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POPULATION: 33.1 million (2008)
LANGUAGE: English and French (both official); Italian; German; Chinese; Spanish
RELIGION: Roman Catholicism and Protestantism (majority); Judaism; Buddhism; Sikhism; Hinduism; Bahaism; traditional religions of native groups
RELATED ARTICLES: Vol. 2: French Canadians, Native North Americans


Canada is the world's second largest country, surpassed in area only by Russia. It is also one of the least densely populated, with most of its population concentrated in a strip 180 miles (290 kilometers) wide along its border with the United States, and vast uninhabited or sparsely populated expanses to the north. The name "Canada" is derived from kanata, a Huron-Iroquois term for "village" or "settlement." Amerindian and Inuit peoples first migrated to present-day Canada from Asia across the Bering Straits around 10,000 bc. The native population is thought to have numbered between 10 and 12 million at the time the British and French were establishing their first settlements in the area.

The colonial rivalry between England and France for control of Canada began in the 15th century. In 1497 John Cabot landed on the shores of Newfoundland at the head of an English expedition. Some 40 years later, Jacques Cartier claimed the Gaspé Peninsula for the French and discovered the St. Lawrence River. By the late 17th century, France and Britain were rivals for the region's rich fish and fur trade. Their North American hostilities, reinforced by wars in Europe, were ended by the Treaty of Paris in 1763, giving the British control over what had formerly been New France.

The 19th century saw the creation of the Dominion of Canadian by the British North America Act of 1867. By 1949, with the addition of Newfoundland, the Dominion had grown to include 10 provinces. Since World War II, Canada has played an active role in world affairs as an influential member of the British Commonwealth, a founding member of the United Nations, and a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Domestically, a historic development has been the growth of the French Canadian separatist movement since the 1960s, leading to the establishment of French as Quebec's official language in 1974 and the elevation of the separatist Parti Quebecois to power in Quebec in the elections of 1976. In 1995 a referendum for independence was voted down by a very narrow margin, but discussions for independence continued. Then in 2003 the Parti Quebecois was defeated in provincial elections. Despite these minor setbacks, in 2006 parliament voted to acknowledge Quebec as a nation within Canada, but since there are no particular constitutional grounds to allow such a relationship, this nation within a nation status remains more or less a symbolic gesture.

In 1992, Canada signed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), joining with the United States and Mexico to create a common economic market. The agreement went into effect in 1994. While the agreement has generally been beneficial for trade in Canada, some tension has arisen over issues that affect Canadian exports. Relations between the United States and Canada have been strained over issues of foreign policy, particularly after the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States and the U.S.-initiated War on Terrorism. Canada sent troops to aid in the invasion of Afghanistan but did not support the U.S.-led efforts against Iraq, beginning in 2003. In Afghanistan, Canada by 2006 had begun a major role in the more dangerous southern part of the country for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). A battle group of more than 2,000 soldiers was based around Kandahar. Fighting was fierce and by mid-January 2008, 77 Canadian military personnel had died in the country. Canadians questioned whether or not troops should be pulled out at the end of the existing commitment in February 2009. In October 2007, Prime Minister Stephen Harper called for an independent panel to study the issue of when troops should leave, and if they were to stay, what their mission should be.

As neighbors, Canada and the United States share many cultural and social aspects. For instance, Canadians are very familiar with many aspects of U.S. culture, such as movies, music, sports, retail stores, and restaurant chains. But this in-flux of U.S.-based businesses and entertainment has led some Canadians to believe that their own unique cultural heritage is being unnecessarily overshadowed by their neighbors. Citizens and government alike continue to seek ways to promote and preserve their own Canadian brands and cultural heritage.


Canada is a vast country characterized by great geographical variety. Covering about two-fifths of the North American continent, it has an area of 3,849,650 square miles (9,970,594 square kilometers), of which about 90% is land and the rest is fresh water. Canada also has the world's longest coastline, totaling nearly 151,600 miles (243,924 kilometers). The country's dominant topographical feature is the Canadian Shield, a rocky area of forests, lakes, and wilderness that surrounds Hudson Bay and covers roughly half of Canada, separating the eastern and western parts of the country.

The Atlantic provinces, to the east of the Shield, include two islands: Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island. The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence lowlands south and southeast of the Canadian Shield are home to the largest portion of Canada's population and contain the major cities of Toronto and Montreal, as well as the nation's capital, Ottawa. The farmlands and ranching areas of the Western Plains lie west of the Canadian Shield and east of the Rocky Mountains. Still farther west lies the Western Cordillera (mountain range), which includes the Rockies. Canada's western coast is lined with deep fjords and inlets. The northernmost part of Canada includes the tundra that lies north of the tree line and the country's Arctic islands, of which the largest, Baffin Island, covers an area greater than California.

Although Canada is 10% larger than the United States (including Alaska), it has far fewer people—with an estimated population of about 33.1 million in 2008. Many areas of the country are sparsely settled, while nearly two-thirds of all Canadians are concentrated within 100 miles (160.9 kilometers) of the U.S. border. About 80% of the population lives in urban areas. Toronto is the most populous metropolitan area, with over 5 million persons in 2008, followed by Montreal, with approximately 3.6 million. Canadians of British descent are the country's largest ethnic group, accounting for roughly 28% of the population. French Canadians account for around 23% (with a majority of them in Quebec) and 15% are from other European backgrounds. About 26% are considered to be of mixed heritage. Smaller percentages are represented by a variety of other groups, including, Asians, Africans, and Arabs. Canada's native peoples, including Inuits (Eskimos) and Amerindians, represent only about 2% of the population.


Both English and French are official languages in Canada. Speakers of both languages have the right to publicly funded primary and secondary education in their own language. Although Canada is generally considered a bilingual country, only about 15% of the population is actually bilingual. About 59% speak English only and 23% French only (primarily in Quebec). Other languages spoken as a mother tongue are (in order of importance) Italian, German, Chinese, and Spanish.

In the Prairies, the most common nonofficial language is German; in central Canada, Italian; in British Columbia, Chinese; in the Northwest Territories, Inuktitut; in the Yukon, the Athapaskan languages of the Déné family; and in the Atlantic region, Micmac. Canada's native peoples speak between 50 and 60 different languages belonging to 11 distinct linguistic families.


Canada's folklore tradition is generally divided into four main strains: native, French Canadian, Anglo-Canadian, and other ethnic groups (such as the Ukrainians of the prairie, Manitoba's Icelanders, or the Yiddish-speaking Jews of Montreal). The native tradition includes creation and hero myths, such as the Raven and Thunderbird cycles of the West Coast and the Nanabozo stories of the Algonquian peoples.

The oral tradition of the French Canadians was strengthened by colonial laws against the establishment of presses and by the scarcity of French schools, both of which made it important for French Canadians to transmit their culture orally across the generations. Popular characters in French Canadian folklore include a hero figure named Ti-Jean (short for petit Jean or Little John) and a hunter named Dalbec. Jokes and anecdotes—including "Newfie" jokes about Newfoundlanders— are popular forms of folklore among Anglo-Canadians.


A majority of Canadians are Christians with about 43% belonging to the Roman Catholic Church. About 23% are Protestants, with the largest denomination being the United Church of Canada (9.6%), followed by Anglicans (6.9%), Baptists (2.5%) and Lutherans (2%). About 4% are members of other Christian denominations. Approximately 2% of the population is Muslim. Other religions include Judaism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Hinduism, the Baha'i faith, and the traditional religions of native groups. About 16% of the population claims no religion at all. Roman Catholics are in the majority in Quebec and New Brunswick, while the other provinces are predominantly Protestant. With larger numbers of immigrants coming from the Middle East and Asia, the numbers of Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists are growing as well.

The United Church of Canada, the largest Protestant denomination in the country, was established in 1925 through the merger of the Methodist Church, Canada, the Congregational Union of Canada, and a large portion of the Presbyterian Church in Canada.

Freedom of religion is protected by the Canadian Bill of Rights, which has been incorporated into the constitution.


Canada's most important national holiday is Canada Day (formerly Dominion Day), on 1 July, commemorating the establishment of the Dominion of Canada in 1867. Canadians celebrate their nation's "birthday," in much the same way their neighbors in the United States celebrate the Fourth of July: with patriotic ceremonies, picnics, and fireworks. The holiday marking the beginning of summer in Canada is Victoria Day, the Monday preceding May 25 (called Dollard Day by residents of Quebec, who prefer to remember a 17th-century French war hero on that date rather than Britain's Queen Victoria). Canada's Labour Day, like that of the United States, occurs at the end of summer (the first Monday in September). Other legal holidays include New Year's Day, the major holidays of the Christian calendar, and a Thanksgiving holiday similar to that of the United States but held on the second Monday in October.


Canadians mark births, marriages, and deaths in ways similar to most western nations.


Canadian's reputation for courtesy, tolerance, and cooperation is reflected in the traditional designation of their country as the "peaceable kingdom."


The average number of persons per household in 2006 was about 2.5. That year, about 55% of all households lived in single, detached homes and about 65% of all dwellings were owner occupied. About half of all dwellings were built between 1946 and 1990 and a majority of homes were considered to be in good condition, requiring only minor repairs or regular maintenance. The average value of a private home was about c$162,709 in 2001.

As a group, Canadians enjoy excellent health. Canada has a fairly low infant mortality rate—at 4.6 deaths out of 1,000 live births it is better than that of the United States. Life expectancy at birth in 2007 was estimated at about 77 years for men and 84 years for women. The Canadian national health plan— which has been a focus of attention in the United States debate about the future of its own health-care system—covers at least three-quarters of all the nation's health-care expenses. A 1995 survey found that middle-aged Canadians' risk of stroke and heart disease had increased since 1970 due to higher cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, and lack of regular exercise. Stress and lack of time due to job demands were cited as reasons for bad health habits on the part of the nation's aging "baby boomers."

Because of Canada's vast geographical expanse and scattered settlement patterns, the development of an adequate transportation system has been crucial to its development and survival as a nation. After the United States, Canada has the world's highest per capita use of motor transportation. Private automobiles are used for four-fifths of urban travel, and there is one passenger car for every two persons. Canada's severe winters make road maintenance an ongoing and expensive task. The government-owned Canadian Railways (CNR) and privately owned Canadian Pacific provide important all-weather transportation over great distances in large volume. Water transportation is heavily used for both domestic and international shipping, and international air service is provided by government-owned Air Canada and Canadian Airlines.


Nuclear families are the norm throughout Canada. The multigenerational extended family, which represented 7% of all households in 1951, now accounts for less than 1%. The Canadian birthrate declined rapidly from an average of 3.2 children per family in 1971 to 1.7 in the late 1980s. In 2007 the fertility rate was 1.6 children per family.

Fewer men and women are marrying in their teens or early twenties, with many waiting to marry until after they have completed college. Many couples are also waiting longer before having their first children. The average age at a first marriage is about 30 for men and 28 for women. In most families, women complete their childbearing within a relatively short time, with children separated from each other by only a few years. The majority of married couples share similar ethnic, religious, and educational backgrounds. In 2003 Ontario and British Columbia became the first two provinces in Canada to legalize same-sex marriages. That year, there were 774 same-sex marriages registered in British Columbia, of which about 54% of the couples were female. Same-sex marriage became legal nationwide in 2005 through the Civil Marriage Act.

Liberalized divorce laws, a variety of social changes, and a decline in religious belief have resulted in a growing divorce rate. Currently, close to half of all Canadian marriages (4 out of 10) end in divorce, with an estimated 38% of all marriages ending in divorce by the 30th wedding anniversary.


Canadians wear modern, Western-style clothing. They may wear the traditional costumes of their ethnic groups (Eastern European, Asian, Middle Eastern, and so forth) on special occasions. In the western provinces, American-style cowboy gear is worn for special occasions and festivals, such as the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede in Alberta.


Different foods are found in the different regions of Canada. "Brewis" (cod) is a favorite in Newfoundland, and the Maritime provinces are known for their seafood, including clams, oysters, salmon, lobster, cod, mackerel, and herring. Clam-bakes are especially popular on Prince Edward Island. In New Brunswick, the unusually shaped ostrich fern sprout, known as the fiddlehead, is considered a delicacy. Quebec has a distinctive French-Canadian cuisine. Popular dishes include the tourtière, a meat pie, and ragoût de boulettes et de pattes do cochon, a stew made from meatballs and pigs' feet. Quebec is also known for its maple syrup and families enjoy traveling to one of the province's many sugar shacks to sample this local product in candies, cookies, and other foods—even in ham and eggs.

Ontario has a wide variety of produce and cheeses; two of the province's favorite dishes are roast pheasant and pumpkin pie. Big, hearty meals are the rule in the rugged Prairie provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. Alberta is known for the quality of its grain-fed beef, and wild rice is a delicacy in Manitoba. Moose meat and fresh lake fish, including Arctic grayling and char, are widely eaten in the Northwest Territories.


Nearly the entire adult population of Canada is literate. Education is administered by each province individually, although in all cases it is compulsory from the age of 6 or 7 to 15 or 16. In spite of some individual differences, the various educational systems are basically similar in all provinces except Quebec, which has two parallel systems, one of which is specifically for French-speaking, Roman Catholic students and the other for non-Catholic English-speaking students. Most higher education is government-funded. Canada's best-known universities are the University of Toronto and McGill University in Montreal. One of the oldest is Laval University in Quebec, which started out as a French Jesuit seminary. The first English-speaking college in Canada was King's College in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Canada's degree-granting institutions (of which there are over 60) also include community and regional colleges, as well as colleges of applied arts and technology. As of 2006 about 23% of all adults between the ages of 25 and 34 had a university degree. About 24% of all adults of the same age group reported having a high school diploma as their highest level of educational attainment.


Well-known Canadian authors of the past have included Lucy Maud Montgomery, author of Anne of Green Gables, and short-story writer Stephen Leacock. Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, Robertson Davies, Mordecai Richler, and Margaret Laurence are among the best-known modern writers.

Internationally acclaimed classical musicians have included pianist Glenn Gould and vocal artists Jon Vickers and Maureen Forrester. Well-known popular performers include the bandleader Guy Lombardo, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Paul Anka, Celine Dion, and Gordon Lightfoot. There are a number of Canadian born actors that reached their claim to fame in Hollywood. They include Mary Pickford, Lorne Green, Raymond Burr, William Shatner, and Donald Sutherland.

Canada was the native land of many renowned scientists and inventors as well. Sir Sanford Fleming was the inventor of standard time. Sir Frederick Grant Banting and John James Richard Macleod were awarded the Nobel Prize for medicine in 1923 for their discovery of insulin.

Prestigious theatrical events include the Stratford Festival and Shaw Festival, both held every year in Ontario, and the Festival Lennoxville in Quebec.

There are about 2,000 museums, art galleries, and similar institutions in the country. Some of the most prominent museums include the National Arts Center, the National Gallery of Canada, the Canadian Museum of Nature, and the National Museum of Science and Technology, all of which are located in Ottawa.


In 2006 about 76% of the labor force was employed in service-sector jobs, 13% in manufacturing, and only 2% in agriculture. That year, about 15% of the total labor force included those who were 55 years old or older. Such a high percentage of older workers is attributed to the aging of the baby boomer generation and to the fact that workers are choosing to remain working, either due to their financial situation or simply to remain active in their professions. Since the early 2000s, there has been a decline in the number of manufacturing jobs while the number of service related jobs has increased. In January 2008 the average weekly earnings for payroll employees was about c$785. About one-third of Canada's labor force is unionized. About 81% of all employees work in full-time positions.

Like their neighbors in the United States, Canadian workers are increasingly finding themselves working harder for the same pay, as jobs become more competitive and less secure. Longer hours and greater pressure on the job have produced higher levels of dissatisfaction in the workplace, which in turn have led to increased absenteeism, job burnout, and associated family problems. The unemployment rate in March 2008 was estimated at 6%.


Ice hockey is Canada's national sport and its stars are worshiped as national heroes. Professional games draw thousands of fans on Saturday nights and youngsters often rise as early as 4:00 or 5:00 am on weekends to play on little-league teams that can book space at ice rinks only in off-hours. There are 6 Canadian and 24 U.S. hockey teams that compete in the National Hockey League, which was founded in Montreal, Quebec, in 1917. Canadian teams also compete with U.S. teams in the National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball (American League). The Canadian Football League, with nine teams nationwide, plays the sport similar to American football. The Canadian Soccer League has seven teams. Canada has three teams in the United Soccer League.

Other popular winter sports include skiing, ice-skating, snowshoeing, and tobogganing. Favorite summer sports include baseball, volleyball, and soccer. CASCAR, the Canadian Association for Stock Car Racing, was established in 1981. Canadians often perform calisthenics during the seventh-inning stretch of professional baseball games, led from the dugout roof by fitness-minded fans. Among Canada's traditional sports, lacrosse originated with the native population before the arrival of Europeans and curling was adopted from the Scots. Curling was designated as the provincial sport of Saskatchewan.

Canada has been host to the Olympic Games in 1976 (summer) and 1988 (winter). The Canada Games is a national amateur event held once every two years that features about 40 different sporting events. The Arctic Winter Games, held every other year since 1970, is an international amateur event that is hosted in different provinces and territories.


Canadians today enjoy more leisure time than ever before and spend it in a variety of sporting and other recreational activities. Like their U.S. counterparts, Canadian families spend much of their evening time watching television. Many are regular newspaper readers. Their scenic native land provides many Canadians with recreation in the form of vacation trips, on which they spend over $6 billion a year. Many own weekend and vacation cottages on lakeshores or in wooded areas. There are more than 90 bird sanctuaries and 44 National Wildlife Areas in the country. If they choose, however, Canadians can also spend their entire vacation at the mall; the West Edmonton Mall—the world's largest shopping mall, with over 800 stores—boasts seven amusement parks, a large indoor ice rink, a 14-story-high roller coaster, several aquariums, and its own hotel.


Amerindian artists produce crafts, including jewelry, beaded moccasins, baskets, and leather goods, as well as stylized artwork that is displayed and sold in galleries and gift shops. The Inuit are known for their soapstone, ivory, and serpentine carvings as well as prints, paintings, drawings, and wall hangings, all in a distinctive native style. Their art shares certain common themes, including the group's traditional lifestyle and survival techniques, the animals native to its homelands, and the myths and spirits of its traditional religions. The arts and crafts of the Dene Indians and the Inuit are displayed in cooperative workshops in the Northwest Territory. A reconstructed Indian village in British Columbia displays the crafts of the North West Coast Indians.


Between 2001 and 2006 the foreign-born population of Canada increased by 13.6% so that nearly 20% of the total population was foreign-born in 2006. While this fairly rapid increase in immigration has generally been viewed as beneficial for the overall economy, there are also problems related to integration (such as language and job placement) and discrimination from native born citizens.

Canada has fewer violent crimes than many other societies. Its cities are generally clean, efficiently run, and relatively free of such common urban problems as homelessness and illegal drug dealing. It has a large national debt and faces growing demands for decentralization from many of its regions.

One of Canada's most serious problems is the threat that Quebec will secede and become a sovereign state, a move with grave political and economic implications for all Canadians. In 2006 the parliament voted to recognize Quebec as a nation within Canada. This, however, seems to have been primarily a symbolic gesture, since there are no constitutional or other legal grounds that define such a relationship.


Both women and men are able to participate fully in the labor force and in government; however, reports indicate that the average earnings of women are still substantially lower than that of men. In 2003 the average yearly earnings for a woman working full-time were about 30% less than that of a man. In 2004 about 58% of all women aged 15 and over were part of the paid workforce, accounting for about 47% of the total workforce. However, about 27% of all women in the workforce were in part-time positions. There have been slight gains in the number of women employed in various professional fields, such as medicine and financial services. In senior level managerial positions, however, men continue to outnumber women. The number of single mothers in the workforce has increased dramatically, from 50% in 1976 to 68% in 2004.

Same-sex marriage became lega l nationwide in 2005 through the Civil Marriage Act. As of 2008 Canada was one of only five countries in the world to have legalized same-sex marriages. The other four countries were The Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, and South Africa.


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—revised by K. Ellicott

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