Canada is the northernmost country in North America, bordered by the United States in the south (the world’s longest undefended border) and northwest (Alaska).
The country stretches from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, with the Arctic Ocean in the north (Canada’s territorial claim extends to the North Pole).
The island of Greenland is just northeast of Canada’s northern most islands, while the French possession of Saint Pierre and Miquelon is just off the east coast.
Canada is the world’s second-largest country in terms of land area (after Russia), but has a low population density, with approximately 31 million inhabitants (Canadians).
Canada is a modern and technologically advanced country and is energy self-sufficient.
Its economy heavily relies on its abundance of natural resources.
Canada, which has been inhabited by natives including the First Nations and the Inuit for about 10,000 years, was first visited by Europeans around 1000, when the Vikings briefly had a settlement.
More permanent European visits came in the 16th and 17th century, as the French settled here.
They traded much of their lands with the British in 1763, and after the American Revolution, many British Loyalists settled in Canada.
With the passing of the British North America Act the British government granted the request of the French and English leaders of the colony of Canada, the status of an self-governing country on July 1, 1867.
More definitive independence came in 1931 with the Statute of Westminster, and in 1982 with the repatriation of Canada’s constitution.
On July 7, 1969 French was made equal to English throughout the Canadian national government.
In the second half of the 20th century, some citizens of the French-speaking province of Quebec have sought independence, but two referendums have been defeated, albeit marginally in the last case (50.6% were against independence)
Canada is divided into 10 provinces and 3 territories.
The provinces have a reasonable large autonomy from the federal government, while the territories have somewhat less.
The provinces and territories each have their own unicameral legislatures.
The provinces are: Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Saskatchewan.
And the territories: Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Yukon.
Eastern Canada is divided between boreal forest and the barren Canadian Shield in the north and the highly fertile Saint Lawrence River Valley in the south, where most of the country’s population is concentrated.
Large parts of south central Canada are covered by plains and prairies.
The west of Canada mostly consists of rolling terrain on either side of the Rocky Mountains.
The Hudson Bay sea arm cuts deep into the country.
A number of large lakes are located throughout Canada, including the Great Lakes, which form part of the border with the United States.
The vast north of the country is mainly arctic lowlands with a polar climate, and is therefore extremely sparsely populated; for example, fewer than 30,000 people live in Nunavut Territory, which is the size of Western Europe.
Most of the major cities are located in the more temperate south, with largest concentration in the east.
The largest cities are (in descending order population wise): Toronto, Ontario; Montreal, Quebec; Vancouver, British Columbia; Calgary, Alberta; and the capital, Ottawa, Ontario.
As an affluent, high-tech industrial society, Canada today closely resembles the US in its market-oriented economic system, pattern of production, and high living standards.
Since World War II, the impressive growth of the manufacturing, mining, and service sectors has transformed the nation from a largely rural economy into one primarily industrial and urban.
Energy self-sufficient, Canada has vast deposits of natural gas on the East Coast and in the three western provinces, and a plethora of other natural resources.
The 1989 US-Canada Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) (which includes Mexico) touched off a dramatic increase in trade and economic integration with the US
Canadian culture is heavily influenced by British and American influences.
The province of Quebec has maintained a distinct French culture, which is protected by special laws and constitutional agreements.
For example, Quebec uses civil law based on the Napoleonic code, whereas the rest of the county uses common law derived from the British parliamentary tradition.
The large American cultural presence in Canada has prompted some fears of a cultural take-over, and has initiated the establishment of many laws and institutions to protect Canadian culture.
Unlike the United States, Canada is not a melting-pot; unique cultures are encouraged.