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Derivative work by john2690. Other authors listed on source image page.

The Prairies is a region in the middle of Canada, made up of three provinces: Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. Despite the name, they also contain mountains, hills, lakes, shoreline, and metropolitan cities.
This is a sparsely populated region; each of the provinces has a land area larger than France, or than any US state except Texas or Alaska, but the combined population for all three is under seven million; half of those live in just three cities (Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg) leaving the rest of the region almost empty. Part of the reason for that is that prairie winters are extremely harsh (see winter in North America); this region gets colder than the US states to the south or any of the big cities of Eastern Canada.
The Prairies are known as the Last Best West, a land that was still "open" for settlement after "the frontier" in the United States was closed. Even though Europeans had explored the area as early as the late 17th century, this region was essentially still controlled by the indigenous inhabitants until 1869 (when Canada bought the claim to the region from a British private firm, the Hudson's Bay Company) and their cultures have largely survived down to the present (despite mistreatment by the Canadian authorities). Mass immigration from Eastern Canada and Europe started in earnest only in the 1890s, and vast areas were still being cleared for new agriculture until 1939 (and to a lesser extent right to the present).
Agriculture remains the dominant economic activity in terms of land use, but it has consolidated into such vast farms that the percentage of people who actually live on the land is miniscule. More important now for the prairie economy is the often controversial extraction of crude oil and natural gas, including the famous "tar sands"/"oil sands" of northern Alberta.
From this natural wealth, prairie Canadians have built societies with extremely high qualities of life, combining American-style low taxes and free enterprise with more European-like levels of public health care and education spending; in fact Canada's socialized health insurance system was pioneered in Saskatchewan. Prairie cities are favorably ranked by surveys with Calgary regularly challenging Melbourne and Zurich as among the "most livable" on earth, while smaller places like St. Albert often take the Canadian title. Most of the current political debate here is whether this enviable political and economic success can be sustained in a future when oil and gas demand may eventually peak.



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