The geography of Canada is vast and diverse. Occupying most of the northern portion of North America (41% of
the continent), Canada is the world's second largest country in total area after Russia.
Canada spans an immense territory between the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Atlantic Ocean to the east
(hence the country's motto "From sea to sea"), with the United States to the south (contiguous United States) and
northwest (Alaska), and the Arctic Ocean to the north; Greenland is to the northeast. Off the southern coast of
Newfoundland lies Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, an overseas collectivity of France. Since 1925, Canada has
claimed the portion of the Arctic between 60°W and 141°W longitude to the North Pole; however, this claim is
Covering 9,984,670 km² or 3,855,103 square miles (Land: 9,093,507 km² or 3,511,023 mi²; Water: 891,163 km²
or 344,080 mi²), Canada is slightly less than three-fifths as large as Russia, nearly 1.3 times larger than
Australia, slightly smaller than Europe, and more than 40 times larger than the UK. In total area, Canada is
slightly larger than both the U.S. and China; however, Canada ranks fourth in land area (total area minus the area
of lakes and rivers) (China is 9,326,410 km² / 3,600,947 mi² and the U.S. is 9,161,923 km² / 3,537,438 mi²)
The northernmost settlement in Canada (and in the world) is Canadian Forces Station (CFS) Alert (just north of
Alert, Nunavut) on the northern tip of Ellesmere Island – latitude 82.5°N – just 834 kilometres (518 mi) from the
The magnetic North Pole lies within the Canadian Arctic territorial claim; however, recent measurements indicate
it is moving towards Siberia.
Geography of Canada
Largest inland body of
water: Great Bear Lake
31,153 km² (12,021 sq. mi)
- Arable land: 5%
- Forests and
- Other: 38 % (1993 est.)
Climate: Temperate to
mountains, subarctic, arctic
Natural resources: iron
ore, nickel, zinc, copper,
gold, lead, molybdenum,
potash, silver, fish, timber,
wildlife, coal, petroleum,
natural gas, hydropower
storms, tornadoes, forest
Environmental issues: air
and water pollution, acid ra
Geography of Canada
Continent: North America
Area: Ranked 2nd
- Total: 9,984,670 km²
- Water: 891,163 km²
Coastline: 202,080 km
Land boundaries: 8,893
Countries bordered US:
Maritime claims: 200 nm
Highest point: Mount
Logan, 5,959 m / 19,550 ft
Lowest point: Atlantic
Ocean, 0 m
Longest river: Mackenzie
River, 4,241 km (2,635 mi)
|A satellite composite image of Canada. Boreal forests prevail throughout the country, including the Arctic, the
Coast Mountains and Saint Elias Mountains. The relatively flat Prairies facilitate agriculture. The Great Lakes
feed the St. Lawrence River (in the southeast) where lowlands host much of Canada's population.
Canada covers 9,984,670 km² (3,855,103 sq. mi) and a panoply of various geoclimatic regions. Canada also encompasses vast maritime terrain, with the world's longest
coastline of 202,080 kilometres (125,567 mi). The physical geography of Canada is widely varied. Boreal forests prevail throughout the country, ice is prominent in northerly
Arctic regions and through the Rocky Mountains, and the relatively flat Canadian Prairies in the southwest facilitate productive agriculture. The Great Lakes feed the St.
Lawrence River (in the southeast) where lowlands host much of Canada's population.
The Appalachian mountain range extends from Alabama in the southern United States through the Gaspé Peninsula and the Atlantic Provinces, creating rolling hills
indented by river valleys. It also runs through parts of southern Quebec.
The Appalachian mountains (more specifically the Notre Dame and Long Range Mountains) are an old and eroded range of mountains, approximately 380 million years in
age. Notable mountains in the Appalachians include Mount Jacques-Cartier (Quebec, 1,268 m / 4,160 ft) and Mount Carleton (New Brunswick, 817 m / 2,680 ft). Parts of the
Appalachians are home to a rich endemic flora and fauna and are considered to have been nunataks during the last glaciation era.
Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Lowlands
|The Great Lakes from space
|The Horseshoe Falls in Niagara Falls, Ontario, one of the world's most voluminous waterfalls, a major source of hydroelectric power, and a tourist destination.
The southern parts of
Quebec and Ontario, in
the section of the Great
Lakes (bordered entirely
by Ontario on the
Canadian side) and St.
Lawrence basin (often
called St. Lawrence
Lowlands), is another
sedimentary plain. Prior
to its colonization and
heavy urban sprawl of
the 20th century, this
area was home to large
mixed forests covering a
mostly flat area of land
and the Canadian Shield
Most of this forest has
been cut down through
agriculture and logging
operations, but the
remaining forests are for
the most part heavily
While the relief of these
lowlands is particularly
flat and regular, a group
of batholites known as
the Monteregian Hills are
spread along a mostly
regular line across the
area. The most notable
are Montreal's Mount
Royal and Mont
Saint-Hilaire. These hills
are known for a great
richness in rare
The northern parts of Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec, as well as most of Labrador, the mainland portions of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, are located on a vast rock
base known as the Canadian Shield. The Shield mostly consists of eroded hilly terrain and contains many important rivers used for hydroelectric production, particularly in northern Quebec and
Ontario. The shield also encloses an area of wetlands, the Hudson Bay lowlands. Some particular regions of the Shield are referred to as mountain ranges. They include the Torngat and Laurentian
The Shield cannot support intensive agriculture, although there is subsistence agriculture and small dairy farms in many of the river valleys and around the abundant lakes, particularly in the southern
regions. Boreal forest covers much of the shield, with a mix of conifers that provide valuable timber resources. The region is known for its extensive mineral reserves.
Canadian Interior Plains
The Canadian Prairies are part of a vast sedimentary plain covering much of Alberta, southern Saskatchewan, and southwestern Manitoba, as well as much of the region between the Rocky Mountains
and the Great Slave and Great Bear lakes in Northwest Territories. The prairies generally describes the expanses of (largely flat) arable agricultural land which sustain extensive grain farming
operations in the southern part of the provinces. Despite this, some areas such as the Cypress Hills and Alberta Badlands are quite hilly.
The Canadian cordillera,
part of the American
cordillera, stretches from
the Rocky Mountains in
the east to the Pacific
The Canadian Rockies
are part of a major
continental divide that
extends north and south
through western North
America and western
South America. The
Columbia and the Fraser
Rivers have their
headwaters in the
Canadian Rockies and
are the second and third
respectively to drain to
the west coast of North
Vancouver has a mild
enough climate to
support several species
of the mountains is a
large interior plateau
Chilcotin and Cariboo
regions in central British
Columbia (the Fraser
Plateau) and the
Nechako Plateau further
north. The Peace River
Valley in northeastern
British Columbia is
Canada's most northerly
although it is part of the
prairies. The dry,
temperate climate of the
Okanagan Valley in
|Vancouver has a mild enough climate to support several species of palm trees.
south central British Columbia provides ideal conditions for fruit growing and a flourishing wine industry. Between the plateau and the coast is a second mountain range, the Coast Mountains. The
Coast Mountains contain some of the largest temperate-latitude icefields in the world.
On the south coast of British Columbia, Vancouver Island is separated from the mainland by the continuous Juan de Fuca, Georgia, and Johnstone straits. Those straits include a large number of
islands, notably the Gulf Islands. North, near the Alaskan border, the Queen Charlotte Islands lie across Hecate Strait from the Bella Coola region. Other than in the plateau regions of the interior and
the river valleys, most of British Columbia is coniferous forest. The only temperate rain forests in Canada are found along the Pacific coast in the Coast Mountains, on Vancouver Island, and on the
Queen Charlotte Islands.
|Mount Garibaldi as seen from Squamish
Main article: Volcanism
Western Canada has
many volcanoes and is
part of the system of
volcanoes found around
the margins of the
Pacific Ocean, which is
called the Pacific Ring of
Fire. There are over 200
young volcanic centers
that strech northward
from the Cascade
Range to the Yukon
Territory. They are
grouped into five volcanic
belts with different
volcano types and
tectonic settings. The
Volcanic Province was
formed by faulting,
cracking, rifting, and the
interaction between the
Pacific Plate and the
North American plate.
The Garibaldi Volcanic
Belt was formed by
subduction of the Juan
de Fuca Plate beneath
the North American
Plate. The Anahim
Volcanic Belt was
formed as a result of the
North American Plate
sliding westward over
the Anahim hotspot. The
Basalts is believed to
have formed as a result
of back-arc extension
behind the Cascadia
subduction zone. The
Wrangell Volcanic Field
formed as a result of
subduction of the Pacific
Plate beneath the North
American Plate at the
easternmost end of the
Volcanism has also occurred in the Canadian Shield. It contains over 150 volcanic belts (now deformed and eroded down to nearly flat plains) that range from 600 million to 2.800 billion years old.
Many of Canada's major ore deposits are associated with Precambrian volcanoes. There are pillow lavas in the Northwest Territories that are about 2.6 billion years old and are preserved in the
Cameron River Volcanic Belt. The pillow lavas in rocks over 2 billion years old in the Canadian Shield signify that great oceanic volcanoes existed during the early stages of the formation of the Earth's
crust. Ancient volcanoes play an important role in estimating Canada's mineral potential. Many of the volcanic belts bear ore deposits that are related to the volcanism.
Main article: Northern Canada
While the largest part of the Canadian Arctic is composed of seemingly endless permanent ice and tundra north of the tree line, it encompasses geological regions of varying types: the Arctic Cordillera
(with the British Empire Range and the United States Range on Ellesmere Island) contains the northernmost mountain system in the world. The Arctic lowlands and Hudson Bay lowlands comprise a
substantial part of the geographic region often designated as the Canadian Shield (in contrast to the sole geologic area). The ground in the Arctic is mostly composed of permafrost, making
construction difficult and often hazardous, and agriculture virtually impossible.
The Arctic, when defined as everything north of the tree line, covers most of Nunavut and the northernmost parts of Northwest Territories, Yukon, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, and Labrador.
|Drainage basins of Canada
Canada holds vast reserves of water: its rivers discharge nearly 9% of the world's
renewable water supply, it contains a quarter of the world's wetlands, and it has
the third largest amount of glaciers (after Antarctica and Greenland). Because of
extensive glaciation, Canada hosts more than two million lakes: of those that are
entirely within Canada, more than 31,000 are between 3 and 100 square kilometres
(1.2 & 38.6 mi²) in area, while 563 are larger than 100 km².
The Atlantic watershed drains the entirety of the Atlantic provinces (parts of the
Quebec-Labrador boundary are fixed at the Atlantic continental divide), most of
inhabited Quebec and large parts of southern Ontario. It is mostly drained by the
economically important St. Lawrence River and its tributaries, notably the Saguenay,
Manicouagan and Ottawa rivers. The Great Lakes and Lake Nipigon are also
drained by the St. Lawrence. The Churchill River and St. John River are other
important elements of the Atlantic watershed in Canada.
The Hudson Bay watershed drains over a third of Canada. It covers Manitoba,
northern Ontario and Quebec, most of Saskatchewan, southern Alberta,
southwestern Nunavut and the southern half of Baffin Island. This basin is most
important in fighting drought in the prairies and producing hydroelectricity, especially
in Manitoba, northern Ontario and Quebec. Major elements of this watershed
include Lake Winnipeg, Nelson River, the North Saskatchewan and South
Saskatchewan Rivers, Assiniboine River, and Nettilling Lake on Baffin Island.
Wollaston Lake lies on the boundary between the Hudson Bay and Arctic Ocean
watersheds and drains into both. It is the largest lake in the world that naturally
drains in two directions.
The Continental Divide in the Rockies separates the Pacific watershed in British
Columbia and the Yukon from the Arctic and Hudson Bay watersheds. This
watershed irrigates the agriculturally important areas of inner British Columbia
(such as the Okanagan and Kootenay valleys), and is used to produce
hydroelectricity. Major elements are the Yukon, Columbia and Fraser Rivers.
The northern parts of Alberta, Manitoba and British Columbia, most of Northwest Territories and Nunavut, and parts of the Yukon are drained by the Arctic watershed. This watershed has been little
used for hydroelectricity, with the exception of the Mackenzie River, the longest river in Canada. The Peace, Athabasca and Liard Rivers, as well as Great Bear Lake and Great Slave Lake (respectively
the largest and second largest lakes wholly enclosed by Canada) are significant elements of the Arctic watershed. Each of these elements eventually merges with the Mackenzie, thereby draining the
vast majority of the Arctic watershed.
The southernmost part of Alberta drains into the Gulf of Mexico through the Milk River and its tributaries. The Milk River originates in the Rocky Mountains of Montana, then flows into Alberta, then returns
into the United States, where it is drained by the Missouri River. A small area of southwestern Saskatchewan is drained by Battle Creek, which empties into the Milk River.
See also: List of rivers in Canada
|Mixed forest landscape in Réserve Faunique de Portneuf, Québec
Main article: Ecoregions of Canada
Canada has produced a Biodiversity Action Plan in response to the 1992 international accord; the plan
addresses conservation of endangered species and certain habitats. The main biomes of Canada are:
Rocky Mountains - vegetation includes various types of tundra and forests
Temperate coniferous forests, of which the Temperate rain forests of coastal British Columbia is an example.
See also: Flora of Canada and Fauna of Canada
|Comparison Maps of Canada and other regional Blocks and States
Canada is divided into thirteen provinces and territories. According to Statistics Canada, 72.0% of the population
is concentrated within 150 kilometres (95 mi) of the nation's southern border with the United States, 70.0% live
south of the 49th parallel, and over 60% of the population lives along the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River
between Windsor, Ontario and Quebec City. This leaves the vast majority of Canada's territory as sparsely
populated wilderness; Canada's population density is 3.5 people/km² (9.1/mi²), among the lowest in the world.
Despite this, 79.7% of Canada's population resides in urban areas, where population densities are increasing.
Canada shares the world's longest undefended border with the U.S. at 8,893 kilometres (5,526 mi); 2,477
kilometres (1,539 mi) are with Alaska. The Danish island dependency of Greenland lies to Canada's northeast,
separated from the Canadian Arctic islands by Baffin Bay and Davis Strait. The French islands of Saint-Pierre and
Miquelon lie off the southern coast of Newfoundland in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and have a maritime territorial
enclave within Canada's Exclusive Economic Zone. Canada also shares a land border with Denmark, as maps
released in December 2006 show that the agreed upon boundaries run through the middle of Hans Island.
Canada's geographic proximity to the United States has historically bound the two countries together in the
political world as well. Canada's position between the Soviet Union (now Russia) and the U.S. was strategically
important during the Cold War since the route over the North Pole and Canada was the fastest route by air
between the two countries and the most direct route for intercontinental ballistic missiles. Since the end of the
Cold War, there has been growing speculation that Canada's Arctic maritime claims may become increasingly
important if global warming melts the ice enough to open the Northwest Passage.
Similarly, the disputed – and tiny – Hans Island (with Denmark), in the Nares Strait between Ellesmere Island
and northern Greenland, may be a flashpoint for challenges to overall claims of Canadian sovereignty in The
Similar to the more famous American Four Corners, Canada has a point common to two provinces and two
territories, near Kasba Lake.
Canada's abundance of natural resources is reflected in their continued importance in the economy of Canada.
Major resource-based industries are fisheries, forestry, agriculture, petroleum products and mining.
The fisheries industry has historically been one of Canada's strongest. Unmatched cod stocks on the Grand
Banks off Newfoundland launched this industry in the 16th century. Today these stocks are nearly depleted, and
their conservation has become a preoccupation of the Atlantic Provinces. On the West Coast, tuna stocks are now
restricted. The less depleted (but still greatly diminished) salmon population continues to drive a strong fisheries
industry. Canada claims 12 nautical miles (22 km) of territorial sea, a contiguous zone of 24 nautical miles (44
km), an exclusive economic zone of 200 nautical miles (370 km) and a continental shelf of 200 nautical miles
(370 km) or to the edge of the continental margin.
Forestry has long been a major industry in Canada. Forest products contribute one fifth of the nation's exports.
The provinces with the largest forestry industries are British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec. Fifty-four percent of
Canada's land area is covered in forest. The boreal forests account for four-fifths of Canada's forestland.
Five per cent of Canada's land area is arable, none of which is for permanent crops. Three per cent of Canada's
land area is covered by permanent pastures. Canada has 7,200 square kilometres (2,800 mi²) of irrigated land
(1993 estimate). Agricultural regions in Canada include the Canadian Prairies, the Lower Mainland and interior
plateau of British Columbia, the St. Lawrence Basin and the Canadian Maritimes. Main crops in Canada include
flax, oats, wheat, maize, barley, sugar beets and rye in the prairies; flax and maize in Western Ontario; Oats and
potatoes in the Maritimes. Fruit and vegetables are grown primarily in the Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia,
Southwestern Ontario, the Golden Horseshoe region of Ontario, along the south coast of Georgian Bay and in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia. Cattle and sheep are raised in the valleys of
British Columbia. Cattle, sheep and hogs are raised on the prairies, cattle and hogs in Western Ontario, sheep and hogs in Quebec, and sheep in the Maritimes. There are significant dairy regions in
central Nova Scotia, southern New Brunswick, the St. Lawrence Valley, northeastern Ontario, southwestern Ontario, the Red River valley of Manitoba and the valleys of eastern British Columbia, on
Vancouver Island and the Lower mainland.
Fossil fuels are a more recently developed resource in Canada. While Canada's crude oil deposits are fewer, technological developments in recent decades have opened up oil production in Alberta's
Tar Sands to the point where Canada now has some of the largest reserves of oil in the world. In other forms, Canadian industry has long exploited large coal and natural gas reserves.
Canada's mineral resources are diverse and extensive. Across the Canadian Shield and in the north there are large iron, nickel, zinc, copper, gold, lead, molybdenum, and uranium reserves. Large
diamond concentrations have been recently developed in the Arctic, making Canada one of the world's largest producers. Throughout the Shield there are many mining towns extracting these
minerals. The largest, and best known, is Sudbury, Ontario. Sudbury is an exception to the normal process of forming minerals in the Shield since there is significant evidence that the Sudbury Basin is
an ancient meteorite impact crater. The nearby, but less known Temagami Magnetic Anomaly has striking similarities to the Sudbury Basin. Its magnetic anomalies are very similar to the Sudbury
Basin, and so it could be a second metal-rich impact crater. The Shield is also covered by vast boreal forests that support an important logging industry.
Canada's many rivers have afforded extensive development of hydroelectric power. Extensively developed in British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec and Labrador, the many dams have long provided a
clean, dependable source of energy.
Continuous permafrost in the 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
Current environmental issues
Air pollution and resulting acid rain severely affects lakes and damages forests. Metal smelting, coal-burning utilities, and vehicle emissions impact agricultural and forest productivity. And ocean
waters are becoming contaminated from agricultural, industrial, mining, and forestry activities.
See also: Acid rain and Kyoto Protocol
Global climate change and the warming of the polar region will likely cause significant changes to the environment, including loss of the polar bear, the exploration for resource then
the extraction of these resources and an alternative transport route to the Panama Canal through the Northwest Passage.
The northermost point
within the boundaries of
Canada is Cape
Island, Nunavut (83°08'
N, 74°13'W). The North
Pole at 90°N is the
point. On the Canadian
mainland it is Murchison
Promontory on Boothia
The southernmost point
is Middle Island, Ontario
(41°41'N, 82°40'W), with
the water point being
Lake Erie on the
(41°40'35"N). On the
Canadian mainland it is
Point Pelee, Ontario
The westernmost point
is the Yukon-Alaska
The easternmost point is
52°37'W). On the
Canadian mainland it is
Cape St. Charles,
The lowest point is sea
level at 0 m, whilst the
highest point is Mount
Logan at 5,959 m /
See also: Extreme points
of Canadian provinces