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Most people's conception of Canada goes little beyond appreciating its vastness, recognising its flag and identifying a few well-known physical features. And while it's true that the majority of travellers are attracted by the opportunity to explore Canada's wilderness areas, natural wonders and low-key rural charm, there is a lot more to Canada than maple trees, Niagara Falls and wide open spaces. It's the edginess between Canada's indigenous, French and British traditions that gives the nation its complex three-dimensional character. Add to this a constant infusion of US culture and a plethora of traditions brought from Europe, Asia and Latin America by migrants, and you have a thriving multi-cultural society very much in the process of forming its own identity.

Those expecting Canada to be a blander counterpart of its southern neighbour should check their preconceptions at the door - Canada's wild northern frontier, which has etched itself into the national psyche, and its distinct patchwork of peoples have created a country that is decidedly different to that of the USA


Official name : Canada
Capital : Ottawa
Area : 9,970,610 square kilometres
Population : 30,675,398
Urbanization : 77% urban population and 23% rural population
Life expectancy : 79.2 years
Literacy rate : 97%

Ethnic divisions :
British origin : 40.0 percent
French origin : 27.0 percent
Other European : 20.0 percent
Native Americans : 1.5 percent
Other : 11.5 percent

Religions :
Roman Catholic 45.2 percent
United Church 11.5 percent
Anglican 8.1 percent
Other Protestant 7.9 percent
Other or nonreligious 27.3 percent

Government : Parliamentary democracy
Prime Minister : Paul Martin
GDP : US$721 billion
GDP per capita : US$25,000
Annual growth : 1.4%
Inflation : 1.4%
Major products/industries : processed and unprocessed minerals, food products, wood and paper products, transportation equipment, chemicals, fish products, petroleum and natural gas
Major trading partners : USA, Japan, UK, Germany and South Korea


Languages : English (official), French (official), German, Italian, Ukrainian, Chinese, Spanish, indigenous languages
Currency : Canadian dollar (+/- 0.65$US)
Visas : Visitors from nearly all Western countries don't need visas. Travellers from Portugal, South Africa, Hong Kong (except SAR passport holders), North Korea, Taiwan, some Eastern European countries, and developing countries do require them. Entry stamps for less than six months are free
Health risks : None
Time : GMT -04:00 in the east to GMT -08:00 in the west
Electricity : 110V, 60Hz
Weights & measures : Metric
Tourism : Estimated 50 millions visitors per year (90% from USA)

When to Go
Spring, summer and autumn are all ideal for touring, though if you want to ski you'll naturally have to come in winter or early spring. For campers, and those who want to visit the far north, the summer months of July and August are best. Note that the peak tourist season is between mid-June and mid-September. Although spring and autumn have less crowds, lower prices and a more relaxed pace than the summer months, some visitor-oriented facilities and attractions may be closed during these shoulder seasons


Size Comparison: Canada is the second largest country in the world, it is slightly larger than China.

Physical Features
Excluding the Arctic Archipelago, five physiographic regions are found in Canada. The largest, known as the Canadian Shield (or Laurentian Plateau), is a region of ancient granite rock, sparsely covered with soil and deeply eroded by glacial action. It comprises all of Labrador, most of Québec, northern Ontario, Manitoba, and most of the Northwest Territories, with Hudson Bay at its center. The Canadian Shield extends into the United States west of Lake Superior and into the northern U.S. state of New York.

The Appalachian-Acadian region in far eastern Canada embraces the provinces of Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island, and the Gaspé Peninsula of Québec. It is an extension of the Appalachian mountain system (continuations of the Green Mountains of Vermont and the White Mountains of New Hampshire) and of the Atlantic Coastal Plain. Heading west, the generally level Saint Lawrence–Lower Lakes region in southern Québec and Ontario comprises the largest area of cultivable land in eastern and central Canada.

The Interior Plains, an extension of the Great Plains of the United States, borders the Canadian Shield on the west. The southern third of Manitoba, the southern half of Saskatchewan, most of Alberta, and the northeastern corner of British Columbia fall within the region.

The fifth and westernmost region of Canada encompasses the uplifts west of the Interior Plains. The region belongs to the Cordillera, the vast mountain system extending from southernmost South America to westernmost Alaska. In Canada, the Cordillera averages about 805 kilometres (about 500 miles) wide. Part of western Alberta, much of British Columbia, the Inuvik Region and part of the Fort Smith Region of the Northwest Territories, and most of Yukon Territory lie within this region. The eastern portion of the Cordillera in Canada consists of the Rocky Mountains and related ranges. Mount Robson (3,954 metres/12,972 feet) is the highest peak of the Canadian Rockies.

West of the Canadian Rockies are numerous isolated ranges and a vast plateau. Flanking this central belt on the west and generally parallel to the Pacific Ocean is another great mountain system that includes the Coast Mountains, an extension into British Columbia of the Cascade Range of the United States, and various coastal ranges. In the southwestern corner of Yukon Territory is Mount Logan, which, at 5,959 meters (19,551 feet), is Canada’s highest peak and the second highest mountain in North America (after Mount McKinley).

Major Rivers and Lakes
Canada has more lakes and inland waters than any other country in the world. The vast Hudson Bay, in east central Canada, holds Southampton Island, itself covering 41,214 square kilometres (15,913 square miles). In addition to the Great Lakes on the U.S.-Canadian border, Canada has 31 lakes or reservoirs of more than 1,300 square kilometres (more than 500 square miles) in area. The largest of these are Great Bear Lake and Great Slave Lake located in the mainland Northwest Territories, Lake Athabasca in Alberta, and Lake Winnipeg in Manitoba.

Several great rivers flow through Canada and empty into major bodies of water. The Saint Lawrence River drains the Great Lakes and empties into the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. The Ottawa River and the Saguenay are the principal affluents of the Saint Lawrence. The Saint John empties into the Bay of Fundy, between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. The Saskatchewan flows eastward into Lake Winnipeg, and the Nelson, in turn, flows north from the lake into Hudson Bay. An important river system formed by the Athabasca, Peace, Slave, and Mackenzie rivers empties into the Arctic Ocean. The upper course of the Yukon River flows across Alaska into the Bering Sea, and the Fraser River, as well as the upper course of the Columbia River, both empty into the Pacific Ocean.

Canada’s general climatic conditions range from the extreme cold characteristic of the Arctic regions that lie within the Frigid Zone to the moderate temperatures of more southerly latitudes found in the North Temperate Zone of the mainland. Wide regional variations exist. In the Maritime Provinces, extremes of winter cold and summer heat are modified by oceanic influences, which also cause considerable fog and precipitation. Along the west coast, which is influenced by warm ocean currents and moisture-laden winds, mild summers and winters, high humidity, and abundant precipitation are characteristic. In the Cordillera region, the higher western slopes of certain uplifts, particularly the Selkirk Mountains and Rocky Mountains, receive sizable amounts of rain and snow, but the eastern slopes and the central plateau region are extremely arid. A feature of the Cordillera region is the chinook, a warm, dry, westerly wind that substantially moderates winter conditions in the Rocky Mountain foothills and adjoining plains, often causing great daily changes.

Environmental Issues
Although Canada is the world’s second largest country in area, 90 percent of its population is concentrated along the border with the United States and in a few major southern cities. Canada relies heavily on its fisheries, forests, and water resources, and it is here that its most pressing environmental challenges lie.

Canada has recently been involved in disputes over ocean fishing rights with Spain and the United States. Many forests have been heavily logged, particularly in the mountains of British Columbia. The land suffers from the effects of clear-cutting, giving way to landslides and locally severe soil erosion, which damages salmon habitat. Air pollution from vehicles is considerable in cities, but Canada’s greatest environmental threat comes from acid rain, over half of which originates in the United States as a by-product of ore refining and coal-fired power generation.

Acid rain comes from sulfur- and nitrogen-containing air pollutants mixing with atmospheric moisture. It weakens and kills trees, and poisons inland waterways. Forty-three percent of Canada’s area is highly sensitive to acid rain contamination, and such destruction has been a serious problem since the mid-1970s, especially in the eastern provinces. In 1985 Canada signed the Helsinki Protocol, which obliged it to reduce air-polluting emissions 30 percent below 1980 levels. By 1993 such pollutants had been reduced by 56 percent in provinces participating in the Acid Rain Control Programme. In 1991 the United States and Canada signed an air-quality agreement, and in 1995 Canada began to formulate its air-quality objectives beyond the year 2000. Environmental controls appear to be slowly clearing the skies of acid rain. During 1981 to 1994, a survey of 202 lakes in the Ontario, Québec, and Atlantic regions indicated that the level of acidification in most lakes was either improving or stable, although some lakes continued to become more acidic.

Habitat loss throughout Canada has been great, especially in recent decades. It is estimated that 80 percent of the country’s original wetlands have been lost in some areas, with an overall 23 percent loss between 1980 and 1990. Also at risk of total loss are the native tallgrass prairie, the Carolinian forests of southern Ontario, the Acadian forests of the Maritime Provinces, and the western coastal rain forests. Overall, Canada has only about 10 percent of its original forests.

Canada’s federal government actively supports alternative transportation, recycling, habitat restoration, and wildlife protection at the community level through grants to local governments. Endangered species are offered protection by the Canadian Endangered Species Protection Act and similar legislation enacted by the individual provinces. Nevertheless, biodiversity remains seriously at risk. It is estimated that in Alberta, only 10 percent of wild species are not threatened.

Canada generates a large proportion of its energy from hydroelectric sources, and the construction of new dams has become an important environmental issue in recent years. Nuclear power accounts for about 16 percent of the country’s energy needs, with 22 nuclear power reactors in the country, all but 2 in Ontario. A central nuclear waste disposal site is planned and would be constructed deep beneath the Canadian Shield. Plans to expand nuclear generating capacity have been slowed by environmental concerns since the late 1980s.

Canada was the first industrialized country to ratify the 1992 United Nations (UN) Convention on Biological Diversity and proceeded to rapidly formulate its own national biodiversity strategy, emphasizing sustainable resource use and incentives and legislation to promote biodiversity. Canada has an international environmental agreement with Chile that obliges both countries to inform each other of environmental developments and new legislation and provides a framework for mutual enforcement of environmental laws.



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