Alberta - Introduction

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Geography

Alberta is the most westerly of Canada's three prairie provinces, the other two being Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

The territories that border on Alberta are:

  • to the west - British Columbia
  • to the north - the Northwest Territories
  • to the east - Saskatchewan
  • to the south - the American State of Montana

The Rocky Mountains run from north to south along Alberta's western border. The rest of the province is fairly flat.

Alberta's land size is 661,848 square kilometres. By way of comparison, the United Kingdom's land area is 244,820 square kilometres.

The capital of Alberta is Edmonton.


Climate

Alberta has a four-season climate with cold, crisp winters. It gets snow in winter, but the southern part of the province has a relatively dry climate and gets less snow than you might expect, due to the Chinook winds (see below). Throughout the winter Alberta has plenty of year round sunshine.

Chinook Winds

  • Chinook winds - or a popular myth suggests the "snow eater" - are most prevalent in Southern Alberta.
  • They stretch from Pincher Creek to the Crowsnest Pass through Lethbridge and affect the climate on average approximately 30 to 35 days per year. However, it has not been unheard that they are also found a little more to the north (ie Grand Prairie and Red Deer) but rarely further than Edmonton.
  • These are a dry wind which helps the snow to thaw and then the remainder of the snow to evaporate.
  • A strong Chinook has been known to make a foot of snow disappear within one day.
  • The wind is also responsible for increasing the temperature and within hours it is not unknown that the Chinook can make a difference of approximately 30 degrees to the temperature.
  • It is these winds which help to keep the winter in Southern Alberta to only a few weeks of really cold weather and therefore more acceptable.

Winter

  • December to February.
  • Temperatures can drop as low as minus 40 degrees, but these temperatures do not last long due the the Chinook winds.
  • Precipitation Facts - Southern Alberta 30 cms, Northern Alberta 40-45 cms and the Foothills 55-60 cms.

Spring

  • March to May.
  • It is not unheard of Alberta suffering from a snow fall in May, but at this time of year the snow does not stay on the ground for long.
  • A mixture of different weather fronts including bright sunny days that are warming gradually towards the summer period.

Summer

  • June to August.
  • Some areas can have temperatures of over 40 degrees, but the average summer temperature tends to be more in the region of 30 degrees.
  • Hours of sunshine - Southern Alberta 1900 hours per year Northern Alberta 2300 hours per year.

Autumn/Fall

  • September to November
  • Can be the rainy season - especially from the end of September into October.

Population

Alberta has a population of about 3.3 million people. The population is distributed as follows:

  • Calgary - 1 million (or 1,080,000 in the Greater Calgary Area)
  • Edmonton - 715,000 (or 1,035,000 in the Greater Edmonton Area)
  • Red Deer - 83,000
  • Lethbridge - 80,000
  • Fort McMurray - 65,000

So roughly 2.3 million people live in these two cities and three large towns, and the remaining 1 million people are distributed amongst smaller towns, hamlets and rural areas.

By far the majority of Alberta's population is concentrated in the area between Edmonton and the American border, which represents the southern third of the province.


Economic prospects

Alberta is experiencing a phenomenal oil boom at the moment. For those in the oil industry and in the construction trades there is plenty of work, at excellent wages by Canadian standards.

With that said, however, real estate prices have risen very sharply in the last couple of years. This is also causing an increase in the demand for property and in major cities there has been a huge growth in the building trades causing a skill shortage.

If you work outside of the oil industry and the trades, if you earn your salary in Canadian dollars, and if you cannot bring with you a "nest egg" from the sale of your UK house when you first arrive in Alberta, you will find that the cost of living is quite high in Alberta.

Note added on November 22nd, 2008: Alberta's real estate prices reached a peak in the summer of 2007. Since then, Alberta's economy has softened a bit. Many posters on the BE forum say that existing jobs in Alberta are relatively safe. However, as some previously planned projects in the oil industry temporarily are put on the back burner, they do not expect to see as many jobs being created in the next one to five years as were created in the 2005 - 2007 period.

Fort McMurray, which is located about five and a half hours' drive north of Edmonton, serves as a base for the development of the oil sands. It is experiencing explosive growth and may seem like an appealing destination from afar. But you are advised to approach Fort McMurray with caution, as it is a hardship location with many problems attached to it.

Notable features

  • Alberta has no provincial sales tax.
  • Alberta is one of the provinces in which you can exchange your UK driver's licence without doing a test.
  • Alberta is one of the provinces in which you are eligible to enroll for the provincial health care insurance plan on day one if you enter Canada from abroad. (However, there is a waiting period of three months if you move to Canada from another Canadian province.)

Immigration

In addition to the standard ways of securing the right to live and work in Alberta, there are various ways to secure permanent residency via the provincial nominee program.

Travel

The airport that has the most non-stop flights to and from the UK is Calgary.


Related information

Community Profiles - Provides information about various towns in Alberta.

Citystats - Alberta - Another good source of information for towns/cities in Alberta (weather, demographics, employments, etc.)