Adaptation is now recognized as an important aspect of responses to climate change. Rural communities in the prairie provinces of Canada are considered to be sensitive to the impacts of climate change due to socio-economic and geographical factors. This study examines the ways in which governance institutions shape the ability of two rural communities in Alberta to adapt. 32 semi-structured interviews were done with decision-makers in the communities of High Level and Canmore, and with provincial-level governance actors. A vast array of secondary documents was also examined. The comparison of these two case studies shows that institutional capacity in Canmore supports proactive adaptation. In contrast, several features of governance institutions in High Level detract from adaptive capacity. Provincial governance institutions were found to contribute both positively and negatively to the capacity of rural communities to adapt to climate change.