Cochrane was named after Senator Matthew Henry Cochrane, the man who established the Cochrane Ranche in 1881. The Canadian Pacific Railway granted the town site in 1885 and named it in honour of Senator Cochrane, but few people made Cochrane their home despite the surrounding ranching population.
The little hamlet of Cochrane became a village in 1903 and in 1906 had a population of 158 residents. Five years later the village boasted a population of 395 residents.
Before World War I
Before World War I, Cochrane was home to a stone quarry, a sawmill and four brick plants. Skilled artisans in the community combined their talents with local products to construct buildings of quality and individual style, giving Cochrane a unique and special character.
Expansion and prosperity
The days of expansion and prosperity came to an end at the onset of World War I. The depression of 1913 caused serious problems in local industries and the shortage of manpower caused by the war sealed the fate of the town's industrial base. Many residents left Cochrane during the war years, but because it continued to act as the service centre for the rural population, the village was able to survive with a decreased but stable population of approximately 300.
It was not until after World War II that Cochrane began a renewed expansion, and in 1971, the community was incorporated as a town with a population exceeding 800.
The general economic boom of the 1970s brought many new residents and a great burst of construction activity. As in most Alberta towns, the optimism and expansion of the early 1970s initiated a process of modernization which either demolished or resurfaced many of the older structures.
Today, Cochrane is still noted for its western heritage, unique buildings and popular Main Street, as well as its small town hospitality. With the completion of the downtown revitalization and celebration of the town's centennial in 2003, Cochrane has become a popular tourist attraction for many. The town has had a steadily increasing population over the last decade and the 2017 municipal census boasted an official population of 26,320 residents.