Canada was a founder member of the Commonwealth in 1931 when its independence was recognised under the Statute of Westminster, and Arnold Smith of Canada was the first Commonwealth Secretary-General (1965–75). Three Canadians have won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize: Mordecai Richler, in 1990; Rohinton Mistry (born in Bombay, India), in 1992 and 1996; and Lawrence Hill, in 2008. The Commonwealth Association for Public Administration and Management has its HQ in Ottawa, the Commonwealth of Learning in Vancouver and the Commonwealth Journalists Association in Toronto.
The second largest country in the world, Canada comprises the northern half of the North American continent, bordering with the USA to the south and north-west (Alaska). It is bounded by three oceans: the Pacific to the west; the Arctic to the north; and the Atlantic to the east. Indented shores and numerous islands (some very large) give it the longest coastline of any country at 202,100km. Cape Columbia on Ellesmere Island is 768km from the North Pole.
Canada is a federation of ten provinces and three territories. The provinces (and provincial capitals) are: Alberta (Edmonton), British Columbia (Victoria), Manitoba (Winnipeg), New Brunswick (Fredericton), Newfoundland and Labrador (St John’s), Nova Scotia (Halifax), Ontario (Toronto), Prince Edward Island (Charlottetown), Québec (Québec), Saskatchewan (Regina); and the territories (and capitals): Northwest Territories (Yellowknife), Nunavut (Iqaluit) and Yukon (Whitehorse). Nunavut was formed in April 1999 – from the eastern and central parts of the Northwest Territories – as a semiautonomous region for the Inuit people.
Ottawa (capital, Ontario, pop. 879,400 in 2010), Toronto (Ontario, 5.05m), Montréal (Québec, 3.43m), Vancouver (British Columbia, 2.04m), Calgary (Alberta, 1.08m), Edmonton (Alberta, 928,800), Québec (676,900), Hamilton (Ontario, 668,000), Winnipeg (Manitoba, 649,200), Halifax (Nova Scotia, 287,100), Saskatoon (Saskatchewan, 205,700), Regina (Saskatchewan, 178,800), St John’s (Newfoundland and Labrador, 153,800), Fredericton (New Brunswick, 57,800) and Charlottetown (Prince Edward Island, 39,700).
The country has 1,409,000km of roads (40% paved), including an extensive network of expressways. The 7,821km Trans-Canada Highway is the longest national highway in the world.
East-west routes predominate on both the privately owned freight railway systems. The total system extends over 57,220km. Toronto and Montréal have underground urban railway systems, called the Subway and Metro respectively.
The St Lawrence Seaway, opened in 1959, provides a water transport system from the Atlantic Ocean to the head of the Great Lakes. It has a system of locks to lift vessels 170m between Montréal and Lake Superior. Of the many international ports, the busiest is Vancouver. Remote areas are accessible only by air. There are well over 1,000 airports, more than 800 with paved runways
Canada is a member of Asia–Pacific Economic Cooperation, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, Organisation internationale de la Francophonie, Organization of American States, United Nations and World Trade Organization. With the USA and Mexico, Canada is a member of the North America Free Trade Association.
There are six physical regions. The largest is the Precambrian (or Canadian) Shield, the dominant geological feature of the country. It consists of ancient, very hard rocks to the north of the St Lawrence river, occupying nearly half of Canada’s total area and including plateau-like highlands with thousands of lakes and rivers. Almost a quarter of the world’s fresh water is concentrated here.
The second region is the Appalachian mountains to the east, which cover Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and part of Québec. The mountains have been eroded by glaciers, wind and water over 300 million years; their highest elevation, in Gaspe’s Shickshock Mountains, is under 1,300m.
The third region is the Great Lakes-St Lawrence Lowlands in the south-east, stretching from Québec City to Lake Huron. It is the country’s most productive agricultural area.
The fertile Interior Plains or prairies, the fourth region, are a vast expanse of land and sky, rising gently from Manitoba to Alberta and spreading northward through the Mackenzie river valley to the Arctic Ocean.
The Western Cordillera, the fifth region, is a rocky spine of mountains along the Pacific coastline. The Cordillera stretches from South America to Alaska, and the Canadian portion includes many peaks over 3,000m, the highest being in the Rocky Mountains.
The Arctic region, finally, consists of hundreds of islands, covering an area of 2,800km by 1,800km and reaching to Canada’s northern tip.
In the High Arctic, temperatures rise above freezing for only a few weeks in July/August. The boreal forest area is snowbound for more than half the year and precipitation is light, except along the Labrador coast.
The eastern Atlantic region has changeable winter temperatures and heavy snowfall. Fog is common, especially in Newfoundland and Labrador. July/August temperatures are 16-18°C. Winter also brings heavy snowfalls to the Great Lakes-St Lawrence region; but summer temperatures average almost 20ºC, with heat waves.
The prairies have cold winters and hot summers, with rapid air flow bringing dramatic weather changes. Annual average precipitation in southern Saskatchewan is less than 350mm, compared with 1,110mm in Vancouver, to the west.
The coast of British Columbia has the most temperate climate in Canada.
The most significant environmental issues are damage to forests and lakes by acid rain, and contamination of oceans by waste and run-off from agriculture, industry and mining.
The Appalachian region is heavily wooded, with mixed sugar maple and spruce. Similar forests flourish in the Great Lakes-St Lawrence Lowlands, and white pine, spruce and fir thrive in the south of the Precambrian Shield. The far north of the Shield and the Arctic are too cold for trees, but mosses, lichens, short grasses and dwarf shrubs burst into life and quickly fade in a sixweek summer.
A desert-like sweep of short grasses in the southernmost parts of Alberta and Saskatchewan is succeeded further north by fertile grasslands, where millions of ponds provide breeding grounds for half of North America’s ducks, geese, swans and pelicans, and for mosquitoes. British Columbia is heavily forested, containing some huge trees including some 1,000 year-old Douglas firs.
Purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria), thought to have arrived from Europe in the 1890s, is causing havoc to wildlife in marshes, ponds and stream banks. Arable land comprises 5% of the total land area and forest 34%, there having been no significant loss of forest cover during 1990-2010
Canada has 34 national parks, including the Rocky Mountains NP. In the tundra of the far north are found seals, polar bears, the gigantic musk-ox and caribou. In the extensive stretches of forest are moose, brown, black and grizzly bears, and the beaver, one of Canada’s national symbols. The grasslands were once home to enormous herds of bison but extensive hunting means these are now only to be found in wildlife reserves.
Heads of Government from Commonwealth member countries mark Commonwealth Day and its theme #TeamCommonwealth
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