Geography of Canada

Canada is an independent country in North America. The word Canada is probably derived from Kanata, a word of Huron and Iroquois Indians meaning a village or community. This term was first noted in 1535 by the French explorer Jacques Cartier, who reported that the Indians at the site of what is now the city of Quebec used it for their village and tribal lands.

Canada retains to a great extent the cultural stamp of its two founding groups—the French, mainly in Quebec, and the British elsewhere. Ties with Great Britain are particularly strong. Canada is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations and is the only independent country in mainland North America having a monarch—the British sovereign is Canada's symbolic head of state. Canada also has strong ties with the United States.

Canada is a federal union of 10 provinces and 3 territories. New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island are collectively called the Maritime Provinces. With Newfoundland included they are known as the Atlantic Provinces. Quebec and Ontario are sometimes called the Central Provinces. The Prairie Provinces are Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba.

Canada in brief
General information
Capital: Ottawa.
Official languages: English and French.
National anthem: "O Canada."
National symbols: Maple leaf and beaver.
Largest cities: (2006 census) Toronto (2,503,281); Montreal (1,620,693); Calgary (988,193); Ottawa (812,129); Edmonton (730,372); Mississauga (668,549); Winnipeg (633,451); Vancouver (578,041); Hamilton (504,559); Quebec (491,142).
Symbols of Canada: The flag of Canada features a red, 11-pointed maple leaf, a national symbol of the country, in a field of white. Two wide, vertical red stripes are at either side of the white. It became Canada's official flag in 1965. The Canadian coat of arms includes three red maple leaves below the royal arms of England, Scotland, Ireland, and France.
Land and climate
Land: Canada lies in northern North America. It borders the United States and the Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic oceans. Canada is mountainous in the west, where the Coastal and Rocky Mountains stand. The country is mostly flat or gently rolling from the eastern edge of the Rockies to the low Laurentian Mountains in Quebec. Several low mountain ranges rise in the east. Canada shares four of the five Great Lakes (all but Lake Michigan) with the United States. Its chief rivers include the Churchill, Fraser, Mackenzie, Nelson, and Saint Lawrence rivers.
Area: 3,855,103 mi2 (9,984,670 km2), including 291,577 mi2 (755,180 km2) of inland water. Greatest distances—east-west, 3,223 mi (5,187 km), from Cape Spear, Newfoundland and Labrador, to Mount St. Elias, Yukon; north-south, 2,875 mi (4,627 km), from Cape Columbia on Ellesmere Island to Middle Island in Lake Erie. Coastline—151,485 mi (243,791 km), including mainland and islands. Shoreline—Great Lakes, 5,251 mi (8,452 km).
Elevation: Highest—Mount Logan, 19,551 ft (5,959 m) above sea level. Lowest—sea level.
Climate: Canada is extremely frigid in the north and generally cold elsewhere. However, warmer temperatures occur along the west coast and in the far southeast. The west coast has mild summers and cool winters, with temperatures rarely falling much below freezing. The west coast also has abundant precipitation. Central Canada has short, mild to warm summers and bitterly cold winters. Far southeastern Canada (southeastern Ontario and the Atlantic coast) has warm summers and cool to cold winters.
Form of government: Constitutional monarchy.
Head of state: Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom is queen of Canada. The queen, on the recommendation of Canada's prime minister, appoints a governor general to represent her.
Head of government: Prime minister.
Parliament: Senate—105 members, appointed by the governor general on the recommendation of the prime minister. House of Commons—308 members elected by the people.
Political subdivisions: 10 provinces, 3 territories.
Population: Current estimate—33,063,000; 2006 census—31,612,897.
Population density: 9 per mi2 (3 per km2).
Population distribution: 80 percent urban, 20 percent rural.
Major ethnic/national groups: 79 percent of European descent (chiefly British, Irish, and French, but also some Germans, Italians, Ukrainians, and other ethnic groups), 11 percent Asian (mostly Chinese, with Filipino, Indian, Vietnamese, and others), 4 percent American Indians and Inuit.
Major religions: 43 percent Roman Catholic, 29 percent Protestant. Other groups include Buddhists, Eastern Orthodox, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, and Sikhs.
Chief products: Agriculture—beef cattle, canola, chickens, corn, eggs, hogs, milk, nursery products, wheat. Fishing industry—crab, lobster, shrimp. Forestry—fir, pine, spruce. Manufacturing—aluminum, steel, and other metals; chemicals; fabricated metal products; machinery; motor vehicles and parts; paper products; processed foods and beverages; wood products. Mining—coal, copper, gold, iron ore, natural gas, nickel, petroleum, potash, uranium, zinc .
Money: Basic unit—Canadian dollar. One hundred cents equal one dollar.
International trade: Major exports—motor vehicles and parts; petroleum; precious metals; wheat; wood, newsprint, and wood pulp. Major imports—computers, fruits and vegetables, machinery, motor vehicles and parts, scientific equipment. Major trading partners—The United States is Canada's most important trading partner. Other major commercial partners of Canada include China, France, Germany, Japan, Mexico, and the United Kingdom.

Physical Geography

Size and Location

With a total area of 3,849,670 square miles (9,970,610 km2), Canada is the second largest nation in the world. It is slightly more than half the size of Russia and is somewhat larger than China and the United States. With a maximum width (east-west) of 3,200 miles (5,150 km), Canada stretches across six time zones. The north-south maximum distance is 12,800 miles (4,500 km). The coast of the mainland measures about 17,900 miles (28,800 km); that of the islands, 41,800 miles (67,270 km).

Canada borders the United States in the south and stretches northward, past the Arctic Circle, to the Beaufort Sea and the Arctic Ocean. The east coast is formed largely by the Atlantic Ocean, including such arms as the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the Labrador Sea, Davis Strait, and Baffin Bay. Western Canada fronts on the Pacific Ocean and borders Alaska. The 5,527-mile (8,895-km) Canada-United States boundary, including 1,540 miles (2,478 km) along Alaska, is the longest between any two nations in the world.

CanadaCanada is the second largest country in the world. Only Russia has more land.

Canada can be divided into seven major physical regions. All were heavily glaciated and altered during the last Ice Age.

The Canadian Shield

An immense block of ancient crystalline rock, called the Canadian Shield, spans roughly half of the country. It curves in a great arc around Hudson Bay from the coast of Labrador to the Beaufort Sea. Included in the region are some Arctic islands. Most of the terrain varies from relatively level to hummocky, with an abundance of glacial debris, exposed rock, lakes, and muskegs (bogs). Elevations are generally less than 1,500 feet (460 m); however, they exceed 3,500 feet (1,070 m) in the Laurentian Mountains, north of the St. Lawrence River, and reach 8,500 feet (2,590 m) on Baffin Island. The Shield is rich in minerals, forests, and waterpower, both developed and potential. Most of it has not been settled.

The Hudson Bay Lowland

is a flat, poorly drained area of marine deposits between the Canadian Shield and the southern shore of Hudson Bay. It extends inland up to 200 miles (320 km) and lies roughly between the Moose and Churchill rivers. Except for the wheat-shipping port of Churchill, in the north, there are virtually no settlements.

The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Lowland

is a fertile area of level to rolling land adjoining Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, and the St. Lawrence River in southern Ontario and Quebec. Though relatively small, the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Lowland is the most heavily populated and productive part of Canada.

The Appalachian Region

in the east, includes the island of Newfoundland, the Maritime Provinces, and that part of Quebec southeast of the St. Lawrence valley. The region is the northernmost part of an ancient, largely eroded mountain system and consists mainly of hills and low, rounded mountains. In some areas there are coastal lowlands and fertile valleys and basins. The highest peak rises only 4,160 feet (1,268 m) above sea level, in the Notre Dame Mountains on the Gaspé Peninsula of Quebec.

The Cordilleran Region,

in the west, is the highest and most rugged part of Canada. It includes most of British Columbia, virtually all of the Yukon Territory, and parts of the Northwest Territories and Alberta.

The region's eastern portion consists of the Rocky Mountains, including the Mackenzie Mountains and other ranges. In the west are the Coast Mountains and a maze of mountainous offshore islands, chief of which are Vancouver Island and the Queen Charlotte Islands. Between the Rockies and the Coast Mountains lies a rugged area of high plateaus, mountain ranges, and deep valleys. Numerous peaks in the Cordilleran Region reach elevations of more than 10,000 feet (3,000 m). Mount Logan, Canada's highest, towers 19,524 feet (5,951 m) above sea level in the St. Elias Mountains in the Yukon Territory, near the Alaska border. Much of the Cordilleran Region is wilderness, rich in hydroelectric power potential, forests, and minerals. Most of Canada's oldest and most popular national parks, including Banff and Jasper, are in the Cordilleran Region.

The Interior Plains,

a broad strip of land between the Canadian Shield and the Cordilleran Region, make up the largest area of nearly level land in Canada. The southern part consists of prairies, most of which are part of the Great Plains of North America. A comparatively small section is part of the Central Lowlands. The region is as much as 800 miles (1,300 km) wide in the prairies, where the original grassland vegetation created deep, fertile soils, the basis of a rich farming region. Elevations range from sea level at the Arctic coast to more than 4,000 feet (1,200 m) at the base of the Rocky Mountains in Alberta.

The Arctic Islands Region

consists of hundreds of islands, most of them above the Arctic Circle. Among the largest are Baffin, Ellesmere, Victoria, Banks, and Devon. Some islands are low-lying; others are plateau-like or mountainous. Ice permanently covers much of the northernmost islands, particularly Ellesmere, where mountains reach elevations of more than 8,500 feet (2,600 m).


Canada's many rivers and countless lakes, a legacy of the glaciers, have a combined area of more than 292,000 square miles (755,000 km2). They are a resource valued for hydroelectric power, fisheries, and navigation, and some are of great scenic beauty. Niagara Falls, in Ontario, attracts tourists from all over the world.

Canada shares four of the Great Lakes— Superior, Huron, Erie, and Ontario—with the United States. (The fifth, Lake Michigan, is wholly within the United States.) Together with the St. Lawrence River, they are historically and economically Canada's most important inland waters. With their canals, they form a navigable route that extends far inland and serves the most highly developed part of the country.

The Hudson Bay drainage basin is the largest in Canada—more than 1,466,000 square miles (3,797,000 km2). Its chief river is the Nelson, which begins at Lake Winnipeg, a remnant of the glacial Lake Agassiz. Major rivers in the Nelson system are the Saskatchewan, North Saskatchewan, South Saskatchewan, Assiniboine, Red, and Winnipeg. The Churchill, farther north, is also a major river in the Hudson Bay basin.

The Arctic drainage basin rivals the Hudson Bay basin in size. It is dominated by the Mackenzie river system, one of the longest in the world—2,635 miles (4,241 km) from the mouth of the Mackenzie to the head of the Finlay River in the Rockies. Three of Canada's largest lakes—Great Bear Lake, Great Slave Lake, and Lake Athabasca—lie in the Mackenzie's drainage area. Major tributaries and headstreams include the Liard, Hay, Peace, Athabasca, and Slave.

The rivers of the Pacific basin flow from the mountains of the Cordilleran Region to the Pacific Ocean, following tortuous courses marked by deep canyons, rapids, and falls. Among them are the Columbia, Fraser, and Yukon rivers.


Most of Canada has either a polar or a subpolar climate. These two types of climate prevail throughout the northern and central parts of the country, including the northern sections of the mainland provinces. Winters here are long and bitterly cold, with average January temperatures ranging from roughly -10° to -35° F. (-23° to -37° C.), depending on location. Lows of -50° to -60° F. (-46° to -51° C.) are common. Summers are brief and cool, with occasional warm periods. July temperatures average between 40° and 60° F. (4° and 16° C.). Precipitation is light, particulary in the far north, and consists mainly of snow.

The Pacific coast, with cool waters offshore and protected from the Arctic cold by high mountains, has the most moderate climate in Canada. Rarely is the weather severely hot or cold. Summers are cool to warm, with average July readings near 60° F. (16° C.). Winters are mild, all months averaging above freezing. Rainfall is abundant—more than 100 inches (2,540 mm) a year in some areas exposed directly to the sea. Much cloudiness also marks the weather, especially during winter. Winter is also the period of greatest precipitation.

Away from the coast in the mountainous region of southern British Columbia the climate is highly varied, but markedly colder and drier. The variation stems mainly from differences in elevation and, to a lesser extent, latitude. The windward sides of mountains receive considerably more precipitation than the leeward sides.

A type of continental climate prevails throughout the prairies of southern Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, where winters are severe. In the western part, the severity is moderated somewhat by warm chinook winds from the Rockies. January temperatures average about 0° to 10° F. (-18° to -12° C.), depending on location. Summers are warm throughout the prairies, July averaging near 70° F. (21° C.). There are also days of 90° to 100° F. (32° to 38° C.). Precipitation is variable in this relatively dry region, but usually averages between 10 and 20 inches (255 and 510 mm) a year.

The southern parts of Ontario and Quebec have a humid continental type of climate. Winters are long and cold, January averaging about 5° to 15° F. (-15° to -9° C.). Summers are warm and somewhat longer than in most other regions in Canada. Precipitation is abundant, about 30 to 40 inches (760 to 1,020 mm) a year. Snowfall is heavy, especially in southern Quebec.

The climate of the Atlantic Provinces resembles that of southern Quebec and Ontario, but is modified by the ocean. Summers are cool to warm; winters are cold, snowy, and damp. Fog is prevalent in many areas. Precipitation is heavy; at Halifax, Nova Scotia, for example, it averages more than 50 inches (1,270 mm) per year.

Plants and Animals

Most of Canada is tundra, forestland, or grassland.

The tundra lies mainly in the permafrost areas of the far north, where the subsoil is frozen all year. It is a bleak, treeless tract where mosses, lichens, sedges, and other extremely hardy small plants grow during a brief warm season. Similar vegetation occurs above the timberline in the high western mountains.

The forests, a major natural resource of Canada, lie south of the tundra and cover about 45 per cent of the country, or 1,711,000 square miles (4,431,000 km2). They begin in the Arctic as stands of low, stunted trees and reach their greatest development in a vast forest that stretches from Labrador to Alaska. This forest, called the boreal forest, consists mainly of conifers— spruces, pines, firs, and hemlocks. Similar coniferous forests, the source of most of the timber cut for lumber, cover much of the western mountains, especially in British Columbia. Trees here include Douglas fir, western red cedar, and ponderosa pine.

Mixed forests—consisting of conifers mingled with such deciduous trees as birches, poplars (including aspen), maples, beeches, and elms—occur along the southern fringe of the boreal forest and prevail in southeastern Canada.

Grasslands, much like those of the northern Great Plains of the United States, are found in the southern sections of the Prairie Provinces. Much of this area is now farmland, used largely for growing wheat and other grains.


With its vast wilderness and sparsely settled areas, Canada retains a richly varied and abundant wildlife. There are about 185 known species of mammals. Some are numerous and far-ranging; others are rare and limited to small areas. Among the large land mammals are grizzly, polar, brown, and black bears; moose; wapiti (elk); caribou; bison; musk oxen; mountain sheep; mountain goats; cougars; and wolves. Smaller animals include the lynx, fox, mink, marten, wolverine, ferret, otter, fisher, skunk, badger, squirrel, chipmunk, beaver, muskrat, porcupine, lemming, and wood-chuck. Most of these are of the weasel or rodent family, and many are valued for their fur. Seals and walruses inhabit the cold coastal waters.

There are more than 500 known species of birds. Some stay the year round, but many are migratory. Numerous kinds of fish abound in the many lakes and streams. Among the best known are char, grayling, pike, salmon, sturgeon, trout, and whitefish. Of the 35 varieties of snakes, rattlesnakes are the only poisonous ones. Frogs are the most abundant and widespread of the amphibians. There are numerous kinds of insects. Among the most annoying to humans are mosquitoes, horseflies, and deerflies.



Manufacturing employs roughly one-sixth of the labor force and accounts for a similar share of the gross national product. The leading groups of manufactured items (by value) are transportation equipment, especially automobiles and automobile parts; foods and beverages; paper and paper products, particularly newsprint; primary metals; and chemicals. Also important are electrical and electronic equipment; fabricated metal items; lumber and other wood products; refined petroleum; and machinery.

About 80 per cent (by value) of all goods manufactured in Canada are produced in Ontario and Quebec. Of outstanding importance as industrial centers are the urbanized areas near the lower Great Lakes and along the St. Lawrence River.

Ontario alone accounts for about half of the total value of all Canadian manufacturing and has the most diversified production. Automobiles and processed foods are the leading products. Also important are primary metals, liquors, paper and paper goods, chemicals, electrical and electronic equipment, and industrial, agricultural, and office machinery. Toronto is by far the chief industrial center; others include Hamilton, Ottawa, London, and Windsor.

In Quebec the largest industries are petroleum refining, the preparation of foods and beverages, the smelting and refining of metals, and the making of pulp and paper. Also significant is the manufacturing of cotton and synthetic textiles, clothing, tobacco products, shoes, and aircraft. The largest single share of the province's production (by value) comes from Montreal.

In other provinces manufacturing is based heavily on processing local resources, such as timber, grains, livestock, petroleum, and fish. Among the chief centers are Vancouver, British Columbia; Edmonton and Calgary, Alberta; and Winnipeg, Manitoba.


Agriculture virtually dominated Canada's economy until the early 1900's, but has declined in relative importance as the nation has industrialized. Today, agriculture engages only about 3 per cent of the labor force. Production, however, has greatly increased over the years as farms have become larger, more efficient, and mechanized. Farm production meets most of the nation's food requirements and provides surpluses, especially of wheat, for export.

Less than 7 per cent of the nation's land is farmland. Most of it lies in the southern part of the Prairie Provinces, Canada's great granary and richest farming region. Here, wheat is the chief crop, although other grains, fodder crops, oilseeds, and sugar beets are also important. In addition, the prairies are Canada's foremost cattle-producing region.

The only other major farming region lies in southern Ontario and Quebec, bordering the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River. Farming here is intensive and diversified, and it serves large, urban markets nearby. Among the region's many products are beef cattle, hogs, poultry and eggs, milk, corn and other grains, hay, tobacco, and fruits and vegetables. In value, production rivals that of the Prairie Provinces.

Farming in the rest of Canada is limited by poor soils, rough terrain, harsh climate, and other adverse factors. In the Atlantic Provinces production is mainly for local markets and farming consists largely of dairying and the growing of hay, root crops, and hardy fruits. Potatoes are a specialty of New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island; apples are an important crop in the Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia. In British Columbia the Okanagan and Fraser valleys are noted for a variety of fruit.


Canada is immensely rich and virtually self-sufficient in minerals, and mining is a multi-billion-dollar industry. About 60 minerals are presently mined; the variety of Canada's mineral production is exceeded by that of few other nations. Canada is a world leader in production of asbestos, nickel, zinc, silver, molybdenum, sulfur, gypsum, uranium, potash, copper, lead, cadmium, gold, platinum, and cobalt. Increasingly, minerals are being smelted and refined within Canada; some are still exported as ores.

Fuels account for nearly 60 per cent of the value of all minerals produced. Petroleum and natural gas are by far the most important fuels produced. Petroleum first came into large-scale production in the late 1940's and has since become Canada's most valuable mineral. The Prairie Provinces, espedaily Alberta, produce most of the petroleum and natural gas.

Metals account for nearly 30 per cent of the value of Canada's total mineral output. Copper, gold, nickel, iron, uranium, zinc, and lead are the chief ones. Most of the known deposits of metals lie in the Canadian Shield and in the western mountains.

Canada is a leading producer of potash. Other minerals produced include sulfur, asbestos, salt, peat, and gypsum.


Canada is one of the world's leading wood-producing countries, normally ranking among the top 10. Logging takes place mainly in the southern parts of the forest belt, especially on the Canadian Shield and in mountains of the west.

From the forests come vast amounts of timber; most of it is either used as lumber or processed into pulp for making newsprint, other paper, and many by-products. British Columbia, Quebec, and Ontario are the leading producers; they account for the major part of Canada's annual cut.

British Columbia, with its magnificent stands of conifers, especially Douglas fir, normally supplies more than 40 per cent of all timber cut and about 60 per cent of all lumber. Quebec, followed by British Columbia and Ontario, is the chief producer of pulp.

Fisheries and Furs

Canada's annual catch of fish, much of which is exported, is among the most valuable in the world. Most of it comes from the coasts of Newfoundland and the Maritime Provinces, where fishing has long been a major occupation. Of outstanding importance are the Grand Banks, southeast of Newfoundland, one of the most bountiful fisheries in the world. In the early 1990's, however, excessive fishing in this area, especially of cod, became a major problem. The Atlantic catch normally consists mainly of cod, herring, flounder, redfish, and haddock. Lobsters, scallops, and other shellfish, taken from shallow coastal waters, are also of great importance.

Fisheries along the British Columbia coast yield mainly salmon, the leading fish by total value. Others taken from the Pacific include halibut and herring. Commercial fishing on inland waters, largely for whitefish, pickerel, and perch, centers in the Great Lakes, Lake Winnipeg, and Great Slave Lake. There is virtually no commercial fishing in Arctic waters.

As in colonial times, Canada is a major producer and exporter of furs. Wild animals, including beaver, marten, muskrat, fox, coyote, and mink, are trapped or hunted throughout much of the country. Usually of greater value, however, are pelts produced on fur farms, virtually all of which are mink. Ontario is the leading fur-producing province; Montreal, the leading fur market.

Transportation and Communication

Transportation. Canada's transportation facilities are modern and well developed. They are concentrated in a relatively narrow band in the south, stretching from coast to coast.

Railways form the primary link, especially for freight, between eastern and western Canada. Freight service is provided largely by two giant transcontinental railway systems—Canadian National (CNR) and CP (Canadian Pacific) Rail. Both railways are privately owned and operated. There are also 30 regional railways. Intercity passenger service is provided by VIA Rail Canada, Inc., a government-sponsored corporation that took over CNR and CP passenger routes in 1977.

Extensive road and highway networks are maintained by both the federal government and the provincial governments. Modern four-lane highways are numerous in the densely settled regions of southern Ontario and Quebec. The Trans-Canada Highway, an all-weather route stretching coast to coast, was officially opened in 1962. The Alaska Highway, built during World War II, links Dawson Creek, British Columbia, and Fairbanks, Alaska.

For moving many of its goods, Canada has long depended heavily on the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River, which serve the large population and production centers. Use of these waterways was increased with the completion of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1959, enabling oceangoing ships to enter the Great Lakes. Major canals are those on the St. Lawrence River above Montreal, the Welland, and the Sault Ste. Marie. Canada's chief ports are Montreal, on the St. Lawrence, and Vancouver, on the Pacific coast. The Inside Passage, running between the many islands along the British Columbia coast, provides a protected coastal route.

There are two major airlines in Canada, Air Canada and Canadian Airlines International. Both are privately owned and both fly domestic and international routes. Regional airlines also provide regular commercial service within Canada. In addition, small companies provide charter flights, many of them to remote areas in the north. Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, and Vancouver have the nation's busiest airports.

Communications. Radio and television broadcasting is largely by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), an agency of the federal government. The CBC operates separate English-language and French-language networks. Of the several privately owned television networks, CTV and TVA are the largest. Cable television is widely available. Many programs originating in the United States are received in Canada.

More than 100 privately and publicly owned telephone companies provide service in Canada. Nine are major regional systems, the largest of which is Bell Canada, operating primarily in Ontario and Quebec. Domestic long-distance and overseas telephone service is provided by Telecom Canada, an association of regional systems. Tele-sat Canada is the nation's domestic satellite operator. Teleglobe Canada provides international telecommunications services.

The Canadian postal service is operated by the federal government. Roughly 100 daily newspapers and hundreds of magazines and weekly newspapers are published in Canada. Most are printed in English; of those not in English, most are in French. The largest Canadian news service is the Canadian Press.

Foreign Trade

Canada produces many commodities primarily for export and is a prominent world trading nation. Unlike those of a few decades ago, most exports are manufactured or processed goods; raw materials as exports are declining. Most valuable among Canada's many exports are motor vehicles and parts, wood pulp, lumber, crude and refined petroleum, machinery, metals, aircraft, and telecommunications equipment.

Imports consist primarily of manufactured products. They include motor vehicles and parts, machinery, electronic equipment, and chemicals.

The United States is Canada's chief trade partner, generally accounting for nearly 85 per cent of Canada's exports by value, and a somewhat smaller percentage of its imports. Of particular significance is the trade in motor vehicles and parts across the United States border, mainly between Michigan and Ontario. There is also much trade with Great Britain and Japan.


Canada's basic currency unit is the Canadian dollar, which is made up of 100 cents.


Tourism has become a significant and increasing source of income in many parts of the country. Attractions include countless fishing, hunting, and camping areas; winter and summer resorts; scenic national and provincial parks. Also popular are Canada's major cities, the distinctive French towns of Quebec, and the picturesque fishing villages along the Atlantic coast.

Canada was largely a farming, lumbering, and fishing country until the early 1900's. It has since become a highly industrialized nation, with a standard of living comparable to that of the United States. Industrial output increased considerably during and after World War I. Spectacular economic growth followed World War II with the establishment of large-scale manufacturing and increased use of Canada's abundant natural resources.

Since World War II enormous investments by Canadians and by foreign corporations, many of them from the United States, have prompted much of the growth. During the 1950's and 1960's growth was most apparent in mining, manufacturing, transportation, communications, construction, and power—mostly hydroelectric. Since the 1970's, most growth has occurred in wholesale and retail trade and in industries that provide services to individuals, communities, and businesses.

Private enterprise predominates, although government plays major roles, directly or indirectly. Government, for example, owns some of the transportation and communications systems as well as some public utilities. It also has broad regulatory powers.

Economic production in Canada
Economic activities% of GDP producedNumber of workers% of all workers
Community, business, & personal services 205,120,40032
Finance, insurance, & real estate 20955,0006
Manufacturing 172,297,00014
Trade, restaurants, & hotels 143,510,40022
Transportation & communication 91,542,00010
Construction 6952,8006
Government 5829,2005
Mining 4285,7002
Utilities 2133,0001
Agriculture, forestry, & fishing 2324,1002
Total 10015,949,600100

The People


In 2001 the population of Canada was 30,007,094—an increase of 1,160,333 over the 1996 total. The rate of increase was 4 per cent, or an average of about 0.8 per cent a year.

Roughly three-fourths of the people live in urban areas, nearly all of them near the southern border. The most heavily populated region extends along the north shores of Lakes Erie and Ontario into the St. Lawrence valley. Here, too, are the two dominant cities of Canada, Montreal and Toronto. Most of central and northern Canada is virtually unihabited. The overall population density is only 8.58 persons per square mile (3.3 per km2) of land, one of the lowest for any nation.


Both English and French are recognized as official and equal languages by the federal government. English is the native language of about 60 per cent of the population; French, of about 25 per cent. Among the remainder of the population, a majority are people for whom Chinese is a native language. About 13 per cent of the population speak both English and French; fewer than 2 per cent speak neither.

Bilingualism has long been a sensitive political issue, with French Canadians feeling that Canada has been dominated by the English-speaking. The federal government sought to improve the situation by promoting bilingualism in all the provinces. In 1974, however, the Quebec government made French the sole official language in that province. Inuktitut is the working language of Nunavut, but English and French are also used.


About 45 per cent of the people are Roman Catholics and 36 per cent Protestants. The largest Protestant denominations are the United Church of Canada (a union of Methodists, Congregationalists, and some Presbyterians), to which more than 10 per cent of the people belong, and the Anglican Church of Canada, with about 8 per cent of the population. There are also relatively large numbers of Presbyterians, Lutherans, Baptists, Greek Orthodox, and Jews. Two provinces—Quebec and New Brunswick— are predominantly Catholic; the remainder have Protestant majorities.


Public education in Canada is the responsibility of the provincial governments, with each province having a department of education or its equivalent. Provinces delegate some responsibility to local school boards. There are also territorial departments of education. The federal government provides financial support for postsecondary education. It also directly administers special schools, such as those for Indian children on the reserves, Inuit in the territories, armed forces personnel and their families, and inmates of federal prisons. There are few private schools on the elementary and secondary levels.

School attendance is compulsory from age 6 (or 7 in some provinces) to age 15 (or 16). In general, education is free through secondary school. The elementary-secondary program covers 12 years. The public schools are operated by local school boards guided by provincial laws. In Quebec, school boards are generally organized by language of instruction—French or English. Most provinces have small numbers of private schools with their own school boards. Most of these schools are Roman Catholic. Private schools must provide programs that meet provincial standards. Several provinces provide financial support to private schools.

Canada has more than 270 institutions of higher learning, including universities and community colleges. Control is either private or provincial. Among the largest are the universities of Toronto, Montreal, British Columbia (in Vancouver), and Alberta (in Edmonton), Laval University in Quebec City, McGill University in Montreal, and York University in North York, Ontario. The community colleges offer two years of postsecondary education and technical training. In addition, vocational education is provided at technology institutes and at trade and business schools. Adult education courses are offered by universities, colleges, local boards of education, and business and professional associations.

The literacy rate is high in Canada; about 97 per cent of the adult population is able to read and write.


Canada's culture is both diverse and distinctive. It has been influenced by the traditions of its indigenous peoples, the Indians and the Inuit; its European founders, the British and the French; its neighbor to the south, the United States; and its multicultural immigrant population. It also has aspects that are uniquely Canadian.

The federal government encourages and gives financial aid to organizations and individuals working in music, theater, opera, dance, visual arts, and literature. This is accomplished through such organizations as the Canada Council, founded in 1957 to support cultural activities. Provinces and municipalities also give some assistance to individual artists as well as to cultural groups and institutions. The National Film Board and Telefilm Canada encourage and aid the Canadian film industry. Another important instrument for promoting Canadian culture is the publicly owned Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

The National Arts Centre, located in Ottawa, has several theaters for the performing arts. It has a resident orchestra and a theater company. The Stratford Festival, at Stratford, Ontario, is Canada's best-known theatrical enterprise. The National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa has an excellent art collection and sends touring exhibits throughout the country. Public and private art galleries are found in most large cities. There are more than 3,500 public libraries; the National Library of Canada is in Ottawa. The Canadian Museum of Nature and the Canada Museum of Science and Technology are also in Ottawa. The Canadian Museum of Civilization is in Hull.

Several cities have symphony orchestras, including Edmonton, Montreal, Quebec, Toronto, Vancouver, and Winnipeg. The National Ballet, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, and Les Grands Ballets Canadiens are the major ballet companies. There are many smaller ballet troupes and many local amateur and professional theater groups. Several cities have opera companies, including Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver.

Canadians who have gained international fame in the performing arts include Glenn Gould, pianist; Sir Ernest Campbell Mac-Millan, conductor; and Edward Johnson, operatic tenor and manager. Among Canada's noted artists are James E. H. MacDonald and Emily Carr.

Sports and Recreation

Canadians are sports enthusiasts. Rough-and-tumble sports such as ice hockey (in its modern form, a Canadian invention) and Canadian football are the most avidly followed spectator sports. Baseball also has numerous fans. Professional and semiprofessional teams are found in many of the larger cities.

Popular participant sports or recreational activities include hiking, swimming, ice skating, tennis, golf, ice hockey, and skiing (both downhill and cross-country).

The federal government provides leadership and financial assistance to amateur sports at both the national and international levels through Sport Canada, a unit of the Department of National Health and Welfare. Another such unit, Fitness Canada, promotes the participation of the public in regular physical activity. Provincial and municipal governments also encourage active leisure pursuits for everyone by providing financial assistance, technical guidance, and sports facilities.

Areas of scenic and historic interest have been set aside by the federal and provincial governments for recreational purposes. Sightseeing, camping, fishing, hiking, and boating facilities attract many Canadians and foreign tourists.


Canada is a constitutional monarchy. It is governed under the Constitution Act, 1982, and a body of legal traditions and principles—referred to as the unwritten provisions of the constitution—inherited from Great Britain. The Constitution Act, passed by the Canadian parliament and approved by the British parliament, incorporates within it the British North America Act of 1867 (now officially called the Constitution Act, 1867) and its amendments, and various Canadian statutes.

Under the Constitution Act, 1982, Canada has full and complete sovereignty; Great Britain no longer plays a role—as it did until the Act took effect—in the process of amending Canada's fundamental laws. (Until 1982, Canada could not amend these laws without the assent of the British parliament.) Also included in the Constitution Act is the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a bill of rights.

Like the United States, Canada is a federal union. It is composed of 10 provinces and 3 territories. The federal government has responsibility for matters that concern the country as a whole—such as national defense, external affairs (foreign relations), trade and commerce, criminal law, money and banking, transportation, citizenship, and native rights—and for other matters not assigned to the provinces. Among the responsibilities of the provincial governments are education, health and social services, natural resources, and local government. There is joint jurisdiction in agriculture, immigration, and certain other areas.

The Peace TowerThe Peace Tower of the Houses of Parliament is the dominant feature of Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Canada's capital city.

Canada is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, an association of independent nations most of which were once part of the British Empire.

Federal Government

Canada's head of state is the British sovereign, but the sovereign's role is mainly symbolic. The sovereign's representative in Canada is the governor general, a Canadian appointed by the sovereign on the advice of the Canadian prime minister, usually for a term of five years. The governor general acts only on the advice of the Canadian government and signs all federal legislation in the name of the Crown.

Like Great Britain, Canada has a parliamentary system of government. The parliament consists of the governor general and two legislative chambers—the Senate and the House of Commons. Executive power in Canada is vested in the prime minister and a cabinet of ministers.

House of Commons. The House of Commons is the lower house of the parliament. It consists of 295 members, all of whom are elected. The provinces and territories are divided into electoral districts called ridings, and one member of parliament (MP) is elected from each. Representation is based on population and is readjusted every 10 years, using census figures. The maximum time between elections is five years.

The House of Commons is the most important part of the legislature for several reasons:

  • The prime minister and most government ministers are members of the House.
  • The government (the party in power) remains in office only so long as it has the support of the House of Commons. (When the government is defeated on a motion on which it has explicitly staked its life or when a vote of no-confidence is passed in the House, it must resign or a new election must be called.)
  • Although all laws must be passed by both houses of the parliament, money bills (those that impose taxes or spend public funds) can originate only in the House.

The Senate, whose members are appointed, is the upper house of the parliament. Ordinarily, the Senate consists of 104 members appointed by the governor general on the advice of the prime minister. They may hold office until the age of 75. Each province is represented by 4 to 24 senators, depending on its population. The territories each have one senator. (The Constitution Act allows the prime minister to appoint four or eight additional senators, drawn equally from Ontario, Quebec, the Maritime Provinces, and the western provinces.) The Senate's duties and powers are identical to those of the House of Commons, with the exception that money bills cannot originate in the Senate.

Prime Minister and Cabinet

After an election, the leader of the majority party in the House of Commons becomes the prime minister and forms the new government. (If no party has a majority, two or more parties may form a coalition whose leader, if the coalition constitutes a majority, becomes prime minister.) The party with the second highest number of members in the House becomes the official Opposition.

The prime minister chooses a cabinet of ministers from among supporters in parliament. Each minister is given charge of a department of the government, such as finance, external affairs, or national defense. The cabinet develops policies and attempts to secure the passage of legislation it submits to parliament. The prime minister and cabinet remain in power until their party (or coalition) loses its majority in an election or until required to resign following a no-confidence vote in the House of Commons.

Judicial System

The chief bodies of the federal judiciary are the Supreme Court of Canada, the Federal Court of Canada, and the Tax Court of Canada. The Supreme Court of Canada is the nation's highest court of appeal. It hears constitutional, criminal, and civil cases, and also gives advisory opinions to the federal and provincial governments as requested. The court consists of a chief justice and eight puisne (associate) justices.

The Federal Court of Canada has civil and criminal jurisdiction in matters involving the federal government, such as taxation cases, maritime law, and cases dealing with copyrights, patents, and trademarks. It has two divisions—an appeal division, consisting of a chief justice and 10 other judges, and a trial division, composed of an associate chief justice and 13 other judges. The Tax Court of Canada handles disputes between taxpayers and the Department of National Revenue. It has a chief justice, an associate chief justice, and up to 16 other judges.

All judges are appointed by the governor general, acting on recommendations of the prime minister, and may retain their positions until age 75.

Political Parties

For much of the time since the Canadian confederation was formed in 1867, there have been only two major parties in national politics—the Liberal party and the Progressive Conservative party. Other parties that have been active on both the national and provincial levels include the Social Credit party, the Bloc Québécois, the New Democratic party, the Parti Québécois, and the Reform party.

Provincial and Territorial Government

Provincial governments have much the same structure as the federal government, except that they have unicameral (one-house) legislatures. The chief executive in each province is the premier, who usually heads the largest party in the legislative assembly. The premier selects a cabinet from among supporters in the assembly. Each province is divided into electoral districts, from which members of the assembly are elected to terms not to exceed five years. In each province, the monarch is represented by a lieutenant governor, who is appointed, usually for five years, by the governor general on the advice of the prime minister. Like the governor general, the lieutenant governor has only limited powers.

Each territorial government consists of a commissioner, appointed by the federal government, who functions much like a lieutenant governor; an executive council, whose role is similar to that of a provincial cabinet; and an elected legislative council.

Local Government

The major units of local government are the municipalities—cities, towns, and villages. There are also metropolitan and regional governments and special agencies, boards, and commissions created by the provincial and territorial governments. The powers and responsibilities of these local governmental entities are delegated to them by the provincial and territorial legislatures. Local governments generally are responsible for local services such as police and fire protection, roads, hospitals, schools, water supply and sanitation, and recreational facilities.

Military and Police Forces

National defense is provided by the Canadian Armed Forces, a combined service that includes land, sea, and air forces, and both active and reserve components. There is no conscription in Canada. Canada is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). It cooperates with the United States in maintaining the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). Canada also supplies troops to the United Nations for peacekeeping missions.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police is a civil force maintained by the federal government. It enforces federal laws throughout Canada and provides provincial and municipal law enforcement in all provinces and territories except Ontario and Quebec, which have their own forces.

Governors general of Canada
Viscount Monck (Charles Stanley Monck)1867-1868
Baron Lisgar (John Young)1869-1872
Marquess of Dufferin and Ava (Frederick Blackwood)1872-1878
Marquess of Lorne (John Campbell)1878-1883
Marquess of Lansdowne (Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice)1883-1888
Baron Stanley of Preston (Frederick Stanley)1888-1893
Marquess of Aberdeen and Temair (John Gordon)1893-1898
Earl of Minto (Gilbert John Murray Kynynmond Elliot)1898-1904
Earl Grey (Albert Grey)1904-1911
Duke of Connaught and Strathearn (Arthur Albert)1911-1916
Duke of Devonshire (Victor Cavendish)1916-1921
Julian H. G. Byng (Viscount Byng of Vimy)1921-1926
Marquess of Willingdon (Freeman Freeman-Thomas)1926-1931
Earl of Bessborough (Vere Ponsonby)1931-1935
Buchan, John (Baron Tweedsmuir)1935-1940
Earl of Athlone (Alexander Cambridge)1940-1946
Earl Alexander of Tunis (Harold R. L. G. Alexander)1946-1952
Vincent Massey1952-1959
Georges-Philias Vanier1959-1967
Roland Michener1967-1974
Jules Leger1974-1979
Edward R. Schreyer1979-1984
Jeanne M. Sauve1984-1990
Ramon J. Hnatyshyn1990-1995
Romeo LeBlanc1995-1999
Adrienne Clarkson1999-2005
Michaelle Jean2005-

About 30 per cent of the people of Canada have some British ancestry and about 20 per cent have some French ancestry. Canadians of non-British, non-French ethnic background are also mainly of European extraction, predominantly German, Italian, Ukrainian, and Portuguese. Canada's largest non-European group is Chinese. Indians and Inuit (Eskimos) make up 2 per cent of the population. Black Canadians total less than 1 per cent.

The French Canadians are overwhelmingly concentrated in Quebec province. Approximately two-thirds of the Indians live on reserves in various provinces. Most of the Inuit are located in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, although some are found in northern Quebec, Labrador, and Ontario.