Named after Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, fourth daughter of Queen Victoria, Alberta was proclaimed a province on September 1, 1905. Located where the Rocky Mountains meet the prairie, Alberta’s principal industries include oil and gas, which became a major revenue generator starting in the late 1940s, and agriculture, thanks to the pioneering farmers who settled in the province in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Memories of that era remain and are celebrated every summer when Calgarians don cowboy boots and hats and attend rodeos and chuckwagon races during the city’s internationally renowned Stampede.
But though still proud of being a part of the Canadian Wild West, many Albertans have left their farms and ranches for the city. Most of the province’s population is urban with more than half living in the provincial capital, Edmonton, and in Calgary.
And Alberta entered the 21st century focused on its growing advanced technology sector highlighted by the Alberta Research Council, Canada’s largest provincial research organization with about 400 employees.
The province, which is home to more than 29 universities and colleges, also touts itself as having the most skilled and educated people in North America in which more than 40 per cent of Alberta’s workforce hold post-secondary degrees or certificates.
Yet as Alberta looks ahead, it hasn’t forgotten its roots that extend well before human history. One of the province’s most popular attractions is Dinosaur Provincial Park, located in the Alberta badlands, where a century of excavations have discovered the skeletons of over 150 dinosaurs that once roamed the landscape 75 million years ago.
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Canada’s westernmost province with its capital city, Victoria, located on Vancouver Island, British Columbia joined Confederation in 1871.
Surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and the Rocky Mountains, the temperate climate and plentiful salmon fishing areas around the coast, hugely popular ski hills in the mountains and rich orchards in the interior have made B.C. an attractive destination in which to live and to visit. Even on frequent rainy days, British Columbia lives up to its motto: splendour without diminishment.
Indeed, B.C. keeps growing, each year welcoming immigrants from around the world, particularly from the Asia-Pacific region to which the province serves as Canada’s gateway. The country’s third-largest province in terms of population, British Columbia is home to more than four million people, nearly one-half of them living in Vancouver.
B.C. has also evolved into a highly entrepreneurial society, with small businesses making up roughly one-half of all jobs in the province. And while such traditional industries as fishing and forestry remain important contributors to the provincial economy, new sectors have emerged to generate significant revenue, including tourism.
With its breathtaking scenery and unique landscape, it’s not surprising that British Columbia has also become an attractive location for the film and television industry. More than ready for its “close-up,” the province claims to be among the world’s top three film and TV production centres, after Los Angeles and New York.
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Larger than Japan and twice the size of the United Kingdom, Manitoba – which means “where the spirit lives” in the languages of its aboriginal population of over 100,000 – first attracted fur traders to its northern reaches in the late 17th century. Later waves of European immigrants began arriving in the south beginning in the 19th century.
A Canadian province since 1870, its terrain includes prairie grassland, Canadian Shield lakes and forest and Arctic tundra stretching its borders from the 49th to the 60th parallel, about the equivalent of Paris to Oslo.
Its capital city, Winnipeg, where the majority of the province’s residents live, is a major Canadian cultural centre, with its internationally celebrated Royal Winnipeg Ballet. The city is also one of Canada’s historic multicultural hubs and a major centre for the country’s ethnic German and Ukrainian communities. Within one Winnipeg neighbourhood, St. Boniface, resides one of the country’s largest concentrations of French-speaking Canadians west of Ontario. North of Winnipeg, in the town of Gimli, lives one of the biggest Icelandic communities outside of Iceland. Every summer, Manitobans of Ukrainian and Icelandic descent celebrate their heritage in colourful festivals.
Known for its cold dry winters and hot dry summers, Manitoba is blessed with an abundance of fresh water, along with strong natural resources in hydroelectricity and such base metals as nickel, copper and zinc. The province also has a vibrant agricultural industry in wheat, hogs, beef cattle, canola and dairy, though motor vehicles and parts remain Manitoba’s top-ranked export products.
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The largest of Canada’s three Maritime provinces, New Brunswick is also Canada’s only official bilingual province, with nearly 35 per cent of its residents French-speaking.
One of the original provinces to join Confederation in 1867, New Brunswick’s history dates back to the 17th century when French explorer Samuel de Champlain arrived on its shores and French farmers settled an area called Acadia. Nearly two centuries later, New Brunswick became a refuge for British loyalists during the American Revolution. So many landed in Saint John that by 1785 they were able to incorporate it as Canada’s first city.
Saint John remains New Brunswick’s largest city with 1/10th the provincial population. New Brunswick’s other major cities are Moncton, which has a significant francophone population, and Fredericton, the provincial capital.
New Brunswick is also home to four public universities. One of them, the University of New Brunswick, with its main campus in Fredericton and another in Saint John, is the oldest English-language university in Canada. Meanwhile, the Université de Moncton is Canada’s largest French-speaking institution outside of Québec.
New Brunswick is also considered a leader in forest management and about 85 per cent of its land base is productive forest.
Commercial fishing is another major New Brunswick industry, with more than 50 species of fish and shellfish harvested every year. And the province is famous for its seed potatoes that are exported to over 30 countries.
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Newfoundland and Labrador
Newfoundland and Labrador is Canada’s most easterly province, as well as its newest, having joined Confederation in 1949. The island of Newfoundland and the larger Labrador portion on the eastern part of the Canadian mainland comprises 405,720 square kilometres, more than three times the total area of all three neighbouring Maritime provinces. Cape Spear, the easternmost point of the province and North America, is almost 3,000 km away from the nearest point in Ireland, separated by the Atlantic Ocean, but Ireland is closer to Cape Spear than is Winnipeg, 3,100 km to its west.
Newfoundland’s geographic location as the closest North American portal for Europeans has made it a natural landing point for the past millennium. Viking explorers from Iceland and Greenland who visited Labrador and Newfoundland in the 10th century became the first Europeans to get a glimpse of North America. More than five centuries later, Basque, French and Portuguese fishermen were well acquainted with the rich supply of cod, halibut, mackerel and herring found at the Grand Banks, in the southeastern corner of the province.
Newfoundland’s fishing industry remains an economic mainstay for the province, now home to over half a million people. However, the recent collapse of the cod fishery has led Newfoundland to pursue other initiatives based on its considerable natural resources, several of them large-scale development projects, such as the Hibernia and Terra Nova offshore oil projects. Others include tapping into the province’s rich mineral deposits at Voiseys Bay and building its capital city, St. John’s, into a high-tech centre as part of a campaign to solidify a technology-based economy for Newfoundland modeled after the one in Ireland – that other island not so very far away. Recently the film industry has discovered the province; an example is The Shipping News released in 2001.
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Now stretching north of Saskatchewan to British Columbia toward the Arctic Ocean at its highest points, the Northwest Territories (NWT) got its name in 1870 when the Hudson’s Bay Company and Great Britain transferred territory to Canada that lay northwest of the country’s central region. Ten years later, Britain gave Canada the arctic islands, the year Manitoba was carved out of the NWT, followed by Saskatchewan and Alberta in 1905. In 1999, the eastern section was portioned off to create Canada’s newest territory, Nunavut.
Still, the Northwest Territories remain a mighty northern presence in Canada, occupying over 1.1 million square kilometres. A wilderness paradise consisting of a blend of tundra and mountainous highlands, the NWT has an economy built on tourism, mining and government, which runs differently than its provincial counterparts to the south.
Though the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories functions in much the same way as provincial legislatures, its 19 members represent no political parties and choose from among themselves one person to serve as Speaker and another as Premier. The assembly then selects seven other members to form the Executive Council, often called the Cabinet, which forms the government. A Commissioner, appointed by the federal government, fulfills a role similar to that of a provincial lieutenant-governor. But unlike the South, characterized by densely populated urban areas, the Northwest Territories only has one city, Yellowknife, the capital, and its population is just over 42,000 – half of whom are aboriginals, mainly from the Dene (Indian), Inuit and Métis communities.
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Known as Canada’s Ocean Playground, Nova Scotia has a centuries-old relationship with the sea, which has produced an abundant fishery that has attracted immigrants to this province – the most easterly point on the North American mainland – since 1604, when the first European settlements were established. In one of those settlements, Annapolis Royal, North America’s oldest social group, the Order of Good Cheer, was born.
That spirit has carried forward for the past four centuries in the tradition Nova Scotians have of greeting visitors with the Gaelic saying “a hundred thousand welcomes.”
And water remains an important part of life for the province’s residents. The sea, which virtually surrounds Nova Scotia, continues to serve as the first North American stop for vessels from around the world and contributes to Nova Scotia being the leading fishing province in Canada.
Long before the provincial capital city, Halifax, became a destination point for tens of thousands of immigrants in the early 20th and late 19th centuries, and prior to Nova Scotia joining Confederation in 1867, the future province experienced a dynamic and sometimes turbulent history. The British and French fought for control over its territory in the 18th century. During the dispute, the French-speaking Acadians conducted a prosperous trade with their New England neighbours – an economic activity foreshadowing Nova Scotia’s current trade patterns.
In addition to its vibrant resource-based industries in fishing, mining and forestry, the province of over 3,800 coastal islands is the location for more than 2,000 manufacturers, many situated in the almost 50 industrial parks across the province.
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As Canada prepared to bid farewell to the 20th century, it welcomed a new addition to Confederation when the eastern section of the Northwest Territories was carved into the country’s third territory, Nunavut – created on April 1, 1999.
Compared to Canada’s other territories and provinces, Nunavut has the smallest population, with only about 28,000 residents, 85 per cent of whom are Inuit and in whose language, Inuktitut, Nunavut means “our land.”
But what the new territory lacks in numbers of people it more than makes up for in geographic size. Nunavut’s 26 communities are spread across nearly two million square kilometres, almost one-fifth of Canada’s total land mass.
Nunavut’s capital, Iqaluit, located on the mouth of Frobisher Bay, is also the territory’s largest city and has the longest airport runway in the Canadian Arctic, receiving regular flights from Ottawa and Montréal.
In addition to its vast territory and cultural makeup that make it unique, Nunavut also operates unlike any other Canadian jurisdiction.
The Nunavut Land Claims Agreement, adopted by Canada’s Parliament in 1993, gave the territory’s Inuit the right to self-government. They chose to pursue their aspirations to self-determination through a public government structure.
The territorial government headed by a Premier and a Cabinet and Nunavut’s elected Legislative Assembly incorporate Inuit values and beliefs, and conducts business primarily in Inuktitut, though Inuinnaqtun (Inuktitut in written form using Roman spelling), English and French are also used.
Still in its infancy, Nunavut faces several challenges. Among them: the high cost of transporting goods from the south to consumers throughout the territory. But Nunavut’s best hope for the future might lie within its human resources. With some 60 per cent of the territory’s population under the age of 25, young Nunavut has the youngest Canadians.
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The economic engine that powers the Canadian economy, Ontario is a mighty province in so many ways. Ontario, which joined Confederation in 1867, also has over half of the country’s highest quality agricultural land and the over 67,000 farms in the province generate almost one-quarter of all farm revenue in Canada.
Ontario’s capital city, Toronto, is home to both Canada’s premier stock exchange and its financial hub on Bay Street has become the Canadian counterpart to New York City’s Wall Street.
In terms of population, Ontario is Canada’s largest province, home to about one in three Canadians. Eighty per cent of Ontario’s residents live in urban centres. More than five million Ontarians reside in the Greater Toronto Area and half of those live in the city of Toronto proper, Canada’s largest municipality where more than 100 languages can be heard on the streets every day.
And though Ontario, which covers more than one million square kilometres, places second in terms of land size behind its neighbour Québec, it still covers a considerable chunk of territory. Ontario’s most northerly communities roughly share the same latitude as London and Warsaw, while its southernmost point in Lake Erie, is about parallel to Barcelona or Rome.
Ontario’s statistical lead in geography is more impressive when the province’s 250,000 lakes (including much of the Great Lakes, shared with the United States), and numerous rivers and streams are considered. Together, they hold about one-third of the world’s fresh water.
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Prince Edward Island
The seventh province to join Confederation in 1873, Prince Edward Island (PEI) has a most fitting motto: parva sub ingenti (the small under the protection of the great). Situated on the Gulf of St. Lawrence and separated from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick by the Northumberland Strait, PEI’s land area is just over 5,600 square kilometres – representing 0.1 per cent of Canada’s total mass.
While PEI has a small population, the province is the most densely populated province or territory, with almost 25 people per square kilometre. As such, the notion of community in Canada is nowhere better defined than on the island, which has become one of Canada’s most popular tourist destinations.
Beyond its seemingly endless beaches with their world-famous red-coloured sand, PEI’s chief drawing card for visitors has for decades been a fictional character. Anne of Green Gables, given life in 1908 in the first novel by PEI’s most famous writer, Lucy Maud Montgomery, has become one of the island province’s most valuable resources. Every summer, tourists from around the world flock to PEI to retrace the steps taken by Anne Shirley in the many stories Montgomery penned about her.
The nearly 13-kilometre Confederation Bridge, joining PEI to New Brunswick, opened in 1997 and is the world’s longest bridge over ice-covered waters. The bridge has increased the flow of visitors to the island from Canada’s mainland, formerly served by ferry or air only.
Along with tourism, agriculture (particularly potatoes) is a major contributor to the province’s economy.
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Occupying over 1.5 million square kilometres of land – more than 15 per cent of Canada’s total territory – Québec is Canada’s largest province. About six million of Québec’s total population of over seven million are French-speaking, making the province, which joined Confederation in 1867, the only predominantly francophone territory on the continental mainland and home to one of the largest French-speaking communities outside France.
It was the French who became the first Europeans to claim parts of the territory in the name of their country, beginning with explorer Jacques Cartier, who took possession of Gaspé when he arrived there on July 14, 1534. Less than a century later, French colonists settled in the St. Lawrence Lowlands, an area that remains home to nearly 80 per cent of Québecers today.
Despite living in a province that is three times the size of France, almost half of Québecers inhabit less than one per cent of the province’s total land area. Most prefer city life, choosing to reside in a major metropolitan area like Montréal and the province’s capital, Québec City.
Although Québec was one of the four founding provinces, some of its people seek independence from the rest of the country. In fact, the province’s current government is formed by the Parti Québécois, a political party dedicated to “separation” from Canada.
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Renowned for its prairie sunsets in the summer, Saskatchewan also scores top marks as Canada’s sunniest province, averaging between 2,000 to 2,500 hours of sunshine annually. The clear skies have undoubtedly helped Saskatchewan become the country’s breadbasket, producing most of the wheat grown in Canada.
Since it joined Confederation in 1905, Saskatchewan has kept pace with societal change and has lived up to the spirit of its name, derived from the Cree word, kisiskatchewan, which means swiftly flowing river. Appropriately, Saskatchewan also happens to be the name of the province’s major river system – though like its neighbour to the west, Alberta, the province has no coast on salt water.
Over the past century, Saskatchewan society has evolved from its predominantly rural roots to a mainly urban landscape. More than one in three of the province’s residents live in two cities: Saskatoon and the capital, Regina.
Saskatchewan is a province noted for its pioneers who broke the land and established the country’s first comprehensive public-health insurance system. It continues to have a spirit of independence. For example, Saskatchewan is the only province that does not advance its clocks by one hour to mark “daylight saving” time (as do the other provinces, from April to October).
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In 1898, two years after the start of the Klondike Gold Rush, which brought a stampede of about 100,000 fortune seekers to within its borders, the Yukon became Canada’s second northern territory – and would soon become a beehive of human activity.
The site of an Indian fishing camp in 1896, four years later Dawson City emerged as Canada’s largest urban centre west of Winnipeg, with a population as high as 40,000 consisting of people coming and going in search of gold.
Today, Dawson City, Yukon’s second largest city, is home to nearly 2,000 people out of a total territorial population of just over 31,000 – most of it (almost 23,000) based in the capital, Whitehorse.
Yet Yukoners haven’t minded trading early 20th-century frenetic activity for 21st-century tranquility where the territory’s “untouched wilderness” is a source of great pride for its people.
Kluane National Park, situated in the southwestern corner of the Yukon and a United Nations World Heritage Site, contains Canada’s highest peak, Mount Logan. Surrounding the 6,050-metre-tall mountain are several massive glaciers, including the world’s largest non-polar ice fields – an area “where the Ice Age isn’t over yet,” according to a Yukon government promotion.
Ironically, the Yukon was spared the deep freeze the last great Ice Age had on the rest of Canada. Untouched by glaciers, the area was part of a region that joined Asia and America known as Beringia from which North America’s first inhabitants – and ancestors to the Yukon’s First Nations people – are believed to have arrived at least 24,000 years ago.