Namaste Canada Musings — Chapter 1
My wife and I recently moved to Canada from the USA amidst the government imposed lockdown and border closure restrictions due to COVID-19. To avoid the complications associated with air travel, we decided to drive from our nest in Ohio to our new home in Alberta, Canada. We were familiar with the landscape in the USA but were touching the Canadian land for the first time — naturally, we were ambivalent. Today, we have spent six months in Canada after crossing through that Pembina (USA) — Emerson (Canada) border and in this post, I am sharing a few interesting facts I learned about this beautiful country. Following are my notes from my quest to know Canada from various perspectives including its geography, national symbols, important days, etc. So without further ado, let’s begin with Canada’s geography.
Canada is the second largest country in the world after Russia and the largest country in the North American continent, with a total area of 9.98 million square kilometers. It has the world’s largest proportion of freshwater lakes and by land area alone (excluding the area covered by water) it ranks fourth in the world. Canada has 2 million lakes out of which 563 are greater than 100 square kilometers. Canada has 60% of the world’s lakes and 30% of freshwater lakes. The longest land border in the world is between the USA and Canada, which is 8,891 kilometers long. Canada has the world’s longest maritime boundary that spans 243,042 kilometers, with the Arctic Ocean in the North, Atlantic in the east, and Pacific in the west. The world’s north most remote human settlement, the Canadian Forces Station Alert in Ellesmere Island, is also in Canada and it is just 817 kilometers away from the North Pole.
Canada has 10 provinces and 3 territories, with Ottawa as the capital. The major difference between provinces and territories is that the Canadian constitution grants provincial and federal powers to the provinces but the territories are directly governed by the Canadian parliament. Canadian winters are harsh where average the temperature could go as low as -15 degrees Celsius, while summers could see an average temperature between 20°C to 30°C. Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver are the three largest cities in Canada.
Now, let’s talk about some symbols of national importance in Canada and I think it is good to begin with the Canadian flag.
Flag- Canadian flag features its national colors — red and white — with a white square at the centre that is bounded by two red fields in 1:2:1 ratio. It also features an 11- pointed maple leaf at the center, within the white square. The red color symbolizes the sacrifices made during both world wars and white represents the peace, tranquility, and neutrality of Canada. The maple leaf at the center is one of the prominent national symbols of Canada for over 300 years — because maple served as an important food source for several years.
Tree- The maple tree is the national tree of Canada and it was adopted as a national symbol in 1996. Canada grows 10 species of the maple tree and at least one of the ten species grows naturally in every province.
Animal- The beaver and the Canadian horse are the national animals of Canada. The fur trade was a significant factor in the selection of the beaver as the national animal of Canada. Beaver pelts were used to make everything from wool felt hats to robes to winter coats to keep people warm in the harsh Canadian winters. The Canadian horse is a symbol of resilience, intelligence, endurance, and great strength.
Sports- Canada has two national sports- ice hockey for winters and lacrosse for summers- and I love watching ice hockey. Canada is considered the birthplace of ice hockey, and Canadians are playing lacrosse for over 500 years.
The total population of Canada was 35,151,728 according to the 2016 census with a population density of 3.7 inhabitants per square kilometers, which is one the lowest in the world. Immigration is the main driver of population growth instead of natural growth in Canada. In 2019, a total of 341, 180 immigrants were admitted to Canada- including us — who came mainly from India, China, and the Philippines.
About 80% of the total population in Canada lives within 150 kilometers of the USA-Canada border. Ontario and Quebec, the two biggest provinces in Canada, account for almost 60% of the total population. The most densely populated part of the country is the Quebec City-Windsor Corridor (50% of the population) followed by the additional 30% living in British Columbia’s lower mainland (Vancouver) and the Calgary-Edmonton corridor.
The Canadian population is mostly composed of whites (75%) with Asians contributing 14% of the population, of which about 4% are Indians, while natives and black/Latinos contribute 5% each. A multitude of languages is spoken in Canada with English and French being the mother tongue of 56% and 21 % of Canadians, while 1.4% of Canadians have Punjabi as their mother tongue. So, Canada is a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic society where people from different backgrounds live together in harmony and peace.
Although there are several days of regional and national importance in Canada, the following is the list of those ones that I have seen people celebrating during my 6 month long stay in Canada. With time, I am sure I will be introduced to other significant days in Canadian history and culture. However, let’s begin with the ones I am currently most familiar with.
Canada Day — It celebrates the anniversary of the Canadian confederation, which occurred on July 1, 1867, when the three separate British colonies of Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick were united into a single dominion called Canada. Canadians celebrate this day throughout the country as well as in various locations around the world.
Victoria Day — It is celebrated on the last Monday before May 25 to honor Queen Victoria’s birthday (May 24). It is informally considered as the beginning of the summer season in Canada.
Thanksgiving Day — It is celebrated on the second Monday of October to honor the harvest and other blessings of the past year.
Boxing Day — It is celebrated on 26th December, the day after Christmas. Though it originated as a holiday to give gifts to the poor (in a box), today Boxing Day is primarily known as a shopping holiday. It originated in the United Kingdom and is celebrated in a number of countries that previously formed part of the British Empire.
Remembrance Day — It is celebrated on November 11 when Canadians pause in a moment of silence to honour and remember the men and women who have served and continue to serve Canada during times of war, conflict, and peace. The Poppy, a flower, is the symbol of the remembrance day — because poppies are the flowers that grew on the battlefields after World War One ended.
I have kept popular holidays, including Christmas and Labour day, out of this list because their significance is common knowledge in today’s world.
Finally, I am glad that you have made it to the end of this post! I know I have covered only a few things about this great and vast country called Canada, but we will explore more together when I will take you to the Canadian cities and towns. In my next post, we will travel to one of the beautiful places in the world and one of my favourite places in Canada. Till then, stay tuned! I am leaving you with a couple of more Canadian facts.
The Loonie — Canadian one dollar. The most prevalent versions of the coin show a common loon, a bird found throughout Canada, on one side and Queen Elizabeth on the other.
The Toonie — Canadian two dollars — Add two loonies and you will get a twonie or toonie.
The Derby Line — Derby Line is known for the Haskell Free Library and Opera House, a line house deliberately constructed on the international US-Canada and opened in 1904. The intent behind constructing this line house was that people on both sides of the border would have use of the facility, which is now a designated historic site. Patrons of the library from either side of the border may use the facility without going through border security.
Canada shares its land border with only one country in the world, the United States of America. The Hudson Bay, the largest bay in Canada, is the second largest in the world after the Bay of Bengal. There are no roads to connect Nunavut, a province that occupies the fifth of Canada, to the rest of Canada — people usually travel there by air.