Eastern AlbertaAlberta, Canada. The southern part is an agricultural area, while the north is the focus of Canada's oil sands industry.
- — small lakeside city
- – located on the shores of Lake Athabasca; pop. 850 (accessible by air and seasonal ice roads)
- — long a metonym for Canada's oil sands industry, now rebuilding after a devastating May 2016 wildfire
- — agricultural town that straddles the border with Saskatchewan
- – This massive park marks the northern boundary of this region.
The region was first populated by indigenous peoples. The Chipewyan people (who are part of the Dene or Athapascan language family) lived here at the beginnings of European contact (early 1700s), but were soon joined by the Cree people (from the Algonquian language family) from the east. Both peoples were nomadic and hunted bison (aka "buffalo") on the plains and moose (aka "elk") in the forests and also harvested with many smaller game animals, fish, berries, roots, and so on. Descendants of these original peoples, who are called the "First Nations" in Canada, still live in this region and it is possible to attend a "pow-wow" (a competition or festival centred around traditional music and dancing) here.
They were joined by traders from the fur trading companies from England and eastern Canada seeking valuable beaver furs to send to Europe for the hat-making industries. The traders took the furs from the native people in exchange for exotic and manufactured goods such as flour, pots, knives, blankets, and so on. It is possible to visit several heritage sites related to the fur trade here.
Relations between the fur traders and the indigenous peoples were mostly peaceful and intermarriage was extremely common, leading to the creation of a new ethnic group, the Métis, of mixed European and indigenous culture and heritage. Many of Alberta's Métis today live in this region, and it is possible to hear their traditional Scottish- and French-influenced music and dance here.
In 1870 the Hudson's Bay Company sold its claim over the region to Canada, and Canada then negotiated treaties with the First Nations, confining them to small reserves in exchange for food and medicine (the bison were nearly extinct by this time due to overhunting). A promised railway connection to the rest of Canada did not reach anywhere near here until 1891, when settlers from the rest of Canada and Europe began to arrive in the region.
This region (or the southern, agricultural half) was settled mostly by people of non-British origin, unlike much of Canada and Alberta. The area for a time was home to the largest concentrations of Ukrainian people outside of Europe. They were joined by many French-Canadians, Germans, Scandinavians, Poles, Romanians, Russians, and so on. They were mostly forced to give up their native languages and educate their children in English (as were the First Nations), especially during the paranoia during the First World War when thousands of recent immigrants from the Austro-Hungarian and German Empires were placed in internment camps. Nevertheless, there are still many elements of Eastern European culture present here, and it is possible to eat their traditional foods and enjoy a folk dance performance.
The main industry here for the early settlers was the bulk export of cereal grains, especially wheat, by means of rail. The legacy of this are the many heritage sites related to both agriculture and railways that can be seen here.
Since the 1940s, oil and gas exploration has been the region's major growth industry. Conventional oil and gas continues, but the majority of the investment has shifted north to the oil sands, which are generally mined rather than drilled. It is possible to visit a science centre that explains the process in Fort McMurray, the centre of the industry. While many locals work in those industries, the repeated sudden oil booms have created labour shortages filled by transient and temporary workers from Eastern Canada and a variety of other countries. Whether and how these newcomers will change the communities that long-term settlers and the First Nations have built is an open and unresolved question.
A variety of other languages are spoken by individual people. However, you should not count on your hotel or other businesses to be able to serve you in any other language. They may do so, but it is at their own discretion.
Offices of the federal government of Canada (post offices, passport offices, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and the national parks) are required to be able to serve you both English and French, but this does not mean that every employee is fluent in French, especially in this region. If you need services in French, you will need to have patience with non-fluent speakers or wait for a French-speaking employee to become available.
Via Rail, the national passenger railway, runs through the area but it is an infrequent, slow, and expensive service used mostly by sightseers, passing through on their way to the Rocky Mountains, who rarely stop here. For more information see across Canada by rail.
Likewise, there are several private inter-city bus (aka "coach") companies, but service is limited outside of the larger towns.
Or if you're more into diving deeper into cultures, check out the numerous small museums in this region, especially those with a distinct ethnic component, for example:
Basilian Fathers Museumdedicated to the order of Ukrainian monks who came to Canada to serve as priests to the Ukrianian population when the Roman Catholic hierarchy wouldn't allow any married Eastern Catholic priests in Canada. Also has good general information on Ukrainian culture and immigration to Canada.
Big Valley JamboreeCanada's largest country music festival, the first week of August in Camrose.