Europeans fur traders entered the Peace River Country as early as 1770. Grande Prairie began as a Hudson Bay trading post in 1881. Father Grouard, a Roman Catholic Missionary, described the rolling plains and open prairie as "la grande prairie" which led to the present day name of the city.
A large surge of settlers arrived in the 1930's as farmers from the drought stricken southern prairies came north to farm the moister soils of the Peace. The region currently produces more grain, for example, than the entire province of Manitoba.
Strategically located in a vast expanse of fertile land to the north, east, and west, the settlement quickly grew into the most important wholesale and retail center for the Peace region.
The discovery of oil at Leduc, in 1947, ignited a series of explorations leading to the discovery of bountiful reserves of oil and natural gas in the Peace. As the reserves were exploited the economy expanded and the region's population increased dramatically.
The community was incorporated as a City in 1958. At that time, its population was approximately 7,600.
The opening of the Procter & Gamble kraft pulp mill in 1972 and the discovery of the Elmworth deep basin gas field spurred an economic boom. Grande Prairie's population went from just over 12,000 in the early 1970s to over 24,000 by the time the oil boom went bust in 1981.
A tornado struck the downtown area and east side of Grande Prairie on July 9, 2004. Although the tornado was considered a very weak one (F0-F1 on the Fujita Scale) and the weather was not severe at the time, it was still strong enough to incur damage to houses and flip vehicles over. Fortunately, there were few casualties and no fatalities.