Geography: Lecture 9
March 16, 2014
• This region is home to the provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba.
• It is commonly referred to as the Prairies however the northern portions of each province
have a landscape dominated by boreal forest.
• The southern part of the region is heavily agricultural
• Relatively flat topography
• Dry, extreme climate
• Oil in the Western part (Alberta)
• Tourism in the Rocky Mountain Foothills
• High aboriginal population and relatively high Eastern European population
• Alberta: Princess Louise Caroline Alberta was the 4 daughter of Queen Victoria and
• Saskatchewan: Derived from a Cree word meaning “swift flowing water”
• Manitoba: Derived from a Cree word meaning “Lake of the Prairies”
Agricultural Land Settlement
• Before 1869: Lots were narrow and provided frontage along rivers. They were based
on Métis settlement patterns.
• From 1869 onward: Land division was based on grids and square lots 160 acres in
• This pattern preceded European settlement and was superimposed over physical
obstacles and the preceding Métis settlement pattern. Settlement Patterns
• Initially, settlements were arranged in a linear pattern linked to railways.
• Settlements provided services for nearby farmers.
• Towns developed around grain elevators; roughly every third settlement along a railway
was larger and provide more diverse services.
• Each settlement housed frequently used services (i.e. general stores & gas stations)
Rural Population Decline
• Since 1940, the rural population in the Prairies has steadily declined.
1. Farms became larger and more mechanized leading to a lower population
2. Many areas became dominated by grain farms. There is no livestock on these
farms, thus minimal staffing is required.
• Less farms, but larger! Villages are shrinking and cities are growing.
• Since 1940, the population of many villages has declined while towns and cities have
1. Lower rural population density leads
to less business for villages.
2. An increased use of trucks and cars plus an improved and expanded road
network. New highways tended to bypass villages.
3. Rationalization of road and rail systems. Infrequently used transportation
corridors were shut down. Fewer villages resulted in a reduced need to maintain
a dense local road network. Decline in villages → closing local rail lines. Closing
local rail lines → decline in villages.
Sites of Growth
• There are several examples of exceptions to the pattern of decline:
1. Dormitory towns (people live in the town but work in a nearby city such as
Winnipeg or Edmonton).
2. Sites of government services. 3. Resource towns.
Growth of Gateway Cities
• Several cities in the Prairies act as collection and distribution points, often between the
city and the nearby hinterland.
• The size of the gateway city often reflect the quality and extent of the hinterland.
Edmonton → Northern Alberta Hinterland
Prince Albert → Northern Saskatchewan Hinterland. The smaller size of Prince
Albert reflects the fewer economic activities in its hinterland.
Organizing the Land
• As the land surveyors continued progressing westward, they advanced on land occupied
by Aboriginal peoples.
• The 12,000 Métis in the region responded with organized rebellions.
• Other more nomadic Native tribes felt little choice but to sign treaties.
• The British government became concerned about the viability of the lands managed by
• Surveyors were deployed to register the land and organize it into townships divided into
• - A township is 6 miles X 6 miles so a section is 1 mile X 1 mile.
• Each new homesteader was given a quarter of a section.
• They were required to till the land and build a house on that section.
Canadian Pacific Railway
• Sir John A. Macdonald’s vision of Canada included a railway extending from Atlantic to
• The U.S had already completed three transcontinental railways by the 1870s.
• The companies owning the land were reluctant unless they received substantial financial
• CPR was completed in 1885. Challenges Facing Homesteaders
• The land survey system encouraged a dispersed rural population with individual
farmsteads rather than villages.
• This created a sense of isolation.
• Many settlers were not prepared for the climate (cold, drought, wind, thunderstorms,
hail) and the far distance to market.
• Homesteaders were forced to be innovative (e.g. practicing summer fallow).
• Summer Fallow: Practice of leaving land idle for a year or more to accumulate soil
Political Movements in the Prairies
• Several new parties developed in this region as a result of dissatisfaction with Ottawa.
1. CCF (Co-operative Commonwealth Federation). This is ccurrently known as the
New Democratic Party.
2. Social Credit Party. This party had a fundamentalist and religious philosophy. It's
popularity was maximized in the early 1900s.
3. Reform Party (1987-2000). The Reform party was founded by Preston Manning
in Alberta and he was the only person to ever lead the party. It became the official
opposition in Ottawa and then changed its name to the Canadian Alliance.
4. Canadian Alliance (2000-2003). This party was led by Preston Manning and then
Stephen Harper. It merged with the Progressive Conservative Party to form the
current Conservative Party.
Economy in the Prairies
• For the past several years, the Prairies have had the lowest unemployment rate in the
• Even after the global economic crisis, unemployment rates remained well below the
• Majority of the population lives in 1/5 CMAs.
• Most people living in the Hinterland live in resource towns (Fort McMurray, Thompson). Shift to Natural Resources
• The price of oil increased significantly in the 1970s.
• U.S demand for oil/gas from Alberta increased at this time.
• Technological advancements created a method to separate oil from sand thus allowing
output to increase.
• Increased demand for potash has provided a recent boost to the economy in