Alberta is bounded on the E by Saskatchewan, on the N by the Northwest Territories, on the W by British Columbia, and on the S by Montana. Westernmost of the Prairie Provinces, it lies on a high plateau that rises in the west through the Rocky Mts. to the Continental Divide at the British Columbia border. The foothills of the Rockies and the mountains themselves, with three noted national parks—Jasper, Banff, and Waterton Lakes (the Canadian section of Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park)—are famed for their beauty.
Although Alberta is known as a Prairie Province, only about one quarter of its area is actually treeless—chiefly the undulating prairie of S Alberta. Central Alberta has parklike, partly wooded country, and in the north are vast tracts of virgin timberland. Endowed with many lakes, streams, and rivers, the province is drained by the Peace, the Athabasca, the north and south branches of the Saskatchewan, the Red Deer, the St. Mary, the Milk, and many other rivers.
Visitors are impressed by the grand scale of Alberta's landscape—its rolling wheat fields, huge granaries, sprawling cattle ranches, and vast oil refineries. Annual festivals include the Indian Days Celebration at Banff, which attracts thousands of native peoples from a wide area, and the famous Calgary Exhibition and Stampede. Other attractions include Elk Island National Park and the huge Wood Buffalo National Park (shared with the Northwest Territories), home to wood bison, whooping cranes, and other rare species.
The population is concentrated in S and central Alberta; except for farm centers in the fertile wheat-growing valley of the Peace, the north is sparsely settled. Edmonton is the capital and second largest city. The largest city is Calgary; other important cities are Lethbridge, Red Deer, Medicine Hat, St. Albert, and Fort McMurray.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.