Canada should be near the top of every tourist’s list of countries worth visiting. It is so geographically diverse and culturally rich that it truly has something for everyone. If you are a nature lover or looking for a great escape, there are vast areas of unspoiled wilderness that are popular with campers, hunters, white-water rafters, and fishing enthusiasts. If you enjoy serenity and leisurely strolls, you can meander through the quiet and scenic fishing communities in the Pacific and Atlantic coasts. Romantics can take a boat ride through the mystical Niagara Falls. Urbanites, meanwhile, can feast on lively cities that seem to take on personalities of their own. Toronto is known for its great alternative music scene and eclectic nightlife options, Montreal has a “joie-de vivre” feel to it that echoes Paris in many ways, and Quebec City is forever the city of old European-style buildings.
Canada comes from the Iroquoian word “Kanata”, which means a village or community. One of the first explorers to visit the land was Jacque Cartier. He picked up this word from the Indians who were living in what is today Quebec City.
Many travelers are often intimidated by the sheer vastness of Canada, where major cities are thousands of miles apart. Canada spans six different time zones. This is not surprising considering it is the second largest country in the world. What may come as a surprise, however, is that its southernmost city, Windsor, Ontario, is actually farther south than a number of American cities, including Boston, Seattle, and Detroit.
Canada’s climates and landscapes have had a significant influence in shaping the attitudes of its people. Winters in many areas are long, cold, and almost unendurable. But Canadians have learned to adapt and make the best out of a harsh weather they can’t control. In fact, they have ways of taking advantage of it, too. Popular winter sports such as skiing, curling, skating, tobogganing, and the country’s national pastime, hockey, are embraced by many Canadians. The snowmobile is another innovative way Canadians have made use of their winters. This Canadian invention facilitates winter travel and has displaced dog sleds and horse-drawn sleighs. But if you like sleigh rides, don’t worry. They are still popular as a form of recreational fun.
Canada’s colonization by France and then later by England has resulted in a bilingual country today. Most people speak English, however; Canadian culture is mostly British-flavored with a tinge of French. The country has remained as one for this long because its Anglophone and Francophone population have learned how to be flexible and responsive to one another. This skill of diplomacy has been tested even more so the last few decades with new cultures being added into the mix through immigration. Not surprisingly, Canadians have transferred their skills as negotiators onto the world stage and are recognized for their ability to broker and sympathize with the plights of multiple sides.
Canada’s identity is multifaceted. Its Francophone side is the most vocal of the bunch. French Canadians are known for their Latin temperament; they embrace outward displays of emotions, zoom down roads at blazing speeds, and spend less time working and more time socializing with friends and families in sidewalk cafes and happening bars. They often threaten separation from Canada, but have yet to follow through. There really is no reason to. French culture and language is secure in Quebec, safeguarded by constitutional and legislative protection and the numerical superiority of Francophones in the province.
In the north, Canada’s Arctic tundra is inhabited by the Inuit. But don’t think of them as igloo dwellers. They have been drawn into the modern age like the rest of Canada. They zip around in snowmobiles and live in nice homes watching satellite television.
People in British Columbia are cut off from the rest of Canada by the mountain ranges of the Rockies. This has made British Columbians an independent group. They are often considered by other Canadians as the Californians of the North – a zany bunch.
Inhabitants of the Prairie Provinces, meanwhile, are more “normal”. Friendly and conservative communities dominate this region, reflecting the provinces’ strong agricultural roots. You won’t see Indians hunting buffalos across the plains anymore, but you will find the occasional cowboy on a cattle ranch or at a lively rodeo show. Prairie folk are similar to British Columbians though in one sense; they feel isolated from the rest of Canada.
Central Canada, made up by Ontario and Quebec, comprises two-thirds of the population of Canada. This region dominates the country both politically and economically. Westerners feel as though they don’t have any say in how the country is run and resent Central Canada over this. Ontario in this region is the engine of Canada, home to two of the most important cities in the country: Ottawa and Toronto. While Ottawa is Canada’s political capital, Toronto is known as its financial capital. Canadians love to hate these two cities, especially Toronto. Of course, everyone leaves their personal grudge against Toronto aside when baseball season comes around. The Toronto Blue Jays have won two World Series and are cheered by Canadians from the other provinces; the feeling is that even a hated Canadian city wins out over any American city.
Ontario is also the destination of most immigrants, who seem to flock to Toronto in particular. Thanks to its numerous ethnic neighborhoods, Toronto is a multicultural wonderland that is in stark contrast to the rest of Ontario, which is largely rural and inhabited by Canadians of British descent.
In the Maritimes, people are more conservative. You’ll find a land of rocky beauty where life moves slowly and time stands still.
Canada’s economy no longer revolves around the beaver like it once did back in the 17th century, but the country still relies heavily on its natural resources. Mineral, oil, fishing, forestry, and agricultural are the main staple industries and have made it one of the richest economies in the world.
When people think of Canada, words like “arctic”, “frigid”, “ice”, and “igloo” often come to mind. They see Canada as a cold and dreary country. It’s a shame! While there are definitely cold places, people seem to ignore the fact that Pelee Island, Ontario is actually on the same latitude as Rome or that the Rocky Mountains form a protective shield that gives Vancouver warmer winters than, say, Dallas. And while the Atlantic coast definitely takes a beating, the Gulf Stream and its warming effect creates swimming beaches in some areas that are as nice as any in the Mediterranean.
Still, nobody’s denying that much of Canada is cold for much of the year. More than one-third of annual precipitation in Canada is snow, compared to only 5% worldwide; the nation’s capital, Ottawa, is the coldest capital of any in the world besides Ulaan Bataar of Mongolia; no other city in the world with a population of more than 650,000 is colder than Winnipeg; and no other city shovels more snow every year than Montreal.
On the bright side, Canada does get a lot of sunlight. Combine that with brilliantly white snow and winter is a wonderland. The rest of the year, it’s lush and green.
Canada can be divided into five regions: the Appalachian, St. Lawrence Lowlands, Prairies, Western Cordillera, and the Canadian Shield.
The Appalachian region is a hilly and wooded part of Canada that lies east of the St. Lawrence River and near the Atlantic Ocean. The region encompasses Newfoundland, the Maritime Provinces, and the Gaspe Peninsula and is part of an ancient mountain system with modest levels of elevations. The system extends as far south as Alabama.
St. Lawrence Lowlands
The St. Lawrence Lowlands makes up the region from the Great Lakes to the mouth of the St. Lawrence River. This fertile flood plain is inhabited by a majority of Canada’s people and is at the center of the country’s commerce and industry.
The Prairies stretch across the provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba and extends northward up to the Northwest Territories. Its rich soil, especially in the southern areas along the U.S. border, produces golden seas of wheat.
The Western Cordillera lies between the Rock Mountains in the east and the Coast mountains in the west. The spectacular beauty of British Columbia is on display in this region. You’ll find mountains peaks, vast evergreen forests, alpine lakes, long green valleys, and networks of rushing rivers.
The Canadian Shield makes up the rest of Canada. It is the large horseshoe-shaped land around the Hudson Bay. It stretches all the way to the coast of Labrador and south towards the St. Lawrence Lowlands. About half of Canada (1.8 million square miles) lies in the Canadian Shield. The region is rough, rocky, and largely lake-pitted.
Carroll, Donald. Insider’s Guide Canada. Edison: Hunter Publishing, Inc, 1996. ISBN: 1556507100.
Simpkins, Mary Ann. Canada. New York: Prentice Hall Travel, 1994. ISBN: 0671882783.
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