Canada is a land of many contrasts. It is the second largest country in the world, but it ranks thirty-first in population, with about 26 million people. It is slightly larger than the United States, but has only one-tenth as many people.
Canada spans the continent of North America from Newfoundland on the Atlantic Ocean to British Columbia on the Pacific, and from the Arctic Ocean in the north to the United States in the south. Yet 80 per cent of the Canadian people live within 321 kilometers of the country’s southern border. Few people live in the rest of the country because of its rugged terrain and harsh climate.
The Canadian landscape includes towering mountains in the west, vast, flat prairies inland, and sandy beaches on the eastern coast. In the north, forests cover huge areas of land, and beyond the woodlands lies frozen, barren Arctic.
Canada is wealthy in natural resources. Beginning in the 1500’s, Europeans came to fish in its coastal waters and trap fur-bearing animals in its forests. The forests also became a resource as settlers used their wood for building and fuel. Fertile soil attracted immigrant farmers. Today, Canada’s mighty rivers supply water and power, and the nation’s rich deposits of petroleum and other minerals provide raw materials for manufacturers.
Canada’s people are as varied as its landscape. About 40 per cent are of British descent, and about 27 per cent are the descendants of French settlers. Both English and French are official languages today. Other major groups include people of German, Italian, and Ukrainian descent. Large numbers of Asian immigrants have settled in western Canada. American Indians and Inuit make up about 2 per cent of the population, while people of African descent make up less than 1 per cent.
More than three-fourths of Canada’s people live in cities and towns. Many of these urban areas lie near the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River, including Montreal and Toronto, the largest cities in Canada. Inuit and Indians make up almost half the population of the Arctic north.
Canada is an independent, self-governing nation with strong historic ties to Great Britain. It has a close and friendly relationship with the United States but strives to keep its Canadian identity. The name Canada probably came from an Iroquois word meaning community, though keeping a sense of community over such a vast area continues to challenge the Canadian people.