The earliest known inhabitants settled in the area that is now Edmonton around 3,000 BC and perhaps as early as 12,000 BC, when an ice-free corridor opened up as the last glacial period ended and timber, water, and wildlife became available in the region.
In 1754, Anthony Henday, an explorer working for the Hudson's Bay Company, may have been the first European to enter the Edmonton area. His expeditions across the Candian Praairies were manily to seek contact with the aboriginal population to establish the fur trade, by 1795 Fort Edmonton was established on the north bank of the river, as a major trading post for the Hudson's Bay Company.
The coming of the Canadian Pacific Railway to southern Alberta in 1885 helped the Edmonton economy, and the 1891 building of the Calgary and Edmonton Railway resulted in the emergence of a railway townsite on the South side of the river, across from Edmonton. The arrival of the CPR and the Calgary & Edmonton Railway facilitated the arrival of settlers and entrepreneurs from eastern Canada, Britain and continental Europe, U.S. and other parts of the world. The fertile soil and cheap land in the Edmonton area helped attract settlers, further establishing Edmonton as a major regional commercial and agricultural centre.
During the early 1900s, Edmonton grew very rapidly, causing speculation in real estate. Just prior to World War I, the boom ended, and the city's population declined sharply, many impoverished families moved to subsistence farms outside the city and others fled to greener pastures in other provinces. Recruitment to the Canadian army during the war also contributed to the drop in population. Afterwards, the city slowly recovered in population and economy during the 1920s and 1930s and took off again during and after World War II.