Introducing Alberta

So what’s the big deal with Alberta? Well even the most jaded cynic would find it hard not to find something that tickles their fancy in Canada’s second province from the left. As much as its provincial neighbors tend to downplay it, although Albertans yell it from the rooftops, this place is awesome.

Alberta’s got mountains, big mountains. The Canadian Rockies’ main range forms Alberta’s western border. Rising from the prairies, these enormous natural wonders stand like a fortress. The peaks, glaciers, rivers and lakes have all posed for a million postcards. Iconic mountain towns such as Banff, Jasper and Lake Louise are all within Alberta territory. Banff National Park, Canada’s first, and its neighbor Jasper National Park are a haven for wildlife: bear, moose and mountain sheep all share the backcountry with skiers, cyclists and hikers.

Not into mountains? What about cities? Edmonton, the provincial capital is home to Old Strathcona, one of the coolest neighborhoods in western Canada and, of course, there is the world’s biggest shopping mall. Then there’s Calgary, the southern cowboy town that has evolved into the fastest growing city in North America. Booming with oil money and spending it like there’s no tomorrow, the party is in full swing – even when the legendary Calgary Stampede isn’t on.

How about dinosaurs? Yep, it’s got them too, millions of them in Drumheller. What about some wide open space? Head to the north or south, where mile after desolate mile will be your only traveling companion. A UFO landing site, the world’s largest Easter egg, the second-largest oil field in the world, the place on the cover of this book – you’ll find all those things here, too.

So what’s the big deal? Other than that stuff, not much…

History

Things may have started off slowly in Alberta, but it’s making up for lost time these days. Human habitation in Alberta dates back a whopping 7500 years – the Aboriginal peoples of the Blackfoot, Kainaiwa (Blood), Siksika, Peigan, Atsina (also called Gros Ventre), Cree, Tsuu T’ina (Sarcee) and Assiniboine tribes all called Alberta home in those early days, and the descendants of these Aboriginals still do. These nomadic peoples roamed the southern plains of the province in relative peace and harmony until the middle of the 17th century, when the first Europeans began to arrive.

With the arrival of the Europeans, Alberta began to change and evolve – the impact of these new arrivals was felt immediately. Trading cheap whiskey for buffalo skins saw the start of the decline of both the buffalo and the traditional ways of the indigenous people. In less than a generation, the Aboriginal peoples would be restricted to reserves and the buffalo would be all but extinct.

In the 1820s, the Hudson’s Bay Company set up shop in the area and European settlers continued to trickle in. By 1870 the North West Mounted Police (NWMP) – the prede- cessor of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) – had built forts within the province to control the whiskey trade and maintain order. And it was a good thing they did, because 10 years later the railway reached Alberta and the trickle of settlers turned into a gush.

These new residents were mostly farmers and farming became the basis of the economy for the next century. The vast riches of oil and gas were discovered in the early 20th century, but it took time to develop them. At the conclusion of WWII there were 500 oil wells; by 1960, there were 10, 000, by which time the petroleum business was the biggest in town.

From humble pastoral beginnings to one of the strongest economies in the world, Alberta has done alright for itself.

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