The westernmost of Canada’s three Prairie provinces, Alberta covers an area of some 661,185 square kilometers. The southwestern section of the province is dominated by mountains and the foothills that build up from the prairie landscape. The southeastern portion of the province is part of the interior Great Plains of North America and has rich farmland in the north, livestock grazing in the south, and includes some near-desert canyons in the middle (around Drumheller). The northern half of the province is classic Canadian Shield country, most of the province’s boreal forest and lakes.
The native people, whose ancestors crossed the Bering Sea from Asia thousands of years ago, were the first people to live in Alberta. They worked with and trapped for the European fur traders who arrived in the 1680s. In 1870, the region became part of the Northwest Territory of Canada and was administered from the newly-formed province of Manitoba. When the railroad was completed through the southern portion of the province in 1885, the region’s population grew quickly. In 1905 Alberta became a province, named for Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, a daughter of Britain’s Queen Victoria, and Edmonton was declared its capital city.
Alberta has one of the world’s most productive agricultural economies, producing about 20 percent of the value of Canada’s annual output. Approximately 22 million hectares of cultivated and uncultivated land are used as pasture and forage for livestock. While wheat remains the primary crop, the production of new crops continues to expand as the industry diversifies. The province maintains the largest livestock population in Canada, and is famous for its “Alberta beef.”
Known as Canada’s “energy province,” Alberta has more than 80 percent of the country’s reserves of conventional crude oil, over 90 percent of its natural gas, and all of its bitumen and oil-sands reserves. The oil and natural gas sector has responded successfully to the challenges of unstable energy prices in the 1980s by significantly reducing production and operating costs. While most of the production is centred around Edmonton, most of the oil company headquarters are in Calgary.
Over half the province (approximately 350 000 sq km) is covered by forests, of which half are classified as commercially-productive forest land, containing both hardwood and softwood species.
Alberta manufacturing industries include petrochemicals and plastics, forest products, metals, machinery, aerospace and transportation equipment. Food and beverage processing is the largest manufacturing industry sector in Alberta.
The service sector accounts for two-thirds of Alberta’s employment, including such industries as business and financial services, transportation, retail trade, health and education services and tourism. The province offers many attractions to visitors, in particular the magnificent Rocky Mountains, centered around Jasper and Banff national parks.