Did you know that 80 per cent of Canada is uninhabited? Learn more about Canada’s geography

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You may already know that Canada is the world’s second largest country. But did you know that most of it is uninhabited? This is due to its geography and climate that gets inhospitable to humans as you go further up north. A bulk of the population live in large cities near the US border, Canada’s only neighbouring nation. As you will notice in the map below, Canada’s most liveable areas span west to east. This is where you will find the most diverse geographical features – from lush green forests to dry, sandy deserts.

Map of Canada showing the extent of the tundra


Map of Canada by Wikirictor. CC-BY-SA

Its size and general features

Canada measures 4,600 km from north to south and 5,500 km from east to west, occupying more than half of the northern hemisphere. The country stretches from the Pacific Ocean on the western coast to the Atlantic Ocean on the east. Up north, it touches the Arctic Ocean, making its motto “from sea to sea” (A Mari usque ad Mare) quite appropriate. Because of its vastness, Canada stretches across six time zones – Pacific Time, Mountain Time, Central Time, Eastern Time, Atlantic Time and Newfoundland Time.

Almost every region in Canada is home to an abundance of forests, rivers and lakes. It also has beautiful mountains, hills, valleys and plains. Covering almost half of the country is the Canadian Shield, an ancient region with some of the world’s oldest rocks. The Shield is responsible for the country’s topography of rolling hills, lakes and swamps.

Main regions:

The mountainous west coast
This region is also called the Cordillera region. This is where you will find the Province of British Columbia (BC) and the Yukon. It is defined by the Coastal Range mountains from Alaska along Canada’s border with the Pacific Ocean. To the east is the Canadian portion of the Rocky Mountains, the natural border between BC and Alberta.

Flat central prairies
This covers Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. The region has vast, wide open fields and flat, fertile lands, making it the country’s agricultural centre. Southern Alberta is unique as it has a barren, desert-like landscape with rocky soil and stone formations. Meanwhile, you will see three enormous lakes in the central part of Manitoba – Lake Manitoba, Lake Winnipegosis and Lake Winnipeg. These lakes are surrounded by lush vegetation, rivers and bogs.

Atlantic Canada
Also called the Appalachian region, it encompasses the provinces of Newfoundland, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia. Its landscape is a mix of rocky coasts and forested interiors, as well as steep cliffs and long fjords (narrow inlets of the sea between cliffs or steep slopes) due to its nearness to the sea. The small Atlantic provinces are known to be densely populated, with the exception of Labrador which is officially part of Newfoundland.

Frozen north
This is the vast, northwestern part of Canada that contains the three territories: Yukon, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories. This region has dry, barren, and mostly uninhabited areas. This is largely because it has long, cold winters with heavy snow and perpetually frozen soil. Moving towards extreme north, where no humans can live (only polar bears, seals and narwhals live there), there exist vast areas of snowy tundra (wide areas of permanently frozen subsoil), frozen glaciers and towering mountains.

Sources: Canadian Geography, Canada Guide; 10 surprising facts about Canada’s geography, Aaron Kylie, Canadian Geographic; Canada facts, National Geographic; and Physical Regions of Canada, Windsor.ca. Retrieved January 17, 2019.

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