Canadian Prairies

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Canadian Prairies
Prairies canadiennes (French)
Sifton (Manitoba).jpg
Farm on the prairies near Hartney, Manitoba
Prairie provinces in Canada.svg
Map of the Prairie Provinces
Location Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba in Canada
  Total1,780,650.6 km2 (687,513.0 sq mi) [1]
Highest elevation3,747 m (12,293 ft)

The Canadian Prairies (usually referred to as simply the Prairies in Canada) is a region in Western Canada. It includes the Canadian portion of the Great Plains and the Prairie provinces, namely Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. [2] These provinces are partially covered by grasslands, plains, and lowlands, mostly in the southern regions. The northernmost reaches of the Canadian Prairies are less dense in population, marked by forests and more variable topography. [3] If the region is defined to include areas only covered by prairie land, the corresponding region is known as the Interior Plains. [4] Physical or ecological aspects of the Canadian Prairies extend to northeastern British Columbia, but that area is not included in political use of the term. [5]


The prairies in Canada are a temperate grassland and shrubland biome within the prairie ecoregion of Canada that consists of northern mixed grasslands in Alberta, Saskatchewan, southern Manitoba, as well as northern short grasslands in southeastern Alberta and southwestern Saskatchewan. [6] The Prairies Ecozone of Canada includes the northern tall grasslands in southern Manitoba and Aspen parkland, which covers central Alberta, central Saskatchewan, and southern Manitoba. [7] The Prairie starts from north of Edmonton and it covers the three provinces in a southward-slanting line east to the Manitoba–Minnesota border. [8] Alberta has the most land classified as prairie, while Manitoba has the least, as the boreal forest begins more southerly in Manitoba than in Alberta. [9]

Main climates

The core climate of the Canadian prairie region is defined as a semi-arid climate and is often based upon the Köppen climate classification system. [10] This type of classification encompasses five main climate types, with several categoric subtypes based on the precipitation pattern of the region. [11] The majority of the prairie provinces experience snowy, fully humid continental climates with cool summers, also known as class Dfc on the Köppen climate scale. [10] The southernmost regions of the prairies tend to experience fully humid continental climates with warm summers, Dfb. [10] A trifling section surrounding the Alberta-Saskatchewan border has been classified as Bsk, semi-cold and arid climate. [10]

Precipitation events in the Canadian prairies are very important to study as these locations make up 80% of the country's agricultural production. [12] On average, 454 mm of precipitation falls on the prairies each year. [13] Out of the three prairie provinces, Saskatchewan obtains the least amount of precipitation annually (395 mm), with Manitoba receiving the most at 486 mm. Most rainfall typically happens in the summer months such as June and July. [13] With the high humidity of the prairies, tornadoes are likely to occur—marking central Saskatchewan and southern Manitoba as high probability areas. [14] Approximately 72% of tornadoes in Canada are seen across the prairies [15] due to the capability of summer thunderstorm precipitation to mechanically mix with the air adjacent to the relatively flat surface of the region. [13]

Average climates for selected cities in the Canadian Prairies [16]
CityProvinceJulyJanuaryAnnual precipitationPlant hardiness zoneAverage growing season
(in days)
    Lethbridge [17] AB 26 °C/10 °C (79 °F/50 °F)0 °C/-12 °C (32 °F/10 °F)380 mm (14.9 in)4B119
    Calgary [18] AB23 °C/9 °C (73 °F/48 °F)-1 °C/-13 °C (30 °F/9 °F)419 mm (16.4 in)4A117
    Medicine Hat [19] AB28 °C/12 °C (82 °F/54 °F)−5 °C/-16 °C (23 °F/3 °F)323 mm (12.7 in)4B134
    Edmonton [20] AB23 °C/12 °C (73 °F/54 °F)−6 °C/-15 °C (21 °F/5 °F)456 mm (17.9 in)4A135
    Grande Prairie [21] AB23 °C/10 °C (73 °F/50 °F)−8 °C/-19 °C (18 °F/-2 °F)445 mm (17.5 in)3B117
    Regina [22] SK 26 °C/12 °C (79 °F/54 °F)−9 °C/-20 °C (16 °F/-4 °F)390 mm (15.3 in)3B119
    Saskatoon [23] SK25 °C/12 °C (77 °F/54 °F)−10 °C/-21 °C (14 °F/-9 °F)354 mm (13.8 in)3B117
    Prince Albert [24] SK24 °C/12 °C (75 °F/54 °F)−11 °C/-23 °C (12 °F/-9 °F)428 mm (16.8 in)3A108
    Brandon [25] MB 25 °C/11 °C (77 °F/54 °F)−11 °C/-22 °C (12 °F/-11 °F)474 mm (18.6 in)3B119
    Winnipeg [26] MB25 °C/12 °C (77 °F/55 °F)−11 °C/-21 °C (12 °F/-6 °F)521 mm (20.5 in)4A121

    Physical geography

    Although the Prairie Provinces region is named for the prairies located within Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, the physical geography of the three provinces is quite diverse, consisting of portions of the Canadian Shield, the Western Cordillera and the Canadian Interior Plains. [27] The plains comprise both prairies and forests while, with the exception of freshwater along the Hudson Bay, the shield is predominantly forested. [27]

    Gimli, Manitoba, is on Lake Winnipeg, a very large fresh water lake in the eastern prairies. Gimli Manitoba Canada Panorama.jpg
    Gimli, Manitoba, is on Lake Winnipeg, a very large fresh water lake in the eastern prairies.


    Three main grassland types occur in the Canadian prairies: tallgrass prairie, mixed grass prairie, and fescue prairie (or using the WWF terminology, northern tall grasslands, northern mixed grasslands, and northern short grasslands). [28] Each has a unique geographic distribution and characteristic mix of plant species. All but a fraction of one per cent of the tallgrass prairie has been converted to cropland. [29] What remains occurs on the 6,000 km2 (2,300 sq mi) plain centred in the Red River Valley in Manitoba. Mixed prairie is more common and is part of the dry interior plains that extend from Canada south to the U.S. state of Texas.

    The northern short grasslands (WWF terminology) shown here on a map of North America in green, is a type of true prairie (grassland) that occurs in the southern parts of the Prairie Provinces. Northern short grasslands map.svg
    The northern short grasslands (WWF terminology) shown here on a map of North America in green, is a type of true prairie (grassland) that occurs in the southern parts of the Prairie Provinces.

    More than half of the remaining native grassland in the Canadian prairies is mixed. Though widespread in southern Saskatchewan and southeastern Alberta, because of extensive cattle grazing, it is estimated that only 24% of the original mixed prairie grassland remains. [29] Fescue prairie occurs in the moister regions, occupying the northern extent of the prairies in central and southwestern Alberta and west-central Saskatchewan. [30]

    Palliser's Triangle, delineating prairie soil types in the Prairie provinces Palliser's Triangle map.png
    Palliser's Triangle, delineating prairie soil types in the Prairie provinces

    The southwestern Canadian prairies, supporting brown and black soil types, are semi-arid and highly prone to frequent and severe droughts. [31] The zones around the cities of Regina and immediately east of Calgary are also very dry. Most heavy precipitation quickly dissipates by the time it passes Cheadle on its way heading east. [31] In an average year, southern Saskatchewan receives between 30–51 cm (12–20 in) of precipitation, with the majority falling between April and June. Frost from October to April (and sometimes even early May) limits the growing season for certain crops. [28]

    The eastern section of the Canadian prairies in Manitoba is well watered with several large lakes such as Lake Winnipeg and several large rivers. The area also gets reasonable amounts of precipitation. The middle sections of Alberta and Saskatchewan are also wetter than the south and have better farmland, despite having a shorter frost-free season. [32] The areas around Edmonton and Saskatoon are especially notable as good farmland. Both lie in the northern area of the Palliser's Triangle, and are within aspen parkland a transitional prairie ecozone. [33] [8]

    Further north, the area becomes too cold for most agriculture besides wild rice operations and sheep raising, and it is dominated by boreal forest. The Peace Region in northwestern Alberta is an exception, however. [34] It lies north of the 55th Parallel and is warm and dry enough to support extensive farming. Aspen parkland covers the area; The long daylight hours in this region during the summer are an asset despite having an even shorter growing season than central Alberta. In fact, agriculture plays a major economic role in the Peace Region.


    Census metropolitan areas in the Canadian Prairies
    RankCensus metropolitan areaPopulation (2021)Population (2016)Province
    1 Calgary 1,481,8061,392,609 Alberta
    2 Edmonton 1,418,1181,321,426Alberta
    3 Winnipeg 834,678778,489 Manitoba
    4 Saskatoon 317,480295,095 Saskatchewan
    5 Regina 249,217236,481Saskatchewan

    In the Canadian 2021 Census, the Canadian prairie provinces had a population of 6,737,293 consisting of 4,262,635 in Alberta, 1,342,153 in Manitoba, and 1,132,505 in Saskatchewan, up 4.6% from 6,443,892 in 2016. [1] The three provinces have a combined area of 1,780,650.6 km2 (687,513.0 sq mi), consisting of 640,081.87 km2 (247,136.99 sq mi) in Alberta, 552,329.52 km2 (213,255.62 sq mi) in Manitoba, and 588,239.21 km2 (227,120.43 sq mi) in Saskatchewan. [1]


    Some of the prairie region of Canada has seen rapid growth from a boom in oil production since the mid-20th century. [35] According to StatsCanada, the prairie provinces had a population of 5,886,906 in 2011. In 2016, the population had grown by 9.5% to 6,443,892. [36]


    A canola field in the Qu'Appelle Valley in Southern Saskatchewan. Theawesomequappellevalleykjfmartin.jpg
    A canola field in the Qu'Appelle Valley in Southern Saskatchewan.

    In the mid 20th century, the economy of the prairies exploded, due to the oil boom, and introduced a growth of jobs. The primary industries are agriculture and services. [3] Agriculture consisting of livestock (cattle and sheep), cultivating crops (oats, canola, wheat, barley), and production of oil. [5] Due to the production of oil, the service industry expanded in order to provide for the employees of the oil companies extracting the oil. In the 1950s-1970s, the explosion of oil production increased the worth of Alberta, allowing it to become the "nation's richest province" and Canada one of the top petroleum exporters in the world. [5] Edmonton and Calgary drew in a larger population with the increase in jobs in the energy industry, causing the jobs supporting this industry to grow as well. It was through the steady economic growth that followed this explosion that the prairies region began to switch from an agriculture-based job sector to one with services included. [37]

    In 2014, the global market for oil fell and led to a recession, impacting the economy dramatically. Alberta still has an oil-dominant economy even as the traditional oil wells dry up; there are oil sands further north (i.e. Fort McMurray) that continue to provide jobs to extract, drill and refine the oil. [5] Saskatchewan, in particular, in the early 20th century grew economically due to the Canadian agricultural boom and produce large crops of wheat. [3] It is said to have a "one-crop economy" due to such dependency on this crop alone, but after 1945 the economy took another turn with technological advancements that allowed for the discovery of uranium, oil, and potash. [3]

    Culture and politics

    The Prairies are distinguished from the rest of Canada by cultural and political traits. The oldest influence on Prairie culture are the First Nations, who have inhabited this region for millennia. This region has the highest proportion of Indigenous people in Canada, outside of the "territories." The first Europeans to see the Prairies were fur traders and explorers from eastern Canada (mainly present-day Quebec) and Great Britain via Hudson Bay. They gave rise to the Métis, working class "children of the fur trade." [5]

    During their settlement by Europeans, the prairies were settled in distinct ethnic block settlements giving areas distinctively Ukrainian, German, French, or Scandinavian Canadian cultures. Farm family operations predominate, where families supplement their cash income with home-grown farm produce. Grain crops are the main cash crop, but mixed farming had natural advantages in the wooded areas of the parkland and boreal forest to the north. Local conditions attrracted particular ethnicities. Those of Ukrainians and Polish heritage were drawn to the parkland of east north-central Alberta.

    The Alberta badlands Badlands Alberta.JPG
    The Alberta badlands

    Southern Alberta is renowned for its cowboy culture, which developed when real open range ranching was practiced in the 1880s. [5] Canada's first rodeo, the Raymond Stampede, was established in 1902. These influences are also evident in the music of Canada's Prairie Provinces. This can be attributed partially to the massive influx of American settlers who began to migrate to Alberta (and to a lesser extent, Saskatchewan) in the late 1880s because of the lack of available land in the United States.

    The Prairie Provinces have given rise to the "prairie protest" movements. Radical solutions are sometimes considered sound in the more open western culture. Organized Farmer groups and politicized labour groups were a feature of the inter-war years. The One Big Union was founded on the Prairies; the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919 was the biggest general strike in Canadian history. The United Farmers of Alberta was the longest-lasting post-WWI Farmer government in Canada. Monetary reform (Social Credit) elected its first government in the world in Alberta in 1932. Preston Manning's Reform Party, 1987 to 2000, had its strongest support among Prairie voters.

    These political movements (both of the left and right) tend to feed off of well established feelings of Western alienation, and each one represents a distinct challenge to the perceived Central Canadian elite. [38]

    The Prairies continue to have a wide range of political representation. While the Conservative Party of Canada has widespread support throughout the region at both federal and provincial levels, the New Democratic Party holds seats at the provincial level in all three provinces, and takes turns with Conservatives or another right-wing party at provincial government. The NDP holds seats at the federal level in Alberta and Manitoba. The Liberal Party of Canada often holds seats in Alberta and Manitoba; it presently holds four federal seats in Winnipeg, while the Manitoba Liberal Party holds one seat in Manitoba.

    See also

    Related Research Articles

    <span class="mw-page-title-main">Geography of Canada</span>

    Canada has a vast geography that occupies much of the continent of North America, sharing a land border with the contiguous United States to the south and the U.S. state of Alaska to the northwest. Canada stretches from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west; to the north lies the Arctic Ocean. Greenland is to the northeast with a shared border on Hans Island. To the southeast Canada shares a maritime boundary with France's overseas collectivity of Saint Pierre and Miquelon, the last vestige of New France. By total area, Canada is the second-largest country in the world, after Russia. By land area alone, however, Canada ranks fourth, the difference being due to it having the world's largest proportion of fresh water lakes. Of Canada's thirteen provinces and territories, only two are landlocked while the other eleven all directly border one of three oceans.

    <span class="mw-page-title-main">Palliser's Triangle</span> Geographic region in southern Alberta and Saskatchewan

    Palliser's Triangle, or the Palliser Triangle, is a semi-arid steppe occupying a substantial portion of the Western Canadian Canadian Prairies, Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba, within the Great Plains region. While initially determined to be unsuitable for crops outside of the fertile belt due to arid conditions and dry climate, expansionists questioned this assessment, leading to homesteading in the Triangle. Agriculture in the region has since suffered from frequent droughts and other such hindrances.

    <span class="mw-page-title-main">Geography of Alberta</span>

    Alberta is one of the thirteen provinces and territories of Canada. Located in Western Canada, the province has an area of 661,190 km2 (255,290 sq mi) and is bounded to the south by the United States state of Montana along 49° north for 298 km (185 mi); to the east at 110° west by the province of Saskatchewan for 1,223 km (760 mi); and at 60° north the Northwest Territories for 644 km (400 mi). The southern half of the province borders British Columbia along the Continental Divide of the Americas on the peaks of the Rocky Mountains, while the northern half borders British Columbia along the 120th meridian west. Along with Saskatchewan it is one of only two landlocked provinces or territories.

    <span class="mw-page-title-main">Stony Plain, Alberta</span> Town in Alberta, Canada

    Stony Plain is a town in the Edmonton Metropolitan Region of Alberta, Canada that is surrounded by Parkland County. It is west of Edmonton adjacent to the City of Spruce Grove and sits on Treaty 6 land.

    <span class="mw-page-title-main">Aspen parkland</span> Temperate grasslands, savannas, and shrublands ecoregion of Canada and the United States

    Aspen parkland refers to a very large area of transitional biome between prairie and boreal forest in two sections, namely the Peace River Country of northwestern Alberta crossing the border into British Columbia, and a much larger area stretching from central Alberta, all across central Saskatchewan to south central Manitoba and continuing into small parts of the US states of Minnesota and North Dakota. Aspen parkland consists of groves of aspen, poplar and spruce, interspersed with areas of prairie grasslands, also intersected by large stream and river valleys lined with aspen-spruce forests and dense shrubbery. This is the largest boreal-grassland transition zone in the world and is a zone of constant competition and tension as prairie and woodlands struggle to overtake each other within the parkland.

    <span class="mw-page-title-main">Boreal Shield Ecozone (CEC)</span> Largest ecozone in Canada, stretching from Saskatchewan to Newfoundland

    The Boreal Shield Ecozone, as defined by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC), is the largest ecozone in Canada. Covering 1.8 million square kilometres it covers almost 20% of Canada's landmass, stretching from northern Saskatchewan to Newfoundland.

    <span class="mw-page-title-main">Geography of Manitoba</span>

    The geography of Manitoba addresses the easternmost of the three prairie Canadian provinces, located in the longitudinal centre of Canada. Manitoba borders on Saskatchewan to the west, Ontario to the east, Nunavut to the north, and the American states of North Dakota and Minnesota to the south. Although the border with Saskatchewan appears straight on large-scale maps, it actually has many right-angle corners that give the appearance of a slanted line. In elevation, Manitoba ranges from sea level on Hudson Bay to 2727 ft (831 m) on top of Baldy Mountain. The northern sixty percent of the province is on the Canadian Shield. The northernmost regions of Manitoba lie permafrost, and a section of tundra bordering Hudson Bay.

    <span class="mw-page-title-main">Geography of Saskatchewan</span>

    The geography of Saskatchewan is unique among the provinces and territories of Canada in some respects. It is one of only two landlocked regions and it is the only region whose borders are not based on natural features like lakes, rivers, or drainage divides. The borders of Saskatchewan, which make it very nearly a trapezoid, were determined in 1905 when it became a Canadian province. Saskatchewan has a total area of 651,036 square kilometres (251,366 sq mi) of which 591,670 km2 (228,450 sq mi) is land and 59,366 km2 (22,921 sq mi) is water.

    <span class="mw-page-title-main">Boreal Plains Ecozone (CEC)</span> An ecozone

    The Boreal Plains Ecozone, as defined by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC), is a terrestrial ecozone in the western Canadian provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. It also has minor extensions into northeastern British Columbia and south-central Northwest Territories. The region extends over 779,471 km2, of which 58,981 km2 is conserved.

    <span class="mw-page-title-main">Prairies Ecozone</span>

    The Prairies Ecozone is a Canadian terrestrial ecozone which spans the southern areas of the Prairie provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. It is a productive agricultural area, and is commonly referred to as "Canada's breadbasket". Farmland covers about 94% of the land, and is the dominant domestic economic activity of the zone, as well as an important factor in Canadian foreign trade. Natural gas and oil are abundant in the area. The corresponding Level II ecoregion of the US Environmental Protection Agency is the Great Plains Ecoregion.

    The Prairie Habitat Joint Venture is a partnership between governments, organizations, and conservation groups in the provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta in Canada. It is one of four Canadian habitat joint ventures operating as part of the North American Waterfowl Management Plan, and is contiguous with the Prairie Pothole Joint Venture in the United States.

    The economy of Saskatchewan has been associated with agriculture resulting in the moniker "Bread Basket of Canada" and Bread Basket of the World. According to the Government of Saskatchewan, approximately 95% of all items produced in Saskatchewan, depend on the basic resources available within the province. Various grains, livestock, oil and gas, potash, uranium, wood and their spin off industries fuel the economy.

    <span class="mw-page-title-main">Flora of Saskatchewan</span>

    The native flora of Saskatchewan includes vascular plants, plus additional species of other plants and plant-like organisms such as algae, lichens and other fungi, and mosses. Non-native species of plants are recorded as established outside of cultivation in Saskatchewan, of these some non-native species remain beneficial for gardening, and agriculture, where others have become invasive, noxious weeds. Saskatchewan is committed to protecting species at risk in Canada. The growing season has been studied and classified into plant hardiness zones depending on length of growing season and climatic conditions. Biogeographic factors have also been divided into vegetative zones, floristic kingdoms, hardiness zones and ecoregions across Saskatchewan, and natural vegetation varies depending on elevation, moisture, soil type landforms, and weather. The study of ethnobotany uncovers the interrelation between humans and plants and the various ways people have used plants for economic reasons, food, medicine and technological developments. The Government of Saskatchewan has declared 3 indigenous plants as provincial symbols.

    <span class="mw-page-title-main">Fauna of Saskatchewan</span>

    The Fauna of Saskatchewan include several diverse land and aquatic animal species. From the multiplicity of invertebrates and vertebrates, two have been chosen as symbols of Saskatchewan. Cenozoic vertebrate fossils reveal the geological evolution of the interior plains and its prehistoric biogeography. Today, Saskatchewan's ecosystems range from the sub-arctic tundra of the Canadian Shield in north Saskatchewan to aspen parkland, the Mid-Continental Canadian forests in the centre of the province and grassland prairie. Fauna inhabit areas unique to their own specific and varied breeding, foraging and nesting requirements. With a large land and water area, and small population density, the ecoregions of Saskatchewan provide important habitat for many animals, both endangered and not. Naturalists observing wildlife have enumerated shrinking and growing wildlife populations. They advocate programs and methods to preserve or re-introduce endangered species and identify programs of control for outbreaks of wildlife populations. A broad diversity of wildlife habitats are preserved as parks and reserves protecting the feeding and breeding grounds of protected and indigenous fauna of Saskatchewan.

    <span class="mw-page-title-main">Western Canada</span> Region of Canada

    Western Canada, also referred to as the Western provinces, Canadian West or the Western provinces of Canada, and commonly known within Canada as the West, is a Canadian region that includes the four western provinces just north of the Canada–United States border namely British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The people of the region are often referred to as "Western Canadians" or "Westerners", and though diverse from province to province are largely seen as being collectively distinct from other Canadians along cultural, linguistic, socioeconomic, geographic and political lines. They account for approximately 32% of Canada's total population.

    The effects of climate change in Saskatchewan are now being observed in parts of the province. There is evidence of reduction of biomass in Saskatchewan's boreal forests that is linked by researchers to drought-related water stress stemming from global warming, most likely caused by greenhouse gas emissions. While studies, as early as 1988 have shown that climate change will affect agriculture, whether the effects can be mitigated through adaptations of cultivars, or crops, is less clear. Resiliency of ecosystems may decline with large changes in temperature. The provincial government has responded to the threat of climate change by introducing a plan to reduce carbon emissions, "The Saskatchewan Energy and Climate Change Plan", in June 2007.

    Lesser Slave Lake Wildland Provincial Park is a wildland provincial park in central Alberta, Canada. The park was established on 7 February 2001 and has an area of 3,581.450 hectares. The park is included in the Upper Athabasca Region Land Use Framework.

    Winagami Wildland Provincial Park is a wildland provincial park in northern Alberta, Canada. The park was established on 26 August 1998 and has an area of 17,439.886 hectares. The park is included in the Upper Athabasca Region Land Use Framework. The park is named for Winagami Lake which is adjacent to the park.


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