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Flag of Canada Coat of Arms of Canada
(Flag) (Coat of Arms)
Motto: Latin: A Mari Usque Ad Mare
(From Sea to Sea)
Anthem: O Canada
(Royal anthem: God Save the Queen)
Location of Canada
Capital Ottawa
45°24′ N 75°40′ W
Largest city Toronto
Official languages English and French
Government Parliamentary democracy and
Constitutional monarchy
Paul Martin
Elizabeth II
Michaëlle Jean
 - BNA Act
 - Statute of Westminster
 - Canada Act
From the United Kingdom
July 1, 1867
December 11, 1931
April 17, 1982
 • Total
 • Water (%)
9,984,670 km² (2nd)
 • 2005 est.
 • 2001 census
 • Density
32.3 million (37th)
3.5/km² (222nd)
 • Total
 • Per capita
2005 estimate
$1.318 trillion (11th)
$34,444 (8th)
Currency Canadian dollar ($) (CAD)
Time zone
 • Summer (DST)
(UTC-3.5 to -8)
(UTC-2.5 to -7)
Internet TLD .ca
Calling code +1

Canada, the second largest country in the world, extends from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean, and northward through the Arctic Ocean to the North Pole. The northern-most country in North America and in the world, it has land borders only with the United States.

Canada is a federation of ten provinces and three territories. Initially constituted through the British North America Act of 1867, it is governed as a parliamentary democracy with Governor General Michaëlle Jean as de facto Head of State, representing Queen Elizabeth II.

Canada's official languages are English and French. As of 2005, its official population estimate is approximately 32.3 million [1].



The capital city is Ottawa, Ontario, the seat of Canada's Parliament. The Governor General of Canada, who exercises the prerogatives of the head of state (the monarch), the Prime Minister, who is the head of government, the Leader of the Official Opposition, and the Speaker of the House of Commons have official residences in Ottawa.

Originally a union of former French and British colonies and entitled as a "dominion", Canada is a founding member of the United Nations, the Commonwealth of Nations, and La Francophonie. Canada defines itself as a bilingual and multicultural nation:

Canada is a technologically advanced and industrialized nation. It is a net exporter of energy because of its large fossil fuel deposits, nuclear energy generation, and hydroelectric power capacity. Its diversified economy relies heavily on an abundance of natural resources and trade, particularly with the U.S., with which it has had a long and complex relationship.

Canada has ten provinces and three territories:

Flag Province Capital city Standard
Time Zone
British Columbia Victoria -8 (Pacific),
-7 (Mountain)
Western, Pacific
Alberta Edmonton -7 (Mountain) Western, Prairies
Saskatchewan Regina -7 (Mountain),
-6 (Central)
Manitoba Winnipeg -6 (Central)
Ontario Toronto -6 (Central),
-5 (Eastern)
Central, Eastern
Quebec Quebec City -5 (Eastern)
-4 (Magdalen Islands)
New Brunswick Fredericton -4 (Atlantic) Atlantic, Maritimes
Nova Scotia Halifax
Prince Edward Island Charlottetown
Newfoundland and Labrador St. John's -4 (Atlantic),
-3.5 (Newfoundland)
Flag Territory Capital city Standard
Time Zone
Yukon Whitehorse -8 Northern or Arctic
Northwest Territories Yellowknife -7
Nunavut Iqaluit -7, -6, -5,

Canada's major cities that are not capital cities include Montreal, Quebec; Vancouver, British Columbia; and Calgary, Alberta.


The Death of General Wolfe, painted by Benjamin West, depicts Wolfe's final moments during the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759.
The Death of General Wolfe, painted by Benjamin West, depicts Wolfe's final moments during the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759.
Main articles: History of Canada, Timeline of Canadian history

Aboriginal tradition holds that the First Peoples have inhabited parts of what is now called Canada since the dawn of time. Archaeological records show that these lands have been inhabited for at least 10,000 years. Several Viking expeditions occurred circa AD 1000, with evidence of settlement at L'Anse aux Meadows.

British claims to North America date from 1497, when John Cabot reached what he called Newfoundland, though it is unclear whether Cabot landed in current Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, or Maine. French claims date from explorations by Jacques Cartier (from 1534) and Samuel de Champlain (from 1603). Neither Cabot's nor Cartier's explorations left any permanent settlers behind. In 1604, French settlers were the first Europeans to settle permanently in what is now Canada. After an unsuccessful winter in St. Croix Island (today in Maine), they settled Port-Royal in what is now the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia, but moved to found Quebec City in 1608. The current Acadians are descendants of settlers who came later in the same century and re-founded Port-Royal. New France was generally the name given to the French colonies of Canada and Acadia (and later Louisiana).

British settlements were established along the Atlantic seaboard and around Hudson Bay. As these colonies expanded, a struggle for control of North America took place between 1689 and 1763 (see French and Indian Wars), exacerbated by wars in Europe between France and Great Britain. France progressively lost territory to Great Britain, surrendering peninsular Nova Scotia in the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht and the remainder of New France including what was left of Acadia in the Treaty of Paris (1763).

During and after the American Revolution approximately 70,000 [2] Loyalists fled the Thirteen Colonies. Of these, roughly 50,000 United Empire Loyalists [3] settled in the British North American colonies which then consisted of Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, the Province of Quebec, and Prince Edward Island (created 1769). To accommodate the Loyalists, Britain created the colony of New Brunswick in 1784 from part of Nova Scotia, and divided Quebec into Lower Canada and Upper Canada under the Constitutional Act of 1791.

General Isaac Brock leading the charge in the Battle of Queenston Heights
General Isaac Brock leading the charge in the Battle of Queenston Heights

The War of 1812 began when the U.S. attacked British forces in Canada in an attempt to end British influence in North America (and particularly, the British seizures of American merchant ships in the Atlantic). In April 1813, U.S. forces burned York (now Toronto). The British/Canadians retaliated with the burning of Washington (DC) in a surprise attack in August 1814, but were subsequently turned back at Plattsburgh, Baltimore, and New Orleans. The Treaty of Ghent was signed in December 1814. It was only after the French and Napoleonic wars ended in Europe that large-scale immigration to Canada resumed.

The Canadas were merged into a single colony, the United Province of Canada, with the Act of Union (1840) in an attempt to assimilate the French Canadians. Once the U.S. agreed to the 49th parallel north as its border with western British North America, the British government created the colonies of British Columbia in 1848 and Vancouver Island in 1849. By the late 1850s, politicians in the Province of Canada had launched a series of western exploratory expeditions with the intention of assuming control of Rupert's Land (administered by the Hudson's Bay Company) and the Arctic.

In 1864 and 1866, British North American politicians, in what became known as the Great Coalition, held three conferences to create a federal union. Spearheaded by John A. Macdonald, on July 1, 1867, three colonies—Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick—were granted a constitution, the British North America Act, by the United Kingdom, creating the Dominion of Canada. The term "Canadian Confederation" refers to this 1867 unification of the provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec (formerly Canada East or Lower Canada), and Ontario (formerly Canada West or Upper Canada). The remaining British colonies and territories soon joined Confederation. By 1880 Canada included all of its present area except for Newfoundland and Labrador, which joined in 1949. (It should be noted that, although part of Canada, Alberta and Saskatchewan did not gain Provincial status until 1905.)

Canadian Red Ensign, former flag of Canada
Canadian Red Ensign, former flag of Canada

In 1919, Canada became a member of the League of Nations and, in the Imperial Conference of 1926, Canada assumed full control of its own foreign affairs through the Balfour Declaration. In 1927, Canada appointed its first ambassador to a foreign country, the United States. In 1931, the Statute of Westminster gave the Balfour Declaration constitutional force, confirming that no act of the UK's parliament would thereafter extend to Canada without its consent. Canadian citizenship was first distinguished from British in 1947; judicial appeals to the British Judicial Committee of the Privy Council ended in 1949. The power to amend Canada's constitution remained with the British parliament, although subject to the Statute of Westminster, until it was finally "patriated" to Canadian control by the Canada Act 1982.

The Quebec sovereignty movement has led to two referendums held in 1980 and 1995, with votes of 59.6% and 50.6% respectively against its proposals for sovereignty-association. In 1997, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled unilateral secession by a province to be unconstitutional.


Main article: Geography of Canada
Map of Canada.
Map of Canada.

Canada occupies the northern portion (precisely 41%) of North America. It is bordered to the south by the contiguous United States and to the northwest by Alaska. Off the southern coast of Newfoundland lies Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, an overseas community of France. The country stretches from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west (hence the country's motto). To the north lies the Arctic Ocean; Greenland is to the northeast. Since 1925, Canada has claimed the portion of the Arctic between 60° and 141° W longitude ([4]); this claim is not universally recognized. 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. Also, the magnetic North Pole lies within Canadian boundaries (although is moving towards Siberia).

Canada is the world's second-largest country in total area, after Russia. Much of Canada lies in Arctic regions, however, and thus Canada has only the fourth-most arable land area behind Russia, China, and the U.S. The population density of 3.5 people per square kilometre is among the lowest in the world: Canada has more land area than the U.S., but only one-ninth of its population.

The most densely populated part of the country is the Quebec City-Windsor Axis 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 dotted with lakes and rivers—over 60% of the world's lakes are in Canada. The Canadian Shield encircles the immense Hudson Bay, extending from Great Bear Lake in the Northwest Territories at its westernmost point, to the Atlantic coast in Labrador in the east.

Newfoundland, North America's easternmost island if Greenland is excluded, is at the mouth of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, the world's largest estuary. The Canadian Maritimes protrude eastward from the southern coasts of Quebec. New Brunswick and Nova Scotia are divided by the Bay of Fundy, which experiences the world's largest tidal variations. Prince Edward Island is Canada's smallest province.

Mount Logan in Yukon, with the main peak at left; at 5 959 m, Canada's highest point and second highest in North America.
Mount Logan in Yukon, with the main peak at left; at 5 959 m, Canada's highest point and second highest in North America.

West of Ontario, the broad, flat Canadian Prairies spread toward the Rocky Mountains, which separate them from 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 world's largest islands.

Some specific geographical features of note include the world's largest freshwater island, Manitoulin Island, which divides Georgian Bay and Lake Huron and the world's longest freshwater beach, Wasaga Beach, on the Lake Huron shoreline. Thanks to past glacial activity in the Canadian Shield, Canada also boasts more freshwater lakes than any other nation, with 31,191 lakes greater than three square kilometres.

Canada has a reputation for cold temperatures but, throughout, experiences four distinct seasons. Winters can be harsh in many regions of the country, with frequent blizzards and even ice storms. Temperatures often reach lows of -50°C in the far North; the record coldest temperature in North America was -63°C, at Snag, Yukon, in 1947. Coastal British Columbia is an exception: it enjoys a temperate climate with much milder winters than the rest of the country. Summers in Canada range from mild (low to high 20s C) on the east and west coasts to hot (mid to high 30s C), particularly in Central Canada, the Prairies and the intermontane regions of British Columbia. The highest recorded temperature in Canada was 45°C at both Midale and Yellow Grass in Saskatchewan on July 5, 1937.


Main article: Politics of Canada
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada

Canada's head of state is the monarch, currently Elizabeth II and commonly referred to as the Queen of Canada. However, the day-to-day duties of head of state are exercised by the Governor General, who was generally a retired politician or military leader; however, a new tradition of appointing non-political or military-related prominent Canadians began in 1999 with the appointment of Adrienne Clarkson. The governor general is formally appointed by the Queen on the advice of the Prime Minister and is a non-partisan figure who fulfils many ceremonial and symbolic roles including providing Royal Assent to bills, reading the Speech from the Throne, officially welcoming dignitaries of foreign countries, presenting honours such as the Order of Canada, signing state documents, formally opening and ending sessions of Parliament, and dissolving Parliament for an election. The Governor General is also the titular Commander-in-Chief of the Canadian military. The current Governor General is Michaëlle Jean. In theory and according to the Constitution, the Governor General is the most powerful person in the country; however, convention dictates that the Governor General hold only a ceremonial or symbolic role. Few Governors General have exercised their true power, the last time being when Jeanne Sauvé ignored the National Capital Commission and closed the grounds of Rideau Hall in the late 1980s. The most famous case where the Governor General exercised his power was the King-Byng Affair in 1926.

Canada's constitution governs the legal framework of the country and consists of written text and unwritten traditions and conventions (see Westminster system). The federal government and the governments of nine provinces agreed to the patriation of the constitution, with procedures for amending it, at a meeting of First Ministers in November 1981. The Quebec government did not agree to the changes, and Quebec nationalists refer to that night as the Night of the Long Knives.

The position of Prime Minister, Canada's head of government, in practice belongs to the leader of the political party who can command a majority in the House of Commons. The Prime Minister and his or her cabinet are formally appointed by the Governor General; however, the Prime Minister effectively chooses the cabinet and the Governor General, by convention, always appoints the Prime Minister's desired choices. The Cabinet is drawn, by convention, from members of the prime minister's party in both legislative houses, though mostly from the Commons. Executive power is exercised by the prime minister and cabinet, all of whom are sworn into the Privy Council of Canada and become ministers of the Crown. The Prime Minster exercises a great deal of individual political power, especially in terms of the appointment of other officials within the government and civil service.

The legislative branch of government has two houses: the elected House of Commons and the appointed Senate. Each member in the Commons is elected by simple plurality in one electoral district or "riding"; general elections are called by the Governor General when the prime minister so advises, and must occur every five years or less. Members of the Senate, whose seats are apportioned on a regional basis, are chosen by the prime minister and formally appointed by the Governor General, and serve until age 75.

Canada has four main political parties today. The traditionally centrist / left-of-centre Liberal Party of Canada formed the government in Canada for most of the 20th century, and is the party of the current Prime Minister Paul Martin. The only other party to have formed a government is the now-defunct, right-of-centre Progressive Conservative (PC) Party and its predecessor, the Conservative Party, which was the dominant political party in the 19th century. The PC Party merged with the Canadian Alliance to form a new rightist Conservative Party of Canada in December 2003. The New Democratic Party (NDP) is the major party furthest to the political left. The Bloc Québécois promotes Quebec independence from Canada and currently holds a majority of Quebec's seats in the Commons. There are many smaller parties and, while none have current representation in Parliament, the list of historical parties with elected representation is substantial.

Canada's judiciary plays an important role in interpreting laws and has the power to strike down laws that violate the constitution. The Supreme Court of Canada is the highest court and final arbiter; its nine members are directly appointed by Cabinet. All judges at the superior and appellate levels are selected and appointed by the federal government, after consultation with non-governmental legal bodies. The federal cabinet also appoints justices to superior courts at the provincial and territorial levels. Judicial posts at the lower provincial and territorial levels are filled by their respective governments (see Court system of Canada for more detail).

Common law prevails everywhere except in Quebec, where civil law predominates. Criminal law is solely a federal responsibility and is uniform throughout Canada. Law enforcement, including criminal courts, is a provincial responsibility, but in most provinces policing is contracted to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). The RCMP is one of few police forces in the world to perform three different levels of enforcement: municipal, provincial, and federal.

Foreign relations

Main article: Foreign relations of Canada

Canada has a close relationship with the United States, sharing the world's longest undefended border, co-operating on some military campaigns and exercises, and being each other's largest trading partners. Canada also shares a history and long relationship with the United Kingdom as its "mother country".

In the last century, Canada has been an advocate for multilateralism, making efforts to reach out to the rest of the world and promoting itself as a "middle power" able to work with large and small nations alike. This was clearly demonstrated during the Suez Crisis whereby Lester B. Pearson mollified the tension by introducing the idea of peacekeeping and the inception of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force. In 1957, Pearson was the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. In that spirit, Canada developed and has tried to maintain a leading role in UN peacekeeping efforts. Canada has cumulatively contributed more troops to peacekeeping operations worldwide than all other nations combined and currently serves in over 40 different peacekeeping missions, most recently in Afghanistan. Canada has contributed in someway to all UN peacekeeping missions.

Canada is a member of the United Nations, Commonwealth of Nations, La Francophonie, the Organization of American States (OAS), North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the World Trade Organization, the G8, and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC).


Main articles: Canadian Armed Forces, Military history of Canada

A founding member of the NATO alliance, Canada currently employs about 62,000 regular and 26,000 reserve military personnel.[5] The unified Canadian Forces (CF) are comprised of: the Canadian Forces Land Force Command (Army), the Canadian Forces Maritime Command (Navy), and the Canadian Forces Air Command (Air Force). Equipment deployed by the forces includes 2,400 armoured fighting vehicles, 34 combat vessels, and 140 combat aircraft.

Defence spending in fiscal year 2004-5 was approximately $14 billion.[6] However, in the 2005 federal budget, the Liberal government allocated an additional $12.8 billion over five years to the armed forces, and committed to increasing troop levels by an additional 8,000 regular and reserve personnel over the same period.[7]

Canadian forces have served in various wars including World War I, World War II, the Korean War and recently, in Afghanistan. Since Lester B. Pearson proposed the first UN peacekeeping force in 1956, the Canadian Forces have served in 42 peacekeeping missions — more than any other country. Canada was also the prime destination of American draft dodgers during the Vietnam War. These factors – along with its comparatively low level of military spending, other positions such as nuclear non-proliferation, and an international treaty banning personnel land mine usage – have led to Canada sometimes being referred to as a pacifist country.

Currently, CF personnel are involved in the NATO mission in Afghanistan. Smaller missions are also taking place in Haiti and Kosovo. Canada's Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) has participated in two relief operations in the last year. The two-hundred member relief crew helped in Southeast Asia after the December 2004 tsunami, and DART was also deployed in response to the devastating earthquake that struck the Kashmir region in South Asia in October 2005. Moreover, CF (and RCMP) personnel recently assisted in Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.

Provinces and territories of Canada

Main article: Provinces and territories of Canada

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

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.

All provinces have unicameral, elected legislatures headed by a Premier selected in the same way as the Prime Minister of Canada. Each province also has a Lieutenant-Governor representing the Queen, analogous to the Governor General of Canada, appointed on the recommendation of the Prime Minister of Canada, though with increasing levels of consultation with provincial governments in recent years.

Most provinces have 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: the main split is 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 fulfil the functions of the Queen, but each has a politically neutral Commissioner appointed by the federal government to act as its senior representative. Only Yukon's legislature follows the same political system as the provincial legislatures. The other two territories use a consensus government system in which each member runs as an independent and the premier is elected by and from the members.

There is also interest within Canada and the Turks and Caicos Islands, an overseas UK territory in the Caribbean, for the latter to enter into Confederation.


Main articles: Economy of Canada, Economic history of Canada

As an affluent, high-tech industrial society, Canada today closely resembles the U.S. in its market-oriented economic system, pattern of production, and high living standards. In the last century, 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. Canada has vast deposits of natural gas on the east coast and in the west, and a plethora of other natural resources contributing to self-sufficiency in energy. 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 U.S. Since 2001, Canada has successfully avoided economic recession and has maintained the best overall economic performance in the G8.

Two long-term concerns loom. One is the continuing political differences over the Constitution between Quebec and the rest of Canada, periodically raising the possibility of Quebec independence. As the economy becomes stronger, notably in Quebec, fears of separation have generally waned. Another concern is the "Brain Drain", the emigration of professionals to the U.S. in search of higher pay, lower taxes, and high-tech opportunities. (However, a recent Toronto Star article claims that the "Brain Drain" of doctors has abated, as more are returning to Canada due to high insurance rates in the U.S. and a more efficient medicare system in Canada.) Simultaneously, a larger, under-recognised "Brain Gain" is occurring, as educated immigrants (particularly from developing countries, a controversy in and of itself) continue to enter Canada [8].


Main article: Language in Canada

Canada's two official languages are English and French. On July 7, 1969, under the Official Languages Act, French was made commensurate to English throughout the federal government. This started a process that led to Canada redefining itself as a bilingual and multicultural nation:

  • English and French have equal status in Parliament, in federal courts, and in all federal institutions.
  • Any defendant in a criminal case has the right to a 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, in their own schools, with their own elected school boards, where they exist in sufficient numbers.
  • While multiculturalism is official policy, to become a citizen one must be able to speak either English or French.
  • More than 98% of Canadians speak English or French or both.

While the nation remains officially bilingual, the majority of Canadians are fluent only in English.

The official language of Quebec is French, as defined by the province's Charter of the French Language, which was introduced by the Parti Quebecois in 1976. However, the charter 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 with pockets in New Brunswick, eastern and northern Ontario, Saskatchewan, and southern Manitoba. In the 2001 census, 6,864,615 people listed French as a first language, of whom 85% lived in Quebec. 17,694,835 people listed English as a first language.

New Brunswick is the only officially bilingual province, a status specifically guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Some provincial governments, notably Manitoba and Ontario, offer many services to their French minority populations.

A view from downtown Montreal, Quebec
A view from downtown Montreal, Quebec

Non-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), Italian (469,485), German (438,080), and Punjabi (271,220).

Aboriginal groups

The Constitution Act of 1982 recognizes three groups of aboriginal peoples in Canada: the Indians (now often called First Nations), Inuit, and Métis. The aboriginal population is growing almost twice as fast as the rest of the population in Canada. Aboriginal peoples number 790,000 people (or 3% of Canada's population) of whom about 69% are First Nations, 26% are Métis, and 5% are Inuit.

Today, there are more than 50 different languages spoken by Aboriginal peoples, most of which are spoken only in Canada and are in decline. The only aboriginal languages believed to be currently fully sustainable are Ojibwe and Cree, together totalling up to 150,000 speakers, and Inuktitut, with about 29,000 speakers in the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Nunavik (Northern Quebec), and Nunatsiavut (Northern Labrador).

Two of Canada's territories give official status to aboriginal languages. In Nunavut, Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun are official languages alongside English and French, and Inuktitut is a common vehicular language in government. In the Northwest Territories, the Official Languages Act specifies no fewer than eleven official languages: Chipewyan, Cree, English, French, Gwich'in, Inuinnaqtun, Inuktitut, Inuvialuktun, North Slavey, South Slavey and Tåîchô. However, besides English and French, these languages are not vehicular in government; official status entitles citizens to receive services in them on request and to deal with the government in them.


Main article: Demographics of Canada

The 2001 census recorded 30,007,094 people, and as of October 2005 the population has been estimated by Statistics Canada as 32.3 million people[9], an increase of some 2.3 million people by both immigration and natural growth. About three-quarters of Canada's population live within 150 km of the U.S. border, and a similar proportion live in urban areas.

In the 2001 census, 39.42% of respondents reported their ethnic origins as "Canadian", most of whom are believed to be of British, Irish, and French heritage of earlier immigrants. In addition, 20.17% identified their origin as English, 15.75% as French, 14.03% as Scottish, and 12.90% as Irish. Numerous other groups were also reported. Ethnic origins reported by more than 1 million people included: German (9.25%), Italian (4.29%), Chinese (3.69%), Ukrainian (3.61%) and North American Indian(3.38%).

Close to four million people reported they were members of a visible minority, amounting to 13.44% of the total population. (Note that Aboriginal peoples are not considered visible minorities). Also, the 2001 census reported that Canada had 5,448,480 immigrants. [10]


Ice hockey events like the Canada Cup are popular in Canada
Ice hockey events like the Canada Cup are popular in Canada
Main articles: Culture of Canada, Canadian identity

Pierre Trudeau's federal government adopted multiculturalism as an official policy in 1971 in the aftermath of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism conducted under the government of Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson.

Due to its colonial past, Canadian culture has historically been heavily influenced by British and French cultures and traditions. In more modern times, Canadian culture is now greatly influenced by American culture, due to the proximity and the migration of people, ideas, and capital. Amidst this, Canadian culture has developed 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 prior to and following the Canadian Centennial in 1967, and also due to a focus by the federal government on programs to support culture and the arts.

There were and are many distinct First Nations across Canada, each with its own culture, language and history. Their culture was transmitted largely through oral means and stories were passed down through the elders to the younger generations. Various tribes created unique styles of artifacts such as weaved baskets, painted pictures, and carved sculptures of animals. Much of this artistic legacy remains celebrated in Canada to this day. The emblem of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics is the inukshuk, a stack of rocks in human form that is a part of Inuit culture. [11]

From as early the 1500s, European explorers, traders, and fishermen from England, Ireland and France helped form the basis of Canadian culture. During their colonization of Canada, settlers created a folklore about the land around them. The tales of Paul Bunyan are a product of French-Canadian folklore and the style of jigs from Newfoundland found their origins in Ireland.

Canada and the United Kingdom share a common history and continue to work together through many organizations such as the Commonwealth, G-8, and NATO. The two countries share the same head of state, and have among the oldest parliamentary democracies in the world. They still share many of the same customs, values, and traditions, which have been reinforced by working side by side in two world wars and over half a century of expanding peace and prosperity. The United Kingdom is Canada’s third largest trading partner and is the second largest source of tourists visiting Canada.

Many American movies, authors, TV shows, and musicians are equally popular in Canada (and vice versa). Many Canadian musicians have been successful in the U.S. and around the world. Most cultural products of these types are now increasingly marketed toward a unified "North American" market, and not specifically a Canadian or American one.

The U.S. and Canadian governments share a variety of close working partnerships in trade, economic, legal, security, and military matters.

As Canada and the U.S. have grown closer, many Canadians have developed complex feelings and concerns regarding what makes Canada a "distinct" nation within North America. Pierre Elliot Trudeau once told an American audience: "Living next to you is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast, if I can call it that, one is affected by every twitch and grunt." The large American cultural presence in Canada has prompted some fears of a "cultural takeover," and has led to the establishment of laws and government institutions to protect Canadian culture. Cultural institutions include the CBC, the National Film Board of Canada, and the CRTC. Much of Canadian culture remains defined in contrast to American culture.

In recent years, Canada has increasingly distinguished itself from the U.S. as more socially liberal while still being fiscally conservative. The current Canadian government supports universal health care, same-sex marriage and decriminalization of marijuana, although these issues remain topics of political debate. In other matters, Canadian and American politics place similar priorities on balanced budgets, tax cuts, and free trade.

National symbols

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police are the federal and national police force in Canada, and an international icon for the country.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police are the federal and national police force in Canada, and an international icon for the country.

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. Reflecting its dual linguistic heritage, red and white are proclaimed Canada's official national colours (also appearing on the flag). Canada is known for its vast forests and mountain ranges (including the Rocky Mountains) and the animals that reside within them, such as moose, caribou, beavers, polar bears, grizzly bears, and the common loon. The beaver's emblematic status originated from the fact much of Canada's early economic history was tied to the fur trade. Other symbols include the ship Bluenose, which is featured on the Canadian dime, and the Canada goose. Canada is also well known for its Royal Canadian Mounted Police, 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; lacrosse is the official summer sport. The Canadian Football League with three downs and a 110-yard field has also been seen as part of a heritage worth preserving.

In recent years, other symbols such as beer have become a source of pride as well. One example was the former Montreal-based Molson Canadian, which often infused beer with Canadian nationalism in its commercials. The Canadian fashion retailer Roots also sells a variety of merchandise designed to evoke nationalistic sentiment.


Main article: Holidays in Canada

Statutory and major holidays in Canada include New Year's Day, Good Friday, Easter, Victoria Day, Canada Day, Labour Day, Thanksgiving, Remembrance Day, Christmas, and Boxing Day.

Although not official holidays, St. Patrick's Day, Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, Father's Day, and Hallowe'en are traditionally celebrated by Canadians.

International rankings

  • UN Human Development Index (HDI), 2005: 5th out of 177; United Nations Development Programme (pdf) [12]
  • Environmental Sustainability Index, 2005: 6th (out of 146); Yale University Center for Environmental Law and Policy & Columbia University Center for International Earth Science Information Network (pdf) [13]
  • Press Freedom Index 2004: 18th (out of 165); Reporters Without Borders World-wide [14]
  • Total value of foreign trade (imports and exports), 2003: 4th (out of 185)
  • Corruption Perceptions Index 2004: 12th (out of 146); Transparency International [15]
  • Index of Economic Freedom, 2005: 16th (out of 155); Heritage Foundation/Wall Street Journal [16]


  • Bumsted, J. 2004. History of the Canadian Peoples, Oxford: Oxford University Press

Related topics

Topics in Canada
History Timeline | Pre-Confederation | Post-confederation | Economic History | Military history
Politics Constitution | The Crown | Governor General | Parliament (Senate|House of Commons) | Prime Minister | Courts (Supreme Court) | Military)
Geography Appalachian Mountains | Rocky Mountains | Great Lakes | St. Lawrence River | Canadian prairies | Canadian Arctic | Islands | Rivers | Extreme communities | Western Canada
Economy Companies | Stock Exchange | Banks | Bank of Canada (central bank) | Canadian dollar | Taxation
Demographics Languages | Religion | 2001 Census | Top 100 cities
Culture Art | Literature | Theatre | Music | Sports | Holidays | Cinema
Symbols of Canada Flags (National Flag) | | Provincial and territorial

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Provinces and territories of Canada Flag of Canada
Provinces: Alberta | British Columbia | Manitoba | Newfoundland and Labrador | New Brunswick | Nova Scotia | Ontario | Quebec | Prince Edward Island | Saskatchewan
Territories: Northwest Territories | Nunavut | Yukon

International ties of Canada
Geographical: North America
Historical and cultural: Commonwealth of Nations | Commonwealth Realms | Francophonie
International organizations: United Nations | NATO | OECD | Group of 8 | OAS
Trade pacts: NAFTA | World Trade Organization | APEC

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