City of Cochrane, we want to be the Town of Cochrane."

The main reason is friendliness.

"When you are walking down the street, people will smile, they will say good morning, just to keep that feeling going."

The town's population shot up 47 per cent between 2011 and 2016, according to Statistics Canada, making it one of the fastest growing communities in the country. It now sits at about 26,000 residents.

This timelapse video uses Google Earth images to show Cochrane's growth over the decades:

Cochrane growth timelapse

6 years ago
Duration 0:14
Google Earth timelapse of Cochrane, Alta., growing over the decades.

Calgary grew 14.6 per cent over the same period.

Mayor Ivan Brooker says Cochrane's growth is nothing new for the community, which is enviably nestled between Calgary and the Rocky Mountains.

The mayor says the growth is manageable.

Cochrane, nestled between Calgary and the Rocky Mountains, is one of the fastest growing communities in Canada, according to Statistics Canada. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

"I wouldn't say that it's a worry, it's just a challenge and it's not a challenge that we haven't faced before," Brooker said.

"In the early 2000s, we were the fastest growing community in Canada."

That growth, he says, has driven the need for services.

Mayor Ivan Brooker says thanks to a good group of developers and a town council that's on the same page, the community is growing in a sustainable way. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

"In some respects it has been fantastic because there was a lot of years where we didn't have a lot of services, people complained about that. We had to go to Calgary all of the time for those amenities and we don't have to do that anymore."

He says good developers and a town council that's on the same page have mapped out a road ahead too.

"We know that we have to deal with water and sewer," Brooker said.

"We are good currently for quite a few more years, but that doesn't mean we are waiting for that time to come. We already have a plan for expanded sewer and water."

Cochrane currently has about 26,000 residents, after soaring nearly 50 per cent in five years. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

Meanwhile, Foy, who welcomes roughly 30 new residents each month, says there seems to be consensus on the streets of Cochrane.

"We have the best of everything," Foy said. "We are 20 minutes to the Rocky Mountains, 20 minutes to a major city if we need it, but we are very self-contained. We have emergency services, health services, schools, everything you could want.

"A lot of people, myself included, rarely go into Calgary. I might for some specific shopping but I don't need to. Everything is right here."

With files from Mario De Ciccio