Agriculture, Alberta's economic mainstay before World War II, remains important. Grain, especially wheat, is the dominant crop; rapeseed (for cooking oil) is also important. In the south, large irrigation developments, such as those around Lethbridge, have enabled the growing of a variety of crops, including sugar beets and potatoes. The province is noted as well for the quality of its livestock. Meatpacking, flour milling, dairying, and food processing are important industries.
Since the 1960s, however, Alberta's major industry has been the exploitation of vast petroleum, natural gas, and other mineral resources. Its coal beds contain about one half of Canada's reserves, while the province leads the country in the production of oil; it is believed to have among the richest oil deposits in the world, notably in the famous tar sands of the Athabasca River, and consistently provides over 80% of Canada's crude petroleum output. Its natural-gas production and reserves are also among the world's greatest. Crude oil and gas pipelines radiate from Alberta to points in E and W Canada and in the United States.
Construction and service industries long prospered or slumped in response to fluctuations in the petroleum market, the high times reflected in such developments as the huge West Edmonton Mall. In the 1990s, however, Alberta's economy diversified. Calgary now trails only Toronto as a Canadian corporate headquarters center; telecommunications, banking, and other industries are major actors in the province. Tourism remains important, and other industries include food and beverage production, lumbering, printing and publishing, and the manufacture of iron, steel, and clay products.
Institutions of higher education include Athabasca Univ.; the Univ. of Alberta, at Edmonton; the Univ. of Calgary; and the Univ. of Lethbridge.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.