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Visiting Canadas Provinces and Territories

Canada is a country of roughly 30 million people, divided into ten provinces and three territories. Each province and territory has unique geographic, historical, cultural narratives, and all have many great reasons to include them in a vacation to this “land of the birchbark huts.”

Newfoundland and Labrador – The eastern-most province joined the Canada in 1949. It is divided into two parts, the island of Newfoundland, and the rugged, sparesly populated Labrador. The province is known for its rich, distinctive local dialect, as well as its long history of fishing, especially for cod, off its shores on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. Though in recent years the fishery has been severely curtailed due to overfishing, offshore oil and gas deposits have brought new and hitherto unseen prosperity. Newfoundlanders are known for their friendly, outgoing nature, and quirky sense of style, most famously represented in the bright colours they paint their houses, so much so that one street in Newfoundland is simply known as “jelly bean road.”

Nova Scotia – Another one of Canada’s four “maritime” provinces, Nova Scotia has also been a product of the sea throughout its history. Most of the province is attached to the mainland, except for the northern island of Cape Breton, considered by many the cradle of a thriving East Coast Canadian music scene. Nova Scotia is home to The Blue Nose II, one of the world’s fastest schooners, and the boat depicted on the Canadian dime.

Prince Edward Island – Canada’s smallest province, PEI as it’s affectionately referred to, is best known for its potatoes and its plays. PEI potatoes are considered among Canada’s best, and farms exist alongside golf courses, light houses and sandy beaches throughout the island. The capital, Charlottetown, is home to the world-famous Charlottetown Festival, a major Canadian theatre that regularly produces the stage version of Anne of Green Gables, the story of a precocious red-headed child with a heart of gold, written by Lucy Maud Montgomery, PEI’s most beloved author.

New Brunswick – The fourth maritime province is called New Brunswick. It has a smaller connection to the sea than the others, albeit an important one, and it is home to the Bay of Fundy, which is known for some of the most extreme ocean tides on earth. New Brunswick was once home to the Acadians, French-speaking settlers who were forcefully relocated by the British when they captured North America from the French. Some Acadians moved to South America, while others settled in what is now New Orleans (thus the French language and culture still present in that city today). Eventually the British allowed the Acadians to return home, but many never did. Still, the province remains the only one in Canada that is officially bi-lingual: English and French exist side-by-side in every aspect of provincial life, and do so in relative harmony.

Quebec – Quebec is Canada’s most complex province. It is the only province in Canada where the majority of the population speaks French. The capital, Quebec City, has retained many of its original buildings, and the old “upper town” has managed to keep its city walls, making it the only remaining fortified city in North America. Nowhere in Canada can one find more living history than in the streets of old Quebec, and just outside of the old city, on the Plains of Abraham you’ll find the beginnings of a centuries old rift in Canadian society. It was on the Plains of Abraham where the English forces of General Wolfe defeated the French forces of General Montcalm and where France lost control of her North American possessions in 1763. Though the English were, for the most part, benevolent rulers, and allowed the French laws, language and culture to survive relatively intact, the dream of an independent Quebec never died, much to the dismay of English-speaking Canadians who wanted a single nation stretching from coast to coast. Throughout the 18th and 19th century this unrest led to period violence and civil uprisings in Quebec, most famously in the 1837 rebellion (a similar rebellion also occurred in English-speaking Canada but amounted to nothing more than a minor skirmish). In the 1950’s and 60’s a terrorist organization called the Front de Liberation du Quebec or FLQ began a campaign of kidnappings and bombings, demanding Quebec’s independence. In the early 70’s the FLQ staged the “October crisis” kidnapping a British diplomat and murdering a provincial cabinet minister. This led to the invocation of the War Measures Act, mass arrests, and spelled the end of violence as a means to Quebec separation. In 1980 the question of separation was put to the people of Quebec in a referendum, and the idea was soundly rejected. In 1995 another referendum was held, with the same result but this time by the narrowest of margins mathematically possible. After the 1995 vote, and the subsequent outpouring of national sentiment from the rest of Canada, including a genuine desire to embrace and celebrate Quebec’s special place within a united Canada, Quebecer’s appetite for separation has died down.

Ontario – Next door to Quebec lies Ontario, the centre of the country and until recently the economic engine of the nation, largely due to its proximity to the United State in general, and the automotive industry in particular. Ontario is home to Niagara Falls, the world’s most spectacular water fall, and the CN Tower, until very recently the world’s tallest freestanding structure. It boasts a thriving technology sector, as well as some of Canada’s most mulit-cultural communities. It’s not uncommon to find an Indian restaurant, a Korean grocery, a Carribean diner and an Irish pub all on the same street, and to see people of every race, religion and language working and living side by side. Again, they do so in relative harmony, and ethnic violence is not endemic. The southern half of the province is densely populated, with cosmopolitan cities alongside and farming-based small towns within an hour’s drive of each other. The northern half of the province has very few people, and is covered with old-growth forests.

Manitoba – Moving westward the forests of Canada give way to the vast, open prairies, home to three provinces of which Manitoba is the first. It stil has extensive forests, though, and extends all the way up to the border with the Northwest Territories. As such, its northern regions are home to polar bears, and there are special excursions in heated, fortified buses to view this large, beautiful, dangerous animals in their natural habitat.

Saskatchewan – The central prairie province is the bread basket of the nation. Canada is one of the world’s leading exporters of wheat, and much of that wheat is produced on Saskatchewan’s massive farms. Though in recent years the economy has diversified (and new oil and gas deposits have been discovered) farming still forms the backbone of this province, and local newscasts throughout the fall will include daily updates on the progress of the harvest.

Albera – The western prairies meet up with the Rocky Mountains in Alberta, one of Canada’s most interesting provinces. Alberta’s licence plates proudly proclaim it “Wild Rose Country,” and nowhere in Canada is the prosperity greater than in oil-rich Alberta. Ranching is the legacy of the province, and the world-famous Calgary Stampede, held every summer, is a testament to Alberta’s rich agricultural history. But it is the oil that has brought Alberta more wealth than any other province, and Albertans enjoy a high standard of living. But that oil wealth has come at a price. Countless Canadians are pouring into Alberta looking for work, leading to some of the highest cost of living in the country, as well as people with high-paying jobs forced to live in shelters because they cannot afford the sky-high rents. Also, much of the easy oil has now been pumped, and key to the future of the industry lies in developing the Athabasca Tar Sands, a mixture of oil and dirt that is only just now beginning to be extracted. The financial and envrinmental costs of developing the Tar Sands is a subject of fierce debate among Canadians.

British Columbia – Canada’s western-most province is British Columbia. It lacks Alberta’s oil and gas reserves, but is covered with vast tracts of old-growth forests, which sustain a vibrant logging industry (and growing environmental outrage). It is home to the Rocky Mountains, and boasts some of the world’s best Alpine skiing. BC’s place on the Pacific Coast has made it susceptible to benevolent weather patterns, and while it often rains it seldom snows, and the climate is much warmer than most of the rest of Canada. The population also reflects the diversity of the entire Pacific Rim, with a large Asian population, and extensive business contact with the Far East. There are so many Chinese in British Columbia that’s not uncommon for services to be offerend in both English, French and Cantonese.

The Yukon – North of British Columbia lies the first of Canada’s three territories, the Yukon. Much more sparsely populated than even PEI, the Yukon is famous for Mount Logan, Canada’s highest point, and the Yukon Gold Rush of the 1890’s, when thousands of people from around the world went north to see their fortunes. Many died on the journey, but thousands did manage to make it to the gold fields, and for a time the Yukon cities of Dawson and Whitehorse were among the largest in Canada.

The Northwest Territory – East of the Yukon lies the Northwest Territory, another sparsely-populated land, but one filled with spectacular natural beauty, including the Mackenzie River delta. In the brief northern summer when it is nagivable, the Mackenzie and other rivers in the territory make excellent challenges for experienced canoe and kayak enthusiasts. The capital, Yellowknife, is named for the gold that has been mined beneath it, and the untapped mineral wealth of the north will be the future of this desolate, isolated area.

Nunavut – Canada’s newest territory covers the entire easter half of the Arctic, and extends all the way to Alert, the northernmost permanent settlement in the world. Nunavut was created to give greater self-government to the native Inuit people who live there, and English, while still understood by most inhabitants, is often eclipsed by a wide variety of local languages.

Canada’s provinces and territories are so vast and varied, and Canadians such a diverse people, that it’s impossible to see every part of the country in a single trip. One of the few characteristics common to all Canadians though, is that they live in a peaceful, stable, fully democratic country, making Canada one of the safest places in the world to visit, and one of the most desireable places in the world to live.