This is the second largest country in the world, and yet there is little mention of her in the media. Unless one of Canada’s great cities holds an Olympic Games, as did Montreal, you never hear about Canada. The same situation abounds with the two great islands of New Zealand. The reason for this lack of newsworthyness is probably that Canada (and New Zealand) are very well governed, exceedingly rich, and both are willing members of the Commonwealth of Nations.

Canada is even bigger than the United States, but Russia tops the lot with 17 million square kilometres. It is interesting to discover that China, which many of our followers probably thought was the world’s biggest country, in fact virtually ties with the United States. The latter covers only 35,000 square kilometres more than China, and there’s a surprise.

Our subject covers the whole of the northern part of North America excepting Alaska (USA), and is bounded by three of the planet’s great oceans – the Pacific to the west, the Arctic on the north and the Atlantic to the east.

This is a federation of ten North American provinces – Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Saskatchewan, plus the Ukon Territory amd the Northwest Territories.

There is no real border with the United States (as there certainly is with Mexico). Canada’s southern boundary croses the Rocky Mountains and runs on eastwards towards the Great Lakes and the Saint Laurence River, then crosses the Appalachian Mountains to enter the sea with the Saint Croix River. The Laurence is Canada’s most important river, but the north/west’s Mackenzie is the longest, while most Canadians consider the Fraser in the south/west to be the most beautiful, though this is of course a matter of opinion.

Northern Canada means wide rivers and lakes, low-growing tundra-type vegetation and great, dark coniferous forests. Here there is snow for six to nine months a year and there is a permafrost (which means what it says: ‘permanent frost’) making industry, building and mining difficult and agriculture impossible.

The west coast has a mild climate and salmon in the rivers, its own splendid fiords or rias, and is ceilinged by permanently snow-capped peaks. Towards the east, the land becomes more agricultural, and there is cattle-ranching, oil production and immense prairies for the growing and gathering of grain.

Winters are very cold indeed though, and the summers are brief and hot. Very rich farm lands lie between the lakes Huron, Erie and Ontario. Lands become hillier in Quebec and the eastern provinces.

Fishing is naturally of great importance in the waters of the North Atlantic, plentiful – but the work hard because of near-freezing air/water temperatures.

Essential History:  Canada was inhabited by northern Native Americans and Innuit tribes in the Far North, who were not much affected by the arrival of Viking ships in the 10th century. The Norsemen founded a community at L’Anse aux Meadows. There appears to have been little fighting between the Native Americans and the men from Norway and Denmark, perhaps because both had a healthy respect for the fighting powers of the others, and preferred (how rare for the Vikings q.v.) a quiet life.

European influence (and diseases) came with the landing of explorer John Cabot in Labrador, Newfoundland, or Cape Breton Island, as it was also called, in 1497. In 1534 Jacques Cartier declared the land French, and a settlement was established in what is now Nova Scotia, but was then called by its furtraders Acadia, in 1604.

In 1608 Samuel de Champlain founded the French town of Quebec on the Saint Laurence River and got a lake named after him in northern New York State, USA). Governor Frontenac successfully defended the place against an English force led by Sir William Phipps in 1691. Then he set off on a campaign to eliminate the Iroquois, fortunately not completed.

Quite soon, and much to the chagrin and angst of the French, the name Canada was used as much as the term New France, whuch was a mélange of English and French anyway. The two old European ladies continued fighting each other in North America in the French and Indian Wars but the Peace of Utrecht (1713) meant that the French had to give up most of Acadia, Newfoundland and Hudson Bay. This left the rest of New France had to be conquered by the British, and it was in fact ceded in 1763.

During or just after the American War of Independence (q.v.) a very large number of British Empire Loyalists arrived in Nova Scotia (formerly Acadia), and part of what is now Ontario. St. John’s Island was re-named Prince Edward Island in 1799, while Cape Breton Island became part of Nova Scotia in 1820. In 1791 the large area known as Quebec was divided into Upper and Lower Canada, but after the Act of Union of 1840 the two were united to form the Province of Canada.

Justifiable fears of possible United States expansion were partly stilled by the British North America Act (1867) which made Canada a Dominion of the British Empire. As Great Britain was (in that epoch) the centre of the world’s largest empire, US politicians had to think twice before trying to grab territory. At the same time, the new dominion acquired full responsibility for home affairs, which appeased the independence dissidents. In 1870 lands owned by the Hudson Bay Company were formed into Manitoba, while the Northwest Territories passed from control by the Company to the federal government. Prince Edward Island joined the federation in 1873. British Columbia, which included Vancouver Island, had already done so in 1871.

The Canadian Pacific Railway, an astonishing piece of engineering, enabled wheat from the prairies to flow eastward. Britain gave Canada title to the Arctic Islands in 1880. Alberta and Saskatchewan joined the Federation in 1905, and Newfoundland joined the dominion in 1949.

In both World Wars the Canadian armed forces provided maximum assistance to Great Britain, with her disciplined, efficient, brave and resolute soldiers, sailors and airmen. The Normandy Invasion (q.v.) would never have succeeded without Dominion and Colonial troops, many of whom gave their lives to quash imperial and Nazi intentions.

Things got along and improved steadily and without much fuss, as usual in Canada, and in 1982 Parliament in London established its complete national sovereignty, though it retained allegiance to the British crown and membership of the Commonwealth of Nations.

There were constitutional disputes in the 1980s and 90s: Newfoundland, Manitoba and Quebec rejected all proposed solutions; indeed Quebec insisted on a ‘distinct society’ status, whatever that might mean. However, a provincial referendum in 1980 rejected independence.

In 1992 Canada signed the North American Free Trade Agreement. In 1993 the ruling conservatives suffered a humiliating defeat by the Liberals under Jean Chrétien, retaining only two seats in the Chamber. The Bloc Québécois then became the official opposition. In the 1995 referendum voters in Quebec narrowly voted to reject secession from the Union. Chrétien and his party were returned to power in 1997 with a somewhat reduced majority.

Stephen Harper (Conservative) has been PM since 2006. Canada sent soldiers to Afghanistan in 2001 (they are still there) but refused to join Mr Bush in his Irak adventure in 2003.

About the Author:

‘Dean Swift’ is a pen name: the author has been a soldier; he has worked in sales, TV, the making of films, as a teacher of English and history and a journalist. He is married with three grown-up children. They live in Spain.

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