Physical Geography

Central Alberta is a part of the Parkland Natural Region. It covers 10-15 percent of the available landscape for a total of 60,000 square kilometres. From East to West, Parkland stretches from the Alberta-Saskatchewan provincial border to the foothills of the Canadian Rockies. A variant name for the Natural Region is Aspen Parkland or, more poetically, Aspenland. This refers to the trembling aspen (Populus tremuloides), the dominant tree of the region. For biologists, the Aspen Parkland is a transitional zone between the arid grasslands to the south and the wetter, cooler boreal forest to the north. It marks the zone between foothills and prairie from west to east. It is a uniquely Canadian landscape, also found in parts of Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

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Heritage Trails #136 The Many Battle Rivers of Alberta

Learn about the battles that the native people had that gave way to the names of the Battle Rivers in Alberta.

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It is a landscape that was formed over thousands of years as a result of the retreat of glaciers in the last Ice Age (20,000 to 12,000 years ago). The impact of the passage of glaciers is evident in the shape of the land and landforms associated with glaciation: rounded hills (drumlins), sinuous ridges (eskers) and fine sand, which is found throughout the region. The remnants of lakes and rivers also testify to the powers of the ice as it scoured and modified the existing landscape.

The region’s characteristic rolling grasslands are interspersed with groves of Aspen. Groundcover includes shrubs such as snowberry, saskatoon, choke cherry, low-bush cranberry and red raspberry. Animal species included fur bearers as well as the buffalo (Bison bison), though, as a result of over-hunting, these were largely gone by 1870. Other animals included the wolf, grizzly bear, magpie, beaver, mule deer, elk, moose and pronghorn.

With respect to human habitation, Treaty 6 First Nations, as well as other First Nations, traversed it over thousands of years. The era of the fur trade, spanning the 18th and 19th centuries, and settlement, beginning in the last decades of the 19th century, all impacted on the natural environment affecting animal species. The steel plough made it possible to till the soil compacted with the roots of the natural grasses.

For greater insight into the physical geography of the region, visit:

Alberta, Naturally! which provides an overview of the natural regions of Alberta through an ecosystems approach

"The Aspen Parkland: A Biological Perspective"—a paper prepared by Dr. W. Bruce McGillivray for the Aspenland 1998: Local Knowledge And Sense of Place.