Canadian Prairies: Wikis


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Map of the Canadian Prairie provinces, which include boreal forests, taiga, aspen parkland, and mountains as well as the prairies (proper).

The Canadian Prairies is a region of Canada, specifically in Western Canada, which may correspond to several different definitions, natural or political. Notably, the Prairie provinces or simply the Prairies comprise the provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, as they are much covered by prairie. In a more restricted sense, the term may also refer to the areas of those provinces covered by prairie. Prairie also covers portions of northeastern British Columbia, though that province is typically not included in the region in a political sense.



The word prairie usually refers to a type of grassland, and true prairies occur only in the southern reaches of Alberta and Saskatchewan. Contrasted to this are other biomes such as the boreal forest taking up the majority of the Prairie Provinces, or the aspen parkland.

However "the prairie" may also refer to all of the Interior Plains region within Canada, in contrast with the Rocky Mountains and Canadian Shield, and is a continuation of the Great Plains region of the United States.

It may also refer to all of the farmland in the provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, a definition based on human use, which includes all of the aspen parkland biome.


Three main grassland types occur in the Canadian prairies: tallgrass prairie, mixed prairie, and short-grass or fescue prairie. Each has a unique geographic distribution and characteristic mix of plant species. All but a fraction of one percent of the tallgrass prairie has been converted to cropland. What remains occurs on the 6,000 square kilometre plain centred in the Red River Valley in Manitoba. Mixed prairie is more common and is part of the dry interior plains that extend from Canada south to the U.S. state of Texas. More than half of the remaining native grassland in the Canadian prairies is mixed. Though widespread in southern Saskatchewan and southeastern Alberta, because of extensive cattle grazing, it is estimated that only 24% of the original mixed prairie grassland remains.[citation needed] Fescue prairie occurs in the moister regions, occupying the northern extent of the prairies in central and southwestern Alberta and west central Saskatchewan (map).

Palliser's Triangle, delineating prairie soil types in the Prairie provinces.

The southern Canadian prairies, supporting brown and black soil types, are semi-arid and highly prone to frequent and severe droughts. The region known as Palliser's Triangle, also classified as the Prairies ecozone, is so arid that farming has never been successful there without government help and irrigation. The zones around the cities of Regina and immediately east of Calgary are also very dry. Most heavy precipitation quickly dissipates by the time it passes Cheadle on its way heading east. In an average year, southern Saskatchewan receives between 30-51 centimetres (12-20 in) of precipitation, with the majority falling between April and June. Frost from October to April (and sometimes even early May) limits the growing season for certain crops. More than half of the prairies' precipitation falls as snow.

The eastern section of the Canadian prairies in Manitoba is well watered with several large lakes such as Lake Winnipeg and several large rivers. The area also gets reasonable amounts of precipitation. The middle sections of Alberta and Saskatchewan are also wetter than the south and have better farmland, despite having a shorter frost-free season. The areas around Edmonton and Saskatoon are especially notable as good crop land. However, Edmonton and Saskatoon both lie far enough north that they are surrounded by aspen parkland rather than fescue prairie.

Further north, the area becomes too cold for most agriculture besides wild rice operations and sheep raising, and it is dominated by boreal forest. The Peace Region in northwestern Alberta is an exception, however. It lies north of the 55th Parallel and is warm and dry enough to support extensive farming. Like the area around Edmonton, aspen parkland is a major biome in the Peace Region. The long daylight hours in this region during the summer are an asset despite having an even shorter growing season than central Alberta. In fact, agriculture plays a major economic role in the Peace Region.


Recent growth

Some of the prairie region of Canada has seen rapid growth from a boom in oil production since the mid-20th century.[1] Alberta has seen a record increase in population (second only to Ontario) and Manitoba has experienced record immigration levels.

A typical farm yard on the Prairies


Primary industries include agriculture (wheat, barley, canola, brassica, oats), and cattle and sheep ranching. Also, natural resources such as oil sands (Fort McMurray, Alberta) and other forms of oil production can be found on the plains. Secondary industries consist of the refinement of oils and agriculture processing.

Culture and politics

The Prairies are distinguished from the rest of Canada by unique cultural and political traits. The oldest influence on Prairie culture are the First Nations, who have lived in the area for millennia. The first Europeans to see the Prairies were fur traders and explorers from eastern Canada (mainly present-day Quebec) and Great Britain via Hudson Bay. They gave rise to the Métis, working class "children of the fur trade." Not until the Canadian Pacific Railway was built did widespread agricultural settlement occur. During their settlement, the prairies were settled in distinct ethnic block settlements giving certain areas distinctively Ukrainian, German, French, or Scandinavian Canadian cultures.

Some areas also developed unique cultures around their main economic activity. For example southern Alberta is renowned for its cowboy culture, which developed when real open-range ranching was practiced in the 1880s. Canada's first rodeo, the Raymond Stampede, was established in 1902. These influences are also evident in the music of Canada's Prairie Provinces. This can be attributed partially to the massive influx of American settlers who began to migrate to Alberta (and to a lesser extent, Saskatchewan) in the late 1880s because of the lack of available land in the United States.

The Prairie Provinces have given rise to the famous "prairie protest" movements, such as the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919, the first general strike in Canadian history. These political movements (both of the left and right) tend to feed off of well established feelings of Western alienation, and each one represents a distinct challenge to the perceived Central Canadian elite. The Prairies continue to have a wide range of political views. While the Conservative Party of Canada enjoys widespread support throughout the region, support for the New Democratic Party can be found in certain areas of Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

See also

External links



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