The Geographical Realities of Canada How have Canada's eclectic and vast geographical regimes contributed towards the development of a uniquely Canadian identity?


From pre-contact history to present day times, centuries of Canadians have embodied the land they lived on and used it to shape their lives and identities. From Aboriginal populations upholding the values of the land through a strong focus on agriculture and hunting to modern-day Canadian politicians constantly forging foreign trade deals on Canadian lumber or oil, Canada's abundant and vast land has served as a vessel on which Canada has become internationally competitive while managing to constantly improve the lives of its own citizens.

Through Canada's vastness, abundance of resources, varying landforms, close proximity to the U.S. and unique urban/rural balance, Canada truly offers a wide array of geographical realities that continue to drive the nation forward as a whole. Whether it be through the debate of politicians at Parliament Hill or the relentless work of fishermen off the Canadian coasts, Canada's geographical realities constantly work to define Canada and its place within the world.

Canada's Vastness

Often described as a paradox due to its large size and contrasting small population (only 90% of Canadian land is occupied), Canada is a vast land of possibility. Occupying the top half of North America, Canada experiences various climates, landforms and perspectives.

The 8 Physical Regions of Canada

Due to the vastness of Canada's landmass, Canadians often experience strikingly different landforms and climates, despite living within the same country. While the Arctic Lands Region of Canada offers cold, rocky and winter-like climates, the Canadian Shield Region offers rocky and mountainous land. Canada is separated into eight physical regions (shown above) to fully encompass the eclectic geographical realities present in Canada.

"Ad Mari usque ad mare (From Sea to sea)."

The quote shown above was first used to describe Canada by George Monro Grant, secretary of Sanford Fleming, and now serves as Canada's official motto to demonstrate the fact that Canada's vastness stretches to the extent of two oceans (Atlantic and Pacific) and that the geographical realities of Canada are ever-present in the mottos, customs and traditions. This surely demonstrates the lengths to which Canada's vast land is prevalent and the work it has done to shape the Canadian identity.

Canada's Abundant natural resources

With Canada's vast landmass and various geographical region, Canada constantly utilizes its unique geographical realities to serve the global community. In Canada's Natural Resources sector, there lies 1.7 million jobs, $691 billion in major resource projects and $231 billion in exports. Furthermore, the Canadian Natural Resources industry is responsible for 17% of the national GDP and constantly improves the Canadian economy.

Statistics regarding Canada's world ranks for natural resources.

While constantly improving the lives of local Canadians through job creation and an improved economy, Canada's abundance of natural resources has immensely worked internationally to provide for other nations. For example, Canada constantly exports petroleum and mineral fuels with the USA and mineral products such as potash and copper with China. Whereas USA and China have trouble mining and obtaining these resources, Canada is in minerals and can contribute and export. Canada's actions of exporting resources internationally contributes to shape the Canadian identity of helping others and serving the global community throughout history.

A key event in the history of Canada's natural resources sector is that of the passing of the Natural Resources Acts. In 1930, a series of acts passed by the Parliament of Canada and the provincial governments of Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba and Saskatchewan to gain control of their natural resources (like the other provinces had gained during Confederation). In 1930, the British Government officially passed the Constitution Act of 1930 and ratified these agreements within the Constitution of Canada.

Canada's Passed Natural Resources Acts for Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.

canada's close proximity to the usa

Though it is evident that the USA is a larger global power than Canada, the two countries have forged a long-lasting and strong relationship. Sharing the world's longest undefended border, the two nations constantly rely on each other for trade, security, and diplomacy.

Conflicts arose between Canada and the United States before a strong friendship was formed. Canada often stood as a liaison between Great Britain and the USA with Canadians constantly swinging between favouring sides. In the 1871 Treaty of Washington regarding various issues between USA and Great Britain, Canadian Prime Minister Sir John A. MacDonald served as a member on the British negotiating team. In 1903, the Alaska Boundary Dispute regarding Canada and USA's close proximity re-ignited Canadian anger but nevertheless, relationships were soon forged between the two nations.

Canadian Prime Minister, Sir Wilfred Laurier

In 1909, Prime Minister Wilfred Laurier proposed a reciprocity agreement with the United States. Since then, Canada and the USA have held a relatively strong relationship. Canada-USA relations no longer had to be dealt with through Great Britain, American pop culture began to seep into Canada due to their close proximity.

Some of the American sports icons, movies and programs that began to flood Canadian pop culture.

Throughout history, Canada and the USA have acted as close trade partners due to their abundant resources and easiness accessibility. Though Canadian relationships with the USA have seen tension throughout the centuries, the subsequent Canadian nationalism that emerged has allowed Canada to develop a distinct identity, while also having the ability to gain global strength through the USA.

Former Canadian PM Stephen Harper strengthening relations with US President Barack Obama

canada's urban/rural balance

As an extremely diverse nation, the diversity within Canada shines through in the contrasting urban and rural communities. With large economic hubs such as Toronto and Vancouver, Canada has the ability to create a thriving economy while succeeding in international industries. Furthermore, rural communities allow Canadians to utilize Canada's vast land to produce agriculture and capitalize on an abundance of natural resources.

Chart comparing the percentage of Canadians living in rural areas from 1851 to 2011

Currently, about 1 in 5 Canadians live in rural areas. Evidently, the urban hubs in Canada, though small in physical space, have the ability to act as home for tremendous amounts of people. For this reason, Canada is able to create jobs, build strong networks and constantly grow. In addition, urban centers serve as diverse cultural hubs for Canada to uphold its values of diversity and for Canadians to explore the world.

To complement urban centres, rural communities further allow Canada to expand its network and provide goods and exports for countries abroad. Overall, the balance of urban centres and rural land provide Canada with eclectic advantages for its diverse population and helps to shape the Canadian identity that consists of multiple perspectives.


Overall, it is evident that multiple geographic facets of Canada come together to shape the Canadian identity as one of vast and various lands, abundant natural resources, strong international diplomacy and various communities. Truly, it is the geographical facets and feats of Canada that have helped to build a nation and the values that it stands for. Whether it be pre-contact history or the bustling 20th century, Alberta or Ontario, Canada has truly utilized its unique geographical situation to mark its place on the global stage through physical space, trade, diplomacy and diversity.

Through Canada's vastness and various landmasses, Canada is able to experience a diverse array of climates and perspectives. Through the abundance of natural resources, Canada constantly acts as a global leader within exports as it aims to supply goods for nations without constant access to resources. Furthermore, Canada's close proximity with the USA has forged a friendship and its mix of urban and rural communities have built networks while offering a plethora of perspectives. With multiple perspectives, successful international relationships and a country filled with possibility, the Canadian identity is more prevalent than ever due to the geographical realities of Canada.

Canada's Geographic Realities Shaping the Canadian Identity.


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"Canada Goes Urban." Government of Canada, Statistics Canada. September 28, 2016. (Accessed January 14, 2017).

"Canada's Natural Resources." Royal Bank of Canada. June 1948. pdf/june1948.pdf (Accessed January 14, 2017).

English, John R. "Canadian-American Relations." The Canadian Encyclopedia. http://www.the (Accessed January 14, 2017).

"Explore by themes." The Canadian Atlas Online. aspx?id=canadianlandforms&lang=En (Accessed January 14, 2017).

"Population, urban and rural, by province and territory (Canada)." Government of Canada, Statistics Canada. January 14, 2017).

"Statistics." Natural Resources Canada. December 06, 2016. /statistics/8848 (Accessed January 14, 2017).

"The British North America Act, 1930 - Enactment No. 16." Government of Canada, Department of Justice, Constitutional Affairs. /p1t161.html (Accessed January 14, 2017).

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Samantha Ling


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