Introduction to Geography of Quebec

Quebec, (French: Québec ), a province of eastern Canada. It is bordered by Ontario, New Brunswick, and the Labrador part of Newfoundland and, in the south, by the states of New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. Quebec is Canada's largest province. With an area of 594,860 square miles (1,540,680 km2), it occupies more than one-seventh of the nation. It is larger than Alaska and twice the size of Texas.

The vast majority of the people of Quebec are of French descent. Their language, customs, and traditions remain largely French.

Quebec'sQuebec's provincial bird is the snowy owl.

Physical Geography

QuebecQuebec is the largest province of Canada in area. It lies in the eastern region of Canada.

Three natural regions make up Quebec: the Canadian Shield; the St. Lawrence Lowland, or Valley; and the Appalachians.

The Canadian Shield, also known as the Laurentian Plateau, consists of an enormous block of ancient crystalline rock. It makes up virtually all the province north of the St. Lawrence River. The terrain varies from relatively level to rolling, with an abundance of glacial debris, exposed rock, lakes, and muskegs (bogs). Immense glaciers shaped much of the surface during the last Ice Age. The Shield is an inhospitable region with a harsh environment, but possesses vast mineral, forest, and water resources.

Elevations on the Shield rarely exceed 3,000 feet (900 m) above sea level, except in the Torngat Mountains in the extreme northeast. There, on the Newfoundland border, Mount D'Iberville (called Mount Caubvick in Newfoundland) reaches 5,420 feet (1,652 m), the highest elevation in Quebec. The Laurentian Mountains, or the Laurentides, which make up the southern edge of the Shield, are a rough, hilly area with many winter and summer resorts.

The St. Lawrence Lowland, as much as 60 miles (100 km) wide, lies along the St. Lawrence River between the cities of Montreal and Quebec. Virtually all the land is relatively flat and situated near sea level. For centuries the St. Lawrence Lowland has been Quebec's chief agricultural, manufacturing, and commercial area.

The Appalachians—a continuation of the Appalachian Mountains of the United States—lie south of the St. Lawrence River. They are mostly smooth and rounded and extend some 470 miles (760 km) northeastward from the Green Mountains of Vermont to the tip of the Gaspé Peninsula. The main chain is the Notre Dame Mountains, which reach their highest point at Mount Jacques-Cartier on the Gaspé—4,160 feet (1,268 m).

Quebec'sQuebec's provincial tree is the yellow birch.

Quebec's coastal waters include the Gulf of St. Lawrence in the southeast, Hudson Strait and Ungava Bay in the north, and Hudson and James bays in the west. All are arms of the Atlantic Ocean.

Lakes are mainly of glacial origin and cover 71,000 square miles (183,890 km2), or about one-eighth of the province. Among the large lakes are Mistassini and St-Jean. Major man-made reservoirs include Gouin, La Grande 2, and Manicouagan.

Rivers are one of Quebec's chief natural resources. They provide navigational routes and water for hydroelectric power; many are used for floating logs to mills.

The St. Lawrence River connects the Great Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean and has long been a thriving artery of commerce, aiding the development of Quebec and the rest of Canada. Most of the province's other rivers are on the Shield. Nearly all those flowing northward and westward on the Shield are little used because they are remote and flow through virtually uninhabited areas. The La Grande River, which empties into James Bay, is a major exception. In the mid-1980's a multi-dam hydroelectric project was completed on the La Grande, making it one of the world's largest sources of electricity.

Many of the rivers flowing southward from the Shield to the St. Lawrence have also been harnessed for hydroelectric power. Among them are the Manicouagan, Saguenay, and St-Maurice. Together, rivers provide nearly all of the electrical power used in the province, and large amounts are sold to other provinces and to the northeastern United States.


Southern Quebec has a humid continental climate. Winters are long and cold, with January temperatures averaging 5° to 15° F. (-15° to -9° C.). Summers are warm and short, though longer than in most other parts of Canada. July temperatures average 60° to 70° F. (16° to 21° C.). Precipitation totals 35 to 45 inches (900 to 1,100 mm) a year, including large amounts of snow.

A subpolar climate occurs in the central and southern parts of the Canadian Shield. Here winters are long and severe, summers short and cool. Midwinter temperatures may drop to extremes of -50° to -60° F. (-45° to - 50° C.). Rainfall and snowfall are slightly less than in the south.

The climate of northern Quebec is similar to the subpolar climate, except for longer, more severe winters. The subsoil remains frozen throughout the year.

Natural Vegetation

Coniferous forests, composed mainly of spruces, firs, pines, cedars, and hemlocks, cover about 40 per cent of Quebec and form part of the vast boreal forest, or taiga, that stretches across Canada from Labrador to the west coast. In the north the conifers gradually decrease in size and finally give way to treeless tundra. Mixed forests, consisting of conifers and such deciduous trees as birches, oaks, maples, poplars, and elms, predominate in the St. Lawrence Lowland and the Appalachians. Most of the woodlands are crown lands, owned by the provincial government.

Quebec'sQuebec's provincial flower is the blue flag iris.
Interesting facts about Quebec
The Cathedral-Basilica of Mary, Queen of the World, in downtown Montreal, is a reproduction of St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City. The cathedral covers about one-fourth the area of St. Peter's. It was dedicated in 1870.
The Haskell Opera House in Rock Island, Quebec, has performances on a stage in Canada while the audience watches from seats in the United States. North of the U.S-Canadian boundary line is Rock Island. To the south is Derby Line, Vermont. Many other buildings in the area were built before the international boundary was firmly established. In some houses, meals are prepared in Canada and served in the United States.
Joseph-Armand Bombardier of Valcourt helped to launch the sport of snowmobiling when his company began mass-producing sled-sized snowmobiles in 1959. Bombardier began building his first snowmobile in 1922, when he was only 15 years old.


Quebec is second only to Ontario as the most industrialized province of Canada. Manufacturing and services are the leading sectors of the province's economy, both in revenue generated and in numbers of people employed. Also important are tourism, retail and wholesale trade, and the banking and insurance industries.


Quebec accounts for about a fourth of the total value of all Canadian manufacturing. Abundant forest, mineral, and water-power resources, an ample labor supply, and an excellent location on one of the world's great shipping routes have all played major roles in the province's industrial development, which has been especially rapid since the end of World War II. Numerous United States companies and other foreign firms have invested heavily in Quebec.

Quebec's most important industrial activities are the preparation of foods and beverages; the smelting and refining of metals, mainly aluminum (from imported ores), copper, and zinc; the manufacturing of pulp and paper, especially newsprint; and the production of transportation equipment. Some products, particularly newsprint and aluminum, are made mainly for export. Also significant is the production of textiles and clothing, chemicals, petroleum products, electrical goods, and wood products.

Montreal and its suburbs account for roughly two-thirds of the province's industrial production; the Quebec City area ranks second. Other prominent manufacturing areas center on Drummondville, Shawinigan, Sherbrooke, and Trois-Rivières.


Most of Quebec is unsuitable for farming, mainly because of the harsh climate and poor, thin soils. Only about 2 per cent of the province is used for crops, pastures, and farm woodlands. Except for small areas in the vicinity of Lake St-Jean and Lake Abitibi in the southern part of the Shield, all the farmland is in the St. Lawrence Lowland and the Appalachians.

Dairying is the main kind of farming; milk, used chiefly for making butter and cheese, is the leading source of farm income. In milk production Quebec leads all other provinces. The production of hogs, beef cattle, poultry, and eggs is also important. Hay is the most widely grown crop and Quebec is usually Canada's second-largest producer. Oats and corn are also grown as forage crops. Other significant crops include sugar beets, potatoes, apples, barley, oats, and tobacco. Quebec is Canada's leading producer of maple sugar and maple syrup.


Quebec has abundant mineral resources and usually ranks fourth among provinces in the value of its mineral output. Metals, particularly iron ore, gold, copper, and zinc, normally make up more than half of the value of Quebec's mineral production; asbestos and construction materials such as stone, sand, and gravel make up most of the rest. There are no known reserves of fossil fuels in Quebec.

Iron ore, mined at several locations, is the leading mineral in value of output. Most of the ore comes from huge deposits on the Shield near Schefferville and Gagnon. Much of it is exported through St. Lawrence ports. Also of major importance is asbestos. Quebec has long been one of the world's great producers and exporters of this mineral. Production is mainly in the Thetford Mines area, south of the city of Quebec. Niobium, used in making various kinds of steel, is also mined in this area. Quebec is Canada's sole producer of this mineral.

Forestry and Fishing

Lumbering, especially in the southern part of the Shield, is a major industry in Quebec. The annual cut is second only to that of British Columbia. Quebec is the leading province in the production of pulp and paper and second in the production of lumber.

Fishing is one of the oldest industries of Quebec. It centers in the gulf and estuary of the St. Lawrence, where many people in the coastal villages and towns engage in smallscale commercial fishing. The leading fishing villages and towns are on the Gaspé Peninsula and the Magdalen Islands. Cod and lobsters are important in the catch.


Quebec has excellent transportation facilities in the far southern part of the province, particularly in the St. Lawrence Lowland. Much of the Shield is virtually inaccessible except by air.

Railway service is provided primarily by the Canadian National and Canadian Pacific transcontinental systems. The highway network is one of the finest in the nation. The principal route is the Trans-Canada Highway, which traverses nearly 400 miles (640 km) of the St. Lawrence Lowland. Major routes also include freeways and toll roads, some of which are called Autoroutes.

The St. Lawrence River is a major shipping artery, providing access to the Atlantic Ocean and the Great Lakes. Montreal and Quebec are the leading general cargo ports. Sept-Îles and nearby Port-Cartier are major iron ore ports.

Quebec is served by Air Canada, Canadian Airlines International, several regional airlines, and numerous foreign airlines. Montreal's two airports, Mirabel and Dorval, are hubs of air service in Quebec.

The People

Quebec was settled largely by the French and is inhabited mainly by their descendants. Despite many years of British rule, French traditions and ways of life have been retained, especially in rural areas and villages along the lower St. Lawrence River and on the Gaspé Peninsula. People of British descent live mainly in or near the area known as the Eastern Townships—the area extending from the United States border almost to the St. Lawrence River, between Montreal and Quebec.


According to the 2001 census, Quebec had a population of 7,237,479 including some 79,400 Indians and a small number of Inuit (Eskimos). The province's population density was about 12 persons per square mile (4.6 per km2), nearly twice that of the country as a whole. About 80 per cent of the people lived in urban areas.

Language and Religion

French is Quebec's official language. French is the main language of more than 80 per cent of the population; English, of about 15 per cent. One out of four persons is able to speak both French and English.

The Roman Catholic Church is the predominant church, especially among the French-speaking people. The leading Protestant bodies are the Anglican Church and the United Church of Canada.


School attendance is compulsory from age 6 to age 15. Schools are under the jurisdiction of the provincial department of education. The school program includes a one-year kindergarten, six years of elementary school, and five years of secondary education. Post-secondary institutions, called collèges d'enseignement général et professionnel (CEGEP's), provide three-year terminal vocational programs or two-year academic programs, the latter being required for admission to a university.

Institutions of higher learning in which the language of instruction is French include Laval University in Quebec City; the universities of Montreal and Sherbrooke; and the University of Quebec, which has its main campus in Quebec City and branches in various other cities. English-speaking universities include McGill and Concordia in Montreal and Bishop's in Lennoxville.


Quebec's National Assembly BuildingQuebec's National Assembly Building is in Quebec City, the capital from 1608 to 1841 and since 1867.

The nominal head of the Quebec government is the lieutenant governor, who is appointed by the federal government to represent the Queen. The real executive authority is in the Conseil exécutif (Executive Council), or cabinet, which is headed by the premier. The cabinet is responsible to the provincial legislature, the Assemblée nationale (National Assembly), which is composed of 125 members, elected for a maximum term of five years. In the federal Parliament Quebec has 24 members in the Senate and 75 in the House of Commons.

For local government, the more densely settled one-third of the province is municipally organized; the remainder is administered by the provincial government. The area that is municipally organized is comprised of several urban communities (including Montreal, Quebec City, Longueuil, Laval, Gatineau, Sherbrooke, and Lévis), as well as hundreds of municipalities. Outside the larger urban areas, regional county municipalities provide a number of community services.

The Cour d'appel (Court of Appeal) is the highest court in the province. Other courts include a superior court, a provincial court, and various lesser courts. The judges of the higher courts are appointed by the federal government; of the lower courts, by the provincial government. Civil law in Quebec is based on old French law; criminal law is based on English law.