Canada has a vast geography that occupies much of the continent of North America, sharing land borders with the contiguous United States to the south and the U.S. state of Alaska to the northwest. Canada stretches from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west; to the north lies the Arctic Ocean.
Greenland is to the northeast and to the southeast Canada shares a maritime boundary with France's overseas collectivity of Saint Pierre and Miquelon, the last vestige of New France. By total area (including its waters), Canada is the second-largest country in the world, after Russia. By land area alone, however, Canada ranks fourth, the difference being due to it having the world's largest proportion of fresh water lakes.
The West Coast of Canada, known by geographers as the Cordillera region, and containing the province of British Columbia, is the most mountainous part of the country, defined by the Coastal Range mountains that stretch down from Alaska along Canada’s border with the Pacific Ocean. Farther east lies the Canadian portion of the Rocky Mountains, which forms British Columbia’s border with the province of Alberta. Both ranges are home to massive evergreen forests and a diverse assortment of wildlife that have historically formed the world’s stereotypical image of Canadian nature.
Moving east from the Cordillera region, the land dramatically flattens and the mountains disappear. This vast territory, known as the Prairies, contains the provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, and houses some of the driest, least-forested parts of the country. Wide-open fields and flat, arable land make the region the base of Canadian agriculture. Parts of southeastern Alberta are quite barren, however, with an arid, desert-like landscape known for its rocky soil and hoodoos — massive gravity-defying stone formations.
Central Canada, containing the country’s two largest provinces, Ontario and Quebec, is part of a massive geographic land form known as the Canadian Shield that gives much of the country its distinctive shape. Scooped out by the giant Hudson Bay to the north and bordered by four of the five Great Lakes — Lake Superior, Lake Huron, Lake Erie, and Lake Ontario — to the south, Central Canada, also known as the Laurentian region, is a mostly green landscape of rolling hills, grassy fields, and deciduous forests topped by a barren and rocky north.
Farthest east, we have the Appalachian region, encompassing the four Atlantic provinces of Newfoundland, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia, which are all either islands or peninsulas on the eastern coast of Canada that extend into the Atlantic Ocean.
A mix of rocky coasts and forested interiors, the landscape of Atlantic Canada, also known as the Maritimes, has been shaped by its proximity to the ocean, with steep cliffs, high tides, and long coastal fjords. Much of the interior is densely forested and low in elevation, though the Appalachian Mountain Range does extend into parts of northern New Brunswick and Newfoundland.
The Canadian “north” is a somewhat vaguely-defined region All the provinces, save the Maritimes, contain dry, largely barren and mostly uninhabited northern areas prone to long, cold winters, heavy snow, and perpetually frozen soil.
In a more specific sense, however, the capital-n North usually means the vast, northwestern half of Canada that contains the country’s three northern territories: Yukon, Nunavut, and the less creatively-named Northwest Territories. Though Yukon possesses a more forested, Cordillera-style environment in contrast to Nunavut and the NWT, all three most mostly rocky, barren terrain with only sparse vegetation.
Weather is a controversial topic with Canadians, born from a mix of frustration and defensiveness. On one hand, Canada is, undeniably, one of the coldest countries in the world, with temperatures in many cities dipping below -20°(C) in the winter (December-March), complete with heavy snowfalls, icy winds, and slippery, frozen streets. On the other hand, winter is only one of the country’s four seasons, and most inhabited parts of Canada also enjoy relatively mild autumns (September-December), pleasant springs (March-June), and warm summers (June-September). The common assumption of foreigners that Canada suffers through harsh cold all year round is a stereotype Canadians find irritating.
Canada’s status as one of the earth’s richest nations is hardly a mystery. There exist very few valuable minerals, chemicals, or elements that can’t be found in at least some part of Canada, giving the country a huge abundance of precious natural resources to sell.
Most famously, the Prairie province of Alberta is home to some of the largest deposits of oil and natural gas on the American continent, a fact which has allowed Canada to emerge as one of the 21st century’s major energy-producing superpowers. The province also contains the world’s largest proven oil sands (or bitumen) reserves, a fact which, if added alongside the country’s traditional petroleum reserves, puts Canada in a firm second-place behind Saudi Arabia as the world’s most oil-rich nation.
All provinces and territories (save tiny Prince Edward Island) have ample mineral mines, though what’s harvested varies from province to province. Canada is one of the world’s leading producers of zinc, which is found in most parts of the country, as well as uranium and potash, which are mined mainly in Saskatchewan. Large amounts of nickel and copper are found in Northern Ontario and Manitoba, while iron and coal have been traditional staples of the Atlantic region. Gold has historically been found just about everywhere, while diamonds are becoming big business in Canada’s North. Controversially, Canada has also remained one of the world’s most active producers of the dangerous insulator known as asbestos, which is mainly mined in Quebec and sold to poor countries with lax public safety laws.
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