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.