About Canada

Learn more about the country of Canada including facts about the Canadian people & their history, geography & maps of Canada, and the Canadian economy & government. Basic Canada demographics including population, religion, GDP, topography, languages and more.

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History of Canada

Canada may have been populated as early as 10,000 years ago, according to carbon-dating of remains found by archaeologists. It is believed that travel between Asia and Alaska took place during an ice age when a land bridge formed through the Bering Strait. Many diverse ethnic and cultural indigenous groups formed throughout Canada, the most well-known being the Inuit Indians of the Arctic region. Other indigenous groups include the Iroquois, the Huron, the Cree, the Bella Coola, and the Kwakiul.

The various cultures also had numerous languages and are usually grouped into common language families, from the Salish-speaking peoples of western Canada to the Iroquoian peoples of the east. Each culture also had unique social systems, ranging from bands of a few related families of the Inuit to the Iroquois Confederacy that united five separate tribes. The American Indian population in Canada was decimated following the arrival of Europeans; in the mid-1980’s they made up only 1% of the entire population. By the 1990’s, however, the indigenous population had risen to 1.5%, and it is believed that this trend will continue.

Vikings are believed to have landed in Canada in the 10th century. In 1497, John Cabot reached Newfoundland and claimed for Britain a large portion of the Atlantic seaboard. Cabot was followed by French explorer Jacques Cartier, who landed at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River in 1534 and claimed the Gaspe Peninsula for France. Canada’s early history was dominated by rivalry between France and Britain.

British North America: from 1783

The treaty of Paris in 1783, recognizing the independence of the thirteen British colonies, restricts Britain’s territories in America to Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and that part of the vast province of Quebec which has not been ceded to the American colonists. These regions, along the St Lawrence and above the Great Lakes, now become known as British North America.

The new international border on this east-west axis brings into political existence the eastern part of modern Canada. It also sets the scene for what will become a lasting feature of the region – the coexistence of a British majority and a strongly self-aware French minority which has prior claims in this territory.

The first major immigration of British people into Canada occurs as a result of the American Revolution. The Loyalists, who have taken Britain’s side in the war, have no future in the newly independent United States. In the years up to 1783 about 40,000 flee north into Canada. The majority (among them 1000 freed slaves) go to Nova Scotia, where there has been a British presence for several decades. About 10,000 choose the province of Quebec.

From 1784 Britain reorganizes her remaining north American colonies on a more practical basis. Because of the sudden influx of Loyalists, Nova Scotia is divided into three separate colonies by the formation of New Brunswick and Cape Breton (the latter is reunited with Nova Scotia in 1820).  More significant are the changes brought about by the Canadian Constitutional Act of 1791. This divides the province of Quebec into two halves – Upper Canada (equivalent to modern Ontario) and Lower Canada (modern Quebec). These two provinces are at the same time given a new constitution, with power shared between the governor (representing the crown), an appointed legislative council and an elected legislative assembly. Lower Canada is the province with by far the highest proportion of French inhabitants. It soon becomes and remains the center of French political aspirations within British North America.

Northwest Canada: 1789-1793

The four years from 1789 bring much new knowledge about northwest Canada, particularly from two great journeys carried out by a Scottish fur trader, Alexander Mackenzie. By the 18th century Canada has already been well explored, mainly by fur traders, to some considerable distance west of the Great Lakes and Hudson Bay. Mackenzie has been living for some years at the extremity of the known region, with his base at the Indian trading post of Fort Chipewyan on Lake Athabasca.

A great river flows northwest out of Lake Athabasca. In early June 1789 Mackenzie sets off with a small party in birch-bark canoes to discover where it leads. A week brings them to the Great Slave Lake, which they find covered in ice too solid for their canoes but too fragile to walk on. They carry the canoes round its edge until they come to a river (now the Mackenzie) emerging from its western extremity. They follow this to its outlet, at Mackenzie Bay, into the Beaufort Sea – a part of the Arctic Ocean beyond the as yet undiscovered northwest passage. Mackenzie and his party are back in Fort Chipewyan in mid-September, having canoed about 3000 miles in not much more than three months. Mackenzie set off again from Fort Chipewyan in 1792 in the even more ambitious attempt to reach the Pacific Ocean. There has as yet been no recorded crossing of the continent north of Mexico, and it is unlikely that any unknown American Indian was ever tempted by the task which Mackenzie undertakes in July 1792. From Fort Chipewyan he travels along and between a succession of rivers, and then through the Canadian Rockies, to reach the coast at the mouth of the Bella Coola river in June 1793.

Mackenzie is unaware of it, but another explorer is in the region at exactly this same moment. Mackenzie reaches the sea about 100 miles north of Vancouver Island, named after George Vancouver who is spending two years surveying the coast from California to Alaska. In 1792 he becomes the first captain to sail round Vancouver Island.  Vancouver has begun his career as an able seaman on Captain Cook’s second voyage (1772-5) and has graduated to midshipman for the third voyage (1776-80). Now, leaving Britain in 1791 in command of his own expedition to the Pacific, he takes pride in applying Cook’s high standards of surveying and cartography. Indeed on occasion there is a humorous delight in upstaging the master. On the chart for Dusky Bay in New Zealand where Cook, lacking time to investigate, has written ‘Nobody knows what’, Vancouver now fills in the coastline and the words ‘Somebody knows what’.

Thanks to Mackenzie and Vancouver, by 1793 somebody knows a great deal more than before about northwest Canada. The next question is who will develop and govern the region.

North West and Hudson’s Bay companies: 1783-1821

Alexander Mackenzie, whose explorations open up northwest Canada, is an employee of the North West Company. This is an enterprise founded in 1783 by traders in Montreal to develop the French fur trade, the profits of which can now accrue in British hands after France’s loss of her American empire.

For more than a century the Hudson’s Bay Company, trading furs from northern Canada by the sea route from Hudson’s Bay, has competed with French traders sending their furs to Europe through Montreal and down the St Lawrence river. Now this same competition continues, often with considerable violence, between two British enterprises.

Of the two the North West Company is the more vigorous, opening up the western territories after Mackenzie’s initiative. It derives a considerable advantage during the 1812 war between Britain and America, of which one casualty is the American trading post of Astoria at the mouth of the Columbia river.

Astoria is the creation of John Jacob Astor, son of a butcher from Waldorf in Germany, who has arrived in America as a 20-year-old immigrant in 1783. Specializing in the fur trade between the Great Lakes and the Pacific, he soon makes the first of many Astor fortunes. In 1811 he establishes Astoria so as to extend his trade across the Pacific to China. Astor’s timing is for once unfortunate. British blockades in the war of 1812 make Astoria useless to his American Fur Company, but by the same token of considerable interest to the North West Company. Astor sells them his new trading post in 1813.

This gives the North West Company’s members a virtual monopoly of the rich fur trade in the western half of British America. The problem is that their line of communication with the Atlantic ports is now overstretched, as well as seeming to be threatened by a new initiative of their Hudson’s Bay rivals in 1811. In this year the Hudson’s Bay Company brings in Scottish immigrants to establish an agricultural colony on the Red River in the region of modern Winnipeg. The site is close to Fort Gibraltar, built in 1804 by the North West Company to protect their trade route east to Montreal.

Employees of the North West Company attack the Red River Settlement in 1816, killing its governor and nineteen of his men. The Hudson’s Bay Company retaliates by seizing and destroying Fort Gibraltar (which they subsequently rebuild as Fort Garry). This unseemly war between two British companies leads eventually to a merger, imposed by the government in 1821. The “Nor’Westers” predominate in the merged group, but it continues to trade under the more venerable of the two names as the Hudson’s Bay Company. The company now has administrative responsibility for an enormous region, stretching from the western boundary of Ontario (Upper Canada in the language of the time) to the Pacific.

The southern border of much of this British territory has recently been established in the peace-making process after the war of 1812 (during which American troops burn the parliament buildings in Toronto). A virtual ban on warships in the Great Lakes, agreed in 1817, is the first sign that both sides are ready to compromise. This first precautionary peace-keeping measure is followed a year later, in 1818, by the agreement which has held good ever since – that the frontier between the two nations will run west from Lake of the Woods along the 49th parallel.

At this stage the border is drawn only as far as the Rockies. The region west of the continental divide is as yet virtually unsettled at this latitude by Europeans and is regarded for the moment as shared territory between the two nations. In 1846 it is ceded to the USA by Britain. Since then the frontier has continued along the 49th parallel all the way to the Pacific coast. With American pressure building up in Oregon, the British government takes steps to ensure that the line is indeed held at the frontier agreed in 1846. The valuable Vancouver Island, offshore but nicked at its southern end by the 49th parallel, is given in 1849 the protective status of a British crown colony.

A gold rush to the Fraser river in 1858, mainly by prospectors from America, underlines the importance of the entire region between the Rockies and the coast. This area too is proclaimed a colony, as British Columbia (united from 1866 with Vancouver Island). The Hudson’s Bay Company territory now stretches only from Hudson’s Bay to the Rockies. But it is still a very large region.

Rebellion and reform: 1837-1864

The circumstances of French and then of British North America have meant that war and trade have demanded more of men’s attention than politics. But in the 1830’s political change is in the air in all the nations with which Canada is most closely connected. In Britain the Reform Bill is passed. In France a revolution has brought to the throne a Citizen King. In the USA Andrew Jackson is seen as the representative of a new and more popular form of democracy.

In this atmosphere it becomes painfully evident to the citizens of Toronto and Montreal that they are enduring an old-fashioned colonial status more stifling even than the kind rejected by Britain’s American colonies in 1776. It is true that there are elected legislative assemblies in Toronto and Montreal for Upper and Lower Canada, but they have no executive power. This is wielded in each province by a governor, an executive council and a legislative council, all of whom are appointed by the crown in London (and in the case of the councils the appointment is for life).

Moreover the Councillors favored in London seem far from representative in Canada. They are almost exclusively Anglican, whereas many of the British in Upper Canada are nonconformist. And they are almost exclusively English, even though almost all the inhabitants of Lower Canada are French. These circumstances, combined with the effects of economic recession in America in 1837, result in a minor rebellion in December in Upper Canada and a much more serious one at the same time – led by Louis Papineau and his Patriots – in Lower Canada. The latter is rapidly and harshly suppressed by British troops, but it sends a sufficiently strong signal for the government in London to react.

A new governor-general, the earl of Durham, is appointed in 1838. His name immediately suggests reform, for he is son-in-law to Earl Grey and was closely associated with him in pushing the Reform Bill through parliament. In his Report on the Affairs of British North America, ready for publication in 1839, Durham makes two proposals which are acted upon during the 1840’s. The first, resulting from his perception that Canada’s main problem is racial antagonism, is that British Upper Canada and French Lower Canada should be merged as a single Province of Canada with equal representation in a joint assembly. The second is that an executive council shall be responsible, like the cabinet in Britain, to the elected assembly.

The first proposal is put into immediate effect, in 1840. The second has to wait until 1848. Both apply only to the two most populous provinces (and the only two known at this stage as Canada), but others soon follow the same route. However, over the next two decades, the arrangement made for the united Province of Canada comes to seem increasingly unworkable. The reason is that there are far more British than French immigrants to Canada, and they naturally go to the British region (now known as West Canada within the united province). By the early 1860s the population of West Canada is seriously under-represented in the joint assembly, leading to much political unrest. One clear option is for the British and French provinces of Canada to separate again. But this naturally raises the often discussed question of a federal union of some kind. It is the subject of a conference planned for the autumn of 1864.

Quebec Conference and Dominion of Canada: 1864-67

The Atlantic provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island have been considering a union of their own. Arranging a conference to discuss it, at Charlottetown in Prince Edward Island in September 1864, they invite representatives from the province of Canada. When these representatives propose the broader plan of a federal union of all the provinces of British North America, there is immediate interest. The conference is transferred in October to Quebec.

A scheme of federal union is decided upon without much difficulty. But when it is put to the various assemblies during 1865, only the province of Canada accepts it. The British government, reacting with enthusiasm to a practical solution for a familiar colonial problem, exerts pressure on New Brunswick and Nova Scotia to join the scheme. So when the British North America Act is passed at Westminster, in 1867, four former colonies (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and the province of Canada now separated again into Ontario and Quebec) unite to form a new Canadian state – which formally comes into existence on 1 July 1867, with Ottawa as the capital city.

Since Queen Victoria is still to be head of state, the new nation is in effect a kingdom linked to the British crown. The Canadian suggestion is that it should be known as the ‘kingdom of Canada’. Parliament in Westminster, aware of American republican sensibilities, rejects this proposal and calls the new state the Dominion of Canada. Thus ‘dominion status’, a device later used to give independence to other British colonies, comes into existence. The four provinces of the new Canada include nearly all the historic regions of both French and British North America (only Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland on the Atlantic coast decline the chance to join). But British North America also now includes a vast and largely unsettled region to the west of Ontario – consisting of the Hudson’s Bay Company territory and British Columbia.

Manitoba to Alberta: 1869-1905

A natural next step, after the creation of Canada, is for the huge Hudson’s Bay Company territory (entrusted by charter to the company since 1670) to be transferred to the new state. This is achieved in 1869 by agreement between the British and Canadian governments, but little is done to inform or conciliate the scattered groups of settlers living an isolated existence in the territory. One group which reacts adversely to the unexpected change is the inhabitants of the Red River Settlement, established near Winnipeg in 1811 by the Hudson’s Bay Company. Originally of Scottish or French origin, they are now mostly métis which means interbred with the local Indian population.

The métis of the Red River Settlement have developed their own independent way of life and intend to preserve it. They find an energetic leader in Louis Riel, who in 1869 seizes Fort Garry (the name at the time of Winnipeg) and sets up a provisional government with himself as president. The new Canadian government decides to negotiate rather than suppress the rebellion. The result is the very rapid creation of a new province, Manitoba, which joins the dominion in 1870. This is without Riel himself however who is treated as an outlaw for having court marshaled and executed a man from Ontario.

British Columbia is also keen to join the expanding nation. Negotiations begin in earnest in 1870, with the British Columbian’s insisting on one condition – that a railway is constructed across the vast open centre of Canada to join them to the rest of the nation. With the promise that a transcontinental line will be completed within ten years, British Columbia joins the confederation in 1871. (And the promise is almost fulfilled – the Canadian Pacific railway is finished in 1885.)

Prince Edward Island completes the first batch of provinces in the confederation, reversing its earlier decision and joining in 1873. In the same year, 1873, the North-West Mounted Police is formed to patrol the wild region between Manitoba and British Columbia, known simply as the Northwest Territories, for which the government in Ottawa is now responsible. In July 1874 a force of 275 mounted police in scarlet tunics (soon to be affectionately known as the Mounties) sets off west from Manitoba to spread through the western plains towards the Rockies. The Mounties achieve their purpose with the skill which makes them famous, even when they have to cope with the lawless adventurers who swarm into the Yukon for the Klondike gold rush of 1897-8.

The Yukon Territory is divided in 1898 from the rest of the Northwest Territories, and soon two new provinces along the nation’s southern border are ready to complete the structure of modern Canada. Alberta and Saskatchewan both become provinces in 1905, forming with Manitoba the three so-called ‘prairie provinces’. Surprisingly events in the prairies, from the mid-1880’s, have given a new urgency to a long-standing Canadian problem – the relationship between the French and English communities. The first such occasion involves the return of the métis leader Louis Riel.

French in the prairies: 1884-1890

Louis Riel is living in America in 1884 when discontented métis in the Saskatchewan valley invite him to return as their leader. Once again he sets up a rebel government, seeking the support of local Indians against federal interference in the region. But this time Ottawa is in no mood to compromise. Federal troops overwhelm him. He is convicted of high treason and is hanged in 1885. Whatever the circumstances the ancient bitterness is immediately revived by Riel’s being in origin a French Canadian. Outrage at his death on the part of French-speaking Canadians is immediately reflected in the politics of Quebec where the most outspoken politician in the French cause, Honoré Mercier, sweeps to victory as premier in the provincial election of 1886.

Soon there is further cause for French affront at the turn of events in the prairies. The British North America Act of 1867, acknowledging the fears of the French Catholic community, has guaranteed the educational rights of minorities in ‘dissentient schools’ in each province. Similarly the province of Manitoba, when set up in 1870, is required to provide denominational schools for its communities. By the late 1880s Protestant immigration has reduced the French Catholic population of Manitoba to only about 10%. Moreover the agitation by Mercier and others on behalf of Riel has provoked an anti-Catholic backlash in the prairies. The government of Manitoba (eager also to save on the education budget) declares in 1890 that the province’s schools will henceforth be non-denominational, with English as the only language of instruction.

The Manitoba Schools Question, involving the obligation of provincial and federal governments in relation to the French Catholic minority, is fought over in the courts during the 1890s and is the main issue in the federal election of 1896. That election brings to power, as leader of the Liberal party, Canada’s first French-speaking premier, Wilfrid Laurier. He succeeds in finding a compromise which defuses the immediate problem in Manitoba, but in the first of his four successive terms in office (in an unbroken spell to 1911) he is confronted by another aspect of the same problem.

When the Boer War begins, in 1899, British Canadians are eager to send Canadian troops. With some reluctance Laurier does so, thereby outraging many of his own French-Canadian community in Quebec. One of the most enduring issues of Canadian political life has become painfully evident in the first decades of the nation’s existence.

Canada in the 20th Century

Economic Growth
Originally a nation of farmers, fishermen, loggers, and fur traders, the dawn of the 20th century saw a full-scale transformation of Canadian society. As new provinces were settled, new cities began to spring up, and by the 1910’s half of all Canadians were living urban, rather than rural lives for the first time. The development of new machines under the frantic period of late-19th century modernization known as the Industrial Revolution saw a dramatic growth in city-based factory work. Canada’s raw natural resources were now being processed into useful products such as lumber, textiles, and meat — creating all sorts of new jobs that got people off the farm and out of the woods.

A massive influx of immigrants, intended to settle uninhabited parts of the Canadian west, helped change the fundamental ethnic makeup of the country. No longer simply French and English, large numbers of Canadians were now Irish, Italian, Polish, Ukrainian, Dutch, or Scandinavian — and even some Chinese and Japanese, too. To this day, the 10 years between 1906 and 1916, when Canada welcomed some two million new residents, remain the country’s largest population boom. Under the 15-year leadership of Prime Minister Wilfred Laurier (1841-1919), whom served through years 1896 to 1911, Canada pursued policies that yielded great economic growth, and a rising standard of living for almost everyone. True, a few rich folk at the top were getting much richer than everyone else — and much faster — but compared to the state of much of the rest of the planet, things in Canada seemed to be going quite well indeed.


World War I (1914-1918)
In 1914, Germany invaded Belgium, which forced Britain to go to war with Germany due to an alliance the Brits and Belgians had at the time. It was a confusing war without much obvious relevance to Canada, yet all British colonies were promptly expected to fight alongside the motherland. Canada received an awkward reminder that despite the country’s emerging status as one of the wealthiest, most industrialized, modern societies on earth, it was still a mere colonial possession of a much stronger empire, unauthorized to run its own foreign affairs.

The French-Canadian residents of Quebec were particularly resentful. They had no interest in fighting “English wars” and viciously opposed efforts by the federal government to impose a national draft. More than 650,000 Canadians would fight in Europe, but they were overwhelmingly of English heritage. The Canadian prime minister of the time, Robert Borden (1854-1937, served 1911-1917), was a strong backer of Britain’s war effort, but was simultaneously skeptical of London’s sense of entitlement regarding the service of colonial troops. Behind the scenes, he pointedly insisted that if Canadian soldiers were going to be used to fight the Empire’s wars, Canada’s government should have greater say in how those wars were fought. Canadian soldiers, in any case, performed exceptionally, making heroic contributions on key European fronts, most notably the Battle of Vimy Ridge in France (1917), where more than 3,000 Canadians were killed. The sacrifice of so much Canadian life abroad solidified opinion back home that Canada was a mature nation in its own right, and deserved to be recognized as such.

African Wars
In addition to World War I, Canada participated in two other armed conflicts on behalf of Britain while Canada was still a formal colony. In 1884 & 1885, Canada sent 386 troops to participate in what was called the Nile Expedition, a brief involvement in the larger Mahdi conflict (1881-1898) in British-run Sudan against a rebel group of Islamic fundamentalists. From 1899 to 1901, in turn, more than 5,000 Canadians participated in a similar war to crush Dutch rebels in British-run South Africa, in a conflict known as the South African War or the Anglo-Boer War. Neither of these conflicts is particularly well-remembered today. Seen here, “Soldier in a Landscape” (1901), depicting a British colonial solider in Africa.

Canadian Independence (1918-1931)
In the aftermath of the First World War, successive Canadian governments, backed by the governments of other self-governing white British colonies like Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, and South Africa, aggressively lobbied Britain to restructure the Empire to allow its colonies greater independence. In 1926, an Imperial Conference in London featuring all the colonial prime ministers passed a resolution declaring that Britain and its dominions were, in fact, “equal in status,” and not master and subject. In 1931, the British Parliament went even further, and passed a law known as the Statute of Westminster, which formally surrendered Britain’s ability to make laws for Canada and the other advanced colonies. No longer an Empire, it was said the self-governing white colonies now formed a “Commonwealth” of friendship in which they shared allegiance to a common king, but enjoyed full independence in domestic and foreign policies. For all intents and purposes, Canada was now an independent country, with Britain only retaining a few increasingly symbolic powers.


Depression and World War II (1929-1945)
After a brief economic boom in the 1920’s, a severe, worldwide economic collapse — dubbed the Great Depression — hit Canada hard in the 1930’s, putting millions out of work and plunging millions more into miserable poverty, particularly on Prairie provinces where hardships were compounded by the so-called Dust Bowl drought. Desperate Canadian workers and voters became drawn to revolutionary ideas and wild new political parties. It was a time of radicalism, but the outcomes were not always destructive. Early feminist protests earned Canadian women the right to vote in elections across the country, and union activists — who began exercising their right to strike — helped abolish child labor and secure safer factories.

In 1939, Britain again declared war on Germany, which was now run by the fanatic dictator Adolf Hitler (1889-1945), and though Canada was no longer automatically obligated to follow suit, pro-British sentiment in the country remained strong. The government of Prime Minister Mackenzie King (1874-1950) passed a supportive declaration of war against Germany a week later, and Canadian troops were once again sent to Europe. When Britain declared war on Germany’s Asian ally Japan in 1941, Canada again followed, and the conflict expanded to the Pacific Ocean.

The Second World War, which was Canada’s first to be fought under Canadian command, involved a massive mobilization of people and resources, both at home and abroad. More than a million Canadians served in their country’s armed forces, while the wartime production of ammunition, armaments, and vehicles gave an enormous boost to Canada’s suffering economy. Overseas, Canadian troops again demonstrated great bravery playing a critical role in several key fronts, notably the failed battles of Hong Kong (1941) and Dieppe (1942), and the more successful invasion of Sicily (1942), and liberation of the Netherlands (1944-45).

Though the war’s end in 1945 was a time of considerable celebration across Canada, an uncomfortable fact remained: the bulk of Canada’s fighting had been done by English-Canadians. As had been the case with the First World War, French-Canadians once again largely opposed participating in what they deemed an “English” conflict, and vigorously opposed a national draft. Canadians of Japanese decent, meanwhile, had found themselves on the receiving end of vicious wartime racism, culminating in Prime Minister King’s 1942 decision to round up all citizens of Japanese descent and place them in internment camps in rural communities, where they would supposedly pose no danger to whites. The episode remains one of the country’s darkest chapters and the government of Canada officially apologized in 1988.

The Post-war Boom
World War II had changed Canada, both in terms of economic development and national pride. Wartime industrialization dramatically grew the manufacturing sector of Canada’s economy, allowing the country to become a world leader in industries like car-building and chemical processing, while the 1947 discovery of oil in the province of Alberta put Canada on the map as one of the planet’s major petroleum producers. As education became more affordable, more Canadians were able to pursue careers in new, non-physical sectors of the economy, such as science, finance, engineering, media, and of course, an ever-growing government bureaucracy. All of this allowed more Canadians than ever to enjoy comfortable, middle class jobs and lifestyles, and the growth of suburban communities in previously empty areas surrounding the cities, where mom, dad, and the kids could live in small houses with their own yard, car, and white picket fence, reflected the new standard of Canadian living.

Canada’s post-war governments of the 1950’s and 1960’s wrapped up the final, mostly symbolic loose ends of securing complete political independence from Great Britain. In 1952, Canada said goodbye to its last British-appointed governor, the Viscount Alexander (1891-1969), and turned the office into a figurehead position to be filled by Canadian citizens. The dominion of Newfoundland on the Maritime coast, which was a self-governing British colony, agreed to join the Canadian confederation in 1949, giving Canada its 10th province and present-day borders. After much debate, in 1965 a uniquely Canadian flag, the Maple Leaf, was adopted, and the Union Jack was lowered from Canada’s Parliament.

Postwar foreign affairs quickly became dominated by fears of the Russian-led Soviet Union, which had grown large and powerful in the aftermath of the war. Fear of a Soviet takeover of the world through its political philosophy of Communism spawned a decades-long Cold War (1945-1991), and in 1949 Canada joined a military and political alliance known as NATO to help oppose Russian expansion. At the same time, successive Canadian prime ministers worked equally hard to earn Canada a reputation as a moderate, compassionate “middle power,” skilled at diplomacy and negotiation. Though more than 500 Canadians would die fighting Communist forces in the Korean War (1950-1953), Canada’s refusal to participate in the American-led Vietnam War (1964-1973) against the Communist armies of North Vietnam earned the country a reputation for caution and restraint.

The October Crisis & Quebec Conflict
In 1970, FLQ terrorists kidnapped and eventually killed the vice-premier of Quebec, Pierre LaPorte (1921-1970), prompting Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau (1919-2000) to invoke the War Measures Act, which imposed martial law in the province, with the military brought in to restore order. Dubbed the October Crisis, hundreds of Quebecer’s with suspected separatist sympathies were rounded up and thrown in jail without warrant or trial.

Ever since their conquest by the British in 1759, the French-speaking residents of Quebec struggled to maintain their unique culture in face of English pressure to assimilate. For 200 years, this hostility and insecurity played out in the form of an ultra-conservative, extremely Catholic, largely feudal, agrarian society that shut itself off from much of the modernization that had occurred in the rest of Canada. As had been the case for centuries, much of the province’s wealth remained concentrated in the hands of a few rich English families.

It was not until the mid-20th century that the old ways began to break down. After the death of Maurice Duplessis (1890-1959), Quebec’s long-serving ultraconservative prime minister, French-Canadian society underwent a phase known as the Quiet Revolution, which saw a new generation of politicians and educated professionals aggressively modernize the province. Post 1960’s, Quebec became more secular and industrialized, while a slew of new businesses put more wealth into French-Canadian hands. “Masters in our own house” was the slogan of the time. Yet many Quebecer’s felt things were not improving fast enough. Separatism — the idea that Quebec was too different from the rest of Canada to exist as a province, and could only realize its full potential as an independent country — began to grow in popularity after the war, spurned by economic difficulties and a growing sense of self-reliance. A certain radical vein of Quebec separatists turned to Marxism and violence, with a terrorist group known as the Front de Libération du Québec setting off dozens of bombs in government buildings and other high-profile targets across the province throughout the 1960’s. An openly separatist Quebec government, led by Premier Rene Levesque (1922-1987), was elected in 1976, and a referendum on separation from Canada was held in 1980. It failed, but the dynamic of Canadian-Quebec relations was forever changed.

New Constitution (1980-1993)
Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, a charismatic, progressive, and often authoritarian figure who led Canada for nearly 16 years between 1968 and 1984, nearly single-handedly determined Canada’s political priorities during the 1970’s and 1980’s even after he left power. A Quebecer himself, Trudeau believed that much of Canada’s French-English tension could be alleviated under a new Canadian constitution that protected Quebec’s French language and culture, while also enshrining the principle that all citizens were equal under the law.

The result of years of intense negotiation with the provincial premiers, Trudeau’s new Constitution Act of 1982 did not change Canada’s system of government, but contained a Charter of Rights and Freedoms that finally enshrined the basic civil rights of all Canadians, including freedom of speech, religion, and movement, and declared Canada a bilingual nation where all citizens had a right to speak either French or English. Perhaps most importantly of all, the Constitution Act was also the final law Britain would ever pass for Canada; following its approval, the British Parliament agreed to surrender its control of Canadian constitutional law — its last remaining power over the country.

The separatist government of Quebec had opposed the new constitution and was the only province that refused to sign it. Trudeau’s successor as prime minister, Brian Mulroney, whom served 1984 to 1993, embarked upon two ambitious campaigns to revise the Constitution Act in a way that would finally please the French province, but both efforts ultimately failed after long, polarized national debates. Quebec’s signature remains symbolically absent from the Canadian Constitution to this day. Capitalizing on the dissatisfaction of the constitutional talks, in 1995 Quebec’s government held a second referendum on separation from Canada and it only failed by a margin of less than one per cent.

People of Canada

Nationality: Noun and adjective–Canadian(s).
Population (2009 est.): 33.7 million.
Growth rate: 0.88%
Age structure: 0-14 years: 17.6% (male 2,992,811/female 2,848,388); 15-64 years: 69% (male 11,482,452/female 11,368,286); 65 years and over: 13.3% (male 1,883,008/female 2,523,987)
Median age: 38.9 years
Infant mortality: 4.69 deaths/1,000 live births
Life expectancy at birth: total population: 80.22 years; male: 76.86 years; female: 83.74 years.
Ethnic groups: British/Irish 28%, French 23%, other European 15%, Asian/Arab/African 6%, indigenous Amerindian 2%, mixed background 26%.
Religions: Roman Catholic 43.6%, Protestant 29.2%, other Christian 4.3%, Muslim 2.0%, Jewish 1.1%, Buddhist 1.0%, Hindu 1.0% other 1.3%, none 16.5%.
Languages: English (official) 57.8%, French (official) 22.1%, other 20.1% (including Chinese and aboriginal languages).
Education: Literacy–99% of population aged 15 and over has at least a ninth-grade education.
Work force (2009, 18.4 million): Goods-producing sector–25%, of which: manufacturing 15%; construction 6%; agriculture 2%; natural resources 2%; utilities 1%. Service-producing sector–75%, of which: trade 16%; health care and social assistance 11%; educational services 7%, accommodation and food services 7%; professional, scientific, and technical services 7%; finance 6%; public administration 5%; transportation and warehousing 5%; information, culture, and recreation 5%; other services 4%.

Of Canada’s 33.7 million people, 80% live within 160 kilometers (100 mi.) of the U.S. border, and half live in the southeastern part of the country near the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River. The population of Canada is less than three people per square kilometer. Canada’s more than 6 million French-speaking citizens are primarily descendants of colonists who settled the country three centuries ago. The English-speaking community has increased mostly as a result of immigration from the United Kingdom. The largest influx from the United States occurred during the American Revolution when thousands of “Empire Loyalists” fled to Canada. Other Canadians have indigenous, other European, and Asian origins.

Four major influences have helped shape Canadian culture: a multicultural heritage (including aboriginal); English-French bilingualism; sustained government funding for artistic and literary pursuits; and the abundance and availability of U.S. cultural productions.

Canadians view their country as a cultural mosaic and not as a melting pot. Inuit (Eskimo), Indian nations, French speakers, English speakers, and immigrant groups have all sought to maintain their unique cultural identities. Such efforts have been encouraged by extensive government funding of the arts. The government-funded Canada Council has become the major patron of all forms of creative endeavor in Canada.

Canada has a rich literary tradition, with many influential writers in both English and French. Other prominent Canadian artists include a school of painters known as “The Group of Seven;” Canadian filmmakers such as Harry Rasky and Bill Mason, who are world leaders in producing documentaries; and a number of world-class dance troupes, orchestras, and repertory theaters.

Government of Canada

Type: Federation, parliamentary democracy, and constitutional monarchy.
Capital: Ottawa
Confederation: July 1, 1867.
Constitution: The British North America Act of 1867 patriated to Canada on April 17, 1982, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and unwritten custom. The British North America Act and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms are collectively referred to as the Constitution Act.
Branches: Executive–Queen Elizabeth II (head of state represented by a governor general), prime minister (head of government), cabinet. Legislative–bicameral Parliament (308-member House of Commons; 105-seat Senate). Judicial–Supreme Court.
Federal-level political parties: Liberal Party, Conservative Party of Canada, Bloc Quebecois (BQ), New Democratic Party (NDP).
Subdivisions: 10 provinces, 3 territories.

Canada is a constitutional monarchy with a federal system, a parliamentary government, and a democratic tradition dating from the late 18th century. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms, enacted in 1982, guarantees basic individual and group rights. Queen Elizabeth II, as Queen of Canada, is the head of state. She appoints the governor general, who serves as her representative in Canada, on the advice of the prime minister, usually for a 5-year term. The prime minister is the leader of the political party in power and is the head of the cabinet. The governing party remains in office as long as it retains majority support (“confidence”) in the House of Commons.

Canada’s Parliament consists of an elected House of Commons and an appointed Senate. Legislative power rests with the 308-member Commons. According to Canadian law, elections are held every fourth October, but it is possible for the governor general to dissolve Parliament early if the cabinet loses the confidence of the House of Commons. The next election is scheduled for October 15, 2012, but as there is a minority government in the House, an election may take place before that date. Vacancies in the 105-member Senate, whose members serve until the age of 75, are filled by the governor general on the advice of the prime minister.

Criminal law, based largely on British law, is uniform throughout the nation and is under federal jurisdiction. Civil law is also based on the common law of England, except in Quebec, which has retained its own civil code patterned after that of France. Justice is administered by federal, provincial, and municipal courts.

Each province is governed by a premier and a single, elected legislative chamber. A lieutenant-governor, appointed by the governor general on the advice of the prime minister, represents the Queen, who is the legal head of state of each province.

The Conservative Party leader, Stephen Harper, was sworn in as Canada’s twenty-second Prime Minister on February 6, 2006, succeeding Paul Martin of the Liberal Party. Harper rose from the ranks of Progressive Conservative political party staffers, and was a member of Parliament for the defunct Reform Party and Canadian Alliance. He was elected the first leader of the Conservative Party of Canada when it was created in 2003 through the merger of the Canadian Alliance and the Progressive Conservative Party. The January 23, 2006 election victory by the Conservative Party ended 12 years of Liberal Party rule under Jean Chretien and Paul Martin. In the most recent federal election on October 14, 2008, the Conservatives formed a second minority government with 143 seats in the House of Commons and 38% of the vote. (As of September 2010, they held 144 seats.) The Liberals won 26% of the vote and 77 seats in the House of Commons. As the party with the second-largest number of seats, the Liberals form the “official opposition.” In December 2008, the three opposition parties explored deposing the Harper government and replacing it with a Liberal-New Democratic coalition supported on confidence and budgetary matters by the Bloc Quebecois. The Liberal Party ultimately backed away from the plan in the face of strong public opposition in the English-speaking provinces.The Conservatives made unexpected gains in Quebec by winning 10 seats in the January 2006 election, but failed to increase their number of seats in the province in the 2008 election. The Bloc Quebecois, a party advocating Quebec sovereignty, holds 48 of Quebec’s 75 seats. The social democratic New Democratic Party (NDP) now has 37 seats. One independent sits in Parliament.

Policy priorities of the Conservatives under Prime Minister Harper have remained fairly consistent since 2006: lower federal taxes, especially on consumption; reducing crime; increasing defense spending; asserting sovereignty in the Arctic; and raising the profile of Canada’s role abroad, through its combat mission in Afghanistan, contributions to earthquake relief in Haiti, and renewed engagement in the Americas.

Quebec, which represents 23% of the national population and has 75 of the 308 seats in the House of Commons, seeks to preserve its distinctive French-speaking nature, and is perceived by the western provinces as wielding undue influence on the federal government. At least until the January 2006 election of Albertan Stephen Harper as Prime Minister, the western provinces had often expressed concern that Ottawa did not attend to their interests. Based upon a pledge of what it called “open federalism,” the Harper government ceded some power in the cultural and social domains while seeking to strengthen the federal role in economic areas such as inter-provincial trade and the regulation of securities.

National Unity
Popular support for sovereignty has declined in Quebec over the past decade. However, pride in that province’s unique cultural and linguistic identity remains very strong and continues to be one of the central issues in the province’s politics. While most Quebec voters still aspire to constitutional reform recognizing Quebec’s distinctiveness, they generally appreciate the economic benefits of “Confederation” and aim to advance their francophone identity within the federal system. In the December 2008 provincial election, the ruling provincial Liberals garnered 42% of the vote, and Premier Jean Charest heads a narrow majority government with 66 of the 125 seats in the National Assembly. The opposition Parti Québécois holds 51 seats, and the third party, Action démocratique du Québec, holds 4 seats.

Economy of Canada

GDP (2008): $1.2 trillion.
Real GDP growth rate (2008): 2.7%.
Per capita GDP (2008): $47,131 (nominal); $37,722 (PPP).
GDP composition by sector: agriculture: 2.2%, industry: 29.4%, services: 68.4%
Inflation rate: 2.2%
Labor force: 16.3 million
Labor force – by occupation: agriculture 2%, manufacturing 14%, construction 5%, services 75%, other 3%
Unemployment: 6.8%
Electricity sources: fossil fuel: 28%, hydro: 57.9%, other: 1.3% , nuclear: 12.9%
Industries: transportation equipment, chemicals, processed and unprocessed minerals, food products; wood and paper products; fish products, petroleum, natural gas, tourism
Agriculture: wheat, barley, oilseed, tobacco, fruits, vegetables; dairy products; forest products; fish
Exports: motor vehicles and parts, industrial machinery, aircraft, telecommunications equipment; chemicals, plastics, fertilizers; wood pulp, timber, crude petroleum, natural gas, electricity, aluminum
Export partners: US 84.1%, Japan 2.1%, UK 1.8%
Imports: machinery and equipment, motor vehicles and parts, crude oil, chemicals, electricity, durable consumer goods
Import partners: US 57.5%, China 7.4%, Mexico 3.8%
Currency: Canadian dollar (CAD)
Currency exchange rate: 1 Canadian Dollar equals 0.77 United States Dollar.


The United States and Canada share the world’s largest and most comprehensive trading relationship, which supports millions of jobs in each country. Canada is the leading export market for 35 of the 50 U.S. states and is a larger market for U.S. goods than all 27 countries of the European Union. The United States-Canada Free Trade Agreement (FTA), which went into effect in 1989, was superseded by the North American Free Trade Agreement among the United States, Canada, and Mexico (NAFTA) in 1994. NAFTA, which embraces more than 450 million people of the three North American countries, expanded upon FTA commitments to move toward reducing trade barriers and establishing agreed upon trade rules. It has also resolved long-standing bilateral irritants and liberalized rules in several areas, including agriculture, services, energy, financial services, investment, and government procurement. Since the implementation of NAFTA in 1994, total two-way merchandise trade between the United States and Canada has grown by more than 265%.

U.S. immigration and customs inspectors provide preclearance services at eight airports in Canada, allowing air travelers direct connections in the United States. During the 12 months ending in June 2007, nearly 21.9 million passengers flew between the United States and Canada on scheduled flights.

Canada is the single largest foreign supplier of energy to the United States–providing 20% of U.S. oil imports and 18% of U.S. natural gas imports. Recognition of the commercial viability of Canada’s oil sands in Alberta has raised Canada’s proven petroleum reserves to 170 billion barrels, making it the world’s second-largest holder of reserves after Saudi Arabia. Canada and the United States operate an integrated electricity grid which meets jointly developed reliability standards and provide all of each other’s electricity imports. Canada is a major supplier of electricity (mostly clean and renewable hydroelectric power) to New England, New York, the Upper Midwest, the Pacific Northwest, and California. Canadian uranium helps fuel U.S. nuclear power plants.

Bilateral trade disputes are managed through bilateral consultative forums or referral to World Trade Organization (WTO) or NAFTA dispute resolution procedures. For example, in response to WTO challenges by the United States, the two governments negotiated an agreement on magazines providing increased access for the U.S. publishing industry to the Canadian market, and Canada amended its patent laws to extend patent protection to 20 years. Canada has challenged U.S. trade remedy law in NAFTA and WTO dispute settlement mechanisms. The two countries negotiated the application to Canadian goods of “Buy America” provisions for state and local procurement under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The United States has encouraged Canada to strengthen its intellectual property laws and enforcement. The United States and Canada also have resolved several major issues involving fisheries. By common agreement, the two countries submitted a Gulf of Maine boundary dispute to the International Court of Justice in 1981; both accepted the Court’s October 12, 1984 ruling that delineated much of the boundary between the two countries’ Exclusive Economic Zones.

The United States and Canada signed a Pacific Salmon Agreement in June 1999 that settled differences over implementation of the 1985 Pacific Salmon Treaty. In 2001, the two countries reached agreement on Yukon River salmon, implementing a new abundance-based resource management regime and effectively realizing coordinated management over all West Coast salmon fisheries. The United States and Canada reached agreement on sharing another trans-boundary marine resource, Pacific hake. The two countries also have a treaty on the joint management of albacore tuna in the Pacific, and closely cooperate on a range of bilateral fisheries issues and international high seas governance initiatives.

Canada and the United States have one of the world’s largest investment relationships. The United States is Canada’s largest foreign investor. Statistics Canada reports that at the end of 2007, the stock of U.S. foreign direct investment in Canada was $289 billion, or about 59% of total foreign direct investment in Canada. U.S. investment is primarily in Canada’s mining and smelting industries, petroleum, chemicals, the manufacture of machinery and transportation equipment, and finance.

Canada is the fifth-largest foreign investor in the United States. At the end of 2006, the U.S. Commerce Department estimated that Canadian investment in the United States was $159 billion at historical cost basis. Canadian investment in the United States is concentrated in finance and insurance, manufacturing, banking, information and retail trade, and other services.

Geography of Canada

Location: Northern North America, bordering the North Atlantic Ocean and North Pacific Ocean, north of the conterminous US
Geographic coordinates: 60 00 N, 95 00 W
Map references: North America 
 total: 9,976,140 sq km land: 9,220,970 sq km water: 755,170 sq km. Area-comparative: slightly larger than the US. Second-largest country in world after Russia; strategically location between Russia and the United States via the north polar route; nearly 90% of the population is concentrated within 160 km of the US/Canada border.
Land boundaries: total: 8,893 km border countries: US 8,893 km (includes 2,477 km with Alaska)
Coastline: 243,791 km
Maritime claims: continental shelf: 200 nm or to the edge of the continental margin exclusive fishing zone: 200 nm territorial sea: 12 nm
Climate: varies from temperate in south to subarctic and arctic in north
Terrain: mostly plains with mountains in west and lowlands in southeast
Elevation extremes: lowest point: Atlantic Ocean 0 m highest point: Mount Logan 5,950 m
Natural resources: nickel, zinc, copper, gold, lead, molybdenum, potash, silver, fish, timber, wildlife, coal, petroleum, natural gas
Land use: arable land: 5% permanent crops: 0% permanent pastures: 3% forests and woodland: 54% other: 38% (1993 est.)
Irrigated land: 7,100 sq km (1993 est.)
Natural hazards:continuous permafrost in 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
Environment: Canadian current issues include 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
Environment:  Canada is party to the following international agreements: Air Pollution, Air Pollution-Nitrogen Oxides, Air Pollution-Persistent Organic Pollutants, Air Pollution-Sulphur 85, Air Pollution-Sulphur 94, Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Marine Dumping, Nuclear Test Ban, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands, Whaling signed,  Air Pollution-Volatile Organic Compounds, Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Law of the Sea, Marine Life Conservation.

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