Difference between revisions of "Alberta"
Revision as of 19:33, 2 July 2011
Alberta  is the second westernmost of the 10 provinces in Canada. (only British Columbia is farther west) It includes parts of the Canadian Rockies and is known for its oil and natural gas fields and cattle farming.
Alberta has a lot to offer visitors. It is a surprisingly diverse province in many ways, from the beauty of the Rockies to the serene flatness of prairie to the wilderness of the northern forests. The two largest cities, Calgary and Edmonton offer the amenties that most cities in North America have, and also have some unique attractions of their own.
Below are 9 cities frequently considered to have the most interest for the visitor.
See also: Off the beaten path in Alberta
Alberta was formed as a province in 1905. Its capital is Edmonton, located roughly in the middle of the province, while the headquarters of most oil companies are located in Calgary to the south. Most of the population of Alberta lives along the "Highway 2 Corridor" between Edmonton and Calgary, although Lethbridge to the south, Grande Prairie to the northwest, and Fort McMurray to the northeast are also major centres.
The original inhabitants were the First Nations People, but significant immigration occurred when the Canadian Pacific Railway was built and the Government offered incentives for settlers to come to Alberta. Since then the province has enjoyed steady immigration and population growth, though it is notable that there are few groups who immigrated in vast numbers such as the Chinese to Vancouver did.
This is currently the richest province in Canada. Its wealth is derived mainly from Crude Oil production, though historically farming and cattle raising were important. Ranching maintains a high place in the economy culture, particularly in Southern Alberta. Seventy percent of the Canadian Herd (of cattle) is located in Alberta. In 2003 the price of oil rose beyond $55 a barrel making the vast reserves of oilsands in the Northern part of the province economically viable. Since then Alberta has enjoyed rapid growth, but also experienced significant problems along with that growth.
It is also noteworthy that Alberta is widely considered to be the most conservative area of Canada, however this is a complicated issue. Regional politics affected Alberta significantly, including the much hated National Energy Program in the 1980s. So the region votes Conservative both as an expression of regional preference as much as politic preference. This won't affect the average traveller, and many benefit as Alberta's taxes are lower than that of the rest of Canada (there is no PST: Provincial Sales Tax).
English is the main language spoken by most people in Alberta. Significant minority languages include Ukrainian, German, Chinese, Arabic, Russian and Hindi.
French is uncommon but available at all Federal Governmental institutions. There is a French-language university in Edmonton - the Faculté Saint-Jean, now a part of the University of Alberta, which offers undergraduate degrees in several disciplines with instruction completely in French.
First Nations languages such as Cree, Déné, Blackfoot, etc. are spoken to varying degrees among those communities as both mother tongue and as a second language.
Both Calgary and Edmonton have international airports. Calgary's is the third largest in Canada (by passenger volume). It serves as the base of low-priced airline Westjet, which provides service to North American (mainly Canadian), Mexican and Caribbean destinations. Edmonton's is the fastest growing in Canada, with multiple expansions in place. International Service is provided by multiple carriers at both locations, including multiple direct flights to London and Frankfurt each day. Other destinations are usually connecting through Vancouver or Toronto. Both airports act as collection points, Calgary for the prairie provinces, and Edmonton for regions in the Canadian North like Grande Prairie and Yellowknife.
Alberta is quite large, as are most Canadian provinces. A rough comparison is that the island of Great Britain can fit into Alberta more than six times over. Also noteworthy is that most Albertan cities, and especially Calgary have historically grown horizontally rather than vertically and are thus really big. Car travel is essential unless you plan on staying within Edmonton or Calgary (where you can walk, bus, transit). However most towns and cities in rural Alberta are more than accesible by Greyhound Bus.
Driving regulations are the same as in most of Canada. Turning right (far right lane into far right lane) on a red light is allowed. It goes without saying that drunk driving is taken very seriously, but is disproportionally seen in rural areas--take care when driving there at night. Wildlife is another major concern. When driving on the highways, maintain a reasonable speed and look for sudden movements on the side. The most common animal hit is the deer, which is usually not fatal for the car. But running into an elk or moose could possibly be so. Elk and moose are very dark coloured so keep a close eye out for them. If you see animals on the side of the road it is common to want to slow down. Do so in a safe manner and don't needlessly impede traffic. Don't get out of your car to see the animals.
The AMA (Alberta Motor Association) is a good source of specific information and offers the most widely used driving courses. Both Calgary and Edmonton offer traffic radio stations - government funded radio that only reports accidents, construction and weather. Watch for signs featuring the frequency in these cities.
Do not heed any warning about Albertan drivers being the most aggressive drivers in Canada - a common myth. They are not more so than Toronto and certainly are nothing compared with Southern Europe. High speeds and lane changes without signaling are generally the worst it gets.
Greyhound Canada offers service between almost all centres, large and small. Be aware that Greyhound does the so-called "milk runs" stopping at almost every location, usually to drop off or pickup passengers and cargo. There are other bus lines offering service between major centres, such as Red Arrow between Edmonton, Calgary, Fort McMurray, Jasper and Banff.
Driving west out of Calgary towards British Columbia, the Rockies rise dramatically and quickly. The drive through Banff, Jasper or Glacier National Park can be quite spectacular. The Icefields Parkway between the towns of Banff and Jasper is definitely not to be missed.
In Edmonton, West Edmonton Mall is one of the province's larger attractions. With over 800 retail shops and the world's largest indoor entertainment centre, it's entertaining even for the non-shoppers. Also Edmonton is dubbed, "Canada's Festival City" to the exceedingly high number of festivals of every kind. The city also boasts North America's largest urban parkland system, which is very beautiful and completes the skyline over the North Saskatchewan River Valley. It also has other shopping, other great attractions and has Canada's only Indy.
Calgary offers the Calgary Stampede, the wild west-themed festival held every July complete with rodeos and fairs. One should also check out the Calgary Zoo and get a view from the top of the Calgary Tower.
The ski resorts of Marmot Basin in Jasper National Park, Sunshine Village, Lake Louise and Norquay, all in Banff National Park dish up almost every kind of terrain for the hardcore skier, yet allow novice skiers to have fun through green runs and long cruisng runs. If the crowds bother you, there are a number of other ski areas in the province.
Great hiking can be had in the Rockies, and there are a few lakes that allow one to do boating, jetskiing or most other watersports despite Alberta's landlocked nature.
There are many excellent golf courses available to the public across the provinces. Areas of particular interest include the mountain parks where Banff Springs, Jasper Park Lodge, Kananaskis Country, Stewart Creek, and Silver Tip are recognized as some of Canada's best courses. Central Alberta also offers several excellent courses, including Wolf Creek and Alberta Springs. In the Edmonton area, popular courses include the Northern Bear, Cougar Creek, The Ranch, and Goose Hummock. In Drumheller, the back nine of the Dinosaur Point Golf Course features several very dramatic and spectacular holes.
Dinosaur Provincial Park two hours southeast of Calgary (the closest notable city being Brooks)can be rather interesting. There is camping available and general admission is free, however to see many of the restricted areas one must pay for a guide. There are many trails and hoodoos to climb, the scenery is fantastic and it is generally just a very fun place to be. There are a few safety precautions to take into consideration if you do choose to visit however. A large abundance of rattlesnakes, scorpians, and black widow spiders call this park home so exercise caution if you ever run into them. Also it gets very hot during the summer so you should bring some sunscreen and a water bottle (if you forget there's a concession as well). Cacti can also be a bit of a nuisance if you decide to climb the hoodoos so just keep your eyes out. You should note that a very large percentage of the worlds dinosaur bones have been found here, and it's very common to find small bone fragments on the ground as you explore (however it is strictly against the rules to take any)! However most of the greatest discoveries made here are displayed at the Royal Tyrell Museum located in Drumheller.
There is a surprising array of restaurants to choose from, especially in the major cities. Tastes range from simple burger joints to haute cuisine in the finest restaurants. Alberta is world renowned for its beef and the steak can be considered the regional dish for Alberta.
The drinking age is 18 - younger than most other provinces in Canada. Alcohol is available from the many private liquor stores and beer/wine stores throughout the province. Unlike other provinces, liquor retail is privatized. Unlike most American states, you cannot buy alcohol directly in grocery stores, although many grocery stores have liquor stores located in unattached buildings nearby.
The following areas of Alberta are considered higher risk areas with respect to crime.
Otherwise, Alberta as a whole is a relatively safe area. However common sense should be applied. Do not leave valuables visible in vehicles and lock all vehicle doors.
Growth in urban centers in Alberta has led to increased traffic. Allow plenty of time to reach a destination, especially during rush hour or during adverse weather.
Alberta's weather is very changeable and volatile, especially in the mountains and the foothills and also during the spring season. Driving conditions can deteriorate quickly. Before going out, always check the local forecast. Road conditions are available through the Alberta Motor Association.
Strong chinook winds in the foothills, especially south of Calgary, can blow a vehicle off the road. Highways 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 22 and 23 south of Calgary are the most vulnerable to these conditions, with Highway 22 usually being the worst. Extra caution is advised, particularly for higher-height vehicles such as trucks and SUVs.
Alberta has had cases of the West Nile Virus. In the spring and summer, it is wise to be protected using Deet-based repellants.
The area within and around the mountain parks is bear country. Hikers, hunters and campers in these areas should follow all bear safety tips. Campsites should be kept clean, all dishes properly washed, and all tables wiped clean after a meal. Never leave any food or garbage loose or unattended. Hikers should travel as a group, make noise regularly and stay on established trails. Pets should be kept out of bear country.
Taxis can be in short supply in Calgary and Edmonton at times, especially during holidays, poor weather, and on weekends. It is advisable to phone ahead in the daytime for a reservation if you realize you may need a taxi. In most cases, taxis are easily available at the airports.
Though probably the most beautiful province in western Canada, neighboring provinces have much to offer. British Columbia has much great scenery as well, and also world-class cities like Vancouver and Victoria.
To the east is Saskatchewan, which has a large amount of grassland but is also home to over 100,000 lakes and offers some of the most beautiful skyline. With the more action packed Regina and Saskatoon