The three special areas were created in 1938 under the authority of the Special Areas Act as a result of hardship brought upon a particular area in southeastern Alberta during the drought of the 1930s. A special area is not to be confused with a specialized municipality, which is a completely different municipal status.
The Special Areas Act of 1938 created the six special areas of Tilley East, Berry Creek, Sullivan Lake, Sounding Creek, Neutral Hills, and Bow West, which had previously been special municipal areas. In 1939, these six special areas were consolidated into the four special areas listed below. The original six special areas included 3.2 million hectares, while the current three only include 2.1 million hectares.
Tilley East Special Area, No. 1: The northern part of this special area was withdrawn and added to Berry Creek-Sullivan Lake Special Area in 1941, and now forms the portion of Special Area No. 2 that is south of the Red Deer River. Tilley East was still a special area in 1955, but was not by 1959. This area is now part of Cypress County, formerly the Municipal District of Cypress No. 1.
Berry Creek-Sullivan Lake Special Area, No. 2: The eastern portion of this special area was withdrawn and added to the Sounding Creek-Neutral Hills Special Area in 1939. The northern part of Tilley East Special Area was added to this special area in 1941. It was renamed Special Area No. 2 in 1959.
Sounding Creek-Neutral Hills Special Area, No. 3: The eastern portion of the Berry Creek-Sullivan Lake Special Area was added to this special area in 1939. It was renamed Special Area No. 3 in 1959. In 1969, the northern portion of Special Area No. 3 became Special Area No. 4.