The national capital is Ottawa, Canada’s fourth largest city. It lies some 250 miles (400 km) northeast of Toronto and 125 miles (200 km) west of Montreal, respectively Canada’s first and second cities in terms of population and economic, cultural, and educational importance. The third largest city is Vancouver.
Skyline of Toronto
Despite it’s great size, it is one of the world’s most sparsely populated countries. This fact, coupled with the grandeur of the landscape, has been central to the sense of Canadian national identity.
Although Canadians are comparatively few in number, they have crafted what many observers consider to be a model multicultural society, welcoming immigrant populations from every other continent. Additionally, the growing number of immigrants from other European countries, Southeast Asia, and Latin America has made the country even more broadly multicultural.
Canada is officially bilingual in English and French, reflecting the country’s history as ground once contested by two of Europe’s great powers. In the 16th century, French explorer Jacques Cartier used the name Canada to refer to the area around the settlement that is now Quebec city.
Later, Canada was used as a synonym for New France, which, from 1534 to 1763, included all the French possessions along the St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes. After the British conquest of New France, the name Quebec was sometimes used instead of Canada.
Canada shares a 5,525-mile- (8,890-km-) long border with the United States (including Alaska)—the longest border in the world not patrolled by military forces—and the overwhelming majority of its population lives within 185 miles (300 km) of the international boundary. Although it shares many similarities with its southern neighbour—and, indeed, its popular culture and that of the United States are in many regards indistinguishable—the differences between the two countries, both temperamental and material, are profound.
Banff National Park
“The central fact of Canadian history,” observed the 20th-century literary critic Northrop Frye, is “the rejection of the American Revolution.” Contemporary Canadians are inclined to favour orderly central government and a sense of community over individualism; in international affairs, they are more likely to serve the role of peacemaker instead of warrior, and, whether at home or abroad, they are likely to have a pluralistic way of viewing the world.
It was a founding member of the United Nations and has been active in a number of major UN agencies and other worldwide operations. In 1989 Canada joined the Organisation of American States and signed a free trade agreement with the United States, a pact that was superseded in 1992 by the North American Free Trade Agreement (which also includes Mexico).
Canada’s total land area includes thousands of adjacent islands, notably Newfoundland in the east and those of the Arctic Archipelago in the north – it is bounded by the Arctic Ocean to the north, Greenland (a self-governing part of Denmark) to the northeast, the Atlantic Ocean to the east, 12 states of the United States to the south, and the Pacific Ocean and the U.S. state of Alaska to the west; in addition, tiny Saint-Pierre and Miquelon (a territory of France) lies off Newfoundland.