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Canada, independent nation in North America, encompassing a land mass of 3,851,809 sq mi (9,976,185 sq km), making it the largest country in the Western Hemisphere and the second largest country in the world after Russia. Canada is an autonomous federation with 10 provinces and 2 federally administered territories. It is formally a constitutional monarchy under the British Crown and a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. French and English are the official languages. The federal capital is Ottawa.

Land and climate

Canada is divided into 7 regions. (1) The Appalachian region (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and the Gaspé peninsula) is a geological extension of the Appalachian mountain chain that runs along the eastern United States. The region is a source of varied farm products, timber, coal, and iron ore, and with numerous natural harbors, a major commercial fishing center. (2) The St. Lawrence lowlands, adjacent to the desolate Canadian Shield in the north and bordering on the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River in the south, is one of its most productive agricultural belts, containing about half of the total population. The Hudson Bay lowlands, embracing the southwest shore of Hudson Bay and James Bay, are situated in an Arctic zone, the region's swampy subsoil, consisting mostly of clay and sand, frozen the year round. Most of the region's inhabitants are fur trappers and fishers. (3) The Canadian Shield, almost 50% of the country, is a horseshoe-shaped region encircling Hudson Bay and including large portions of the provinces of Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan, the northeastern corner of Alberta, the Labrador portion of Newfoundland, and much of the Northwest territories. The area is characterized by rocky hills and ridges, numerous lakes, and muskeg (a type of bog). Though unsuitable for agriculture, the region is rich in natural resources; forests, mineral deposits, and water power. (4) The Interior Plains reach from the Rocky Mountains to the Canadian Shield and include southern Manitoba and Saskatchewan, almost all of Alberta, and part of British Columbia and the Northwest Territories. The northern half of the Interior Plains is heavily forested, and there is some muskeg and tundra. The southern half includes fertile prairies and also contains rich deposits of natural gas, oil, and coal. (5) The Cordilleran region, between the Pacific Ocean and the Interior Plains of western Canada, is a 500-mi- (800- km-) wide strip of mountainous terrain that includes most of British Columbia, the Yukon territory, and part of western Alberta. Second to the Canadian Shield in wealth of mineral deposits, the region has extensive forests, water resources for hydroelectric plants, fertile soils particularly suited to fruit production, and important commercial fishing areas along the Pacific coast.

(6) With very limited animal life and vegetation, the Inuitian region in the Arctic Archipelago includes the 800-mi-(1,300-km-) long and 300-mi-(480-km) wide mountainous region extending from northernmost Ellesmere Island south and west to Melville Island. The Arctic lowlands and plateaus include most of Banks Island, southern Ellesmere Island, and eastern Baffin Island. (7) Though rugged and virtually uninhabitable, the Arctic Archipelago possesses rich deposits of coal, salt, gypsum, oil, and natural gas. About 70% of Canadian soil is useless for agriculture, but most of the nonarable soils support vast expanses of forests, and some are suitable for cattle raising. Covering about 40% of the country from coast to coast, the northern forests form Canada's largest belt of natural vegetation. The tundra extending across northern Canada can support only moss, lichens, and grass and flowers during the summer, when the surface layer is frost-free. Ever-frozen subsoil, or permafrost, prevents greater vegetation.

The government has created several game reserves; the land set aside for national parks totals about 29,500 sq mi (76,405 sq km). The largest of the national parks are Jasper, Wood Buffalo, Prince Albert, and Riding Mountain. Each province has also established its own provincial parks.


Canada's population is predominantly of British or French stock, though it includes many of German, Italian, Ukrainian, Dutch, and other origins. Native Americans number about 370,000 and Inuit (Eskimos) about 26,000. Population is concentrated in the southern part of the country, the most populous provinces being Ontario, Quebec, and British Columbia. About 76% of Canadians are urban.


Canada has a parliamentary system of government, with executive power vested in a prime minister and cabinet. The federal legislature comprises a Senate of 112 appointed members and a House of Commons whose 295 members are elected for a 5-year term. Each of the 10 provinces has its own premier and elected legislature. The Yukon and Northwest Territories are governed by federally appointed commissioners and elected councils, and each sends 1 representative to the federal parliament.


Agriculture is responsible for 3% of Canada's employment and provides around 10% of Canada's total exports. One of the world's chief wheat producers, Canada grows other grains, oilseeds, fruit (especially apples), vegetables, and tobacco. Beef and dairy cattle, hogs, sheep, and poultry are reared. Forestry and fisheries are major industries, and Canada remains a leading source of furs, both farmed and trapped. Mineral resources include petroleum and natural gas, molybdenum, platinum, copper, nickel, iron ore, zinc, lead, silver, gold, asbestos, elemental sulfur, and coal. Most manufacturing plants are located in Ontario and Quebec. Manufacturing accounts for about 25% of all employment. Products include nonferrous metals, machinery, chemicals, plastics, electrical equipment, and textiles.


Visited by 11th-century Vikings, Canada was later penetrated by explorers such as John Cabot, Jacques Cartier, and Samuel de Champlain. The French founded Quebec in 1608 and made Canada the royal colony of New France (1663). Anglo-French rivalry culminated in the cession of New France to Britain (Treaty of Paris, 1763). French rights were guaranteed by the Quebec Act (1774). Only 1 serious revolt against British rule took place (1837–38), consisting of separate uprisings led by W.L. Mackenzie in Upper (English-speaking) Canada and Louis Papineau in Lower (French-speaking) Canada. The British North America Act (1867) established Canada as a dominion, the 4 founding provinces being Quebec, Ontario, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick. The others entered later: Manitoba (1870), British Columbia (1871), Prince Edward Island (1873), Saskatchewan (1905), Alberta (1905), and Newfoundland (1949). The Northwest Territories, formerly administered by the Hudson's Bay Company, became a federal territory in 1870, and the Yukon was made a separate territory in 1898. Separatist tensions, particularly in French-speaking Quebec, developed during the 1960s and have continued. Efforts begun in 1978 to amend the British North America Act in order to “patriate” the Canadian constitution resulted in the Constitution Act (1982). At the end of the 1990s Canada, the United States, and Mexico formed a free trade association, NAFTA.


Additional topics

21st Century Webster's Family Encyclopedia21st Century Webster's Family Encyclopedia - Buffalo grass to Cannizzaro, Stanislao