Geography of Canada
Canada occupies most of the upper half of the continent of North America, spanning a vast expanse of territory between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans and between the United States to the south and northwest, and the Arctic Ocean and Beaufort Sea to the north; 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, including the North Pole. This vast area, that covers 9,976,140 km² (Land: 9,220,970 km²; Water: 755,170 km²) is second only to Russia in the world, and encompasses a panoply of geoclimatic zones and a diverse human geography. Comparatively, Canada is slightly less than 1.3 times larger than Australia, slightly more than 40.9 times larger than the United Kingdom and slightly larger than the United States.
The northernmost settlement in Canada (and in the world) is Canadian Forces Station (CFS) Alert (just north of Alert, Nunavut) on the northern tip of Ellesmere Island — latitude 82.5°N — just 834 kilometres from the North Pole.
Table of contents
The physical geography of Canada is widely varied. Encompassed by the extreme points of Canada, it includes 9,976,140 km² which can be divided into regions based loosely on similar terrain and climate. Canada also encompasses vast maritime territories with the world's longest coastline of 202,080 km.
The Appalachian Mountains
Main articles: Appalachian Mountains
The Appalachian mountain range extends from Alabama in the southern United States through the Gaspé Peninsula and the Atlantic Provinces, creating rolling hills indented by river valleys. It also runs through parts of southern Quebec. Prince Edward Island, in contrast to its neighbouring provinces, is comprised entirely of sedimentary sandstone.
The Appalachian mountains (more specifically the Notre-Dame and Long Range Mountains) are an old and eroded range of mountains, approximately 380 million years in age. Notable mountains in the Appalachians include Mount Jacques-Cartier (Quebec, 1 268 m.) and Mount Carleton (New Brunswick, 817 m.). Parts of the Appalachians are home to a rich endemic flora and fauna, and are considered to have been nunataks during the last glaciation era.
Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Basin
The southern parts of Quebec and Ontario, in the section of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence basin often called St. Lawrence lowlands, is another particularly rich sedimentary plain. Prior to its colonization and heavy urban sprawl of the 20th century, this area was home to large mixed forests covering a mostly flat area of land between the Appalachian Mountains and the Canadian Shield Most of this forest has nowadays been cut down through agriculture and logging operations, but the remaining forests are for the most part heavily protected.
While the relief of these lowlands is particularly flat and regular, a group of batholites known as the Monteregian Hills are spread along a mostly regular line across the area. The most notables are Montreal's Mount Royal and Mount St-Hilaire. These hills are known for a great richness in rare minerals.
The Canadian Shield
Main article: Canadian Shield
The northern parts of Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec, as well as most of Labrador, the mainland portion of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, are located on a vast rock base known as the Canadian Shield. The Shield mostly comprises of eroded hilly terrain and contains many important rivers used for hydroelectric production, particularly in northern Quebec and Ontario. The shield also encloses an area of wetlands, the Hudson's Bay lowlands. Some particular regions of the Shield are referred as mountain ranges. They include the Torngat and Laurentian Mountains.
The Shield cannot support intensive agriculture, although there is subsistance agriculture and small dairy farms in many of the river valleys and around the abundant lakes, particularly in the southern regions. Boreal forest covers much of the shield, with a mix of conifers that provide valuable timber resources. The region is known for its extensive mineral reserves.
Main article: Canadian prairies
The Canadian Prairies are part of a vast sedimentary plain covering most of Alberta, southern Saskatchewan and southwestern Manitoba, as well as much of the region between the Rocky Mountains and the Great Slave and Great Bear lakes, in the Northwest Territories. The prairies generally describes the expanses of (largely flat) arable agricultural land which sustain extensive grain farming operations in the southern part of the provinces. Despite this, some areas such as the Cypress Hills and Alberta Badlands are quite hilly.
Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Coast
Main article: Rocky Mountains
The Canadian Rockies are part of a major continental divide that extends north and south through western North America and western South America. The Columbia and the Fraser Rivers have their headwaters in the Canadian Rockies and are the second and third largest rivers respectively to drain to the west coast of North America. Immediately west of the mountains is a large interior plateau encompassing the Chilcotin and Cariboo regions in central BC (the Fraser Plateau) and the Nechako Plateau further North. The Peace River Valley in northeastern BC is Canada's most northerly agricultural region. The dry, temperate climate of the Okanagan Valley in South central BC provides ideal conditions for fruit growing and a flourishing wine industry. The southern Okanagan contains Canada's only desert. This arid grassland is a continuation of the intermontane desert which extends from Mexico north through the U.S. and ends just north of Osoyoos BC. Between the plateau and the coast is a second mountain range, the Coast Mountains.
On the south coast Vancouver Island is separated from the mainland by the continuous Juan de Fuca, Georgia, and Johnstone Straits. North, near the Alaskan border, the Queen Charlotte Islands lie across Hecate Strait from the Bella Coola region. Other than in the plateau regions of the interior and the river valleys, most of BC is coniferous forest.
The Canadian arctic
Main article: Canadian Arctic
While the largest part of the arctic is composed of seemingly non-stop permanent ice and tundra north of the tree line, it encompasses geological regions of varying types: the Inuitian Mountains (combining the British Empire Range and the United States Range) on Ellesmere Island are the northernmost mountains in the world. The Arctic lowlands and Hudson's Bay lowlands comprise a substantial part of the geographic region often designated as the Canadian Shield (in contrast to the sole geologic area). The ground in the Arctic is mostly composed of permafrost, making construction difficult and often hazardous, and agriculture virtually impossible.
There are 5 main watersheds in Canada: The Arctic watershed, the Atlantic, the Pacific, the Hudson watershed and, thanks to parts of the Milk River running through Alberta, the Gulf of Mexico watershed.
The Atlantic watershed is mostly drained by the economically important St. Lawrence River and its tributaries, notably the Saguenay, Manicouagan and Outaouais rivers. It drains the entirety of the Atlantic provinces (parts of the Quebec-Labrador boundary are fixed at the Atlantic continental divide), most of inhabitated Quebec and large parts of southern Ontario. The Great Lakes, Lake Nipigon, Churchill River, and St. John River are other important elements of the Atlantic watershed in Canada.
The Hudson Bay watershed drains over a third of Canada. It covers northern Ontario and Quebec, Manitoba, most of Saskatchewann and southern Alberta, southwestern Nunavut and the southern half of Baffin Island. This basin is most important in fighting drought in the prairies and producing hydroelectricity, especially in Manitoba, northern Ontario and Quebec. Major elements of this watershed include Lake Winnipeg, Nelson River, Saskatchewan North and South rivers, Assiniboine River and Lake Netiling, on Baffin Island.
The Continental Divide, in the Rockies, separates the Pacific watershed, in British Columbia and Yukon, from the Arctic and Hudson Bay watersheds. This watershed is important for irrigating the rich cultures of inner British Columbia (such as the Okanagan and Kootenay valleys) and producing hydroelectricity. Major elements are the Yukon, Columbia and Fraser River.
Northern parts of Alberta, Manitoba and British Columbia, most of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut as well as parts of Yukon are drained by the Arctic watershed. This watershed has been little used for hydroelectricity, with the exception of the Mackenzie River, the longest river of Canada. The Peace, Athabasca River, Great Bear Lake and Great Slave Lake (respectively the largest and second largest lakes wholly enclosed by Canada) are significant elements of the Arctic watershed. Each of these elements eventually merges with the Mackenzie so that it thereby drains the vast majority of the Arctic watershed.
Main article: Ecoregions of Canada
Main biomes of Canada:
- Boreal forests
- Mixed forests
- Broadleaf forests
- Rockies mountains vegetation including various types of toundras and forests
- Moist coniferous forests
Canada is divided into thirteen provinces and territories. However, nearly 90% of the population is concentrated within 160 km of the Canada-US border. Moreover, over 60% of the population lies along the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River between Windsor, Ontario and Quebec City. This leaves the vast majority of Canada's territory as sparsely populated wilderness leaving Canada's population density at a statistically marginal 3 people/km². Despite this, Canada's main cities are highly urbanized and dense population this is a growing trend as the population shifts from rural towns to denser cities.
Canada's geographical proximity to the United States has historically bound the two countries together in the political world. Canada also shares the world's longest undefended border with the US at 8,893 km (2,477 km with Alaska). As well, Canada's position between the USSR (now Russia) and the US was strategically important during the Cold War as the route over the north pole and Canada was the fastest route by air between the two countries. Since the end of the Cold War, there has been growing speculation that Canada's arctic maritime claims may become increasingly important if Global Warming melts the ice enough to open the Northwest Passage.
Depending upon how continental shelf claims proceed in the Arctic Ocean, Canada may end up sharing Maritime borders with several other polar nations.
Canada has and abundance of natural resources and the Canadian economy's continued reliance on them reflects their importance and size. Major resource-based industries are Fisheries, Forestry, Agriculture, Petroleum products and Mining.
The fisheries industry has historically been one of Canada's strongest. Unmatched cod stocks on the Grand Banks off Newfoundland launched this industry in the 16th Century. Today these stocks are nearly depleted and their conservation has become a preocupation of the Maritime provinces. On the West Coast, tuna stocks are now restricted. The less depleted (but still greatly diminished) salmon population continues to drive a strong fisheries industry. Canada claims twelve nautical miles of territorial sea, a contiguous zone of twenty-four nautical miles an exclusive economic zone of 200 nautical miles and a continental shelf of 200 nautical miles or to the edge of the continental margin.
Forestry has long been a major industry in Canada. Forest products contribute one fifth of the nation's exports. The provinces with the largest forestry industries are British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec. 54% of Canada's land area is covered in forest. The boreal forests account for four fifths of Canada's forestland.
Five per cent of Canada's land area is arable, none of which is for permanent crops. Three per cent of Canada's land area is covered by permanent pastures. Canada has 7,200 km² of irrigated land (1993 estimate). Agricultural regions in Canada include the Canadian prairies, the Lower Mainland and interior plateau of British Columbia, the St. Lawrence Basin and the Canadian Maritimes. Main crops in Canada include flax, oats, wheat, maize, barley, sugar beets and rye in the prairies; flax and maize in Western Ontario; Oats and potatoes in the Maritimes. Fruit and vegetables are grown primarily in the Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia, Southwestern Ontario, the Golden Horseshoe region of Ontario, along the south coast of Georgian Bay and in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia. Cattle and sheep are raised in the valleys of BC. Cattle, sheep and Hogs are raised on the prairies, Cattle and Hogs in Western Ontario, Sheep and Hogs in Quebec, and sheep in the Maritimes. There are signifigant Dairy regions in Central Nova Scotia, Southern New Brunswick, the St. Lawrence Valley, Northeastern Ontario, Southwestern Ontario, the Red River valley of Manitoba and the valleys of eastern British Columbia, on Vancouver Island and the Lower mainland.
Fossil Fuels are a more recently developed resource in Canada. While Canada's crude oil deposits are fewer, technological developments in recent decades have opened up oil production in Alberta's Tar Sands to the point where Canada now has some of the largest reserves of oil in the world. In other forms, Canadian industry has long exploited large coal and natural gas reserves.
Canada's mineral resources are diverse and extensive. Across the Canadian Shield and in the north there are large iron, nickel, zinc, copper, gold, lead, molybdenum, and uranium reserves. Large diamond concentrations have been recently developed in the arctic, making Canada one of the world's largest producers.
Canada's many rivers have afforded extensive development of hydroelectric power. Extensively developed in British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec and Labrador, the many dams have long provided a clean, dependable source of energy.
Continuous permafrost in the north is a serious obstacle to development; cyclonic storms form east of the Rocky Mountains, a result of the mixing of air masses from the Arctic, Pacific, and North American interior, and produce most of the country's rain and snow
Current environmental issues
Air pollution and resulting acid rain severely affecting lakes and damaging forests; metal smelting, coal-burning utilities, and vehicle emissions impacting on agricultural and forest productivity; ocean waters becoming contaminated due to agricultural, industrial, mining, and forestry activities.
See also: Air pollution in British Columbia
This is a list of the extreme points of Canada, the points that are farther north, south, east or west than any other location.
- Northernmost Point
- Southernmost Point — Middle Island, Ontario (41°41'N)
- Westernmost Point — Yukon-Alaska border (141°00'W)
- Easternmost Point — Cape Spear, Newfoundland (50°37'W)
- Northernmost Point — Murchison Promontory on Boothia Peninsula, Nunavut (71°58'N)
- Southernmost Point — Point Pelee, Ontario (41°58'N)
- Westernmost Point — Yukon-Alaska border (141°00'W)
- Easternmost Point — Cape St Charles, Newfoundland and Labrador (55°38'W)
- Lowest Point — sea level 0 m
- Highest Point — Mount Logan 5,959 m
- Chapman, L.J. and Putnam, D.F. The Physiography of Southern Ontario. 3rd ed. Toronto : Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, 1984. ISBN 0–7743–9422–6.
- List of highest points of Canadian provinces and territories
- List of areas disputed by the United States and Canada
- Extreme communities of Canada
- Canadian Rockies
- List of islands of Canada
- List of islands of Ontario
- List of rivers in Canada
- List of Quebec rivers
- List of lakes of Canada
- List of lakes of Ontario
- List of mountain ranges and mountains of Canada
- Geography of Alberta
- Geography of British Columbia
- Geography of Manitoba
- Geography of Saskatchewann
- Geography of Quebec
- Geography of New Brunswick
- Geography of Nova Scottia
- Geography of Ontario
- Geography of Newfoundland and Labrador
- Geography of Yukon
- Geography of the Northwest Territories
- Geography of Nunavut