Canada, federated country of North America, a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, bounded on the north by the Arctic Ocean; on the north-east by Baffin Bay and Davis Strait, which separate it from Greenland; on the east by the Atlantic Ocean; on the south by the United States; and on the west by the Pacific Ocean and the US state of Alaska. It was formerly known as the Dominion of Canada. Occupying all of North America north of the conterminous United States, except Alaska, Greenland, Saint-Pierre and Miquelon Islands, Canada is the world’s second-largest country, surpassed in size only by Russia. It includes many islands, notably the Canadian Arctic Islands (Arctic Archipelago) in the Arctic Ocean. Among the larger members of this group, which in aggregate area is about 1,424,500 sq km (550,000 sq mi), are (in descending order) Baffin, Victoria, Ellesmere, Banks, Devon, Axel Heiberg, and Melville islands. Cape Columbia, a promontory of Ellesmere Island at latitude 83°06¢ north, is the northernmost point of Canada; its southernmost point is Middle Island in Lake Erie, at latitude 41°41¢ north. The easternmost and westernmost limits are delineated, respectively, by longitude 52°37¢ west, which lies along Cape Spear, on Newfoundland Island, and longitude 141° west, which coincides with part of the Alaska-Yukon border. Canada has a total area of 9,970,610 km (3,849,674 sq mi), of which 755,180 sq km (291,575 sq mi) is covered by bodies of freshwater such as rivers and lakes, including those portions of the Great Lakes under Canadian jurisdiction.
Canada contains great reserves of natural resources, notably timber, petroleum, natural gas, metallic minerals, and fish. It is also an important manufacturing country, and its major cities, such as Toronto, Montreal, Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, and Ottawa (the country’s capital) are bustling centres of commerce and industry. Most of Canada’s inhabitants live in the southern part of the country, and vast areas of the north are sparsely inhabited. The name “Canada” is believed to derive from an Iroquoian term meaning “village” or “community”.
II LAND AND RESOURCES
The coast of the Canadian mainland, about 58,500 km (36,350 mi) in length, is extremely broken and irregular. Large bays and peninsulas alternate, and Canada has numerous coastal islands, in addition to the Arctic Archipelago, with a total insular coastline of some 185,290 km (115,135 mi). Off the eastern coast the largest islands are Newfoundland, Cape Breton, Prince Edward, and Anticosti. Off the western coast, which is fringed with fiords, are Vancouver Island and the Queen Charlotte Islands. Southampton Island, covering 41,214 sq km (15,913 sq mi), and many smaller islands are in Hudson Bay, a vast inland sea in east-central Canada.
Although forests in Ontario and Quebec were badly affected by acid rain in the 1970s and 1980s caused by pollution originating in the United States, Canada’s own carbon dioxide emissions per capita were higher, at 4.1 tonnes per person per year. Canada is a signatory of a number of international environmental treaties, such as the Convention on Climate Change, the Montreal Protocol on CFC Emissions, and the Bio-Diversity Convention.
With its large areas of forest and important timber industry, Canada’s old-growth forest has been extensively logged for more than a century. Since the 1960s, however, legislation (usually at provincial level) has introduced increasing levels of obligation on timber companies to replant clear-cut areas, to ensure species diversity, and to minimize incidental damage from construction of logging roads. In this way, the area of old-growth forest logged as a proportion of all logging has continually diminished. Assisting this process has been the increase in the area protected within national and provincial parks; for instance, British Columbia has passed legislation increasing the area to be protected within BC provincial parks from some 25,000 sq km (9,650 sq mi) in the early 1990s to 100,000 sq km (38,600 sq mi—more than 10 per cent of the province’s area) by the end of the decade.
A Physiographical Regions Excluding the Arctic Archipelago, six general physiographical regions are distinguishable in Canada: the Canadian Shield (also known as the Laurentian Plateau), Appalachian, Great Lakes, St Lawrence, Interior Plains, and Cordillera. The largest region, the Canadian Shield, extends from Labrador to the Great Bear Lake, from the Arctic Ocean to the Thousand Islands in the St Lawrence River, and into the United States west of Lake Superior and into northern New York State. This region of ancient granite rock, sparsely covered with soil and deeply eroded by glacial action, comprises all of Labrador (the easternmost part of the mainland, which is part of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador), most of Quebec, northern Ontario, Manitoba, and most of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, with Hudson Bay in the centre.
Eastern Canada consists of the Appalachian region and the Great Lakes-St Lawrence lowlands. The former embraces the island of Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island, and the Gaspé Peninsula of Quebec. This region is an extension of the Appalachian mountain system and of the Atlantic Coastal Plain. The Great Lakes-St Lawrence lowlands region, covering an area of about 98,420 sq km (38,000 sq mi) in
southern Quebec and Ontario, is a generally level plain. This region includes the largest expanse of cultivable land in eastern and central Canada and most of the manufacturing industries of the nation.
Bordering the Canadian Shield on the west is the Interior Plains, an extension of the Great Plains of the United States. About 1,300 km (800 mi) wide at the US border, it narrows to about 320 km (200 mi) west of Great Bear Lake and widens again at the mouth of the Mackenzie River on the coast of the Arctic Ocean to about 480 km (300 mi). Within the Interior Plains are the north-eastern corner of British Columbia, most of Alberta, the southern half of Saskatchewan, and the southern third of Manitoba. This region contains the most fertile soil in Canada.
The fifth and westernmost region of Canada embraces the uplifts west of the Interior Plains. The region belongs to the Cordillera, the vast mountain system extending from the southernmost extremity of South America to westernmost Alaska. In Canada, the Cordillera has an average width of about 800 km (500 mi). Part of western Alberta, much of British Columbia, the Inuvik Region and part of the Fort Smith Region of Northwest Territories, and practically all of Yukon Territory lie within this region. The eastern portion of the Cordillera in Canada consists of the Rocky Mountains and related ranges, including the Mackenzie, Franklin, and Richardson mountains. Mount Robson (3,954 m/12,972 ft) is the highest summit of the Canadian Rockies, and ten other peaks reach elevations of more than 3,500 m (11,500 ft). To the west of the Canadian Rockies is a region occupied by numerous further ranges, notably the Cariboo, Stikine, and Selkirk mountains, and a vast plateau region. Deep river valleys and extensive tracts of arable land are the chief features of the plateau region, particularly in British Columbia. Flanking this central belt on the west and generally parallel to the Pacific Ocean is another great mountain system. This system includes the Coast Mountains, related to the Cascade Range of the United States, and various coastal ranges. The loftiest coastal uplift is the St Elias Mountains, on the boundary between the Yukon Territory and Alaska. Among noteworthy peaks of the western Cordillera in Canada are Mount Logan (5,951 m/19,524 ft, the highest point in Canada and second-highest mountain in North America after Mount McKinley), Mount St Elias (5,489 m/18,008 ft), Mount Lucania (5,226 m/17,147 ft), and King Peak (5,173 m/16,971 ft); all are in the St Elias Mountains.
B Geology The Canadian Shield, which occupies the eastern half of Canada’s land mass, is an ancient craton, or stable platform, made up of rocks that formed billions of years ago, during the Priscoan, Archaean, and Proterozoic eons. The shield, with its assemblage of granites, gneisses, and schists 2 billion to 4 billion years old, became the nucleus of the North American plate at the time that the Earth’s crust first began experiencing the forces of plate tectonics that drive continental drift. See alsoNorth America: Geological History.
During the Palaeozoic era, large parts of Canada were covered by shallow seas. Sediments deposited in these seas formed the sandstone, shale, and limestone that now surround the Canadian Shield. The Cambrian and Silurian systems are represented by great thicknesses of strata that appear in outcroppings in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland and Labrador, along the St Lawrence Valley, and on the shores of Lake Ontario. Flat-lying beds of Palaeozoic and younger rocks extend westward across the Interior Plains throughout the Prairie provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. In these areas, the rocks contain valuable deposits of oil and gas. In the Cordilleran region of western Canada, the rocks were subjected to tectonic forces generated by the collision of the North American plate with the Pacific plate. In the ensuing upheavals, which began during the Cretaceous period, mountain ranges rose throughout the Cordilleran region. The easternmost of these ranges, the Rocky Mountains, are similar in structure to the mountains of Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana, having been built by uplift and folding of sedimentary rocks and, in lesser degree, by volcanic activity. The strata of which they are composed range in age from Palaeozoic to Tertiary and contain valuable deposits of base and precious metals as well as fossil fuels.
During the Quaternary sub-era, nearly all of Canada was covered by vast ice sheets that terminated in the northern United States during the ice ages. Landscapes were profoundly modified by the erosive action of this vast mass of moving ice, particularly in the creation of Canada’s many thousands of lakes and its extensive deposits of sand, clay, and gravel.
C Rivers and Lakes
Canada contains more lakes and inland waters than any other country in the world. In addition to the Great Lakes on the US border (all partly within Canada except Lake Michigan), the country has 31 lakes more than 1,300 sq km (500 sq mi) in area. Largest among these lakes are Great Bear, Great Slave, Dubawnt, and Baker in the mainland Northwest Territories and Nunavut; Nettilling and Amadjuak on Baffin Island; Athabasca in Alberta and Saskatchewan; Wollaston in Saskatchewan; Reindeer in Saskatchewan and Manitoba; Winnipeg, Manitoba, Winnipegosis, and Southern Indian in Manitoba; Nipigon and Lake of the Woods in Ontario; Mistassini in
and Smallwood Reservoir and Melville in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Among the great rivers of Canada are the St Lawrence, draining the Great Lakes, and emptying into the Gulf of St Lawrence; the Ottawa and the Saguenay, the principal tributaries of the St Lawrence; the Saint John, emptying into the Bay of Fundy, between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick; the Saskatchewan, flowing into Lake Winnipeg, and the Nelson, flowing from this lake into Hudson Bay; the system formed by the Athabasca, Peace, Slave, and Mackenzie rivers, emptying into the Arctic Ocean; the upper course of the Yukon, flowing across Alaska into the Bering Sea; and the Fraser and the upper course of the Columbia, emptying into the Pacific Ocean.
D Climate Part of the Canadian mainland and most of the Arctic Archipelago fall within the Frigid Zone; the remainder of the country lies in the northern half of the North Temperate Zone. As a consequence, general climatic conditions range from the extreme cold characteristic of the Arctic regions to the moderate temperatures of more southerly latitudes. The Canadian climate is marked by wide regional variations. In the Maritime provinces (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island), extremes of winter cold and summer heat are modified by oceanic influences, which also cause considerable fog and precipitation. Along the western coast, which is under the influence of warm ocean currents and moisture-laden winds, mild summers and winters, high humidity, and abundant precipitation are characteristic. In the Cordilleran region the higher western slopes of certain uplifts, particularly the Selkirks and the Rockies, receive sizeable amounts of rain and snow, but the eastern slopes and the central plateau region are extremely arid. A feature of the Cordilleran region is the chinook, a warm, dry westerly wind that substantially ameliorates winter conditions in the Rocky Mountain foothills and adjoining plains, often causing great daily changes. For further climatic information, see articles on the individual provinces.
E Natural Resources
Canada is richly endowed with valuable natural resources that are commercially indispensable to the economy. The country has enormous areas of fertile, low-lying land in the Prairie provinces (Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan) and bordering the Great Lakes and St Lawrence River in southern Quebec and southern Ontario. Forests cover about 49 per cent of the country’s land area and abound in commercially valuable stands of timber. Commercial fishing in Canada dates from nearly 500 years ago, and ocean waters, inland lakes, and rivers continue to support this industry. The mining industry of Canada has a long history of exploration and development that pre-dates confederation in 1867. The Canadian Shield contains a wealth of minerals; the nation is also rich in reserves of crude petroleum and natural gas. The river and lake systems of the country combine with the mountainous topography to make hydroelectric energy one of the permanent natural assets of Canada. The wildlife of the country is extensive and varied.
F Plants and Animals The flora of the entire northern part of Canada is arctic and subarctic. A substantial part of the Maritime provinces is covered by forests of mixed hardwoods and softwoods. The Prairie provinces were in their natural state grasslands and are thus comparatively treeless as far north as the Saskatchewan river system; prairie grasses, herbage, and bunchgrasses are the chief forms of vegetation. North of the Saskatchewan a broad belt of rather small and sparse trees extends from Hudson Bay to Great Slave Lake and the Rocky Mountains. Spruce, tamarack, and poplar are the principal species. The dry slopes and valleys of the Rocky Mountains support thin forests, mainly pine, but the forests increase in density and the trees in size westward towards the region of greater rainfall. On the coast ranges, especially on their western slopes, are dense forests of mighty evergreen trees. The principal trees are the spruce, hemlock, Douglas and balsam firs, jack and lodgepole pines, and cedar.
The animals of Canada are very similar or identical to those of northern Europe and Asia. Among the carnivores are several species of the weasel subfamily, such as the ermine, sable, fisher, wolverine, and mink. Other representative carnivores include the black bear, grizzly bear, lynx, wolf, coyote, fox, and skunk. The polar bear is distributed throughout the arctic regions; the puma is found in British Columbia. Of the rodents, the most characteristic is the beaver. The Canadian porcupine, the muskrat, and many smaller rodents are numerous, as are hare, and in the Interior Plains a variety of burrowing gopher is found.
Several varieties of Virginia deer are indigenous to southern Canada; the black-tailed deer occurs in British Columbia and parts of the plains region. This region is also the habitat of the pronghorn antelope. The woodland caribou and the moose are numerous and widely distributed, but the Barren Ground caribou is found only in the more northern areas, which are also the habitat of the musk ox. Elk and bison are found in various western areas. In the mountains of British Columbia bighorn sheep and Rocky Mountain goats are numerous. Birds are abundant and diverse, and fish are numerous in all the inland waters and along all the coasts. Reptiles are scarce except in the far south, as are insects, except for mosquitoes, which
in vast numbers in the mainland Northwest Territories and Nunavut during the brief summers.
G Soils Large areas of Canada are covered by boggy peat characteristic of the tundra and adjoining forest areas. This land is generally infertile and frequently mossy. A formation of rich dark brown and black prairie soils runs from southern Manitoba west across Saskatchewan and into Alberta, forming Canada’s best farmland. The grey-brown soil of the St Lawrence Basin and the Great Lakes is also good farmland. Only about 5 per cent of Canada’s land is suitable for farming, however, the remainder being too mountainous, rocky, wet, or infertile.
The racial and ethnic make-up of the Canadian people is diverse. About 34 per cent of the population is composed of people of British or part-British origin. People of French or part-French origin total about 27 per cent of the population. The vast majority of French-speaking Canadians reside in Quebec, where they make up about 78 per cent of the population; large numbers also live in Ontario and New Brunswick, and smaller groups inhabit the remaining provinces. French-speaking Canadians maintain their language, culture, and traditions, and the federal government follows the policy of a bilingual and bicultural nation. During the 1970s and 1980s the proportion of Asians among the Canadian population increased from 5 per cent to more than 16 per cent; more than two thirds of the Asian immigrants live in Ontario or British Columbia. The remainder of the population is composed of people of various ethnic origins, such as German, Italian, Ukrainian, Dutch, Scandinavian, Polish, Hungarian, Greek, and the native peoples, who are officially designated the First Nations. The First Nations make up nearly 2 per cent of Canada’s population, and belong predominantly to the Algonquian linguistic group; other representative linguistic stocks are the Iroquoian, Salishan, Athabascan, and Inuit (Eskimoan). Altogether, the indigenous people of Canada are divided into nearly 600 groups, or bands.
Blacks have never constituted a major segment of the Canadian population, but their history has been an interesting one. Although Louis XIV of France in 1689 authorized the importation of slaves from the Caribbean, black immigration into Canada has been almost entirely from the United States. Some Loyalists brought slaves north with them during and after the American War of Independence (1775-1783). The British troops that burnt Washington in the War of 1812 brought many slaves back with them to Halifax, Nova Scotia. However, Nova Scotia abolished slavery in 1787 and their action was followed six years later by Upper Canada, thus setting precedents for the whole British Empire, in which slavery was finally abolished in 1833. The presence of free soil in Canada was a major influence in the operation of the Underground Railroad, which, during the abolition campaign in the United States, transported many slaves into Canada, particularly to Chatham and Sarnia in Ontario. Blacks make up less than 2 per cent of the Canadian population today.