Alberta /ælˈbɜrtə/ is a province of Canada. With a population of 3,645,257 in 2011, it is Canada's fourth-most populous province and most populous of Canada's three prairie provinces. Alberta and its neighbour, Saskatchewan, were established as provinces on September 1,1905.
Alberta is located in western Canada, bounded by the provinces of British Columbia to the west and Saskatchewan to the east, the Northwest Territories to the north, and the U.S. state of Montana to the south. Alberta is one of three Canadian provinces and territories to border only a single U.S. state and is also one of only two provinces that are landlocked.
Edmonton, the capital city of Alberta, is located near the geographic centre of the province and is the primary supply and service hub for Canada's crude oil and also oil sands (Athabasca Oil Sands) and other northern resource industries. Approximately 290 km (180 mi) south of the capital is Calgary, Alberta's largest city. Calgary and Edmonton centre Alberta's two census metropolitan areas, both of which have populations exceeding one million, while the province has agglomerations. Notable tourist destinations in the province include Banff, Canmore, Drumheller, Jasper and Sylvan Lake.
Alberta is named after Princess Louise Caroline Alberta (1848–1939),the fourth daughter of Victoria, the Queen of Canada until 1901, and Albert, Prince Consort. Princess Louise was the wife of the Marquess of Lorne, Governor General of Canada from 1878 to 1883. Lake Louise and Mount Alberta were also named in honour of Princess Louise.
Alberta, with an area of 661,848 km2 (255,500 sq mi), is the fourth largest province after Quebec, Ontario, and British Columbia. To the south, the province borders on the 49th parallel north, separating it from the U.S. state of Montana, while on the north the 60th parallel north divides it from the Northwest Territories. To the east the 110th meridian west separates it from the province of Saskatchewan, while on the west its boundary with British Columbia follows the 120th meridian west south from the Northwest Territories at 60°N until it reaches the Continental Divide at the Rocky Mountains, and from that point follows the line of peaks marking the Continental Divide in a generally southeasterly direction until it reaches the Montana border at 49°N.
With the exception of the semi-arid steppe of the southeastern section, the province has adequate water resources. There are numerous rivers and lakes used for swimming, fishing and a range of water sports. There are three large lakes, Lake Claire (1,436 km2 (554 sq mi)) in Wood Buffalo National Park, Lesser Slave Lake (1,168 km2 (451 sq mi)), and Lake Athabasca (7,898 square kilometres (3,049 sq mi)) which lies in both Alberta and Saskatchewan. The longest river in the province is the Athabasca River which travels 1,538 km (956 mi) from the Columbia Icefield in the Rocky Mountains to Lake Athabasca. The largest river is the Peace River with an average flow of 2161 m3/s. The Peace River originates in the Rocky Mountains of northern British Columbia and flows through northern Alberta and into the Slave River, a tributary of the Mackenzie River.
Alberta's capital city, Edmonton, is located approximately in the geographic centre of the province. It is the most northerly major city in Canada, and serves as a gateway and hub for resource development in northern Canada. The region, with its proximity to Canada's largest oil fields, has most of western Canada's oil refinery capacity. Calgary is located approximately 280 km (170 mi) south of Edmonton and 240 km (150 mi) north of Montana, surrounded by extensive ranching country. Almost 75% of the province's population lives in the Calgary–Edmonton Corridor. The land grant policy to the railroads served as a means to populate the province in its early years.
Most of the northern half of the province is boreal forest, while the Rocky Mountains along the southwestern boundary are largely forested (see Alberta Mountain forests and Alberta-British Columbia foothills forests). The southern quarter of the province is prairie, ranging from shortgrass prairie in the southeastern corner to mixed grass prairie in an arc to the west and north of it. The central aspen parkland region extending in a broad arc between the prairies and the forests, from Calgary, north to Edmonton, and then east to Lloydminster, contains the most fertile soil in the province and most of the population. Much of the unforested part of Alberta is given over either to grain or to dairy farming, with mixed farming more common in the north and centre, while ranching and irrigated agriculture predominate in the south.
The Alberta badlands are located in southeastern Alberta, where the Red Deer River crosses the flat prairie and farmland, and features deep canyons and striking landforms. Dinosaur Provincial Park, near Brooks, Alberta, showcases the badlands terrain, desert flora, and remnants from Alberta's past when dinosaurs roamed the then lush landscape.
Alberta has a dry continental climate with warm summers and cold winters. The province is open to cold arctic weather systems from the north, which often produce extremely cold conditions in winter. As the fronts between the air masses shift north and south across Alberta, the temperature can change rapidly. Arctic air masses in the winter produce extreme minimum temperatures varying from −54 °C (−65 °F) in northern Alberta to −46 °C (−51 °F) in southern Alberta. In the summer, continental air masses produce maximum temperatures from 32 °C (90 °F) in the mountains to 40 °C (104 °F) in southern Alberta.
Alberta extends for over 1,200 km (750 mi) from north to south; its climate, therefore, varies considerably. Average high temperatures in January range from 0 °C (32 °F) in the southwest to −24 °C (−11 °F) in the far north. The climate is also influenced by the presence of the Rocky Mountains to the southwest, which disrupt the flow of the prevailing westerly winds and causes them to drop most of their moisture on the western slopes of the mountain ranges before reaching the province, casting a rain shadow over much of Alberta. The northerly location and isolation from the weather systems of the Pacific Ocean cause Alberta to have a dry climate with little moderation from the ocean. Annual precipitation ranges from 300 mm (12 in) in the southeast to 450 mm (18 in) in the north, except in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains where total precipitation including snowfall can reach 600 mm (24 in) annually. The province is the namesake of the Alberta clipper, a type of intense, fast-moving winter storm that generally forms over or near the province and descends with great speed over the rest of Canada and the northern United States.
In the summer, the average daytime temperatures range from around 21 °C (70 °F) in the Rocky Mountain valleys and far north, up to around 28 °C (82 °F) in the dry prairie of the southeast. The northern and western parts of the province experience higher rainfall and lower evaporation rates caused by cooler summer temperatures. The south and east-central portions are prone to drought-like conditions sometimes persisting for several years, although even these areas can receive heavy precipitation. Alberta is a sunny province. Annual bright sunshine totals range between 1900 up to just under 2600 hours per year. Northern Alberta gets about 18 hours of daylight in the summer.
In southwestern Alberta, the cold winters are frequently interrupted by warm, dry chinook winds blowing from the mountains, which can propel temperatures upward from frigid conditions to well above the freezing point in a very short period. During one chinook recorded at Pincher Creek, temperatures soared from −19 to 22 °C (−2.2 to 72 °F) in just one hour. The region around Lethbridge has the most chinooks, averaging 30 to 35 chinook days per year. Calgary has a 56% chance of a white Christmas, while Edmonton has an 86% chance.
Northern Alberta is mostly covered by boreal forest and has a subarctic climate. The agricultural area of southern Alberta has a semi-arid steppe climate because the annual precipitation is less than the water that evaporates or is used by plants. The southeastern corner of Alberta, part of the Palliser Triangle, experiences greater summer heat and lower rainfall than the rest of the province, and as a result suffers frequent crop yield problems and occasional severe droughts. Western Alberta is protected by the mountains and enjoys the mild temperatures brought by winter chinook winds. Central and parts of northwestern Alberta in the Peace River region are largely aspen parkland, a biome transitional between prairie to the south and boreal forest to the north.
After Southern Ontario, The Prairies and Central Alberta is the most likely region in Canada to experience tornadoes. Thunderstorms, some of them severe, are frequent in the summer, especially in central and southern Alberta. The region surrounding the Calgary–Edmonton Corridor is notable for having the highest frequency of hail in Canada, which is caused by orographic lifting from the nearby Rocky Mountains, enhancing the updraft/downdraft cycle necessary for the formation of hail.
Alberta is home to many large carnivores. Among them are the grizzly and black bears, which are found in the mountains and wooded regions. Smaller carnivores of the canine and feline families include coyotes, wolves, fox, lynx, bobcat and mountain lion (cougar).
Herbivorous animals are found throughout the province. Moose, mule deer, elk, and white-tail deer are found in the wooded regions, and pronghorn can be found in the prairies of southern Alberta. Bighorn sheep and mountain goats live in the Rocky Mountains. Rabbits, porcupines, skunks, squirrels and many species of rodents and reptiles live in every corner of the province. Alberta is home to only one variety of venomous snake, the prairie rattlesnake.
Central and northern Alberta and the region farther north is the nesting ground of many migratory birds. Vast numbers of ducks, geese, swans and pelicans arrive in Alberta every spring and nest on or near one of the hundreds of small lakes that dot northern Alberta. Eagles, hawks, owls and crows are plentiful, and a huge variety of smaller seed and insect-eating birds can be found. Alberta, like other temperate regions, is home to mosquitoes, flies, wasps, and bees. Rivers and lakes are populated with pike, walleye, whitefish, rainbow, speckled, brown trout, and sturgeon. Bull Trout, native to the province, is the Alberta's provincial fish. Turtles are found in some water bodies in the southern part of the province. Frogs and salamanders are a few of the amphibians that make their homes in Alberta.
Alberta is the only province in Canada—as well as one of the few places in the world—that is free of rats. Since the early 1950s, the Government of Alberta has operated a rat-control program, which has been so successful that only isolated instances of wild rat sightings are reported, usually of rats arriving in the province aboard trucks or by rail. In 2006, Alberta Agriculture reports zero findings of wild rats; the only rat interceptions have been domesticated rats that have been seized from their owners. It is illegal for individual Albertans to own or keep Norwegian rats of any description; the animals can be kept in the province by only zoos, universities and colleges, and recognized research institutions. In 2009, several rats were found and captured, in small pockets in southern Alberta, putting Alberta's rat-free status in jeopardy. Colonies of rats were subsequently found in a landfill near Medicine Hat in 2012.
Paleo-Indians arrived in Alberta at least 10,000 years ago, toward the end of the last ice age. They are thought to have migrated from Siberia to Alaska on a land bridge across the Bering Strait, and then may have moved down the east side of the Rocky Mountains through Alberta to settle the Americas. Others may have migrated down the coast of British Columbia and then moved inland. Over time they differentiated into various First Nations peoples, including the Plains Indian tribes of southern Alberta such as those of the Blackfoot Confederacy and the Plains Cree, who generally lived by hunting buffalo (American bison), and the more northerly tribes such as the Woodland Cree and Chipewyan who hunted, trapped, and fished for a living.
After the British arrival in Canada, approximately half of the province of Alberta, south of the Athabasca River drainage, became part of Rupert's Land which consisted of all land drained by rivers flowing into Hudson Bay. This area was granted by Charles II of England to the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) in 1670, and rival fur trading companies were not allowed to trade in it. After the arrival of French Canadians in the west around 1731, they settled near fur trading posts, establishing communities such as Lac La Biche and Bonnyville. Fort La Jonquière was established near what is now Calgary in 1752.
The extreme southernmost portion of Alberta was part of the French (and Spanish) territory of Louisiana, sold to the United States in 1803; in 1818, the portion of Louisiana north of the Forty-Ninth Parallel was ceded to Great Britain.
Fur trade expanded in the north, but bloody battles occurred between the rival HBC and NWC, and in 1821 the British government forced them to merge to stop the hostilities. The amalgamated Hudson's Bay Company dominated trade in Alberta until 1870, when the newly formed Canadian Government purchased Rupert's Land. Northern Alberta was included in the North-Western Territory until 1870, when it and Rupert's land became Canada's Northwest Territories.
The District of Alberta was created as part of the North-West Territories in 1882. As settlement increased, local representatives to the North-West Legislative Assembly were added. After a long campaign for autonomy, in 1905 the District of Alberta was enlarged and given provincial status, with the election of Alexander Cameron Rutherford as the first premier.
Alberta's population has grown steadily for over a century.
In the 2011 census, Alberta had a population of 3,645,257 living in 1,390,275 of its 1,505,007 total dwellings, a 10.8% change from its 2006 population of 3,290,350. With a land area of 640,081.87 km2 (247,136.99 sq mi), it had a population density of 5.7/km2 (14.7/sq mi) in 2011.In 2013, Statistics Canada estimated the province's population to be 4,025,073.
Alberta has experienced a relatively high rate of growth in recent years, mainly because of its burgeoning economy. Between 2003 and 2004, the province had high birthrates (on par with some larger provinces such as British Columbia), relatively high immigration, and a high rate of interprovincial migration when compared to other provinces.
Approximately 81% of the population live in urban areas and only about 19% live in rural areas. The Calgary-Edmonton Corridor is the most urbanized area in the province and is one of the most densely populated areas of Canada. Many of Alberta's cities and towns have also experienced very high rates of growth in recent history. Over the past century, Alberta's population rose from 73,022 in 1901 to 2,974,807 in 2001 and 3,290,350 according to the 2006 census.
English is the most common mother tongue of Albertans.
The 2006 census found that English, with 2,576,670 native speakers, was the most common mother tongue of Albertans, representing 79.99% of the province's population. The next most common mother tongues were various Chinese languages with 97,275 native speakers (3.02%), followed by German with 84,505 native speakers (2.62%) and French with 61,225 (1.90%).
Other mother tongues (in decreasing order) include: Punjabi, with 36,320 native speakers (1.13%); Tagalog, with 29,740 (0.92%); Ukrainian, with 29,455 (0.91%); Spanish, with 29,125 (0.90%); Polish, with 21,990 (0.68%); Arabic, with 20,495 (0.64%); Dutch, with 19,980 (0.62%); and Vietnamese, with 19,350 (0.60%). The most common aboriginal language is Cree 17,215 (0.53%). Other common mother tongues include Italian with 13,095 speakers (0.41%); Urdu with 11,275 (0.35%); and Korean with 10,845 (0.33%); then Hindi 8,985 (0.28%); Persian 7,700 (0.24%); Portuguese 7,205 (0.22%); and Hungarian 6,770 (0.21%).
(Figures shown are for the number of single language responses and the percentage of total single-language responses.)
Alberta has considerable ethnic diversity. In line with the rest of Canada, many immigrants originated from England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, but large numbers also came from other parts of Europe, notably Germany, France, Ukraine and Scandinavia. According to Statistics Canada, Alberta is home to the second highest proportion (two percent) of Francophones in western Canada (after Manitoba). Despite this, relatively few Albertans claim French as their mother tongue. Many of Alberta's French-speaking residents live in the central and northwestern regions of the province.
As reported in the 2001 census, the Chinese represented nearly four percent of Alberta's population, and East Indians represented more than two percent. Both Edmonton and Calgary have historic Chinatowns, and Calgary has Canada's third largest Chinese community. The Chinese presence began with workers employed in the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway in the 1880s. Aboriginal Albertans make up approximately three percent of the population.
In the 2006 Canadian census, the most commonly reported ethnic origins among Albertans were: 885,825 English (27.2%); 679,705 German (20.9%); 667,405 Canadian (20.5%); 661,265 Scottish (20.3%); 539,160 Irish (16.6%); 388,210 French (11.9%); 332,180 Ukrainian (10.2%); 172,910 Dutch (5.3%); 170,935 Polish (5.2%); 169,355 North American Indian (5.2%); 144,585 Norwegian (4.4%); and 137,600 Chinese (4.2%). (Each person could choose as many ethnicities as were applicable.)
Amongst those of British origins, the Scots have had a particularly strong influence on place-names, with the names of many cities and towns including Calgary, Airdrie, Canmore, and Banff having Scottish origins.
Alberta has a large number of different religions, of which Catholicism is the most common.
Alberta is the third most diverse province in terms of visible minorities after British Columbia and Ontario with 13.9% of the population consisting of minorities. Nearly one-fourth of the populations of Calgary and Edmonton belong to a visible minority group.
As of the Canada 2001 Census the largest religious group was Roman Catholic, representing 25.7% of the population. Alberta had the second highest percentage of non-religious residents in Canada (after British Columbia) at 23.1% of the population. Of the remainder, 13.5% of the population identified themselves as belonging to the United Church of Canada, while 5.9% were Anglican. Lutherans made up 4.8% of the population while Baptists comprised 2.5%.
Muslims, Sikhs, and Hindus live in Alberta. Muslims constituted 1.7% of the population, Sikhs 0.8% and Hindus 0.5%. Many of these are recent immigrants, but others have roots that go back to the first settlers of the prairies. Canada's oldest mosque, the Al-Rashid Mosque, is located in Edmonton, whereas Calgary is home to Canada's largest mosque, the Baitun Nur mosque. Jews constituted 0.4% of Alberta's population. Most of Alberta's 13,000 Jews live in Calgary (7,500) and Edmonton (5,000).
Alberta's economy is one of the strongest in Canada, supported by the burgeoning petroleum industry and to a lesser extent, agriculture and technology. The per capita GDP in 2007 was by far the highest of any province in Canada at C$74,825. This was 61% higher than the national average of C$46,441 and more than twice that of some of the Atlantic provinces. In 2006 the deviation from the national average was the largest for any province in Canadian history. According to the 2006 census, the median annual family income after taxes was $70,986 in Alberta (compared to $60,270 in Canada as a whole).
The Calgary-Edmonton Corridor is the most urbanized region in the province and one of the densest in Canada. The region covers a distance of roughly 400 kilometres north to south. In 2001, the population of the Calgary-Edmonton Corridor was 2.15 million (72% of Alberta's population). It is also one of the fastest growing regions in the country. A 2003 study by TD Bank Financial Group found the corridor to be the only Canadian urban centre to amass a U.S. level of wealth while maintaining a Canadian style quality of life, offering universal health care benefits. The study found that GDP per capita in the corridor was 10% above average U.S. metropolitan areas and 40% above other Canadian cities at that time.
The Fraser Institute states that Alberta also has very high levels of economic freedom and rates Alberta as the freest economy in Canada, and the second freest economy amongst U.S. states and Canadian provinces.
Alberta is the largest producer of conventional crude oil, synthetic crude, and natural gas and gas products in Canada. Alberta is the world’s second largest exporter of natural gas and the fourth largest producer. Two of the largest producers of petrochemicals in North America are located in central and north-central Alberta. In both Red Deer and Edmonton, polyethylene and vinyl manufacturers produce products that are shipped all over the world. Edmonton's oil refineries provide the raw materials for a large petrochemical industry to the east of Edmonton.
The Athabasca oil sands surrounding Fort McMurray have estimated unconventional oil reserves approximately equal to the conventional oil reserves of the rest of the world, estimated to be 1.6 trillion barrels (254 km3). Many companies employ both conventional strip mining and non-conventional in situ methods to extract the bitumen from the oil sands. As of late 2006 there were over $100 billion in oil sands projects under construction or in the planning stages in northeastern Alberta.
Another factor determining the viability of oil extraction from the oil sands is the price of oil. The oil price increases since 2003 have made it profitable to extract this oil, which in the past would give little profit or even a loss.
With concerted effort and support from the provincial government, several high-tech industries have found their birth in Alberta, notably patents related to interactive liquid crystal display systems. With a growing economy, Alberta has several financial institutions dealing with civil and private funds.
Agriculture and forestry
Agriculture has a significant position in the province's economy. The province has over three million head of cattle, and Alberta beef has a healthy worldwide market. Nearly one half of all Canadian beef is produced in Alberta. Alberta is one of the top producers of plains buffalo (bison) for the consumer market. Sheep for wool and mutton are also raised.
Wheat and canola are primary farm crops, with Alberta leading the provinces in spring wheat production; other grains are also prominent. Much of the farming is dryland farming, often with fallow seasons interspersed with cultivation. Continuous cropping (in which there is no fallow season) is gradually becoming a more common mode of production because of increased profits and a reduction of soil erosion. Across the province, the once common grain elevator is slowly being lost as rail lines are decreasing; farmers typically truck the grain to central points.
Alberta is the leading beekeeping province of Canada, with some beekeepers wintering hives indoors in specially designed barns in southern Alberta, then migrating north during the summer into the Peace River valley where the season is short but the working days are long for honeybees to produce honey from clover and fireweed. Hybrid canola also requires bee pollination, and some beekeepers service this need.
The vast northern forest reserves of softwood allow Alberta to produce large quantities of lumber, oriented strand board (OSB) and plywood, and several plants in northern Alberta supply North America and the Pacific Rim nations with bleached wood pulp and newsprint.
Alberta has been a tourist destination from the early days of the twentieth century, with attractions including outdoor locales for skiing, hiking and camping, shopping locales such as West Edmonton Mall, Calgary Stampede, outdoor festivals, professional athletic events, international sporting competitions such as the Commonwealth Games and Olympic Games, as well as more eclectic attractions. There are also natural attractions like Elk Island National Park, Wood Buffalo National Park, and the Columbia Icefield.
According to Alberta Economic Development, Calgary and Edmonton both host over four million visitors annually. Banff, Jasper and the Rocky Mountains are visited by about three million people per year. Alberta tourism relies heavily on Southern Ontario tourists, as well as tourists from other parts of Canada, the United States, and many international countries.
Alberta's Rocky Mountains include well-known tourist destinations Banff National Park and Jasper National Park. The two mountain parks are connected by the scenic Icefields Parkway. Banff is located 128 km (80 mi) west of Calgary on Highway 1, and Jasper is located 366 km (227 mi) west of Edmonton on Yellowhead Highway. Five of Canada's fourteen UNESCO World heritage sites are located within the province: Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks, Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, Wood Buffalo National Park, Dinosaur Provincial Park and Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump.
About 1.2 million people visit the of Calgary Stampede, a celebration of Canada's own Wild West and the cattle ranching industry. About 700,000 people enjoy Edmonton's K-Days (formerly Klondike Days and Capital EX). Edmonton was the gateway to the only all-Canadian route to the Yukon gold fields, and the only route which did not require gold-seekers to travel the exhausting and dangerous Chilkoot Pass.
Another tourist destination that draws more than 650,000 visitors each year is the Drumheller Valley, located northeast of Calgary. Drumheller, "Dinosaur Capital of The World", offers the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology. Drumheller also had a rich mining history being one of Western Canada's largest coal producers during the war years.
Located in east-central Alberta is Alberta Prairie Railway Excursions, a popular tourist attraction operated out of Stettler that offers train excursions into the prairie and caters to tens of thousands of visitors every year.
Alberta has numerous ski resorts most notably Sunshine Village, Lake Louise, Marmot Basin, Norquay and Nakiska.
Government and politics
The Government of Alberta is organized as a parliamentary democracy with a unicameral legislature. Its unicameral legislature—the Legislative Assembly—consists of eighty-seven members elected first past the post (FPTP) from single-member constituencies.
Locally municipal governments and school boards are elected and operate separately. Their boundaries do not necessarily coincide. Municipalities where the same body act as both local government and school board are formally referred to as "counties" in Alberta.
As Canada's head of state, Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state for the Government of Alberta. Her duties in Alberta are carried out by Lieutenant Governor Donald Ethell. Although the lieutenant governor is technically the most powerful person in Alberta, he is in reality a figurehead whose actions are restricted by custom and constitutional convention. The government is therefore headed by the premier. The current premier is Alison Redford who was elected as leader of the governing Progressive Conservatives on October 1, 2011. Redford was sworn in as the 14th Premier of Alberta on October 7, 2011. The Premier is a Member of the Legislative Assembly, and she draws all the members of her Cabinet from among the members of the Legislative Assembly.
The City of Edmonton is the seat of the provincial government—the capital of Alberta.
Alberta's elections tend to yield results which are much more conservative than those of other Canadian provinces. Alberta has traditionally had three political parties, the Progressive Conservatives ("Conservatives" or "Tories"), the Liberals, and the social democratic New Democrats. A fourth party, the strongly conservative Social Credit Party, was a power in Alberta for many decades, but fell from the political map after the Progressive Conservatives came to power in 1971. Since that time, no other political party has governed Alberta.
Alberta has had occasional surges in separatist sentiment. Even during the 1980s, when these feelings were at their strongest, there has never been enough interest in secession to initiate any major movements or referendums. There are several currently active groups wishing to promote the independence of Alberta in some form.
In the 2008 provincial election, held on March 3, 2008, the Progressive Conservative Party was re-elected as a majority government with 72 of 83 seats, the Alberta Liberal Party was elected as the Official Opposition with nine members, and two Alberta New Democratic Party members were elected.
Alberta provides a publicly funded health care system for all its citizens and residents as set out by the provisions of the Canada Health Act of 1984. Alberta became Canada's second province (after Saskatchewan) to adopt a Tommy Douglas-style program in 1950, a precursor to the modern medicare system.
Alberta's health care budget is currently $17.1 billion during the 2013–2014 fiscal year (approximately 45% of all government spending), making it the best funded health care system per-capita in Canada. Every hour more than $1.9 million is spent on health care in the province.
All public health care services funded by the Government of Alberta are delivered operationally by Alberta Health Services. AHS is the province's single health authority established on July 1, 2008 which replaced nine local health authorities. AHS also funds all ground ambulance services in the province, as well as the province-wide STARS (Shock Trauma Air Rescue Society) air ambulance service.
As with any Canadian province, the Alberta Legislature has (almost) exclusive authority to make laws respecting education. Since 1905 the Legislature has used this capacity to continue the model of locally elected public and separate school boards which originated prior to 1905, as well as to create and/or regulate universities, colleges, technical institutions and other educational forms and institutions (public charter schools, private schools, home schooling).
Public and separate school boards, charter schools, and private schools all follow the Program of Studies and the curriculum approved by the provincial department of education (Alberta Education). Homeschool tutors may choose to follow the Program of Studies or develop their own Program of Studies. Public and separate schools, charter schools, and approved private schools all employ teachers who are certificated by Alberta Education, they administer Provincial Achievement Tests and Diploma Examinations set by Alberta Education, and they may grant high school graduation certificates endorsed by Alberta Education.
The University of Alberta, established in Edmonton in 1908, is Alberta's oldest and largest university. The University of Calgary, once affiliated with the University of Alberta, gained its autonomy in 1966 and is now the second largest university in Alberta. There is also Athabasca University, which focuses on distance learning, and the University of Lethbridge, both of which are located in their title cities.
In early September 2009, Mount Royal University became Calgary's second public university, and in late September 2009, a similar move made MacEwan University Edmonton's second public university. There are 15 colleges that receive direct public funding, along with two technical institutes, Northern Alberta Institute of Technology and Southern Alberta Institute of Technology.
Summer brings many festivals to the province of Alberta, especially in Edmonton. The Edmonton Fringe Festival is the world's second largest after the Edinburgh Festival. Both Calgary and Edmonton host a number of annual festivals and events including folk music festivals. The city's "heritage days" festival sees the participation of over 70 ethnic groups. Edmonton's Churchill Square is home to a large number of the festivals, including the large Taste of Edmonton & The Works Art & Design Festival throughout the summer months.
The City of Calgary is also famous for its Stampede, dubbed "The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth." The Stampede is Canada's biggest rodeo festival and features various races and competitions, such as calf roping and bull riding. In line with the western tradition of rodeo are the cultural artisans that reside and create unique Alberta western heritage crafts.
The Banff Centre hosts a range of festivals and other events including the international Mountain Film Festival. These cultural events in Alberta highlight the province's cultural diversity. Most of the major cities have several performing theatre companies who entertain in venues as diverse as Edmonton's Arts Barns and the Francis Winspear Centre for Music. Both Calgary and Edmonton are home to Canadian Football League and National Hockey League teams. Soccer, rugby union and lacrosse are also played professionally in Alberta.