Beautiful Alberta is a spectacular photographic portrait of Canada's most prosperous province. It reveals the resplendent natural beauty of the West's towering mountains, cerulean lakes, man-made cities and unique architecture that come together in this awe-inspiring slice of the country.
Mike Grandmaison's perceptive eye has captured what makes Alberta special in the 125 exquisite photographs in this handsome collection. With a population of 4.1 million and a land area of 661,848 km2 (255,541 sq mi), Alberta is Canada's fourth-largest province and contains within it distinct and varied topographies, from prairies and badlands, to boreal forests and mountain regions. Alberta's urban areas are no less impressive with portraits of Calgary, Edmonton and Fort McMurray. Renowned for its natural tourist attractions, its towns such as Banff, Canmore, Drumheller and Jasper accommodate legions of visitors throughout the year.
Alberta is home to a range of animals, including bison, grizzly and black bears, big horn sheep and mountain goats. The abundance of flora and fauna within Alberta's borders contrasts with the vast industrial tracts devoted to extracting and processing oil, which is the province's economic lifeblood. The photographs presented in Beautiful Alberta will inspire readers to explore this varied and interesting part of Canada.
Mike Grandmaison lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba and is known for his landscape photography. His other books include Canada (text by Shelagh Rogers), The Rockies and Georgian Bay.
Alberta is a province of superlatives. From majestic mountains to the big skies of the vast, open prairies, to the eerie landscape where dinosaurs once roamed to its plentiful wildlife, Alberta figures prominently in Canada's vast landscapes. Moraine Lake, surrounded by Valley of the Ten Peaks in the magnificent Canadian Rockies, was featured on the back of the old Canadian twenty-dollar bill. Songs like "Four Strong Winds" by Alberta's own Ian and Sylvia Tyson, as well as Gordon Lightfoot's "Alberta Bound" and Stompin Tom Connors' "Alberta Rose" praise the beauty and longing for life in Canada's most westerly of the three prairie provinces. Alberta's striking beauty is preserved in more than 500 parks and protected areas including five national parks: Banff, Jasper, Waterton Lakes, Elk Island and Wood Buffalo; and five of Canada's 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, Wood Buffalo National Park, Dinosaur Provincial Park, Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks and Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park. Alberta has always been a favorite destination.
Northern Alberta was originally part of the North-Western Territory until 1870 when the newly formed Canadian Government purchased Rupert's Land. In 1882, both the North-Western Territory and Rupert's Land then became Canada's North-West Territories. Finally, in 1905, the District of Alberta was enlarged and assumed provincial status as it entered Confederation along with the province of Saskatchewan. With an area of 661,848 km2, Alberta is a sizeable province bordered to the west by British Columbia, to the east by Saskatchewan, to the north by the Northwest Territories and to the south by the state of Montana in the United States. Its highest point is Mount Columbia in the Rocky Mountains along the southwest border at 3,747 meters at the summit, while its lowest point is on the Slave River in Wood Buffalo National Park at 152 meters.
Alberta is Canada's fourth most populated province, with an estimated 4,145,992 people living in Alberta, behind Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia respectively. The capital city Edmonton, located approximately in the geographic center of the province, is the most northerly major Canadian city. Together with Alberta's biggest city, Calgary, these two cities make up about half of the province's population. This Calgary-Edmonton Corridor is the most urbanized region in the province as well as one of the densest in all of Canada. While Edmonton is the gateway and hub for resource development in northern Canada, Calgary acts as the financial center for western Canada because of its role in the development of oil and gas exploration in the region.
Alberta has one of the country's strongest economies. It is Canada's largest producer of conventional crude oil, synthetic crude, natural gas and gas products. It is also the world's largest exporter of natural gas as well as the world's fourth largest producer. Agriculture, while historically important, remains a sustainable industry in Alberta with cereal crops of wheat and canola and a strong world market in the cattle industry. With its more than three million head of cattle, Alberta produces more than half of all Canadian beef. The forest sector continues to produce large quantities of lumber, plywood and oriented strand board (OSB), while several plants in northern Alberta supply North America and the Pacific Rim nations with bleached wood pulp and newsprint. Tourism has played an important role in drawing visitors worldwide to its many natural attractions, including the majestic Canadian Rocky Mountains and the peculiar badlands in the Red River Valley, as well as the urban attractions of the Calgary Stampede and Edmonton's K-Days and the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village.
I lived in Edmonton and surroundings for nearly seven years starting in the late 1970s. I have since traveled back to Alberta more than a dozen times to visit family and friends, to vacation and to work. I have explored much of the province's landscape from east to west and north to south. I have driven its roads, canoed and boated its waterways, hiked and cross-country skied many of its trails and I have seen much of it from the air too! I have been fortunate to get to know Alberta as few people have.
Alberta offers a diversity of habitats. We find six natural regions within its borders: the Rocky Mountains, the foothills, the boreal forest, the Canadian Shield, the Parkland and the grasslands.
The Rocky Mountains are a national treasure and represent about 7.4 percent of Alberta's total area. They are one of Canada's most popular destinations, second only to Ontario's Niagara Falls. From Alberta's southern border with Montana, they form the western boundary with British Columbia as far north as Grande Cache at which point the Rockies veer westward into neighbouring British Columbia. The region is famous for its national parks such as Banff (Canada's first national park and the world's first international park), Jasper and Waterton Lakes (the world's first international park). But it also includes many other parks and preserves of equal beauty in Kananaskis Country and the Wilmore Wilderness. One of the country's most scenic drives is the Icefields Parkway running north south through Jasper and Banff national parks. Maligne Lake and its famous Spirit Island is the largest lake in these breathtaking Canadian Rockies at 22 kilometers long. Peyto Lake, Bow Lake, Moraine Lake and Lake Louise are immensely popular as much because of their deep rich blue color from the suspended glacial calcium particles otherwise known as glacial flour as because of their picturesque and awe-inspiring settings. Vermillion Lakes, along with Pyramid Lake, Patricia Lake and Herbert Lake offer wonderful photographic opportunities. Deep canyons like Maligne Canyon, Mistaya Canyon and Johnston Canyon offer vantage points where the erosional power of torrential flows from rivers during the last ice age carved through the mountains can be witnessed. There are also many lesser well-known locations which are just as stunning for different reasons, places like Horseshoe Lake, Cameron Lake, Spillway Lake and the Kootenay Plains Ecological Reserve to name a few.
What defines this region are the mountains, the high foothills, the deep glacial valleys, the bare rock, the glaciers and the snowfields. Summers tend to be cool and short while winters are typically long, cold and snowy. At lower elevations, coniferous forests of lodgepole pine dominate with grasslands and mixed-wood forests in the valley bottoms and warmer slopes. Higher in the sub-alpine zone stands of Engelmann spruce and subalpine fir are the norm and, approaching the alpine zone, stunted trees form the tree line. Higher still is the alpine zone where alpine meadows of colorful wildflowers and bare rock finally give way to exposed slopes of bare rock, glaciers and ice fields. The longest river in the province, the Athabasca River, begins at the Columbia Icefields and flows 1,538 kilometers to Lake Athabasca in the north but first spills over at the famous Athabasca Falls in Jasper National Park. Wildlife is abundant in the mountains and foothills. Many species such as the grizzly bear, the Bighorn sheep, mountain goat, pika, hoary marmot and Clark's Nutcracker are typically found in the mountains along with elk, mule deer, moose, coyote, wolf, cougar and the Columbian ground squirrel, to name a few.
Surprisingly, the forests, not the prairies, account for a large portion of Alberta's surface area. The Boreal Forest Natural is the largest forest in Alberta and it alone covers 48 percent of the province. It manifests itself as a nearly continuous belt of coniferous trees of black and white spruce, balsam fir and jack pine broken by wetlands, rivers and lakes. The mighty Athabasca, Smoky, Peace and Hay rivers run through the boreal forest. The Aspen Parkland, which covers about 12 percent of the province, is a transitional forest between the prairie and boreal forest and is comprised of poplars and spruce interspersed with prairie grasslands. An excellent example of this is Elk Island National Park, which also protects herds of plains and wood bison. The plains bison used to roam the Canadian Prairies in the millions before they were hunted nearly to extinction. The Aspen Parkland is one of Alberta's richest agricultural regions, but much of the original aspen parkland survives only as small fragments (less than 5 percent) because of the expansion of farming. Four significantly different habitats are commonly found in the aspen parklands: the fescue prairie, the woodlands, the ravines and the wetlands and lakes. About 1.5 percent of the province is covered by the Canadian Shield, 2 billion-year old rock formations in the northeastern part of the province that was carved by the glaciers. Typical wildlife that live in the forests include black bear, wolf, moose, deer, elk, beaver and lynx, as well as the endangered Whooping Crane and the threatened boreal Woodland caribou. Forestry, mining and oil-and-gas industries are important industries in the forest region.
The grasslands region, which represents about 14 percent of Alberta, is found in Southern Alberta. While the landscape is mostly flat, small hills, valleys, coulees, sand hills and badlands make the prairie landscape even more complex. The grasslands region is subtler, with a restrained color palette. This is the hottest region in the province with warm, dry summers that are often windy. Winters tend to be cold but without much snow. In the early 1900s, the region was mostly covered with a natural prairie of grasses and forbs, like the wild rose, Alberta's provincial flower. But today most of the region has been transformed into cropland with wheat and canola as two of the more important crops. Irrigation is practiced in some parts of the province. Farmers and ranchers raise cattle, horses, sheep and other animals. Because the region also has oil and gas, oil pump jacks commonly dot the landscape. Wildlife consisting of ground squirrels (golfers), deer, pronghorn, coyotes, hares, foxes and a variety of hawks, owls and songbirds are common in this region.
Many of Alberta's cities are built along the major waterways that cut though the prairie like the North Saskatchewan River (Edmonton), the South Saskatchewan River (Medicine Hat), the Bow River (Calgary), the Oldman River (Lethbridge), the Red Deer River (Red Deer) and the Athabasca River (Fort McMurray). Lamont County, east of Edmonton, is known as the Church Capital of Canada with 47 churches -- many of which are of Ukrainian heritage -- more than anywhere else in North America.
A few prairie locations deserve special mention. Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump Provincial Park, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, protects a site where hunters once drove plains bison over cliffs some 5,700 years ago and where remaining piles of bones at the base can measure up to 10 meters deep. Cypress Hills Provincial Park is the highest point in central Canada at almost 1,500 meters in elevation. This plateau was never glaciated and plants and animals found here are not found in the surrounding area. A lesser well-known but very interesting prairie site is Red Rock Coulee Natural Preserve where roundish sandstone concretions measuring up to 2 meters in height are scattered along a coulee like marbles.
Interspersed through the grasslands region, the badlands feature a desert-like habitat that is the warmest and driest of all habitats found in Alberta. Carved by glaciers and eroded by wind and water, this eerie landscape made up principally of clay is the world's richest fossil bed of late Cretaceous dinosaurs. Three locations are of particular interest. Dinosaur Provincial Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site where dinosaurs roamed 75 million years ago and where hoodoos -- sandstone pillars -- are a prominent feature. Further down the Red Deer River, the badlands in East Coulee near Drumheller house the world-class Royal Tyrrell Museum. In southern Alberta near the Montana border and along the Milk River, Writingon-Stone Provincial Park features more badlands as well as the greatest concentration of aboriginal rock paintings and carvings on the North American Great Plains. The park also encompasses the largest area of protected prairie in the Alberta park system where mule deer, jackrabbits, short-horned lizards, scorpions, rattlesnake coexist with cactus, tumbleweed and sagebrush, as well as cottonwood and willow trees along the rivers.
"Wild rose country" is a place I lived, worked and played. It's also a place I always look forward to returning to. I hope that the following selection of photographs inspire you to visit Alberta and appreciate all it has to offer.