Alberta has been described by some as a nature-lover’s paradise – an expanse of open land, sweeping sunsets, and in the west the gorgeous peaks of the Rocky Mountains. Vast prairie plains, parklands, and wilderness grace this province. While most Albertans live in either Edmonton or Calgary, the sparsely populated rural areas encompass a breathtaking diversity – a semi-arid south where dinosaurs once roamed, rich farmland with vast wheat fields and cattle ranches, and a northwest region captivated by jaw-dropping alpine views of mountains, forests, and lakes.
Today, the Stetson is still a hat proudly sported by Albertans, but only on special occasions. The cowboy hat reminds Albertans of the frontier days when the spirit of rugged individualism ruled the day, often the cause of spats between the province and the Federal government. But on an individual basis, Albertans are friendly, generous, and hospitable people, both in the urban cities and the rural countryside.
Alberta is bordered in the west by the Canadian Rockies and in the east by the province of Saskatchewan. It stretches north-south from the Northwest Territories to Montana. Much of its east consists of vast prairie land, which it shares with Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Of the three Prairie Provinces, Alberta is the largest, covering 650,000 square kilometers (250,000 square miles). Its population is over 2 million, half of whom live in Edmonton and Calgary, leaving the rest of the province an uninhabited no-man’s land.
Alberta’s prairie lands consist of the classic portrait of cowboys, cattle, and wide-open spaces. But the province also has some famous magnificent landscapes in the Rockies and in the southwest, boasting snowcapped peaks, sweeping slopes, and solemn lakes best embodied perhaps by Jasper, Banff, and Waterton National Parks. The prairies in the southeast feature three different types of landscapes. The southeastern corner is arid grassland and badlands where cattle graze. Surrounding it is a larger wheat-growing belt that gives way to an even larger territory of trees, parkland, and mixed farming. This last region is where the major cities are all located – Edmonton and Calgary. To Edmonton’s north is a large uninhabited region of lakes and forests.
Alberta experienced rapid growth and prosperity in the 1970s thanks to the province’s exploitation of its oil and natural gas resources. Calgary and Edmonton become major Canadian cities during this period. The drop in grain and oil prices in the 1990s ended the temporary boom, slowing development to a crawl. The sky-high oil prices of the 21st century, however, has returned the province to prosperity, all but wiping out any memories of the hard times. Today, the province is strong politically and remains a major producer of grain, beef, oil, and gas. In the north, forestry and fur trapping have become thriving industries. Tourism is also flourishing thanks to the province’s endless outdoor opportunities including some of the most stunning sceneries and national parks in the country.
The first European to explore the province was Anthony Henday, who worked for the Hudson’s Bay Company. Father Albert Lacombe, however, was the one responsible for paving the way to settlement. He founded schools, churches, and a mission, and established friendly relations with the Prairie Indians. In 1869, Alberta became part of Canada when the Hudson’s Bay Company sold a chunk of land to the Federal Government. Fur traders and whisky peddlers flooded into the area, creating a period of lawlessness and bloodshed. Finally, the North West Mounted Police put an end to this when they arrived in 1874 to police the region.
During this period, the fur traders also introduced guns to the Indian tribes, which made it much easier for them to hunt buffalo. The ensuing slaughter spelled an end to the vast herds of buffalo that once roamed the prairies. It also ended the Indian way of life. With the herds wiped out, the Indians willingly negotiated treaties with the whites. Immigration in the 1880’s from Europe, the U.S., and Russia brought many people to Alberta. They settled down and cultivated the prairies. In 1905, the province of Alberta was formed. The subsequent world wars and political upheavals brought even more immigrants to Alberta.
Despite the discovery of oil and the prosperity and wealth enjoyed by the province in recent years, many of Alberta’s modern cities still retain the old rugged spirit and the early ranching days. In the south, it is still common to see cowboys riding the plains chasing herds. The days of the Wild West, moreover, are celebrated every year with great gusto through the Calgary Stampede and the Klondike Days Festival in Edmonton.
Carroll, Donald. Insider’s Guide Canada. Edison: Hunter Publishing, Inc, 1996. ISBN: 1556507100.
Simpkins, Mary Ann. Canada. New York: Prentice Hall Travel, 1994. ISBN: 0671882783.
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