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The Alberta Fact Book

by Mark Zuehlke

The Alberta Fact Book encourages browsing. While it’s primarily meant as an alphabetized reference book, the volume’s 175 entries may be read as informative, entertaining essays in their own right. Most everyone, for instance, knows of West Edmonton Mall. But who could have guessed Edmonton is also home to a number of other giant objects, including the world’s largest hammer, cowboy boot, and shopping bag? To find out, you need only check under Unique Claims to Fame.

The latter is admittedly one of the more frivolous entries in Mark Zuehlke’s comprehensive guide to Alberta’s natural and human history. Zuehlke, the Victoria-based author of The B.C. Fact Book, covers the province from south to north and spans its time from prehistoric beginnings to the most current and relevant issues.

You may, for example, consult such entries as Ancient Alberta and Dinosaurs before looking up the Alberta Special Waste Treatment Centre. As the latter essay shows, Zuehlke doesn’t gloss over issues, but prefers to tackle them fairly.

For instance, while Zuehlke notes the waste treatment centre has helped Alberta eliminate stockpiles of PCBs, he balances that view with the concerns of environmentalists and aboriginals, who worry about toxic spills and pollution from the plant.

This tough-minded, honest approach to history gives readers – both teenagers and adults – a well-rounded view of Alberta’s heritage, but doesn’t ignore the modern-day pressures that threaten it.

Such an ambitious book is bound to have a few gaps. One meagre entry on performing arts is supposed to suffice for the important contributions of Alberta’s arts community. An essay on literature, at least, would be warranted given the number and renown of the province’s writers, many of whom are recognized not only nationally but internationally.

And while The Alberta Fact Book tends to be short on biographies, the impact of women such as Emily Murphy and Nellie McClung on the quality of life in this country should not be overlooked.

Still, subsequent editions will hopefully amend any significant omissions. Generally, the book is an extremely useful resource for young and old alike.