Canada is the second largest country in the world and its territory covers nearly 10 million square kilometres. Canada is bordered by three oceans: the Pacific Ocean to the west, the Atlantic Ocean to the east and the Arctic Ocean to the north. At the southern end of the territory lies the border between Canada and the United States. These two nations work together to maintain a secure and efficient border.
Canada has many different geographic areas and five distinct regions:
- The Atlantic provinces
- Central Canada
- The Prairie provinces
- The West Coast
- The northern territories
- The National Capital
Located on the Ottawa River, the city of Ottawa was chosen as Canada’s capital in 1857 by Queen Victoria, the great-grandmother of Queen Elizabeth II. Today, Ottawa is the fourth largest city in Canada. The National Capital Region, which covers 4,700 square kilometres around Ottawa, preserves and enhances the area’s built heritage and natural environment.
The Provinces and Territories
Canada has ten provinces and three territories, each with its own capital. You should know the capital of your province or territory as well as the capital of Canada.
Canada has a population of approximately 34 million people. While the majority live in large cities, Canadians also live in villages, rural areas and everywhere else.
The Atlantic Provinces
With their coastlines and natural resources, including fishing, agriculture, forestry and mining, the Atlantic provinces play an important role in Canada’s history and development. The Atlantic Ocean results in relatively cool winters and cool, wet summers.
Newfoundland and Labrador
Newfoundland and Labrador, in the far east of North America, occupies its own time zone. Beyond its natural beauty, this province has a distinct heritage that is closely tied to the sea. Newfoundland is the oldest colony in the British Empire and was a strategic asset for Canada in its early days. It has long been known for its fishing grounds, coastal fishing villages and distinctive culture. Today, offshore oil and gas development is a major contributor to its economy. Labrador’s hydroelectric resources are immense.
Prince Edward Island
Prince Edward Island (P.E.I.), the smallest of the provinces, is known for its beaches, red soil and agriculture, especially potato production. The birthplace of Confederation, PEI is connected to the mainland by one of the longest continuous multi-span bridges in the world, the Confederation Bridge. It was in P.E.I. that Lucy Maud Montgomery set her famous novel Anne of Green Gables, about the adventures of a little red-haired orphan girl.
Among the Atlantic provinces, Nova Scotia has the largest population. It is known for its brilliant past as the gateway to Canada and for its Bay of Fundy, where the tides reach heights unparalleled in the world. It is also identified with shipbuilding, fishing and shipping. Its capital, Halifax, the largest port on Canada’s east coast, with deep, ice-free waters, is a major centre of defence and commerce on the Atlantic coast and is home to Canada’s largest naval base. Coal mining, forestry and agriculture have shaped Nova Scotia, which today also benefits from offshore oil and gas exploration. Its Celtic and Gaelic traditions nurture a thriving culture; each year, Nova Scotia hosts more than 700 festivals, including the spectacular Halifax Military Musical Ride.
Founded by the United Empire Loyalists, the Appalachian Mountains run through the province of New Brunswick and form the second largest river system on the Atlantic seaboard of North America, the Saint John River system. The province’s main industries are forestry, agriculture, fishing, mining, food processing and tourism. Saint John is the largest city and is the major port and manufacturing centre. Moncton is the francophone and Acadian core, and Fredericton is the historic capital. New Brunswick is the only officially bilingual province, and about one-third of its population lives and works in French. Street festivals and traditional music bring to life the history and cultural heritage of the province’s founders, the Loyalists and Francophones.
Ontario and Quebec form the Central Region of Canada. More than half of the country’s population lives in the cities and towns of southern Quebec and Ontario, near the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River. This region is the industrial and manufacturing centre of Canada. Winters are cold and summers are hot and humid in southern Ontario and Quebec. Together, Ontario and Quebec produce more than three-quarters of all manufactured goods in the country.
Quebec has a population of close to eight million people, the vast majority of whom live on or near the shores of the St. Lawrence River. More than three-quarters of Quebecers have French as their mother tongue. The resources of the Canadian Shield have enabled Quebec to develop important industries, including forestry, energy and mining. Quebec is Canada’s leading producer of pulp and paper, and its immense freshwater reserves have made it the country’s largest producer of hydroelectricity. Quebecers are leaders in cutting-edge industries such as pharmaceuticals and aeronautics. Quebec’s films, music, literature and cuisine have an international reputation, particularly within La Francophonie, an association of French-speaking countries. Montréal, the second most populous city in Canada and second only to Paris in the list of the world’s largest cities with a predominantly French-speaking population, is known for its cultural diversity.
With a population of more than 12 million, Ontario is home to more than one-third of Canada’s population. Its large and culturally diverse population, natural resources and strategic location contribute to the vitality of its economy. Toronto is Canada’s largest city and the country’s major financial centre. Many people work in the service sector and in the manufacturing industry, which produces a significant percentage of Canada’s exports. The Niagara region is known for its vineyards, wines and fruit crops. Ontario farmers raise dairy and beef cattle, poultry, vegetables and grains. Founded by the United Empire Loyalists, Ontario has the largest French-speaking population outside of Quebec, with a history of struggles to preserve its language and culture. The five Great Lakes lie between Ontario and the United States: Lake Ontario, Lake Erie, Lake Huron, Lake Michigan (in the United States) and Lake Superior, the largest freshwater lake in the world.
The Prairie Provinces
Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, the so-called prairie provinces, have immense energy resources and some of the most fertile farmland in the world. The region is essentially dry, with cold winters and hot summers.
Manitoba’s economy is based on agriculture, mining and hydroelectric generation. Winnipeg is the most populous city in the province. Winnipeg’s Exchange District is home to Canada’s most famous intersection: the corner of Portage Avenue and Main Street. As for Winnipeg’s Francophone neighbourhood, St. Boniface, its 45,000 residents make it the largest Francophone community in Western Canada. Manitoba is also an important hub of Ukrainian culture, with 14 percent of its population of Ukrainian origin, and has the highest proportion of Aboriginal people of any province, at more than 15 percent of its population.
Saskatchewan, once known as “the breadbasket of the world” and “the wheat province,” has 40 per cent of Canada’s arable land. It is the world’s largest producer of grains and oleaginous plants.
Alberta is the most populous province on the Prairies. This province, like the famous Lake Louise in the Rocky Mountains, was named in honour of Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, the fourth daughter of Queen Victoria. Alberta has five national parks, including Banff National Park, founded in 1885. The Badlands Wilderness contains some of the richest deposits of prehistoric fossils and dinosaur remains in the world. Alberta is Canada’s largest producer of oil and gas, and the oil sands in northern Alberta are a major developing energy source. Alberta is also known for its agriculture, particularly its huge cattle operations, which make Canada one of the world’s leading cattle producers.
The West Coast
British Columbia is known for its majestic mountains and as Canada’s gateway to the Pacific. Billions of dollars of goods move through the Port of Vancouver – Canada’s largest and busiest – to and from around the world. Thanks to the warm Pacific Ocean air currents, British Columbia’s coast enjoys a temperate climate.
British Columbia, situated in the Pacific coast, is Canada’s westernmost province. It has a population of four million people. The port of Vancouver is our gateway to the Asia-Pacific. About half of all goods produced in British Columbia come from forestry, including lumber, newsprint and pulp and paper products – Canada’s largest forest industry. British Columbia is also known for its mining industry, fishing industry and the orchards and wine industry of the Okanagan Valley. It has approximately 600 provincial parks, forming the largest park system in Canada. Due to the large size of the province’s Asian communities, the most widely spoken languages in the cities after English are Chinese and Punjabi. The capital, Victoria, is a tourist centre and home to the Canadian Navy’s Pacific Fleet.
The Northern Territories
The Northwest Territories, Nunavut and Yukon occupy one-third of Canada’s land mass, yet they have a population of only 100,000. There are gold, lead, copper, diamond and zinc mines, and oil and gas deposits are being developed. The North is often referred to as “the land of the midnight sun”: in mid-summer, the sun can shine for up to 24 consecutive hours, while in winter it disappears and darkness reigns for three months. The northern territories have long cold winters and short cool summers. Most of the northern territories are set against a backdrop of tundra, a vast, rocky arctic plain. Because of the cold Arctic climate, the tundra is treeless and the ground is constantly frozen. Some northerners still make their living from hunting, fishing and trapping. Inuit artwork is sold across Canada and around the world.
The thousands of miners who came to the Yukon during the gold rush of the 1890s are celebrated in the poetry of Robert W. Service. Mining continues to be an important part of the Yukon economy. The White Pass and Yukon Railway, which opened in 1900 and linked Skagway, a city in the neighbouring American state of Alaska, to the territorial capital of Whitehorse, provides a spectacular sightseeing excursion with steep passes and dizzying bridges. The Yukon holds the record for the coldest temperature ever recorded in Canada (-63°C).
Mount Logan, located in the Yukon, is the highest mountain in Canada. It is named in honour of Sir William Logan, a world-renowned geologist who was born in Montreal in 1798 to Scottish immigrant parents. Logan founded and directed the Geological Survey of Canada from 1842 to 1869, and is considered one of Canada’s greatest scientists.
In 1870, the Northwest Territories (NWT) was formed from Rupert’s Land and the Northwest Territory. The capital city, Yellowknife (population 20,000), is known as the “Diamond Capital of North America”. More than half of the population is Aboriginal (Dene, Inuit and Métis). At 4,200 kilometres in length, the Mackenzie River is second only to the Mississippi River in North America in terms of extent, and its watershed covers more than 1.8 million square kilometres.
Nunavut (meaning “our land” in Inuktitut) was created in 1999 from the eastern section of the Northwest Territories, including all of the former District of Keewatin. The capital, Iqaluit, was formerly known as Frobisher Bay in honour of the English explorer Martin Frobisher, who, on behalf of Queen Elizabeth I, ventured into the then unmapped Arctic in 1576. The 19 members of the Legislative Assembly choose a prime minister and ministers by consensus. About 85 percent of the population is Inuit. Inuktitut is an official language and the main language of instruction.