The huge stretch of land between British Columbia and Ontario contains a region called the Canadian Prairies, a 2,000 km valley of plains, forests, and farmland. Separated into three provinces — Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan — the resource-rich area has served as the nation’s breadbasket and a vital lynchpin in the national market.
While the Prairies are now home to some of Canada’s most important cities, rural lifestyle remains a significant part of the area’s identity. In a time when more and more Canadians live exclusively in downtown flats and make a living sitting in front of computers, the Prairies are a place where farming, mining, and petroleum still create a livelihood for many, and traditional-minded folk live in small, pioneer-founded communities separated by vast areas and open skies.
Geography of the Prairies
The Prairies start where the Rocky Mountains finish, which is to say, Alberta’s western border with British Columbia. Moving east, the landscape proceeds to get really flat very quickly, as BC’s tall forests give way to plains, lowlands, and mountainous areas. The dark soil that lies below is the finest in Canada, and the three Prairie provinces house almost 90 percent of the country’s arable farmland. Vast areas of wheat, barley and other crops remain one of the area’s most iconic sights. Flatness is unquestionably the defining adjective of the area, though the Prairies’ lesser-known and largely underpopulated northern region is a lot more forested and scenic.
Weather-wise, the prairies choice between warm, dry, sunny days and chilly nights, which get especially fierce in the winter. Warm Chinook winds and thunderstorms have helped contribute to the romantic idea of the Prairies as a property with sharp, moody seasons.
Due to the area’s history of aggressive farming and settlement, the inhabitants of the Prairies is more evenly distributed than any other area in Canada, with cities and towns spread all around the interior of the 3 provinces rather than huddled across the U.S. boundary, as is common in the rest of the nation.
History of the Prairies
A lasting monument to the Victorian-era colonization plans of the Canadian federal government, the three Prairie provinces all trace their histories back to 19th century settlement plans. After Ottawa’s acquisition of this massive Rupert’s Land land from the fur-trading Hudson’s Bay Company in 1870, and subsequent creation of this sea-to-sea Canadian Pacific Railroad, Ottawa encouraged “homesteading” — where large swaths of government-owned land were sold to settlers at very low cost — as a means to ensure the speedy occupation and evolution of the new land. It worked, and the late 19th and early 20th centuries saw large waves of immigrant farmers, especially from Germany, Scandinavia, Russia and Ukraine, greatly transform the formerly underpopulated area to a thriving base of Canadian agriculture.
Canada’s farming boom came to an abrupt end during the 1920s and thirties, once the so-called Dust Bowl era of storms, droughts and crop failures further devastated a region already hard hit by the Great Depression (1929-1939). Produced from economic unease, the Prairies quickly became a hotbed of political radicalism; socialism, communism and fascism all climbed in popularity, as did the uniquely Canadian moves of farmer progressivism and Social Credit financial theory. Each of the Prairie provinces retain unorthodox political parties to this day.
Following the economic boom that followed World War II (1939-1945), the Prairie markets stabilized, and were further buoyed by new discoveries of minerals, oil, and natural gas. Steady economic growth has helped the states of this region diversify their economies in recent years, moving away from farming and natural resources in favour of more service-oriented, “white collar” types of employment as more residents start to depart rural life for an urban lifestyle like that of the larger states.