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Two Mounties and a Maple Leaf

Canada is a country which occupies a large portion of the North American Continent. It stretches from the latitude of California almost to the North Pole and from the Atlantic to the Pacific. It is bordered to the south and north-west by the United States of America. Greenland is its neighbour to the north-east and, absurdly, France (in the form of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon1) is a near neighbour (15 miles away) to the east. Canada is a parliamentary constitutional monarchy made up of former French and British colonies on aboriginal territories.


Within its borders, Canada has more varied geographical features than even New Zealand and so probably should have been the location for the filming of The Lord of the Rings. Of course, travel expenses would have really cut into the special effects budget since Canada is inconceivably large and, really, for the most part, devoid of human habitation. There is not a bit of the landscape, however, no matter how harsh, that doesn't have a person somewhere nearby. From the Inuit rangers of the Arctic, to the Haida on the Queen Charlotte Islands, to the hundreds of people in Labrador who open up their homes to foreign air travellers forced down by their own government, there's always somebody around to say 'How's it goin?' or 'Accouche!!', if you're in Quebec or New Brunswick.

The highest population density is along the southern border, particularly along the St Lawrence River and the Great Lakes. Some would argue that this is due to a desire to be close to the United States. A more reasoned argument would be that the St Lawrence River and the Great Lakes were the superhighway of European colonisation for the eastern half of the continent, and the railway was the railway of European colonisation for the western half of the continent. The St Lawrence river is where it is for reasons having nothing to do with the United States. The railway ended up where it is - in the south - partly because of the weather and, more importantly, because the colony of British Columbia (which at the time was Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland) said 'build us a railroad or we won't join your country, we'll join the Americans'. So, in fact, the population distribution of Western Canada was a result of a desire to stay away from the United States.

The geography of Canada has had a profound influence on Canadian rhetoric. Whenever a Canadian tries to encompass the entire country in a description, the structure of the statement is 'from A to B to C'. In its most simple form, this construction is 'From Sea to Sea to Sea' (an expansion of Canada's Heraldic motto A mare usque ad mare) a reference to the three oceans (Pacific, Arctic, and Atlantic) which border the country. This simple form is most often used by Canadian politicians and weather casters2.

Actual land forms, roughly from west to east, and not being an exhaustive list, are: coastal fjord-riddled mountainous islands generally covered with temperate rain forest; the various and varied mountain ranges of British Columbia which seep into Alberta; the foothills of the Rocky Mountains fringed on the north-east by the Alberta Parkland and the east by the Prairies of Saskatchewan; to the north the Boreal evergreen forest stretches far to the tundra and mountainous islands of the Arctic; in Manitoba the Prairie gives way to the ancient, lake-covered Canadian Shield which covers Canada from Manitoba to the northernmost Maritime Province, Newfoundland and Labrador, wrapping itself around the inland sea of Hudson Bay; and the old mountain range of the east coast of North America reaches its northern end in the other three Maritime Provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and red-earthed Prince Edward Island.

Canadian People

Gathering of the Clads

Kingdom - Animalia
Phylum - Chordata
Subphylum - Vertebrata
Class - Mammalia
Order - Primates
Family - Hominoidea
Genus - homo
Species - sapiens

The Solitudes

Although Canadian novelist Hugh McClellan coined the term 'Two Solitudes' to describe the people of Canada, in fact there are a multitude of solitudes. The two most talked about are English Canada and French Canada. Both of these solitudes can be broken down further...

The Quebecois

The people of Quebec, most of whom are not separatists, are divided into a number of groups: the multi-lingual who speak French, English, and at least one other language; the bilingual who speak French and English; and the unilingual, also known as the English, Anglos, les Anglais, or les slomeaux Anglais.

Atlantic Canada - the Maritimes, Newfoundland and Labrador

The people of Atlantic Canada, which are principally English-speaking, generally feel that Canadians west of the Gaspe peninsula don't understand them. (People in much of English-speaking Canada genuinely do have trouble understanding the people of Newfoundland, but that's a function of dialect difference.) New Brunswick, one of the Maritime Provinces, is the only officially bilingual province.

The 'Rest' of Canada

  • The people of Ontario, for the most part, think of themselves as citizens of Canada who happen to live in a particular province. This is perhaps the root of their lack of understanding for many citizens of other provinces who tend to think of themselves as Albertans, for example, before they consider what country they live in.

  • The people of Manitoba are just nice. And wind-blown.

  • The people of Saskatchewan are few.

  • People of Alberta have a mysterious habit of voting for the governing party every election, complaining about that party, denying they voted for them, and then voting for them again the next time around.

  • The people of British Columbia are as varied as the landscape of the province, from the Old English Gardeners of Victoria to the pot-smoking snow-boarding Olympians of Whistler to the neglected British Columbians of Fort Nelson and Bella Coola. (There's that Canadian tri-partite rhetoric again.)

The North

The people of the Arctic Territories are largely the fortunate aboriginal people who possessed a wonderful land that the colonial powers didn't want and didn't understand how to survive in. This lucky quirk of geography has allowed them to hold onto much of their traditional lifestyle, although climate-change is now threatening the entire ecosystem on which that lifestyle depends.

The First Nations

In every Province and Territory live the First Nations of Canada, a group of people far more diverse than the peoples of Europe, who live in varying degrees of poverty. There are ongoing negotiations and disputes about territorial claims and the meanings of the various treaties that have been agreed to by, or imposed on, the First Nations of Canada.


Citizens of Canada have come from, or are descended from, people from every country on the planet. Unlike Canada's neighbour to the south, (and, apparently, the French), the government has an official policy of multiculturalism. Immigrants are encouraged to retain their culture and make it a part of Canadian culture. This pattern is termed a 'cultural mosaic' in school textbooks, in contrast to the 'melting pot' goal of America.

Despite, or perhaps because of this incomprehensibly varied cultural landscape, and despite a constitution to which a large portion of the population openly but peacefully does not subscribe, Canada is peaceful. There has never been a civil war (except for the 'Riel Rebellion' in the Red River colony which later became Manitoba, but that's a different story) and really, civil war is pretty much inconceivable. During the 'Referendum Campaigns' in Quebec, in which the question of secession (but not the question of what Montreal's hockey team should be called afterward)3 was put to the citizens of that province by their government, the idea was discussed in every Tim Horton's4 in the country, but nobody took it seriously. The attitude seems to be, 'Come on, this isn't worth fighting over. Accouche!!'

When it comes to questions of the First Nations fighting, it is a different story. During the Oka Crisis of 1990, Mohawks of Kanesatake in Quebec stood their ground against the Canadian Armed Forces for three months in a dispute over land claims. In some ways, Oka was a replay of the Riel Rebellion a century earlier, but with a more peaceful outcome, no fatalities and no resolution of the issues. It is perhaps Canada's saddest historical legacy that the First Nations have received a raw deal from the Europeans, a raw deal that has not yet been redressed and may never be. A fine symbolic gesture would be an official change of the second line of the English version of the National Anthem, O Canada", from 'Our home and native land!' to 'Our home on native land!'

Canadians build Inuksuit.

Canadian Government

Canada is a Parliamentary Constitutional Monarchy. The Monarch of The United Kingdom, a foreign country (there's that delightful Canadian absurdity again), is Canada's Head of State.

The Federal parliament is bicameral with the elected House of Commons, and the Senate appointed by the Crown on the advice of the Prime Minister, the Head of Government. The Prime Minister is the leader of the majority party in the House of Commons. The Cabinet Ministers are selected by the Prime Minister from elected members of the House of Commons and sometimes from the appointed members of the Senate. The seats in the House of Commons are distributed by electoral ridings, each of which is, in theory but not in practice, roughly equal in population. The seats in the Senate are distributed in the hopes of equally representing the regions of Canada. Bills passed by both the House of Commons and the Senate must receive Royal Assent from the (foreign) Crown's representative, the Governor General.

Provincial Legislatures (or Parliaments or Assembly National) are uni-cameral, with a Premier (or, in Quebec, a Premier Ministre) as head of Government and a Lieutenant Governor as the Crown's representative. Cabinet Ministers are chosen by the Premier from elected members of the governing party.

The responsibilities of the Federal and Provincial Governments were originally laid out in the British North America Act (see below) and these divisions of responsibility were carried over into the Constitution Act 1982 (see further below). The two territories of Yukon and the (inexplicably plural) Northwest Territories derive their powers from the Federal Government, which has been gradually devolving powers to the uni-cameral territorial legislatures. Nunavut, which was formed in 1999 from a huge portion of the Northwest Territories, is something of a unique case as it was formed as a part of a land claims settlement between the Federal Government and the Inuit of the Eastern Arctic. It also has a unicameral legislature with a Premier and Cabinet.

In August of 2003, Tlicho, another new Arctic polity came into being as a land claim and self-government agreement between the Dogrib Nation and the Federal Governement. Tlicho has the good fortune of having both of Canada's diamond mines in its territory.

Canadian History

Before Confederation

Before time began, a bunch of people found the land we now call Canada. They lived on the land in various degrees of peace and war, farmed, hunted, fished, built houses, travelled, minded their own business, minded other people's business, fought, loved, lived and died. Their descendants came to be called variously, Indians, Aboriginal Peoples, or First Nations. Strictly speaking, 'Indians' isn't an acceptable term. That's for people from India.

A long time later, some people came in ships to what later was called Newfoundland. They built a house, had a child named Snorri, fought with First Nations people, who they called Skraelings, which was sort of a dirty word in their language, and then they went away.

In 1498, an Italian named Giovanni Caboto sailed for the King of England (under the name of John Cabot) and found the inappropriately named Newfoundland: the Beothuck had lived there forever but wouldn't live there much longer, and the Vikings (remember Snorri's parents?) had visited 400 years before.

Then the French came and pretty much explored the whole continent, but then lost a little fight on the Plains of Abraham next to Quebec City in 1759 and the English pretty much took it all away. In 1839, Lord Durham tabled a report in the British Parliament, appropriately named the Durham report, in which he outlined a final solution for the French problem in North America. The solution was the confederation of the English Colonies of North America into a single Dominion in which the French would be assimilated and disappear over the course of a few decades. Confederation worked. The solution didn't; the Quebecois are still around, thank goodness.

Confederation to World War I

Canada has the wonderful distinction to be the first European Colonial entity to sever its dependence on the colonial power peacefully. It took over a century, (see, Canada's Constitution(s), below) but it is a wonderful distinction nonetheless.

Confederation began in 1867 with the union of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and the province of Canada, which later became Ontario and Quebec. The Northwest Territories, at that time very large, joined in 1870, as did Manitoba, which was very small. British Columbia joined in 1871 and Prince Edward Island, which is extremely small, joined in 1873. The Yukon joined in 1898 and Alberta and Saskatchewan in 1905. Newfoundland joined in 1949 and adopted the official name 'Newfoundland and Labrador' in 2002. Nunavut was created in 1999.

The years between Confederation and the World War I were largely occupied with expanding the European population and influence across the continent, the most important manifestations of that influence being the creation and March West of the North West Mounted Police (later the Royal Canadian Mounted Police/Gendarmerie Royal du Canada) in 1874, and the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railroad in 1885. The NWMP arrived as a peacekeeping force ahead of the waves of European settlers and as a defensive force intended to keep American Whiskey traders out of Canadian Territory. The March West prevented the Canadian West from paralleling the development of the American (Wild) West.

The World Wars

The Armed Forces of Canada served with distinction in both World Wars, often completing operations that more experienced forces had failed to complete before them. Battles in which Canadians fought in the First World War include: Arras, Amiens, Passchendale, the Somme, Vimy Ridge and Ypres. In the Second World War, Canadian Forces served in the Battle of the Atlantic, the defence of Hong Kong, the Battle of the Gulf of St Lawrence, the defence of India, the advance on Rangoon, Dieppe, the liberation of Belgium, the liberation of Italy (including the bloody Battle of Ortona, Canada's Stalingrad), the liberation of the Netherlands, and the Normandy Invasion. That's a pretty good record for a country with such a tiny population.

Since the Wars

After the Second World War, the Canadian Invasion of the United States began. This invasion continues today. With shock troops made up of comedians, actors, musicians, film directors, aerospace scientists and engineers, screenplay writers, news anchors, reporters, economists, presidential speech writers and advisors, social commentators, hockey players, business people, truck drivers, and Mohawk Warriors, Canada has infiltrated all levels of American society from Hollywood to Wall Street to the United States Marines.

The regular elements of the Canadian Armed Forces have infiltrated the American military at the highest levels, being stationed inside Norad headquarters, on the bridges of American aircraft carriers, and even being allowed to station heavily armed Canadian Frigates within American carrier groups, all while altruistically spreading themselves so thin with United Nations Peacekeeping duties that Constables of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police ship out for overseas duty as well. This is all part of a strategy of making as many foreign friends as possible while lulling the United States into a false sense of security.

With the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement, the take-over of the American Economy began, a takeover which has been furthered by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)5 in which Mexico has joined with Canada in a pincer movement, forcing the United States to wage its economic war on two fronts. It is only a matter of time before Ricardo Montalban and Shania Twain shake hands on the steps of the US Capital as they accept the American surrender. (Remember, in the War of 1812, Canadian troops burned down the White House.)

Canadian Constitution(s)

Until 1982, Canada was in the absurd and somehow reassuring situation of being required to ask a foreign government any time a constitutional amendment was required6. Canada's constitution had been the British North America Act, an Act of the British Parliament, passed in 1867, and could only be amended by that parliament.

In 1982, the constitution was brought home by the Constitution Act of 1982, also an Act of the British Parliament. In this Act, the British Parliament abdicated its ability to make amendments to the Act it was passing and for the first time Canadians faced the prospect of determining the basic structure of their government on their own.

The absurdity of Canadian constitutional affairs was immediately continued, however, when the Province of Quebec refused to sign the new constitution, leaving Canada a country of nine Provinces and two Territories that had agreed to the basic rules of the state, and one Province which did not acknowledge those rules. This situation is the kind that has precipitated more than one civil war in history, but in Canada it is accepted with hardly a second thought.

Some Numbers and Words

  • Coastline - 250,000 km
  • Land area - 9,093,507 square km
  • Freshwater area - 891,163 square km
  • Total of land and freshwater area - 9,984,670 square km, the second largest country by area in the world after the Russian Federation.
  • Climate - Inconceivably varied. The lowest temperature, -63°C, was recorded in 1947, at Snag, Yukon. The highest, 45°C, was recorded in 1937 in Midale and Yellowgrass, Saskatchewan. Precipitation varies from around 10 inches (or less) per year in Alberta and Saskatchewan, to Biblical openings of the doors of Heaven on the Pacific Coast.
  • Natural Resources - All of them. Except Brazil Nuts.
  • Highest point - Mount Logan, in Kluane National Park, the Yukon: 5,959m
  • Lowest point - The Ocean. Or maybe the execution of Louis Riel.
  • Population - About 30,000,000
  • Capital City - Ottawa. Not Toronto.
  • Languages - English and French are official languages of Canada and New Brunswick. French is the official language of Quebec. Inuktitut, English, and French are official languages of Nunavut.
  • Currency - The Canadian Dollar. One Canadian Dollar = 100 Canadian Cents or Pennies, 20 Canadian Nickels, 10 Canadian Dimes, 2 Canadian 50 cent pieces, 1 Canadian Loonie, or half a Canadian Toonie. (cf Coin Rugby.) Canadians also use multicoloured banknotes.
  • Largest Freshwater Island in the world - Manitoulin Island, Ontario, Canada.
  • Longest Coastline in the World - Canada's
  • Longest Undefended Border in the World - Canada-US 8,893km (the undefended aspect has changed a little since September, 2001).
  • Lots of other Numbers and Words - Canadian Government Fact Page.

Provincial and Territorial Numbers and Words


Capital: Edmonton (population 648,284)
Population: 2,696,826
Lots of other Numbers: Alberta Government Fact Page

British Columbia

Capital: Victoria (population 77,941)
Population: 4,096,000
Lots of other Numbers: British Columbia Government Fact Page


Capital: Winnipeg (population 680,000)
Population: 1,150,000
Lots of other Numbers: Manitoba Government Fact Page

New Brunswick

Capital: Fredericton (population 47,560)
Population: 729,498
Lots of other Numbers: New Brunswick Government Fact Page

Newfoundland and Labrador

Capital: St. John's (population 47,560)
Population: 172,915
Lots of other Numbers: Newfoundland and Labrador Government Fact Page

North West Territories

NWT - 40,700 inhabitants
Capital: Yellowknife (population 17,800 inhabitants)
Lots of other Numbers: North West Territories Government Fact Page

Nova Scotia

Capital: Halifax (population 360,000)
Population: 940,000
Lots of other Numbers: Nova Scotia Government Fact Page


Capital: Iqaluit (population 4,500)
Population: 28,000
Lots of other Numbers: Nunavut Government Fact Page


Capital: Toronto (pop. 2,500,000)
Population: 12,068,301
Lots of other Numbers: Ontario Government Fact Page

Prince Edward Island

Capital: Charlottetown (population 32,531)
Population: 139,913
Lots of other Numbers: Prince Edward Island Government Fact Page


Capital: Quebec (population 697,800)
Population: 7,455,208
Lots of other Numbers: Quebec Government Fact Page


Capital: Regina (population 200,039)
Population: 1,011,808
Lots of other Numbers: Saskatchewan Government Fact Page
The name of this province reportedly causes some citizens of Scotland to stutter.


Capital: Behchoko (pop. 1860)
Population: 3000

Some more information, including the Tlicho Constitution: The Tlicho First Nation


Capital: Whitehorse (population 22,879)
Population: about 31,000
Lots of other Numbers: Yukon Government Fact Page

1The small islands of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon are 'an integral part of the French Republic' 15 miles off the south coast of Newfoundland. During World War II, there were both American and Canadian plans to invade the Islands, but the Free French forces got there first, bloodlessly liberating the islanders from the Vichy government. Now island youngsters play minor hockey against Canadian youngsters from Newfoundland.2The Canadian rhetoric even stretches into that bastion of globalisation, McDonald's - a recent tray liner reads: 'McDonald's supports hockey in Canada from the smallest pond, to the NHL, to the gold medal podium'.3Montreal's hockey team is now, and has been forever, called Les Canadiens.4Tim Horton was involved early in Canada's post-war invasion of the United States (see, Canadian History - Since the Wars) and, tragically, was killed on Canadian soil while returning to his work in the US.5When Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau's government made bilingualism the official policy of Canada, many (English-speaking) citizens expressed outrage that their cereal boxes now had to be labelled in both French and English, describing this as 'having a language shoved down their throats'. A generation later, with the ratification of NAFTA, a great many products in Canada and Mexico are labelled in French, English and Spanish, and yet no one complains. This is because the citizens of Canada and Mexico understand that this trilingualism is an aid to communication in the greater campaign of continental domination the two countries are pursuing.6Imagine what a different world it would be if the constitution of Iraq, for example, could be amended at any time, and only by, the government of Vanuatu. Or if the Constitution of the United States of America could be amended at any time, and only by, the government of Bolivia, for example.

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