A prevalence study of multiple sclerosis (MS) was carried out in the town of Barrhead and surrounding county of Barrhead, in Alberta, Canada. The prevalence rate for clinically probable/definite multiple sclerosis on January 1, 1990 was 196/100,000. The average annual incidence rates for patients living in the area at onset were 1.31/100,000 for 1950–59, 4.97/100,000 for 1960–69, 3.77/100,000 for 1970–79, and 4.22/100,000 for 1980–89. Fifty per cent of the patients were relapsing-remitting. Sixty per cent were still walking without assistance. The female-to-male ratio was 1:1. Mean current age, age at onset and duration of illness were 49, 27 and 22 years respectively. The majority of patients (40%) experienced multiple symptom onset. Fifty per cent were of single ethnic origin (either British or German); the rest were predominantly North European combinations. Forty per cent of patients reported another MS relative. MS had affected the work status of 60% of the patients, 15% of whom were confined to an extended care centre.