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Canada is an independent sovereign state in northern North America, the northern-most country in the world, and the second largest in total area. Bordering the United States, its territorial claims extend north into the Arctic Ocean as far as the North Pole. Canada is a federation of ten provinces and three territories, governed as a parliamentary representative democracy. Initially constituted through the British North America Act of 1867 and styled as the Dominion of Canada, Canada retains a constitutional monarchy, recognizing Queen Elizabeth II as its head of state and Queen of Canada. Canada's official languages are English and French. Its official population estimate for April 2005 is 32.2 million people [1].



The capital of Canada is Ottawa, home of the nation's Parliament. Both the Governor General of Canada, who exercises the personal prerogatives delegated by the monarch, and the Prime Minister, who is the head of government, have official residences in Ottawa.

Originally a union of former French and British colonies, Canada is a Commonwealth Realm, and a member of La Francophonie and the Commonwealth of Nations. Canada is officially bilingual:

Canada is a technologically advanced and industrialized nation, largely self-sufficient in energy due to its relatively large deposits of fossil fuels, nuclear energy generation, and hydroelectric power capabilities. Its economy has traditionally relied heavily on the abundance of natural resources and trade, particularly with the United States, with which it has a long, extensive relationship (see U.S.-Canada relations). Although the modern Canadian economy has become widely diversified, exploitations of natural resources remain an important driving force of many of country's regional economies.

Canada has 10 provinces and 3 territories.

Province Capital city Region
British Columbia Victoria Western, Pacific
Alberta Edmonton Western, Prairies
Saskatchewan Regina
Manitoba Winnipeg
Ontario Toronto Central, Eastern
Quebec Quebec City
New Brunswick Fredericton Atlantic, Maritimes
Nova Scotia Halifax
Prince Edward Island Charlottetown
Newfoundland and Labrador St. John's Atlantic
Territory Capital city Region
Yukon Whitehorse Northern or Arctic
Northwest Territories Yellowknife
Nunavut Iqaluit


The name "Canada" is believed to have originated from the Huron-Iroquoian word Kanata, meaning "village", "settlement", or "collection of huts" [2], referring to Stadacona, a settlement on the site of present-day Quebec City. Maps made by early European explorers show that the name River Canada was given to the Ottawa River, and the Saint Lawrence River below Montreal. A plausible hypothesis is that the river was named for the village on its banks, and subsequently the surrounding country was named for the river used to explore it.

Today, Canada is pronounced in English, /kanada/ in French.


Main articles: History of Canada, Timeline of Canadian history

Present-day Canada has been inhabited by aboriginal peoples (known in Canada as First Nations) for at least 40,000 years. It was first visited by Europeans around AD 1000, when the Vikings briefly settled at L'Anse aux Meadows.

British claims to North America began when John Cabot reached what he called "Newfoundland" in 1497. French claims began with explorations by Jacques Cartier (from 1534) and Samuel de Champlain (from 1603). In 1604 French settlers, who became known as Acadians, were the first Europeans to settle permanently in Canada, followed by other French settlements in the St. Lawrence and Atlantic Canada regions, and also in Louisiana to the south.

British settlements were established along the Atlantic seaboard and around Hudson's Bay. With the expansion of these French and British colonies, and wars between France and England in Europe, four French and Indian Wars erupted from 1689 to 1763. In 1763, France surrendered to Great Britain nearly all of New France, including Acadia and what comprises present-day Quebec and Ontario in the Treaty of Paris. Britain established the colonies of Nova Scotia, Lower Canada, and Upper Canada. New colonies corresponding to the present-day jurisdictions of the provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island were soon formed. The Canadas were joined to form Canada. Cape Breton was merged with Nova Scotia.

During and after the American Revolution, many British Loyalists left the Thirteen Colonies to settle in Canada. Other settlers during this time of a population boom came from Europe, in particular the British Isles.

On July 1, 1867 three colonies - Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick - were granted by Britain a constitution, the British North America Act, creating the Dominion of Canada. It consisted of the provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec (formerly Canada East), and Ontario (formerly Canada West). The term "Confederation" refers to this 1867 act of union.

Other British colonies and territories soon joined Canada: by 1880, Canada included all of its present area except for Newfoundland and Labrador, which joined in 1949. The Statute of Westminster of 1931 officially established full self-government for Canada over its affairs. Patriation of Canada's constitution occurred in 1982.

In the second half of the 20th century, some citizens of the mainly French-speaking province of Quebec sought independence ("sovereignty") in two referendums held in 1980 and 1995. In the 1980 referendum the vote against independence was 60%; in the 1995 Quebec referendum the vote against independence was 50.6%. Many consider another referendum at some point in the future to be a distinct possibility.


Main article: Geography of Canada

Canada occupies the northern half of North America. It is bordered to the south by the contiguous United States, separated by the International Boundary, and to the northwest by Alaska. The country stretches from the Atlantic Ocean and Davis Strait in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west; hence the country's motto. To the north lie the Beaufort Sea and Arctic Ocean; Greenland lies to the northeast. Since 1925, Canada has claimed the portion of the Arctic between 60 degrees west longitude and 141 degrees west longitude ([3]); that is, Canada's territorial claim extends to the North Pole. The northernmost settlement in Canada (and in the world) is Canadian Forces Station (CFS) Alert on the northern tip of Ellesmere Island -- latitude 82.5°N -- just 834 kilometres from the North Pole.

Canada is the world's second-largest country in total area, after Russia, covering approximately 41% of the North American continent. Much of Canada's territory lies in Arctic regions, however, and thus Canada has only the fourth most usable land behind Russia, China and the United States. The population density is 3.2 people per square kilometre, which is extremely low compared to other countries. Eighty percent of Canadians live within 200 km of the United States along their international border, the location of the country's most temperate climates and arable soil. While Canada covers a larger geographic area than its nearest neighbour, it has only one-ninth its population. Vast and sparsely populated, Canada has historically depended economically on exporting its abundant natural resources.

The most densely-populated part of the country is the Great Lakes-Saint Lawrence River Valley in the east. To the north of this region is the broad Canadian Shield, an area of rock scoured clean by the last ice age, thinly soiled, rich in minerals, and gouged with lakes and rivers— over 60 percent of the world's lakes are located in Canada. The Canadian Shield encircles the immense Hudson Bay.

The Canadian Shield extends to the Atlantic Coast in Labrador, the mainland part of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. The island of Newfoundland, North America's easternmost region, is at the mouth of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, the world's largest estuary, and the first region to be settled by Europeans. The Canadian Maritimes protrude eastward from the southern coast of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, sandwiched between the Gulf to the north and the Atlantic to the south. The provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia are divided by the Bay of Fundy, an arm of the Atlantic that experiences the world's largest tidal variations. Prince Edward Island is Canada's smallest province.

To the west of Ontario, the broad, flat Canadian Prairies, consisting of the provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, spread towards the Rocky Mountains, which divide the provinces of Alberta and British Columbia.

Northern Canadian vegetation tapers from coniferous forests to tundra and finally to Arctic barrens in the far north. The northern Canadian mainland is ringed with a vast archipelago containing some of the largest islands on Earth.

Canada has a reputation for cold temperatures. Indeed, the winters can be harsh in many regions of the country, with risks of blizzards and ice storms and temperatures reaching lows of -50°C in the far North. Southern British Columbia is an exception: it enjoys a very temperate climate with much milder winters than the rest of the country.

In the most densely populated regions, summers range from mild to quite hot, attaining highs of well over 30°C in Montreal and 15°C even in Iqaluit, Nunavut. In Vancouver, temperatures usually remain stable at around 5-25°C year round, whereas in parts of the central prairies, they can drop to -50°C in the winter and attain a high of 45°C in the summer. In the Great Lakes region, the most heavily populated area in the country, temperatures can range from -30°C to 35°C. The country experiences four distinct seasons.


Main article: Politics of Canada

 Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II , wearing the and
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
Queen of Canada, wearing the Order of Canada and Order of Military Merit
 Her Excellency The Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson
Her Excellency The Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson
Governor General of Canada
 The Right Honourable Paul Martin
The Right Honourable Paul Martin
Prime Minister of Canada

Canada is a federation under a system of Westminster-style parliamentary representative democracy and a constitutional monarchy. Its sovereign and Head of State is Queen Elizabeth II, who holds the title of Queen of Canada. The prerogatives of the Head of State are exercised by the Governor General, who is generally a retired politician or other prominent Canadian appointed by the Queen on the advice of the Prime Minister of Canada. The Governor General is a non-partisan figure who fulfils many ceremonial roles including providing Royal Assent to bills passed by the House of Commons and the Senate, reading the Speech from the Throne, signing state documents, formally opening and ending sessions of Parliament, and dissolving Parliament for an election.

The Queen and the Governor General are primarily figureheads, with little real power as they almost always act on the advice of Canada's Head of Government, the Prime Minister. They serve as symbols of continuity when there is a change of government.

Canada's constitution (see this page for text) governs the legal framework of the country, but has to be interpreted in light of various unwritten traditions and conventions (see Westminster system). The patriation of the constitution, with procedures for amending it, was agreed to one night in November 1981. Quebec nationalists refer to that night as The Night of the Long Knives - because it occurred without the consent of the province of Quebec. The agreement is also referred to as the "Kitchen Accord".

The Governor General formally appoints the Prime Minister, who is usually the leader of the political party that holds the most seats in the House of Commons. The Prime Minister in turn appoints the Cabinet drawn by convention from members of the Prime Minister's party in the House of Commons and the Senate. Executive power is exercised by the Prime Minister and Cabinet, all of whose members are sworn into the Privy Council of Canada and become Ministers of the Crown.

The legislative branch of government, the Parliament, has two houses: the elected House of Commons and the appointed Senate. Elections for the House of Commons are called by the Governor General on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, at his or her discretion, though they must occur no later than five years after the previous one. The federal parliament may only legislate in those areas assigned to it by the constitution.

Canada has three main national parties: the New Democratic Party (NDP), which is the party furthest to the "left", the Liberal Party of Canada, and the Conservative Party of Canada, which is the party furthest to the "right". These left-right classifications can be misleading, however, since there are numerous members in all three major parties that are "leftist" on social issues, and "rightist" on economic issues. As a result, all three parties can have sustained shifts on the left-right political spectrum. A regional party, the Bloc Québécois, holds many seats in Quebec, and promotes the independence of Quebec from Canada. There are many additional, smaller parties and while none had representation in Parliament as of the 2004 federal election, the list of historical parties with elected representation is substantial. Independent candidates are rarely elected (Chuck Cadman was an exception in the 2004 election).

Canada has strict party discipline which gives the Prime Minister considerable control over legislation passed by Parliament, though party leaders will sometimes declare free or partly-free votes for topics they regard as issues of conscience, such as capital punishment or same-sex marriage.

The Liberal Party has formed the government of Canada for 32 of the last 42 years, and is the party of the current Prime Minister Paul Martin and his predecessor Jean Chrétien. The only other party ever to have formed a government is the now-defunct Progressive Conservative Party, and its predecessor, the Conservative Party. The PC Party merged with the Canadian Alliance to form a new "Conservative Party" in December 2003 .

Canada's judiciary plays an important role in interpreting federal, provincial and municipal laws and regulations, and has the power to amend and strike down laws. All judges at the superior, appellate and Supreme Court of Canada levels are selected and appointed by the federal government, after consultation with various non-governmental legal bodies. Judicial posts at the lowest levels with jurisdiction limited to one province or territory are filled by each provincial or territorial government. The Supreme Court of Canada is the final arbiter. (see Court system of Canada for more detail).

Canada is a member of the United Nations, Commonwealth of Nations, La Francophonie, the Organization of American States, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the G8, and APEC.

Provinces and territories of Canada

Canada is divided into ten provinces and three territories. The provinces have a large degree of autonomy from the federal government, while the territories have somewhat less. Each has its own provincial or territorial symbol.

The provinces are responsible for most of Canada's social programs (such as health care, education, and welfare) and together collect more revenue than the federal government, an almost unique structure among federations in the world. The federal government can initiate national policies that the provinces can opt out of, but this rarely happens in practice. "Equalization payments" are made by the federal government to ensure that reasonably uniform standards of services and taxation are kept between the richer and poorer provinces.

Criminal law is solely the responsibility of the federal government, and crime and punishment is uniform throughout Canada. Though enforcement is a provincial responsibility, most of the provinces contract these services out to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). The RCMP is the only police force in the world that enforces three different levels of enforcement: municipal, provincial, and federal.

The ten provinces have unicameral, elected legislatures with governments headed by a premier who is chosen in the same fashion as the federal prime minister. Every province also has a figurehead lieutenant governor representing the Queen, appointed on the recommendation of the Prime Minister of Canada.

Most provinces' political climates include provincial counterparts to the three national federal parties. However, some provincial parties are not formally linked to the federal parties that share the same name. Some provinces have regional political parties, such as the Saskatchewan Party.

The provincial political climate of Quebec is quite different, with the main split being between separatism, represented by the Parti Québécois, and federalism, represented by the Parti Libéral du Québec.

The three territories have fewer political powers than provinces, having been created by acts of the national Parliament rather than having their status enshrined in the Constitution. There is no lieutenant governor to represent and fulfill the functions of the Queen of Canada. A politically-neutral commissioner is appointed by the federal government to act as the "Government of Canada's senior representative". Link here for a message from Commissioner of the Yukon Territory. Only the legislature of the Yukon territory follows the same political system as the provincial legislatures. The other two territories use a consensus government system with no parties, in which each member runs as an independent, and the premier is elected by and from the members.

Relations between the federal government and the territorial governments have been tense. Many of the disputes between the two governments have been between the usage of resources and funding. Even though the territories have the highest per capita incomes in Canada, the poverty rate in the territories has been constantly large because of isolation, the extreme difficulty and cost of supplying goods, the scarcity of jobs, and social problems.

Due to the reduced political powers, many people say that the Canadian territories have not received proper and equal representation in the Canadian Parliament. Prime Minister Martin has said that he believes the territories will eventually become provinces, although this would probably require delicate constitutional negotiations for which no timeframe has been considered. [4]


As an affluent, high-tech industrial society, Canada today closely resembles the United States in its market-oriented economic system, pattern of production, and high living standards. Since World War II, the impressive growth of the manufacturing, mining, and service sectors has transformed the nation from a largely rural economy into one primarily industrial and urban. Energy self-sufficient, Canada has vast deposits of natural gas on the east coast and in the three western provinces, and a plethora of other natural resources. The 1989 Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) (which included Mexico) touched off a dramatic increase in trade and economic integration with the US. As a result of the close cross-border relationship, the economic downturn in the United States in 2001 had a negative impact on the Canadian economy, but less than expected. Real growth averaged nearly 3% from 1993 to 2000, but declined in 2001. As of 2003, unemployment was up, with contraction in the manufacturing and natural resource sectors. Canada has successfully avoided economic recession after 2001 and has maintained the best economic growth rates in the G8 group of nations. With its great natural resources, skilled labour force, and modern capital plant, Canada enjoys solid economic prospects.

Two shadows loom, the first being the continuing political differences over the constitution between Quebec and the rest of Canada. This has raised the possibility of a split in the federation. However, as economy has become stronger, notably in Quebec, fears of separation have waned.

Another long-term concern is the fear of a flow of professionals south to the USA, referred to as the "Brain Drain", lured by higher pay, lower taxes, and high-tech opportunities. Simultaneously, a largely under-recognized "Brain Gain" is occurring, as educated immigrants continue to enter Canada [5]. As in many western countries, however, the benefits of this phenomenon are limited by problems with acceptance of foreign qualifications; many educated and highly skilled immigrants work in unskilled positions in Canada because their credentials are not recognized. The Canadian Medical Association and its provincially-affiliated licensing bodies, for example, insist that foreign-trained doctors undertake extensive retraining to practise in Canada.


Main article: Language in Canada

The skyline of
The skyline of Montreal, Quebec

Canada's two official languages are English and French. On July 7, 1969, French was made equal to English throughout the Canadian federal government. This started a process that led to Canada redefining itself as a bilingual and multicultural nation at the federal level.

  • English and French have equal status in the Parliament of Canada, in federal courts and in all federal institutions.
  • Everyone has the right to a criminal trial in either English or French.
  • The public has the right, where there is sufficient demand, to receive federal government services in either English or French.
  • Official language minority groups in most provinces and territories have the right to be educated in their language.
  • While multiculturalism is official policy, to become a citizen one must be able to speak either English or French.
  • More than 98 percent of Canadians speak either English or French or both.

New Brunswick is the only officially bilingual province, a status specifically guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, with its citizens having the same language rights at the provincial level as all citizens of Canada have at the federal level. Most provincial governments, notably Manitoba and Ontario, offer many services to their French minority populations.

The official language of Quebec is French, as defined by the province's Charter of the French Language which protects the use of French, but also provides certain rights for speakers of English and aboriginal languages. Quebec provides most government services in both French and English.

French is mostly spoken in Quebec, Ontario, New Brunswick and southern Manitoba. In the 2001 census, 6,864,615 people listed French as a first language, of whom 85% lived in Quebec, and 17,694,835 people listed English as a first language.

Languages other than the official languages are also important in Canada, with 5,470,820 people listing a non-official language as a first language. (The above three statistics include those who listed more than one first language.) Among the most important non-official first language groups are Chinese (853,745 first-language speakers), especially Cantonese (322,315); Italian (469,485); and German (438,080). Any province may have as many official languages as it sees fit. Scots Gaelic is still the mother tongue of a small number of people in Nova Scotia, especially in Cape Breton Island.

Aboriginal groups

The Constitution Act of 1982 recognizes three main groups of Aboriginal peoples in Canada: the First Nations, the Inuit and the Métis. The Aboriginal population is growing almost twice as fast as the rest of the population in Canada. Aboriginal peoples make up about three percent of all Canadians, or roughly 790,000 people. About 69 percent are First Nations, 26 percent are Métis and five percent are Inuit.

Today, there are more than 50 different languages spoken by Aboriginal peoples, most of which are spoken only in Canada. However, all but a few are in decline. In the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, there are eleven official languages: English and French with special status, and nine native languages: Chipewyan, Cree, Dogrib, Gwich‘in, Inuinnaqtun, Inuktitut, Inuvialuktun, North Slavey, and South Slavey. (In Nunavut, only English, Inuktitut, Inuinnaqtun and French are used to any extent, and it is expected that official languages there will soon be legally reduced to those alone.) The only aboriginal languages believed to be fully sustainable at present are the Cree (with 72,885 first-language speakers), Inuktitut (in the NWT and Nunavut; 29,010 speakers), and Ojibwa (together with Cree, Ojibwa will make up 150,000 speakers).


Main article: Demographics of Canada

The 2001 census recorded 30,007,094 people, and as of April 2005 the population has been estimated by Statistics Canada as 32.2 million people[6].

In the 2001 Canadian National Census, respondents reported their ethnic origins [7].

39.42% of respondents identified their ethnic origin as "Canadian". Most of these are believed to be from the British, Irish and French heritage of earlier immigrants. 20.17% identified their ethnic origin as English; 15.75% as French, 14.03% as Scottish, 12.90% as Irish.

Numerous other groups were also reported (but only German (9.25%) and Italian (4.29%) were reported by more than 4% of respondents.

See also: List of Canadians by ethnicity for the complete list.

The total non-white ("visible minority" [8]) population is 13% of the Canadian population[9] (this does not include First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples).


Main articles: Culture of Canada, Canadian identity

The city of nicknamed "cowtown" by its local Calgarians. Officially its Motto is Heart of the new west
The city of Calgary, Alberta nicknamed "cowtown" by its local Calgarians. Officially its Motto is Heart of the new west

Canadian culture has been heavily influenced by British and French cultures and traditions as a result of its colonial past. In addition, Canadian culture has also been influenced by American culture partially because of the close proximity of the two countries and partially because of the migration of people, ideas, capital and politics across the border. Despite these inherited British, French and American traditions, Canadian culture has developed many unique characteristics. In many respects, a more robust and distinct Canadian culture has developed in recent years, partially because of the civic nationalism that pervaded Canada in the years leading up to and following the Canadian Centennial in 1967, and also due to a focus on programs to support Canadian culture and the arts by the federal government.

Many American movies, authors, TV shows and musicians are equally popular in Canada, and vice-versa across the border. Most cultural products of these types are now increasingly marketed towards a unified "North American" market, and not specifically a Canadian or American one.

The United States and Canadian governments share a variety of close working partnerships in matters of trade, economics, and legal concerns.

As Canada and the United States have grown closer, many Canadians have developed complex feelings and concerns, regarding what makes Canada a "distinct" nation within North America. The large American cultural presence in Canada has prompted some fears of a "cultural takeover," and has initiated the establishment of many laws and government institutions to protect Canadian culture. Much of Canadian culture remains defined in contrast to American culture (see Canadian identity).

In recent years, Canada has increasingly distinguished itself from the United States by both more liberal social policy and more conservative fiscal policy. Canadian governments (and to a large extent, the Canadian people) support issues such as universal health care, gay marriage and decriminalization of marijuana. At the same time, they have supported balanced budgets, tax cuts, and free trade. Canadians also tend to live in or near very large urban areas such as Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Ottawa, Calgary, and Edmonton.

Aerial view of Downtown ,
Aerial view of Downtown Vancouver, British Columbia

National symbols

The use of the maple leaf as a Canadian symbol dates back to the early 18th century, and is depicted on its current and previous flags, the penny, and on the coat of arms. Canada is known for its vast forests and mountain ranges (including the Rocky Mountains of Alberta and British Columbia) and the wild animals that reside within them, such as moose, caribou, beavers, polar bears, and grizzly bears. Canada is also well-known for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police force, and products made from the country's natural resources, such as maple syrup. Anything pertaining to hockey, Canada's official winter sport, is also often used as a national symbol of unity and pride. Snowy, cold winters and the nation's northern climate have also produced a sense of identity for Canadians.

See also

International rankings

IMF, World Economic Outlook Database, Sept 2004
  • Total GDP (nominal) : 8th - 1,034,532 (millions of US dollars)
IMF, World Economic Outlook Database, Sept 2004
  • Total value of foreign trade (imports and exports), 2003: 4th (out of 185)
  • Human Development Index, 2004: 4th (out of 177)
  • Reporters Without Borders World-wide Press Freedom Index 2004: 5th out of 167 countries¹
  • Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index 2004 ( - 12th of 146 countries
  • Heritage Foundation/Wall Street Journal Index of Economic Freedom, 2005 ( - 16th (out of 155)

¹ Four-way tie for 2nd place.


  • Bumsted, J. 2004. History of the Canadian Peoples, Oxford: Oxford University Press
  • Chodos, R. & Hamovitch, E. 1991. Quebec and the American Dream, Toronto: Between the Lines.
  • Mann, S. 2002. The Dream of Nation, 2nd ed. Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, Carleton Library Series #198.

Miscellaneous topics

A grain elevator outside , .
A grain elevator outside London, Ontario.

External links

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