POPULATION: 27.3 million (1991)
LANGUAGE: English and French (both official); Italian; German; Chinese; Spanish
RELIGION: Roman Catholicism, Protestantism (majority); Judaism; Buddhism; Sikhism; Hinduism; Bahaism; traditional religions of native groups
Canada is the world's second largest country, surpassed in area only by Russia. It is also one of the least densely populated. Most of its population is concentrated in a strip 180 miles (290 kilometers) wide along its border with the United States.
Amerindian and Inuit peoples first migrated to present-day Canada from Asia across the Bering Straits around 10,000 BC . By the late seventeenth century, France and Britain were rivals for the region's rich fish and fur trade. This rivalry was ended in 1763 by the Treaty of Paris, which gave the British control over what had formerly been New France. The British North America Act created the Dominion of Canadian by 1867. By 1949, with the addition of Newfoundland, the Dominion had grown to include ten provinces.
The French Canadian separatist movement has grown since the 1960s. French became the province of Quebec's official language in 1974. Political independence for Quebec has been a controversial issue for both the province and the country as a whole.
Canada is a vast country with 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). The Canadian Shield, a rocky area of forests, lakes, and wilderness, 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 are home to the largest portion of Canada's population and the site of 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. The northernmost part of Canada includes the tundra, which lies north of the tree line, and the country's Arctic islands.
Although Canada is 10 percent larger than the United States (including Alaska), it has only about 10 percent as many people. The 1991 census recorded just under 27.3 million. Three-fourths of Canadians are urban dwellers. Toronto is the most populous metropolitan area, with about 3.9 million people in 1991.
Both English and French are Canada's official languages. Canada is generally considered a bilingual country. However, only 16 percent of the population is actually bilingual. About 60 percent speak English only and 24 percent French only. Canada's native peoples speak between fifty and sixty different languages.
Canada's folklore tradition is generally divided into four main strains: native, French Canadian, Anglo-Canadian, and other ethnic groups. The native tradition includes creation and hero myths, such as the Raven and Thunderbird stories of the West Coast.
For many years the French Canadians had to transmit their culture orally across the generations, giving them a strong folklore tradition. Popular characters in French Canadian folklore include a hero 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 among Anglo-Canadians.
Approximately 90 percent of Canadians are Christians. They are divided about equally between Catholics and Protestants. Protestant groups include the United Church of Canada and the Anglican, Presbyterian, Baptist, and Lutheran churches. Other religions include Judaism, Buddhism, and the traditional religions of native groups. Roman Catholics are in the majority in Quebec and New Brunswick. The other provinces are predominantly Protestant.
Canada's most important national holiday is Canada Day (formerly Dominion Day) on July 1. It commemorates the establishment of the Dominion of Canada in 1867. Canadians celebrate their nation's "birthday" with patriotic ceremonies, picnics, and fireworks. The holiday marking the beginning of summer in Canada is Victoria Day, the Monday preceding May 25. (It is called Dollard Day by residents of Quebec.) 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 and the major holidays of the Christian calendar. Canadians also have a Thanksgiving holiday similar to that of the United States, but it is held on the second Monday in October.
Canadians commemorate births, marriages, and deaths in ways similar to people of other western nations. Many mark these major life events within the traditions of their respective religions.
Canadians' reputation for courtesy, tolerance, and cooperation is reflected in the traditional designation of their country as the "peaceable kingdom."
Two out of every three Canadians own their own homes. Single homes are the most common type of dwelling. However, the current trend is toward more multifamily structures. One in seven Canadian homes is heated by wood.
Nuclear families are the norm throughout Canada. The average age at marriage is mid-twenties for men and early twenties for women. In most families, children are separated from each other by only a few years. The majority of married couples share similar ethnic, religious, and educational backgrounds.
Currently, close to half of all Canadian marriages (four out of ten) end in divorce.
Women made up 45 percent of the labor force in 1992. However, they earned only two-thirds as much as men.
Canadians wear modern, Western-style clothing. They may wear the traditional costumes of their ethnic groups 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. Clambakes are especially popular on Prince Edward Island. 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 meat-balls and pigs' feet). Quebec is also known for its maple syrup.
Two of Ontario's favorite dishes are roast pheasant and pumpkin pie. Alberta is known for the quality of its grain-fed beef. Moose meat and fresh lake fish are widely eaten in the Northwest Territories. A recipe for wild rice, a delicacy in Manitoba, follows.
Nearly the entire adult population of Canada is literate (can read and write). Education is administered by each province individually. In all cases it is compulsory from the age of about six to sixteen. Quebec has two parallel systems, one specifically for French-speaking, Catholic students. Most higher education is government-funded. Canada's best-known universities are the University of Toronto and McGill University in Montreal.
Margaret Atwood (1939–), Robertson Davies, Mordecai Richler (1931–), and Margaret Laurence (1926–87) are among Canada's best-known modern writers.
Classical musicians have included pianist Glenn Gould (1932–82) and vocal artists Jon Vickers and Maureen Forrester. Well-known popular performers include Joni Mitchell (1943–), Neil Young (1945–), Gordon Lightfoot (1938–), Jim Carrey (1962–), and Alanis Morissette (1974–).
Well-known theatrical events include the Stratford Festival and Shaw Festival, both held every year in Ontario, and the Festival Lennoxville in Quebec.
Like their neighbors in the United States, Canadians are finding themselves working harder for the same pay, as jobs become more competitive and less secure. About 70 percent of Canadians work in the service sector, 25 percent work in industry, and about 3 percent work in agriculture.
Ice hockey is Canada's national sport, and its stars are worshiped as national heroes. Professional games draw thousands of fans on Saturday nights. Youngsters often rise as early as 4:00 or 5:00 AM on weekends to play on little-league hockey teams. Other popular winter sports include skiing, ice-skating, snowshoeing, and tobogganing. Favorite summer sports include baseball, volleyball, and soccer. Lacrosse was originated by the native population before the arrival of Europeans. Curling, a sport where a heavy "stone" is slid across the ice, was adopted from the Scots.
Like their U.S. counterparts, Canadian families spend much of their evening time watching television. Many are regular newspaper readers. Their scenic land provides many Canadians with recreation. Many own weekend and vacation cottages on lake-shores or in wooded areas.
Amerindian artists produce jewelry, beaded moccasins, baskets, and leather goods. The Inuit are known for their soapstone, ivory, and serpentine carvings as well as prints, paintings, drawings, and wall hangings.
Canada has a relatively low level of violent crime. Its cities are generally clean, efficiently run, and have little homelessness and illegal drug dealing. Canada has a large national debt and faces growing demands for decentralization from many of its regions. A most serious problem is the threat that Quebec will secede and become a sovereign state.
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