Alberta, province in western Canada, the most westerly of the three Prairie provinces, which also include Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Alberta is a land of contrasts. Rolling plains cover much of the province, but in the southwest, the rugged Rocky Mountains and its foothills form part of Alberta’s boundary with British Columbia. In the north the land is covered with forests and dotted with lakes and streams. On the vast Alberta plains, oil rigs rise above golden wheat fields. Industrial cities such as Edmonton, the capital of Alberta, and Calgary, the largest city, thrive in the midst of rich agricultural lands.
Many of Alberta’s early settlers were of British descent, and Alberta’s flag and coat of arms bear the cross of Saint George, a symbol of Alberta’s link with the United Kingdom. Alberta received its name in 1882 from the Marquess of Lorne, the governor-general of Canada. Lorne named the territory for his wife, Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, a daughter of Queen Victoria of Britain. Alberta became a province in 1905.
Alberta possesses Canada’s largest deposits of oil and natural gas, and the province has prospered with the rapid expansion of the petroleum industry after World War II (1939-1945). The manufacture of petrochemicals (chemicals derived from petroleum and natural gas) is a leading industry in Alberta. Cattle ranchers and farmers settled Alberta’s foothills and prairies, and the province remains an important producer of livestock and grain. Alberta draws large numbers of tourists each year, with attractions such as Banff, Jasper, and Waterton Lakes national parks, and the world-famous Calgary Exhibition and Stampede. Alberta has earned the nickname Sunny Alberta because it enjoys more hours of sunshine each year than any other province.
Alberta is the sixth largest province of Canada in land area. It covers an area of 661,848 sq km (255,541 sq mi), including 19,531 sq km (7,541 sq mi) of inland water. It is 1,225 km (699 mi) from north to south and varies in width from 296 km (184 mi) at the United States border to 653 km (406 mi) at its widest point.
Alberta can be divided into four major natural regions: the Rocky Mountains and foothills, which form part of the larger Cordilleran Region; the Alberta Plain; the Saskatchewan Plain, which with the Alberta Plain forms part of the larger Interior Plains region; and a small section of the Canadian Shield.
|A1||Rocky Mountains and Foothills|
The Rocky Mountains form an irregular belt of rugged crags and towering peaks along the southwestern boundary of the province. Many of them are more than 3,300 m (11,000 ft) high and covered with snow for most of the year. The highest peak is Mount Columbia, which rises 3,747 m (12,293 ft) above sea level. The lower slopes are heavily forested. A chain of rolling foothills about 80 km (about 50 mi) wide parallels the Rockies on the east. In the north these foothills are covered with forest, but the grassy slopes of the south provide good grazing for beef cattle.
The Alberta Plain, also called the Third Prairie Level, lies east of the foothills and varies in elevation from 600 to 1,200 m (2,000 to 4,000 ft) above sea level. It is part of a vast plain averaging 645 km (400 miles) in width that extends southward to Texas. Rising above the plain in many places are numerous hills, including the Cypress Hills and the Milk River Ridge in the south, and the Caribou and Birch mountains in the north. Deep valleys cut by the Peace and Athabasca rivers, the North and South Saskatchewan, and their tributaries cross the region.
The southern part of the Alberta Plain, which extends from the Alberta-Montana border to the Red Deer River, is a treeless, grass-covered, rolling prairie. In the eastern section of the plain, between the Red Deer River and the North Saskatchewan River, lies the Parklands, or Aspen Grove Belt. It is a grassy region with isolated stands of poplar, spruce, and willow trees, and deep, fertile soil. The northern section of the plain, beyond the North Saskatchewan River, is heavily forested apart from large tracts of grassland.
The Alberta Plain slopes southwest to northeast and falls off rapidly into a wedge-shaped portion of the Saskatchewan Plain, also known as the Second Prairie Level, which extends into Alberta. This plain is lower in elevation than the Alberta Plain, from which it is separated by a belt of hills. In the Athabasca River Valley are the oil sands that contain one of the largest oil reserves in the world.
The extreme northeastern corner, which covers less than 3 percent of Alberta’s total area, is part of the Canadian Shield, or Laurentian Plateau. It is the lowest land area in the province, 150 to 300 m (500 to 1,000 ft) above sea level. It is mostly forested, with stretches of swamp or bogs called muskegs.
|B||Rivers and Lakes|
All the large rivers flowing through Alberta originate in the Rocky Mountains. The forested region of northern Alberta is drained by the Peace and Athabasca rivers, which form part of the Mackenzie River system and flow northward to the Arctic Ocean. The rest of Alberta, with the exception of two small areas, is part of the huge Saskatchewan River system, which drains most of the Canadian prairies. Both the North Saskatchewan and the South Saskatchewan rivers rise in the Rocky Mountains and flow eastward across the plains. In the province of Saskatchewan they unite as the Saskatchewan River, which flows into Lake Winnipeg, which in turn drains to Hudson Bay. Tributaries of the North Saskatchewan River include the Brazeau, the Battle, the Clearwater, and the Vermilion rivers. The rivers that feed the South Saskatchewan River include the Red Deer, the Bow, the Belly, the Saint Mary, and the Oldman.
A small section of eastern Alberta, between the North Saskatchewan and Athabasca rivers, is drained by the Beaver River, a tributary of the Churchill River. A section of the Milk River, part of the Missouri-Mississippi river system, arcs across the extreme southern portion of Alberta.
There are many lakes in central and northern Alberta. Lake Claire, 1,436 sq km (554 sq mi) in area, is the largest lake wholly within Alberta. Lake Athabasca, which covers 7,935 sq km (3,064 sq mi), straddles the Alberta-Saskatchewan border. Other well-known lakes are Lesser Slave Lake, Lac La Biche, and Lake Louise.
Except for the mountain areas, summers throughout the province are quite warm. Winters are long and extremely cold. In July, average daily temperatures range from about 16°C (about 60°F) along the northern boundary to about 21°C (about 70°F) in the south. In the extreme southeastern section of the province, temperatures of 43°C (110°F) have been recorded. In January, average daily temperatures range from about -14°C (about 6°F) at Grande Prairie to about -9°C (about 16°F) at Calgary. Temperatures of -49°C (-57°F) have been recorded, though rarely, at Edmonton.
Almost all parts of the province occasionally experience warm westerly winds during the winter and early spring. This is particularly true of southern Alberta, where these warm winds are called chinooks. During the cold days of winter, when the sky is gray and overcast, Albertans often look toward the mountains for the Chinook Arch, a curved patch of blue sky that indicates warm winds are on their way. Chinooks will sometimes blow for several days. In some years they occur frequently and exert considerable influence on average winter temperatures.
Alberta is generally a dry region, especially in the south, where mountains trap air masses moving inland from the Pacific Ocean and drain them of moisture. Alberta’s generally dry, clear air provides the province with ample sunshine. Precipitation from both rain and snow ranges from less than 330 mm (13 in) per year in the southeast to about 500 mm (about 20 in) per year in a narrow belt across the south central part of the province, near Edmonton. In the southeast the yearly amount varies considerably, and severe droughts occur every few seasons. Snowfall is heavy only in the mountains. Rain is most plentiful between April and July. Although the length of the growing season is limited by damaging frosts, favorable growing conditions make it possible to harvest crops before the frosts arrive.
The best soils for farming occur in southern and central Alberta. In the prairie region of the south, the fertile soils range from light brown to dark brown. Central Alberta contains rich black soils. In the Peace River area of the northwest are less fertile dark gray and gray soils. The northern forest zone has gray soils of low fertility.
Forests cover 57 percent of Alberta. In the far north and west are coniferous forests containing white spruce, black spruce, balsam fir, tamarack, jack pine, and white birch. South and east of the coniferous forests is a mixed-wood region, where aspen and poplar predominate but spruce and jack pine are also found. South of the mixed-wood region is the parkland belt, an area of tall grass with scattered groves of trees, mainly aspen and poplar. The grasses include bearded and slender wheatgrass and fringed bromegrass. Still farther south is a mixed-grass area, containing both tall grass and short grass, and to the southeast is a short-grass area. In both regions are found blue grama grass, spear grass, wheatgrass, and sedge. In the foothills of the Rocky Mountains there are trees, especially spruce, pine, fir, and larch.
Early in the 19th century, trappers ranged across the Canadian west in search of furs. The beaver, which thrives in the swamp and muskeg country of northern Alberta, was the most sought-after fur-bearing animal. The fox, muskrat, otter, squirrel, marten, fisher, and mink were also trapped, and their skins were shipped east by canoe to Hudson Bay and Montréal. Most of these animals, still relatively plentiful in northern Alberta, are now protected by law although the fur of the marten, mink, beaver, and coyote is still important. Deer, bear, wolf, elk, moose, and caribou are found on the mountain slopes and in the northern forests. Bighorn sheep live among the craggy peaks of the Rockies. Animals found on the plains include the deer, antelope, gopher, red fox, and jackrabbit. The bison, commonly called the buffalo, once roamed the plains in vast herds and was the principal source of food and clothing for the indigenous peoples of the plains. Wood Buffalo National Park, on the Alberta-Northwest Territories boundary, was established in 1922 as a wildlife refuge for bison and other animals, including the rare whooping crane.
Fish are plentiful in Alberta’s lakes and streams, which are stocked regularly from fish hatcheries to provide a good supply both for commercial and sport fishing. The most common species in the northern lakes are whitefish, pike, pickerel, and sturgeon. Various species of trout are found in the mountain and foothill streams. Commercial fishing, particularly for whitefish, is carried on in Lake Athabasca, Lac La Biche, Lesser Slave Lake, and Pigeon Lake. These lakes are also popular for sport fishing.
The chief game birds are grouse, pheasant, ducks, and geese. Large numbers of ducks breed on the lakes of central and northern Alberta, and they cross the province during their spring and fall migrations.
Alberta has several significant environmental problems, including air and water pollution from industrial facilities—especially oil and natural gas wells, refineries, and power plants. The production and refining of oil and natural gas and electricity production from coal- and natural gas-fired power plants lead to the emission of sulfur compounds, the primary cause of acid rain in the province. Acid rain increases the acidity of soil and water and can damage aquatic life and vegetation. Alberta’s ministry of the environment and the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board (AEUB) share responsibility for establishing sulfur emission standards to ensure that provincial air-quality guidelines are met.
In 1993 the government of Alberta implemented the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act (EPEA), a single regulatory framework for the protection of Alberta’s air, land, and water. The EPEA, which incorporated many of the province’s previous environmental acts, established uniform processes for assessing the potential environmental impacts of new developments. A central goal of the EPEA is to ensure that potential environmental problems are identified while streamlining the approval process for proposed projects.
The exploitation of primary resources has always been at the heart of Alberta’s economy. In the late 18th century trappers came to Alberta in search of animal pelts, and for the next century the fur trade was the leading economic activity in the territory. The development of agriculture and industry began in the 1880s with the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway, and until 1930 there was a rapid expansion of wheat farming, cattle ranching, and the food-processing industry. In the 1930s, however, the worldwide depression and devastating droughts resulted in severe economic hardship for Alberta. Agriculture remained the leading economic activity in Alberta until a large oil field was discovered near Leduc in 1947; soon even larger oil fields were found elsewhere. The discovery of oil was a turning point for Alberta. It led to the development of mining, refining, and petrochemical industries that helped diversify the economy.
Alberta’s economy expanded rapidly in the 1970s with the sharp rise in world prices for oil. Alberta’s service sector also grew rapidly, notably finance and business services, which expanded along with the burgeoning petroleum industry. Lower oil prices in the 1980s brought an economic downturn and curtailed a decade-long construction and financial boom in the province. In the late 1980s the provincial government began to aggressively promote forestry industries, especially the manufacture of pulp and paper, as a way to further diversify the economy.
Today, Alberta is one of the major financial centers of western Canada, and the service sector accounts for the largest share of Alberta’s gross domestic product (GDP, a measure of the value of all goods and services produced annually). However, mining, which includes the exploitation of oil and natural gas reserves, is the province’s single most important industry. Alberta’s economic fortunes therefore remain strongly linked to global commodity price fluctuations that are beyond its control. During the 1990s and early 2000s, robust growth in the energy sector and the expansion of such industries as forest products, petrochemicals, food processing, and tourism and business services, gave Alberta the fastest-growing economy and one of the lowest unemployment rates in Canada. In 2006 Alberta’s GDP was C$240 billion.
Alberta’s major agricultural products are livestock and grain. The province is second only to Saskatchewan in the production of wheat and is the leading province in the raising of beef cattle and barley. Its livestock production also includes hogs, sheep, poultry, and dairy cattle. Dairy farming is widespread, and Alberta ranks third among the provinces in the production of milk. Other important crops are canola, oats, sugar beets, potatoes and other vegetables, nursery products, and rye.
In 2006 there were 49,431 farms in Alberta. The total farm cash receipts for 2005 were C$2.7 billion. Crops accounted for two-fifths of the total, and the livestock made up the remaining three-fifths.
There are three principal agricultural regions in Alberta. The first is Palliser’s Triangle, a semiarid prairie region that includes most of southeastern Alberta and extends eastward into Saskatchewan. Captain John Palliser, who surveyed the area between 1857 and 1860, called it a semidesert, unfit for agriculture. Its soil, however, classified as brown and dark brown, is quite fertile when it has sufficient moisture. Several large rivers, fed by the snows of the Rockies, cross southern Alberta and provide water for one of the most extensive irrigation systems in Canada. The province has about 466,000 hectares (about 1.15 million acres) of land under irrigation. Sugar beets, potatoes, and other vegetables, fruit, oats, alfalfa, and barley are the principal irrigated crops. The Saint Mary Irrigation Project, near Lethbridge, is the largest in Canada and was established as a joint federal-provincial project. Livestock is raised in the southern foothills and on the grasslands of Palliser’s Triangle. These two areas comprise the typical “cattle country” of Alberta, where large ranches are found.
The most fertile soils are found in the second region, a large triangle formed by Westlock, Lloydminster, and Calgary. This triangle lies, for the most part, in the Parklands, which is the major mixed-farming area of Alberta. Wheat is the chief crop, but cattle, hogs, poultry, and vegetables are also raised. The principal soils in this area are black (deep and extremely fertile) and dark brown (only slightly less fertile).
Far to the north is the Peace River Valley, the third important agricultural region. Here wheat and other grains are grown and cattle and hogs are raised. The region’s soil, which is dark gray or gray, is not as fertile as the black soil to the south.
Supported by strong government investment, Alberta’s forestry sector expanded rapidly in the last two decades of the 20th century. Once confined mainly to lumber production, the forestry industry now manufactures many products, including pulp and paper, plywood, oriented strand board, medium density fiberboard, building products (including trusses, beams, and treated wood), furniture, and other goods.
|C1||Oil and Natural Gas|
Alberta’s most important mineral resources are oil and natural gas, and they account for about 90 percent of Alberta’s income from mining. Alberta produces approximately two-thirds of Canada’s oil and more than three-quarters of its natural gas. Nearly half of Alberta’s oil is mined from vast oil sands, which are deposits of a heavy crude oil called bitumen. Alberta’s oil sands represent the largest known deposits of bitumen in the world. The oil sands occur in three major areas of the province: the Athabasca River Valley in the northeast, the Peace River area in the north, and the Cold Lake region in east central Alberta. Bitumen is more costly to mine than conventional crude oil, which flows naturally or is pumped from the ground. This is because the thick black oil must be separated from the surrounding sand and water to produce a crude oil that can be further refined.
Oil seepages from exposed oil sands along the Athabasca River were long known to indigenous peoples, who used the seeping petroleum to caulk their canoes. In the 1700s fur traders in Alberta also learned of the region’s petroleum and coal. In 1883 a railroad crew drilling for water struck natural gas near Medicine Hat. In 1914 natural gas was discovered in Turner Valley, about 65 km (about 40 mi) southwest of Calgary. Later, numerous other gas fields were discovered. Bitumen was discovered at Wainwright in the east central part of the province in 1925, and in 1935 the Turner Valley field began producing oil. In 1947 a large oil deposit was found near Leduc, about 30 km (about 20 mi) south of Edmonton. Another rich oil field was soon discovered at Redwater, about 70 km (about 40 mi) north of Edmonton. By 1950 several major fields were producing within a radius of about 120 km (about 75 mi) from Edmonton.
During the 1950s and 1960s, oil deposits were discovered in other regions, such as the Peace River area and the Swan Hills, south of Lesser Slave Lake. By the late 1960s the last major oil deposits had been found. Production of oil had slowed somewhat by the 1980s, and exploration shifted to natural gas. Since that time, the volume of gas production has continued to increase.
A network of pipelines transport Alberta’s crude oil and natural gas to the industrial centers of eastern Canada, to British Columbia, and to the Northwestern and Midwestern United States. In addition, oil and gas are shipped to refining centers throughout Canada and to U.S. terminals.
Coal mining was the first significant form of mining in Alberta, and it remains economically important. The first coal mine in Alberta was opened near Lethbridge in 1870. The industry soon developed in that area to supply the Canadian Pacific Railway and growing numbers of settlers. Early in the 20th century mining spread to the Crowsnest Pass and Banff areas and later to the Edmonton and Drumheller areas.
In the mountains and foothills the harder bituminous and coking coals are produced, while on the plains softer subbituminous coals are mined. The soft coals predominate. Both surface and underground mining methods are used. The principal coal-mining districts in the plains are Wabamun, west of Edmonton, and Sheerness, northeast of Calgary. In the mountains and foothills the principal coal-mining districts are in the Hinton area, near Jasper and Grande Cache in the northwest. Alberta ranks as the leading province in coal production. The coal is burned in power plants and exported abroad.
|C3||Other Mining Activities|
Alberta also has commercially important reserves of peat, sulfur, silica sand, salt, clay, gold, and limestone. Known deposits of iron ore and uranium in the northeast have yet to be commercially developed.
Alberta’s manufacturing sector is closely linked to the province’s primary resources. The leading products are processed foods and beverages, chemical products, refined petroleum products, forest products, machinery, fabricated metals, and construction materials. In 1997 manufacturing produced 10 percent of Alberta’s GDP.
Alberta’s food and beverage processing industry is the province’s largest manufacturing sector and accounts for about one-quarter of all manufacturing in the province. The industry is concentrated in two sectors: meat products and dairy products. Meatpacking is by far the most important sector, and large plants in Edmonton, Calgary, and Lethbridge process beef, pork, and other meats. Most meat products are exported. Alberta is also home to breweries, plants that mill wheat and other grains, and refineries that make sugar from sugar beets.
Alberta’s oil and natural gas is refined at facilities in Edmonton, Red Deer, Calgary, Lethbridge, Joffre, and Medicine Hat. Refinery by-products are used to make chemicals, the second most important manufacturing industry in the province. Notable products of the chemical industry include petrochemicals (such as ethylene), which are used to make plastics; styrene, nylon, and other products; and fertilizers.
Other important manufactured items include forest products, such as pulp and paper, plywood, and furniture; electronic products and telecommunications equipment; industrial machinery and equipment, including transportation equipment, agricultural equipment, and oil and gas equipment; fabricated metals; printed materials; and medical equipment.
Service industries make up the largest sector of Alberta’s economy, contributing more than 50 percent of the province’s annual GDP. Services include activities such as finance and banking; insurance and real estate; telecommunications and information technology; government services; and retail and wholesale trade. Service industries are concentrated in the metropolitan areas of Edmonton and Calgary.
Alberta emerged as a leading financial center in Canada in the decades after World War II (1939-1945). The expansion of the petroleum industry, especially during the 1970s, brought new wealth to the province and its financial institutions, most of which are located in Calgary. In addition, more than 50 of Canada’s top 500 companies have their corporate headquarters in Calgary. Another service industry of growing importance in Alberta is tourism. Millions of visitors are drawn to the province every year to see its spectacular national parks and a wide range of local attractions.
Steam-driven power plants fueled by coal produce about one-half of the electricity generated in Alberta, and plants burning natural gas produce about one-third. Both the coal and natural gas are obtained within the province. Hydroelectricity and wind power account for nearly all of the remaining electricity generation. Major hydroelectric facilities are located on the Bow, Brazeau, and North Saskatchewan rivers.
In 2001 Alberta completed the deregulation of its electricity industry, which consists of a mix of privately owned and municipally owned generating facilities. Previously, the provincial government set retail prices for electricity. Deregulation was introduced to encourage the construction of new electricity plants to meet the needs of Alberta’s growing economy. The policy has led to the construction of much-needed new generating plants, mostly gas-fired facilities, which cost significantly less to build than coal-fired plants. However, electricity prices have risen in the province under deregulation, in part because the cost of natural gas tends to fluctuate more than it does for coal, an abundant and inexpensive fuel in Alberta.
In the days of the fur trade, Alberta’s rivers were used to transport animal pelts to eastern Canada. At first, long, swift canoes that could carry up to five tons of baled pelts were used. These gave way to heavier boats, and until about 1890, steamboats operated on the larger rivers. Water transportation is now limited to the lower Athabasca River and Lake Athabasca, which connect, through the Slave River and Great Slave Lake, with the Mackenzie River. During the summer, barges ply the Athabasca River below Fort McMurray. Water transportation remains an economical method of transporting heavy, nonperishable goods.
Although travel by water was the first commercially important form of transportation in Alberta, it was the expansion of railroads that permitted extensive settlement of the province. In 1883 the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) was extended westward through Medicine Hat, Calgary, and Banff to Vancouver, British Columbia, through Kicking Horse Pass in the Rockies. By 1915 the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway, now incorporated into the Canadian National Railway Company (CN), reached from Montréal to Vancouver, passing through Wainwright, Edmonton, Jasper, and across the Rockies through Yellowhead Pass. A third route, passing through the Rockies via Crowsnest Pass, was built by the Canadian Pacific.
Today, east-west transcontinental service is provided by the CN, in the north, and by the CPR, in the south. These two main railways are linked through the Calgary-Edmonton corridor, and each railway operates numerous branch lines that transport lumber, grain, petrochemicals, and other commodities. RailAmerica is the most important provider of short-line railway service in Alberta. The company operates three lines: the Central Western, the Lakeland & Waterways, and the Mackenzie Northern.
In 2004 Alberta had 32,800 km (20,381 mi) of highways, roads, and streets, at least 35,000 km (22,000 mi) of which was paved. Much freight is moved by truck transport. Edmonton is the southern terminus of the Mackenzie Highway, which extends by way of the Peace River to Yellowknife, in the Northwest Territories. The city is also linked by road with Dawson Creek, British Columbia, the southern terminus of the Alaska Highway. The Trans-Canada Highway crosses Alberta, passing through Medicine Hat, Calgary, and Banff. Another east-west highway connects Edmonton to Jasper and continues through Yellowhead Pass into British Columbia. The 290-km (180-mi) Banff-Jasper highway is one of the world’s most scenic highways.
Alberta’s two international airports are located near Edmonton and Calgary. There are more than two dozen smaller airports in the province. Several airlines offer both national and international service from Calgary and Edmonton.
Natural gas pipelines connect Alberta’s Peace River region with Vancouver, and with U.S. centers as far southwest as Los Angeles and as far southeast as Chicago. Pipelines also connect southeastern Alberta with eastern Canada. In addition, crude oil is moved by pipeline to the West Coast and as far east as Montréal. A network of pipelines links the oil and gas fields with distribution centers in Alberta.
|IV||THE PEOPLE OF ALBERTA|
According to the 2001 national census, Alberta ranked fourth among the provinces (after Ontario, Québec, and British Columbia), with a population of 2,974,807. This figure represented an increase of 16.9 percent over the 1991 figure of 2,545,553. The average population density in 2006 was 5.1 persons per sq km (13.3 per sq mi). People living in urban communities account for 81 percent of Alberta’s residents. The most densely populated areas are in the central and southern regions. More than one-half of the province’s inhabitants live in the Edmonton and Calgary metropolitan areas.
A plurality of Alberta’s population is of British ancestry. The remainder is mainly of German, Ukrainian, French, Scandinavian, and Dutch ancestry. In 2006, 5.8 percent of inhabitants were indigenous peoples or Métis (people of mixed indigenous and European ancestry).
Indigenous peoples now living on reserves in southern and central Alberta include the Cree, the Blackfoot (including the Siksika, Blood, and Piegan), the Tsuu T’ina Nation, and the Assiniboine. Indigenous peoples living in northern Alberta include the Chipewyan, the Beaver, and the Slave.
In 1876 and 1877 the indigenous peoples signed treaties with the Canadian government and were settled on reserves. Most Alberta indigenous peoples still live on the reserves, where some of them have become successful farmers. Others have prospered by leasing the rights to drill for oil and gas on their lands. A number of indigenous peoples have left the reserves for a variety of occupations.
In the decades following the 1880s, immigrants arriving in Alberta tended to form separate communities along ethnic lines. By 1890 a number of German families had settled near Edmonton, and French and Belgian immigrants settled near Morinville. Scandinavians settled around Camrose, and many Ukrainians made their homes northeast of Edmonton. During the 20th century, however, these separate ethnic groups became assimilated to some degree.
Alberta’s population grew rapidly in the late 19th and early 20th centuries with agricultural settlement of the province. Population growth tapered off during the worldwide depression of the 1930s, but expanded again with Alberta’s economic recovery after World War II (1939-1945). The postwar expansion of mining, manufacturing, and services attracted large numbers of immigrants to Alberta, a trend that continued during the 1970s as rising world oil prices led to a boom in the petroleum industry. Population growth leveled off with declining oil prices beginning in the early 1980s. During the 1990s and early 2000s, however, Alberta’s strong and increasingly diversified economy fuelled robust population growth, the highest in Canada. From 1996 to 2001 Alberta’s population increased by 10.3 percent, more than double the national growth rate of 4 percent during the same period. The majority of immigrants to Alberta were young, working-age people. Population growth was especially pronounced in Calgary and Edmonton.
The two largest cities of Alberta are Calgary and Edmonton. Edmonton, with a population of 730,372, is the provincial capital and one of the province’s two leading industrial centers. It also ranks as one of the principal commercial and transportation hubs in western Canada and is a center for public administration, education, and medical services. Calgary, with a population of 988,193, is the chief commercial, industrial, and transportation center of southern Alberta and is one of the major financial centers of western Canada. Calgary is home to extensive business and professional services, a vibrant high-technology sector, and the headquarters of many large energy corporations.
Red Deer, with a population of 82,772 in 2006, was the province’s third largest city at the 2001 census. It is situated in an oil and gas producing area between Calgary and Edmonton, but its primary industries are based on local farm products. Other cities include Lethbridge, an industrial city and the trade center for an agricultural area southeast of Calgary; Medicine Hat, situated on the main line of the Canadian Pacific and site of the largest industrial complex of southeastern Alberta; St. Albert, a suburb of Edmonton; Fort McMurray, a railhead on the Athabasca River in the northeast; and Grande Prairie, a center for agriculture, forest products, and petroleum refining in northwestern Alberta.
Protestant and Roman Catholic missionaries were among the first Europeans to come to Alberta. Today, the Roman Catholic Church and the United Church of Canada, which includes Methodists, Congregationalists, and most Presbyterians, have the largest congregations in Alberta. Other major Christian denominations are the Anglican Church of Canada (Episcopal), and the Lutheran, Baptist, Eastern Orthodox, Ukrainian Catholic, Mormon, and Mennonite (including Hutterite) churches. The province is also home to small numbers of Muslims and Jews.
Early settlers in southern Alberta included a group of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, popularly known as Mormons, from Utah. Late in the 19th century, they established settlements south of Lethbridge. They proved to be excellent farmers and were the first to use irrigation in Alberta. Important Latter-day Saints communities in Alberta include Cardston, Raymond, Magrath, and Stirling.
A distinctive religious group, members of the Hutterian Brethren, or Hutterites, came to Alberta from South Dakota in 1918. Most Hutterites are of German-Austrian ancestry. The Hutterite movement was founded by Jakob Hutter, an Anabaptist who advocated communal ownership of all property.
Hutterites have established over 130 settlements in the southern part of the province. They live in large buildings, somewhat like army barracks, and share communal kitchens and dining rooms. All property is owned in common. Hutterite children attend state-run schools from kindergarten through the ninth grade, where lessons are conducted in English. The Hutterites also operate their own schools in German, where instruction is centered on the Bible and its teachings. Hutterites speak an ancestral German dialect called Huttrisch at home, while High German is used for religion and formal occasions. They are excellent farmers and have substantially increased their landholdings since they came to the province.
|V||EDUCATION AND CULTURAL LIFE|
|A1||Primary and Secondary Schools|
School attendance is compulsory for all children from the ages of 6 to 16. Most students attend free public schools, but parents and students may choose from among various options, including private schools, religious schools (mostly Roman Catholic), Francophone schools, or charter schools. Parents may also choose to homeschool their children. Public schools are administered by local school boards made up of trustees who are popularly elected for three-year terms. In 1995 Alberta established a system of school councils, consisting of teachers and administrators, parents of students, and community representatives, to give community members an advisory role in local education issues.
The first schools in Alberta were established in the mid-19th century by Catholic and Protestant missionaries. As settlers moved into the territory, they were given the right to form school districts, to build schools, and to hire teachers. In 1905, when Alberta became a province, the newly formed department of education undertook general supervision of the existing school districts. As more settlers arrived, more school districts were formed. Later the department organized consolidated school districts. These larger units led to the disappearance of one-room rural schools from Alberta’s countryside. Most rural students now attend large, centralized schools.
Alberta has four public universities: the University of Alberta at Edmonton, established in 1906; the University of Calgary, which was formerly a branch of the Edmonton campus but became a university in its own right in 1966; the University of Lethbridge, founded in 1967; and Athabasca University, founded in 1970 as a distance-learning institution in Edmonton. A number of church-operated colleges are affiliated with the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary. The larger cities have community colleges. Alberta has two technical colleges, the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology in Edmonton and the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology in Calgary. In Banff National Park, near Banff, is the Banff Centre, a multidisciplinary learning institution devoted to fine arts, professional development, and environmental studies.
Both Calgary and Edmonton maintain large central public libraries, with a number of branch libraries and mobile libraries that provide service to outlying areas. In addition, there are seven regional libraries that serve numerous municipal and community libraries within their jurisdictions. There are large libraries in the Legislative Building in Edmonton and at the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary. Community colleges at Calgary, Edmonton, Grande Prairie, Lac La Biche, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, and Red Deer also maintain public libraries.
The Royal Museum of Alberta, in Edmonton, is one of Canada’s most popular museums and offers a variety of exhibits that explore the human and natural history of the province. Also in Edmonton are the Alberta Railway Museum, which displays historic railway cars and locomotives; Fort Edmonton Park, which preserves a Hudson’s Bay fort and dozens of period buildings; and the Odyssium, a space and science center that features North America’s largest dome theater. Several important museums are located in Calgary. They include the Glenbow Museum, with a large permanent collection that focuses on the art and history of western Canada; the Museum of Regiments, the largest military museum in western Canada; and the Alberta Science Centre Centennial Planetarium, offering interactive displays on a wide range of science topics.
Other popular museums in Alberta include the Sir Alexander Galt Museum and Archives in Lethbridge, which preserves and interprets the history of southwest Alberta; the Buffalo Nations Luxton Museum in Banff, which explores the culture and history of indigenous peoples; the Sunnybrook Farm Museum and Interpretive Centre in Red Deer, an agricultural museum; and the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology in Drumheller, which exhibits dinosaur bones and other fossils. Many small-town museums display artifacts from indigenous peoples and pioneers.
The first newspaper in Alberta was the Edmonton Bulletin, established in 1880. It was followed shortly by the Macleod Gazette. There are 9 daily newspapers.
The province is served by 36 AM and 25 FM radio stations and 11 originating television stations, mostly independent broadcasters. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) stations broadcast from Edmonton and Calgary. Cable television is widespread.
Calgary and Edmonton support symphony orchestras and theater groups. Banff is the site of an annual spring festival in the performing arts. Edmonton hosts a summer folk festival and an international jazz festival.
The Edmonton Art Gallery is one of Alberta’s leading art galleries and features historical and contemporary paintings and other works of art. Also important is the Calgary Allied Arts Centre, administered by the Calgary Allied Arts Council. This institution houses an art gallery, handicraft rooms, a small concert auditorium, and a theater for staged productions.
|VI||RECREATION AND PLACES TO VISIT|
Alberta has five national parks: Banff National Park, in the Rocky Mountains, is the oldest national park in Canada. It was established in 1885 and encompasses 6,641 sq km (2,564 sq mi). The resort town of Banff, in the park, is noted for its mineral hot springs. A highway from Lake Louise leads northward through 290 km (180 mi) of spectacular mountain scenery to Jasper National Park.
Jasper National Park is the fifth largest national park in Canada, covering 10,900 sq km (4,210 sq mi). The park is famous for its alpine scenery and diverse wildlife population, which includes grizzly bears, caribou, moose, and wolves. The resort town of Jasper, in the park, lies on the CN railway line.
Waterton Lakes National Park, in the southwestern corner of Alberta, has an area of 505 sq km (195 sq mi). The park, which encompasses grassy plains and mountain foothills, adjoins Glacier National Park in Montana. Together they form the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park.
Elk Island National Park, east of Edmonton, is mainly a wildlife preserve for bison, elk, deer, and moose. The park covers 194 sq km (75 sq mi).
Wood Buffalo National Park straddles the Alberta-Northwest Territories boundary. It is the largest national park in Canada, with an area of 44,807 sq km (17,300 sq mi). The park is a noted wildlife refuge for wood bison, plains bison, and other animals. It is the summer nesting ground of the whooping crane, one of the world’s rarest birds.
Alberta has developed an extensive system of provincial parks. They include Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, southeast of Medicine Hat, where forested hills and plateaus rise more than 460 m (1,500 ft) above the prairie; Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park, on the Milk River in the extreme south, where ancient picture writing found on sandstone cliffs is still undeciphered; Dinosaur Provincial Park, where the fossils of dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures may be seen in the Badlands region of Red Deer Valley; Vermilion Provincial Park, a swimming and boating resort in the east; and more than 100 other areas.
|C||Other Places to Visit|
In Edmonton are the Legislative Building; the Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium; the Valley Zoo, featuring native and exotic species; the Odyssium (formerly the Edmonton Space & Science Centre); and a reconstruction of Fort Edmonton. The Edmonton area is also home to one of the world’s largest shopping centers, the West Edmonton Mall, which houses more than 800 stores and covers more than 45 hectares (120 acres).
In Calgary are the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium, which is a duplicate of the one in Edmonton, and the Calgary Zoo, which includes botanical gardens boasting more than 4,000 ornamental plant species and a prehistoric park that seeks to replicate the natural world of the dinosaurs. In downtown Calgary are the Devonian Gardens, the largest indoor gardens in the province, and the Calgary Science Centre, offering many types of interactive displays and exhibits. Fish Creek Provincial Park, on Calgary’s south side, is the largest urban park in Canada, encompassing an area of 1,348 hectares (3,331 acres).
Provincial forestry roads connect Coleman in the south with Brazeau and Hinton in the foothills west of Red Deer. These roads afford spectacular views of the Rocky Mountains. Near Lethbridge, there is a historical site called Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, a cliff that indigenous peoples used to kill bison nearly 6,000 years ago. Groups of hunters chased the bison off the 10-m (33-ft) cliff while others waited at the bottom to kill those that survived the fall.
Alberta’s most famous annual event is the Calgary Stampede (in full, Calgary Exhibition and Stampede), held every July in Calgary. This rodeo includes the spectacular Chuckwagon Races. Also held in July are Edmonton’s Klondike Days, a restaging of the historic gold rush of 1898, and the Buffalo Days Powwow, which features three days of dancing, drumming, and special displays. Calgary holds an Oktoberfest in the fall. Wetaskiwin hosts international snowmobile championship races in February. In Banff there is the Festival of Fine Arts from June to September.
Alberta is represented in the Canadian Parliament by 28 elected representatives in the House of Commons and by 6 senators, chosen by the federal government, in the Senate.
The lieutenant governor, appointed by the federal government to represent it, is the nominal head of the provincial government, with largely ceremonial duties. All legislation must bear the signature of the lieutenant governor to become law, but the signature is seldom refused.
Executive power resides in the premier and the cabinet. The premier is the leader of the party that can command a majority in the Legislative Assembly. The cabinet is appointed by the premier from elected members of the assembly. Most cabinet ministers head a government department. The premier and cabinet must resign if they lose the confidence of a majority of the assembly.
The unicameral (single-chamber) Legislative Assembly is Alberta’s lawmaking body. Its 83 members are normally elected to office for five years, but a new election must be called if the government resigns or if the premier so advises the lieutenant governor. Legislative sessions are usually held twice a year, in the spring and in the fall. Special sessions may be called by the lieutenant governor.
Alberta has two higher courts—the Court of Appeal and the Court of Queen’s Bench. The chief justice and a panel of justices for each court are appointed by the federal government. The Court of Appeal hears all appeals from the lower courts. The Court of Queen’s Bench tries more serious criminal and civil cases, and its justices have jurisdiction over wills, estates, and bankruptcy claims. The Provincial Court, whose judges are appointed by the provincial government, hears the great majority of criminal and civil cases in the province.
Governing parties in Alberta tend to command large majorities and govern for lengthy periods of time. The province was governed for its first 16 years by the Liberal Party. Prompted by agrarian unrest at the end of World War I (1914-1918), a majority of voters turned to an independent farmers group, the United Farmers of Alberta (UFA), for leadership. The UFA became a political party, and it governed the province for 14 years, from 1921 until 1935. In the 1930s, during a period of severe economic depression, a new movement, Social Credit, won popular favor. Social Credit proposed to redistribute personal income with government help and to curb the power of banks. It defeated the UFA in 1935 and remained in power for 36 years, gradually becoming more conservative. In 1971 the Social Credit party lost its majority to the Progressive Conservative Party, which retained power through successive elections into the new millennium.
Henry Kelsey, a fur trader and member of the Hudson’s Bay Company, may have been the first European to see what is now Alberta when he explored the west from 1690 to 1692. He was followed by Anthony Henday, also sent by Hudson’s Bay, who arrived in Alberta in 1754 or 1755. When Henday explored the foothills of the Rockies in 1754, he encountered many different indigenous peoples. The Cree and Chipewyan lived in the woodlands north and west of the plains and depended on forest animals for food and clothing. The Blackfoot, Assiniboine, and Plains Cree roamed the grass-covered prairies and lived by hunting bison.
Traders from the Hudson’s Bay Company encouraged these indigenous peoples to trade with the company and conducted a profitable business in furs. In the 1780s Scottish and French fur traders from Montréal, assisted by American adventurers, journeyed to the Canadian northwest to seek their fortunes. With them they brought firearms, axes, knives, iron pots and kettles, blankets, and cloth to exchange for furs. These independent traders harassed the Hudson’s Bay Company by intercepting trappers bound for the company’s posts and buying their best furs. In 1783 organized competition to the Hudson’s Bay Company began when a group of Montréal merchants formed the North West Company and established trading posts in the west.
The intense rivalry that sprang up between the two companies hastened exploration of the territory. The explorer Sir Alexander Mackenzie followed the Mackenzie River northward to the Arctic Ocean in 1789. Four years later he set out from Alberta on his famous voyage to the Pacific Ocean, which he reached by way of the Peace, Finlay, and Bella Coola rivers. David Thompson explored and mapped much of Alberta between the Bow River and the Peace River. He later crossed the Rocky Mountains and followed the Columbia River to its mouth, producing invaluable maps of western Canada.
The rivalry between the two fur-trading companies ended in 1821, when they merged under the name of the Hudson’s Bay Company. For the next 50 years the company was the only authority in the Canadian interior, including Alberta.
After 1821 settlers began to arrive in the territory. Among the first were fur traders who chose to make their homes there. They were followed in the 1840s by missionaries, who worked to avert conflict between indigenous peoples and the settlers. The Methodists were first represented by Robert Rundle, who spent eight years in central Alberta, ministering to traders and Métis. Early in the 1860s, George McDougall and his son John, both Methodist ministers, established missions among the indigenous peoples of the woodlands and foothills, just west of Calgary. John McDougall was instrumental in bringing some of the first cattle into the foothills. During this period three Roman Catholic missions were established near Fort Edmonton, two of them at Lac Sainte Anne and one at St. Albert. Albert Lacombe, the priest who founded the St. Albert mission in 1861, spent more than 60 years in central and southern Alberta and was one of the first to encourage farming among the settlers. The first Anglican missionary, William Newton, went to Alberta in 1875. He was followed in the next decade by Presbyterian and Baptist missionaries.
In 1867, when Canada became a dominion of Britain, the dream of a united British North America stretching from coast to coast came close to realization. Two years later the Hudson’s Bay Company agreed to sell its rights in the northwest to the federal government. Manitoba joined the Dominion of Canada as a province in 1870, and British Columbia joined in 1871. But areas between those two provinces—including what would become Alberta—remained virtually without government.
Independent traders from Montana took advantage of this situation to set up trading posts, where they exchanged whiskey for furs. This trade led to lawlessness and disorder. It came to a halt after the North-West Mounted Police (now the Royal Canadian Mounted Police) was organized in 1873 and the subsequent founding of police posts at Fort Macleod, Calgary, and Fort Saskatchewan, 29 km (18 mi) east of Edmonton. Government was restored to the region by the establishment, in 1875, of the Northwest Territories Council, with headquarters at Battleford, Saskatchewan. For administrative purposes, the Northwest Territories south of latitude 60° north were organized in 1882 into the four districts of Assiniboia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Athabasca, with the council seat in Regina, Saskatchewan.
The disappearance of the whiskey trade attracted more settlers. The new settlements and the accompanying increase in the slaughter of bison, however, posed a serious threat to the livelihood of the indigenous peoples who lived on the plains. In 1877 the Canadian government and the indigenous peoples south of the Red Deer River signed a treaty whereby the indigenous peoples forfeited their general rights to the land and agreed to live on reservations in return for certain gifts and annuities. In 1876 and 1899 similar treaties were concluded with the indigenous peoples of the North Saskatchewan River valley and with those north of the Athabasca River.
In 1885 an uprising of Métis and indigenous peoples broke out in the district of Saskatchewan. The rebellion was short-lived, and Alberta was not seriously affected, since the powerful Blackfoot nation under Chief Crowfoot refused to join the rebels.
In the 1870s settlers began to bring large herds of cattle and sheep to the southern foothills, and for the next generation the ranchers were successful in raising cattle. In the 1880s homesteaders began to trickle into the territory. By 1883 the Canadian Pacific Railway had reached Calgary on its way across the mountains to the West Coast. Two years later, Canada’s first transcontinental trains were passing through Alberta. Toward the end of the 19th century Canadian Pacific branch lines were built between Calgary and Fort Edmonton, through the fertile Parklands, and between Calgary and Fort Macleod. These and other lines made much of the region accessible to settlers. By 1901 about 73,000 people lived in what is now Alberta province.
|D||Province of Alberta|
In 1905 the four southwestern districts of the Northwest Territories, below latitude 60° north, were reorganized into two provinces, Alberta and Saskatchewan. Alberta held its first elections that same year, and in 1906 the legislature convened in Edmonton, which had been chosen as the provincial capital. Alexander Cameron Rutherford, a member of the Liberal Party, served as premier. The Liberals remained in office until 1921.
|D1||Under the Liberals|
Between 1905 and 1922, two major railroads, later united as the Canadian National Railways, were built across the province and were fed by numerous branch lines. Settlers poured into the province. By 1911 the total population had climbed to 374,295, a gain of more than 300,000 in ten years. Although World War I (1914-1918) checked Alberta’s further population growth by shutting off the flow of European immigrants, the farmers enjoyed prosperity because of the high wartime price of wheat. By 1921 the three Prairie provinces were among the world’s main wheat-growing areas.
|D2||Under the United Farmers|
After the war the price of wheat fell sharply. The farmers in Alberta formed a radical political party, the United Farmers of Alberta (UFA), which won the provincial election of 1921. Under UFA administration the province generally prospered until the 1930s, when the effects of the world economic depression, together with a series of prolonged droughts and grasshopper plagues, caused serious hardship in Alberta. Farm prices again fell rapidly, and the UFA government was unable to cope with the economic downturn.
|D3||Under Social Credit|
The depression generated interest in new ideas, such as a redistribution of income. In the early 1930s Scottish economist Clifford Douglas proposed the use of government grants, which he called “social credit,” during a visit to Canada. He convinced William Aberhart, a Calgary school principal and lay teacher. Aberhart became the leader of the new Social Credit Party, which generally adopted Douglas’s doctrines and also proposed to curb the power of banks. Eventually Aberhart promised each Albertan a monthly social dividend of $25.
In 1935 the party was swept into office. Aberhart became premier. The federal government prevented the party from testing its monetary ideas. The party did, however, improve local government, education, health care, highways, and the control of credit. After Aberhart died in 1943, he was succeeded by Ernest C. Manning. Thereafter Social Credit governed conservatively, on the basis of the precedents established by Aberhart.
Alberta was changing, however, as a result of the rapid growth of the oil industry after World War II (1939-1945). In 1971 the Progressive Conservative Party, led by Peter Lougheed, was swept into office. By 1982, with only three of its members left in the provincial legislature, the Social Credit Party was no longer politically important.
|D4||Oil, Gas, and Postwar Prosperity|
In 1947 a large oil field was found at Leduc, south of Edmonton. Even larger oil and also natural gas finds followed at Redwater and Pembina. Transportation was improved, pipelines were built to the United States and across Canada, and support industries were developed. Edmonton became an industrial and refining center, as well as a supply center for the north. Calgary became a business and financial center as well as a supplier for the farms of the south. Agriculture and food processing remained important, but Alberta became increasingly industrial and urban. New demands arose for housing, better transportation, and more social services. The provincial government became increasingly dependent on revenues from oil and gas leases and royalties on production to pay for social services.
During the 1970s more large deposits of natural gas were found, a major new oil field was discovered at West Pembina, and the first significant extractions of oil began from the Athabasca oil sands. As a result of the sharp rises in world oil prices in 1973 and 1974, and again in 1979 and 1980, a major dispute arose between the provincial and federal governments over the price to be charged for Alberta’s oil. While oil consumers wanted cheap oil, oil producers and the provinces that depended on oil royalties for revenue wanted high-price oil. In 1981 an agreement was reached whereby prices would be allowed to rise gradually to 75 percent of the world level and the federal share of royalties would be increased. In the mid-1980s Alberta’s economy fell into a depression when world prices for oil and wheat both plummeted. However, Calgary got an economic boost in 1988 when it hosted the Winter Olympic Games.
The Progressive Conservative government that had come to power in 1971 under Peter Lougheed devoted its efforts to fiscal reform, environmental protection, and the improvement of social services for the elderly and people with disabilities. Although Lougheed retired as premier in 1985, the Progressive Conservatives retained power, winning reelection in 1989, 1993, 1997, 2001, and 2004.
Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, growth in the oil and gas industries helped fuel a prolonged economic boom in Alberta. Oil production gradually expanded after the mid-1990s as technological advancements—spurred by provincial and federal tax breaks—reduced the cost of mining Alberta’s vast oil sands. The natural gas industry also prospered as it became more important as a source for electricity generation and various industrial applications, including petrochemical production. Alberta’s growing economy attracted workers from across Canada, especially young people in search of opportunity. Although Alberta’s robust economy easily absorbed many of the new immigrants, rapid population growth has strained the province’s infrastructure and led to a shortage of basic services in some areas.