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The Canadian Shield Region

Colin Lake, Northern AlbertaThe Canadian Shield makes up nearly half of Canada's total area and is composed of Precambrian rocks - ancient, rounded rocks that form the nucleus of most of North America. In Canada, the Shield stretches from Labrador through to northern Quebec, Ontario, eastern and northern Manitoba, northern Saskatchewan and the very northeast corner of Alberta. However, the Canadian Shield in Alberta is not wholly restricted to a small northeastern corner of the province but actually plunges under the plains and mountains, forming the foundation under the rest of the province - over  6, 000 metres or 6 kilometres below the surface. This foundation indicates that Alberta has existed as rocky terrain for at least two billion years - the span of Alberta's geological history.

Numerous rounded and bare areas of hard Precambrian rocks, abundant angular lakes, and marshy depressions, and a highly disorganized drainage system characterize the Canadian Shield  region of the province.

Shield continues under groundJackpine forests cover isolated spots of the region with unique undergrowth of pale reindeer lichens, dusty green sage and bearberry. Vast sand dune landscapes grade into pine forest and provide habitat for plant species found nowhere else in the province.  Granite headlands and bright sand beaches  stretch from Fidler Point to White Sand Point and beyond. The region is not well suited for agriculture because, climatic limitations aside, much of the land is steeply sloping and inadequately drained. Vegetation is sparse and rooted primarily in the rocks. The landscape has yet to be touched by industrial activity and therefore the region remains one of Alberta's best-kept secrets, unknown to many Albertans themselves as the majority of the population resides in the lower one third of the province.

The Canadian Shield Natural Region contains two quite different Subregions.  The Kazan Upland Subregion includes most of the exposed Canadian Shield in Alberta north of Lake Athabasca and is characterized by exposed, glaciated bedrock. The other subregion is the Athabasca Plain, which includes part of the north shore of Lake Athabasca and the Canadian Shield south of the Lake Athabasca, and is characteristically glacial outwash deposits shallow over Canadian Shield bedrock.

Information provided by and printed with the permission of Alberta Community Development, Provincial Parks and Protected Areas.

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