1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Alberta

ALBERTA, a province of western Canada, established in 1905. Area 260,000 sq. m. It is bounded S. by the United States boundary line, 49° N.; E. by 110° W., which divides it from the province of Saskatchewan; N. by 60° N., which separates it from the North-West Territories; and W. by the line of peaks of the Rocky Mountains range, which runs north-westerly, and divides it from British Columbia. A fertile province, in the eastern and southern portions its surface consists chiefly of plains almost entirely treeless. As the slopes of the Rocky Mountains to the west are reached more trees are found, until in the foot-hills of the mountains bodies of forest timber occur. Trees become more numerous also northward in the province, until in the region north of the North Saskatchewan river forests are again met with. From the southern boundary line for two and a half degrees north the prairie is dry, but of good soil, which grows excellent crops when irrigated. North of this region the surface of the province is of most fertile soil, the ordinary rainfall sufficing for agriculture. The appearance of the prairie section of the province is that of undulating meadows, with rounded sloping ridges covered with shorter grasses, which serve for the support of great herds of cattle and horses. The wooded portions of the terrain are dotted with clumps and belts of trees of moderate size, giving them a parklike appearance. In winter the snowfall is very light, and even this is frequently removed by warm winds from the west. Within a hundred miles of the mountains there is constantly in view, in clear weather, the beautiful line of snowy peaks along the western horizon. This continues for hundreds of miles north-westward. The Rocky Mountains, which give its charm to Alberta, are ascended by a gradual approach from the east, but are exceedingly abrupt on their transalpine slope in British Columbia. The peaks of these mountains are majestic, many of them reaching a height of more than two miles above the sea. Among the more notable of these are Robson peak, 13,700 ft.; Athabasca, 13,700; Assiniboine, 11,830; Fyell, 12,000; Mummery, 12,000; Temple, 11,658; and Geikie, 11,000. Mt. Brown reaches 9050.

Through these Rocky Mountains the explorers and fur-traders, by ascending the streams running down the eastern declivities of the mountains, and crossing by short portages to the streams of the western slope, have succeeded in discovering passes by which the mountain chain can be crossed, the range rarely exceeding 60 m. in breadth. The most noted of the Alberta passes are (1) the Crow’s Nest Pass, near the southern boundary line, through which a branch of the Canadian Pacific railway runs; (2) the Kicking Horse Pass, through which the main line of the Canadian Pacific railway is built; 80 m. from the eastern end of this pass is the Rocky Mountains Park, with the famous watering-place of Banff as its centre; (3) the Yellow Head Pass, running west from the northern branch of the Saskatchewan river; this pass was discovered by Capt. Palliser (1858), was crossed by Lord Milton and Dr W. B. Cheadle (1861), and by Sandford Fleming (1871–1872) in the Ocean to Ocean expedition; (4) Peace River Pass. By this pass Alexander Mackenzie made his celebrated voyage. There are other minor passes, and no doubt more to be discovered.

With the exception of the southern section, the province of Alberta may be said to be well watered. Rising from numerous valleys on the Alberta declivity of the Rocky Mountains between the international boundary line and 52° N. are streams which unite to form the Belly river, and farther north the Bow river. Running eastward these two rivers unite about 112° W;, and flow on under the name of the South Saskatchewan river. North of 52° N. many small streams unite to form the Red Deer river, which flowing south-eastward joins the South Saskatchewan near 110° W. Between 52° and 53° N. rises the great river, the North Saskatchewan. It receives a southern tributary, the Battle river, which joins it about 108° W. Pursuing their courses eastward the North and South Saskatchewan rivers unite in the Saskatchewan (Cree, rapid-flowing river), which finds its way to Lake Winnipeg, and thence by way of Nelson river to Hudson Bay. It is one of the mightiest rivers of the continent.

EB1911 - Alberta map.png

Between 53° and 54° N. begins the height of land running north-easterly, north of which all the waters of Alberta flow toward the Arctic Sea. In northern Alberta, on the northern slope, gathering its tributaries from rills in the Rocky Mountains, the river Athabasca runs north and empties into Lake Athabasca near 58° N. North of 56° N. flows through and from the Rocky Mountains the Peace river. After descending north-eastward to within a few miles of Lake Athabasca, it is met by a stream emerging from that lake. The united river carrying down the waters of the Athabasca slope is called the Slave river, which, passing through Great Slave Lake, emerges as the great Mackenzie river, which falls into the Arctic Sea. Alberta thus gives rise to the two great rivers Saskatchewan and Mackenzie. While a number of fresh-water, or in some cases brackish, lakes each less than 100 sq. m. in extent are situated in Alberta, two of more considerable size are found. These are Lake Athabasca, 3085 sq. m. in extent, of which a part is in the province of Saskatchewan, and the other Lesser Slave Lake some 600 sq. m. in area.

Climate.—As Alberta extends for 750 m. from north to south—as great a distance as from Land’s End in England to the north of the Shetland Isles—it is natural that the climate should vary considerably between parallels of 40° and 60° N., and also between 110° and 120° W. It is also further influenced by the different altitudes above the sea of the several parts of the province. Dividing the province into three equal parts of 250 m. each from north to south, these may be called (A) the south, (B) the centre, (C) the north. The following data may be considered:—

Climatic Table
Climate. Places.  Above the 
(A) Moderate and changeable  Medicine Hat, lat. 50° N.
Calgary, lat. 51°
Banff, lat. 511/2°
2171 ft.
3421 ″ 
4515 ″ 
14.3° F.
15.4° ″ 
15.9° ″ 
(B) Steady Edmonton, lat. 531/2° 2210 ″  10.3° ″ 
(C) Severe Fort Chipewyan, lat. 59° N.  600 ″  7.2° ″ 

Climate (A) allows, in what is a great ranching district, cattle and horses to run at large through the whole winter. Through the mountain passes come at times dry winds from the Pacific coast, which lick up the snow in a few hours. These winds are known as Chinook winds. While elevating the temperature they bring more moisture into the air and produce a change not entirely desirable.

Climate (B) is the steady winter climate of Edmonton district. This while averaging a lower temperature than (A) is not so subject to change; it retains the snow for sleighing, which is a boon to the farmer. This climate is much less influenced by the Pacific winds than (A).

Climate (C), that of Fort Chipewyan, having a mean winter temperature of 22.6° lower than Calgary, is a decidedly sub-arctic climate. It is the region in winter of constant ice and snow, but its lower altitude gives it a summer climate with a mean temperature of only 1.6° less than Calgary, and 1.8° less than Edmonton. It will thus be seen that the agricultural capabilities of the Athabasca and Peace river districts, not yet fully known, are full of promise.

Fauna.—The three climatic regions of Alberta have naturally a varying fauna. The south and central region was the land of the bison, its grasses affording a great pasture ground for tens of thousands of “buffaloes.” They were destroyed by whites and Indians in 1870–1882 on the approach of the Canadian Pacific railway. Grizzly, black and cinnamon bears are, found in the mountains and wooded districts. The coyote or small wolf, here and there the grey wolf, the fox and the mountain lion (panther) occur. The moose and red deer are found in the wooded regions, and the jumping deer and antelope on the prairies. Wild sheep and goats live in the Rocky Mountains. The lynx, wolverine, porcupine, skunk, hare, squirrel and mouse are met. The gopher is a resident of the dry plains. District (C) is the fur-trader’s paradise. The buffalo is replaced by the mountain buffaloes, of which a few survive. The musk-ox comes in thousands every year to the great northern lakes, while the mink, marten, beaver, otter, ermine and musk-rat are sought by the fur-trader. Fort Chipewyan was long known in Hudson’s Bay Company history as the great depot of the Mackenzie river district. Northern Alberta and the region farther north is the nesting-ground of the migratory birds. Here vast numbers of ducks, geese, swans and pelicans resort every year. Cranes, partridges and varieties of singing birds abound. The eagle, hawk, owl and crow are plentiful. Mosquitoes and flies are everywhere, and the wasp and wild bee also. In the rivers and lakes pike, pickerel, white fish and sturgeon supply food for the natives, and the brook trout is found in the small mountain streams. The turtle and frog also appear.

Flora.—In central and northern Alberta the opening spring brings in the prairie anemone, the avens and other early flowers. The advancing summer introduces many flowers of the sunflower family, until in August the plains are one blaze of yellow and purple. The southern part of Alberta is covered by a short grass, very nutritive, but drying up in the middle of summer until the whole prairie is brown and unattractive. The trees in the wooded sections of the province are seen in clumps and belts on the hill sides. These are largely deciduous. On the north side of the Saskatchewan river forests prevail for scores and even hundreds of miles. They contain the poplar Or aspen (Populus tremuloides), balsam poplar (Populus balsamifera), and paper or canoe birch (Fetula papyrifera.) The Coniferae are found northward and in the mountain valleys. Some of these are: Jack pine (Pinus Banksiana), Rocky Mountain pine (Pinus flexilis), black pine (Pinus Murrayana), white spruce (Picea alba), black spruce (Picea nigra), Engelman’s spruce (Picea Engelmanni), mountain balsam (Abies subalpina), Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga Douglasii), mountain larch (Larix Lyallis.)

Population.—By the census of 1906 the population of Alberta was found to be 185,412. It has grown from 73,022 in 1901 (the area of Alberta being then slightly different). The basis of the population is Canadian, and the immigration has been chiefly from (1) the British Isles, (2) United States, (3) continent of Europe (chiefly Austria, Hungary and Russia). Of the population in 1901, 17,245 had immigrated thither from the three mentioned sources. The following table shows the percentages of origins:—

Canadian and native born   54 %
The British Isles 6.8 %
United States 16.6 %
Continent of Europe 24.4 %

Of the Indian and Indian half-breed population there were in 1901, 14,669 of the former and 11,635 of the latter. The Indians of central Alberta are chiefly plain Crees, a tribe of Algonquin stock. In southern Alberta are several thousands of Indians on reserves south and west of Calgary, consisting of the Blackfoots of Algonquin stock, Sarcees, Piegans and a few Assiniboins.

The chief cities and towns of Alberta are Edmonton (11,167), Calgary (11,967), Medicine Hat (3020), Lethbridge (2948) and Strathcona (2927).

Industries.— The chief industries of the people are farming and ranching. Cattle, horses and sheep are largely reared in the southern prairie region on ranches or smaller holdings. In this region irrigation is widely used. Red winter wheat is now produced to a considerable degree. In the town of Raymond is a large beet sugar manufactory, and in the vicinity great quantities of beets are grown by irrigation. In central Alberta coarse grains—oats and barley—and some wheat are grown, in conjunction with mixed farming. While washing out the sands of the North Saskatchewan for gold is still somewhat resorted to, the only real mining in Alberta is that for coal. Vast beds of coal are found extending for hundreds of miles, a short distance below the surface of the plains. The coal belongs to the Cretaceous beds, and while not so heavy as that of the Coal Measures is of excellent quality. In the valley of the Bow river, alongside the Canadian Pacific railway, valuable beds of anthracite coal ale worked, and the coal is carried by railway as far east as Winnipeg. The usual coal deposits of Alberta are of bituminous or semi-bituminous coal. These are largely worked at Lethbridge in southern Alberta and Edmonton in the centre of the province. Many other parts of the province have pits for private use. The Athabasca river region, as well as localities far north on the Mackenzie river, has decided indications of petroleum, though it is not yet developed. Natural gas has been found at several points. The most notable gas discovery is that at Medicine Hat, which has wells with unlimited quantities. The gas is excellent, is used for lighting the town, supplies light and fuel for the people, and a number of industries are using the gas for manufacturing.

Communications.—For transportation the North Saskatchewan is to some extent depended on for carrying freight by steamboats, but railways are widespread in the province. The Canadian Pacific railway has its main line running from east to west chiefly between 50 and 51° N. Over this line passes an enormous trade from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean—the railway with its “Empress” steamers on the Pacific and also on the Atlantic Ocean claiming to have as its termini Liverpool and Yokohama. A branch line of the Canadian Pacific railway runs from Medicine Hat between 49° and 50° N., passing through the Crow’s Nest Pass of the Rocky Mountains and carrying on trade with British Columbia. Another branch from Calgary runs southward to Macleod, and to Lethbridge there comes from the south a branch of the Great Northern railway of the United States, connecting with the state of Montana. From Calgary to Edmonton northward runs a line under the control of the Canadian Pacific railway. From this railway also run, eastward from Lacombe and Wetaskiwin, branch lines to complete the system. In 1906 the new line of the Canadian Northern railway was opened, connecting Winnipeg, 1000 m. to the east, along the North Saskatchewan river, with Edmonton. The Grand Trunk Pacific railway, backed by the Canadian government, forms a new transcontinental line; the prairie section from Winnipeg to Edmonton was in 1908 under contract.

Administration, &c.—The local government of Alberta is carried on by a provincial organization resembling that of the other Canadian provinces. The capital of the province is Edmonton, and here reside the lieutenant-governor and cabinet. The legislature consists of one house—the Legislative Assembly—of twenty-five members. Responsible government after the British model is followed, and the revenue is chiefly derived from grants from the Dominion government. Alberta has a system of municipal government similar to that of the other provinces.

Education is given by a public-school system, which, while nominally providing for separate schools for Catholics and Protestants, makes it practically impossible at most points to carry on such schools. A normal school is situated at Calgary. There is a college for secondary education in Calgary and another in Edmonton.

The following are the leading denominations in Alberta:—

Roman Catholics 12,957
Presbyterians 10,655
Methodists 9,623
Church of England   8,888
Lutherans 5,810
Greek Church 4,618
Mormons 3,212
Baptists 2,722

The Mormons of Alberta are in the most southerly part of the province, and are a colony from the Mormon settlements in Utah, U.S. On coming to Canada they were given lands by the Dominion of Canada. The organization adopted in Utah among the Mormons is found also in Alberta, but the Canadian Mormons profess to have received a later revelation condemning polygamy.

History.—The present province of Alberta as far north as the height of land (53° N.) was from the time of the incorporation of the Hudson’s Bay Company (1670) a part of Rupert’s Land. After the discovery of the north-west by the French in 1731 and succeeding years the prairies of the west were occupied by them, and Fort La Jonquiere was established near the present city of Calgary (1752). The North-West Company of Montreal occupied the northern part of Alberta district before the Hudson’s Bay Company succeeded in coming from Hudson Bay to take possession of it. The first hold of the Athabasca region was gained by Peter Pond, who, on behalf of the North-West Company of Montreal, built Fort Athabasca on river La Biche in 1778. Roderick Mackenzie, cousin of Sir Alexander Mackenzie, built Fort Chipewyan on Lake Athabasca in 1788. By way of the North Saskatchewan river Alexander Mackenzie crossed the height of land, and proceeding northward discovered the river which bears his name, and also the Arctic Sea. Afterward going westward from Lake Athabasca and through the Peace river, he reached the Pacific Ocean, being the first white man to cross the North American continent, north of Mexico.

As part of the North-West Territories the district of Alberta was organized in 1875. Additional privileges and a local legislature were added from time to time. At length in 1905 the district of Alberta was enlarged and the present province formed by the Dominion parliament.  (G. Br.)