Location and Geography. Canada is located in the northern portion of the continent of North America, extending, in general, from the 49th parallel northward to the islands of the Arctic Ocean. Its eastern and western boundaries are the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans respectively. Its land area totals 3,851,809 square miles (9,976,185 square kilometers). The easternmost portion of the country is a riverine and maritime environment, consisting of the provinces of Newfoundland, Labrador, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and New Brunswick. The central portion of the country, in its southern areas, is primarily boreal forest (the provinces of Ontario and Quebec). This forest region extends across the entire country from the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains through to the Atlantic coast, and is dominated by coniferous trees. A section of the country westward from the Great Lakes basin along the southern extent of this forest region is a prairie made up mostly of flat grasslands (in the provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta). The westernmost portion of the country is dominated by the Rocky Mountains, with a narrow riverine environment, made up of northern rain forests, west of the mountains (in the province of British Columbia). Between the southern Carolinian forest of the central regions of the country lies a region in Ontario and Quebec characterized by numerous lakes and expanses of exposed rock known as the Canadian Shield, an area left exposed after the most recent glacial retreat. Across the northernmost portion of the country from east to west lies a region dominated by tundra and finally at its most northern reach, an arctic eco-zone (in northern Ontario and Quebec and in the territories of Nunavut, Northwest Territories, and the Yukon).
These variations have had important social and cultural effects. The largest segment of the population resides in the central Carolinian region, which has the richest and most varied agricultural land and, because the Great Lakes waterway system dominates the central portion of the country, is also where most of the major manufacturing is located. The savanna or prairie region is more sparsely populated, with several large urban centers in a network across the region, which is dominated by grain farming, cattle and other livestock production, and more recently, oil and natural gas extraction. The two coastal regions, which have some agricultural production, are best characterized by the dominance of port cities through which import and export goods move. In the northern section of the center of the country, also sparsely populated, resource extraction of minerals and lumber, has predominated. The effect of this concentration of the population, employment, and productive power in the central region of the country has been the concentration of political power in this region, as well as the development over time of intense regional rivalries and disparities in quality of life. Equally important, as employment in the center came to dominate gross national production, immigration has tended to flow into the center. This has created a diverse cultural mix in the central region of the country, while the prairie and the eastern maritime region have stabilized ethnically and culturally. The consequence of these diverse geographies has been the development of a rhetoric of regional cultures: Prairie, Maritime, Central, and because of its special isolation, West Coast.
A final differentiation is between urban and rural. Local cultural identity is often marked by expressions of contrasting values in which rural residents characterize themselves as harder working, more honest, and more deeply committed to community cooperation, in contrast to urban dwellers who are characterized by rural residents as greedy, dishonest, arrogant, and self-interested. Urban dwellers express their own identities as more modern and forward looking, more sophisticated, and more liberal in their overall social values, and perceive rural residents as conservative, overdependent on outmoded traditions, unsophisticated, and simple minded. This distinction is most explicit in Quebec, but also plays a key role in political, social, and cultural contentions in Ontario.
Linguistic Affiliation.Canada is bilingual, with English and French as the official languages. English takes precedence in statutory proceedings outside of Quebec, with English versions of all statutes serving as the final arbiter in disputes over interpretation. As of 1996, the proportion of Canadians reporting English as their mother tongue was just under 60 percent while those reporting French as their mother tongue was slightly less than 24 percent. The percentage of native English speakers had risen over the previous decade, while that of French speakers had declined. At the same time, about 17 percent of all Canadians could speak both official languages, though this is a regionalized phenomenon. In those provinces with the largest number of native French speakers (Quebec and New Brunswick), 38 percent and 33 percent respectively were bilingual, numbers that had been increasing steadily over the previous twenty years. In contrast, Ontario, which accounts for more than 30 percent of the total population of Canada, had an English-French bilingualism rate of about 12 percent. This is in part a result of the immigration patterns over time, which sees the majority of all immigrants gravitating to Ontario, and in part because all official and commercial services in Ontario are conducted in English, even though French is available by law, if not by practice. English-French bilingualism is less important in the everyday lives of those living outside of Quebec and New Brunswick.
Symbolism. This is an area of considerable dispute in Canada, in large part because of the country's longstanding history of biculturalism (English and French) and perhaps most importantly because of its proximity to the United States, whose symbolic and rhetorical influence is both unavoidable and openly resisted. Ethnic and cultural diversity in Canada, in which different cultural groups were expected to maintain their distinctiveness rather than subsume it to some larger national culture, which is the historical effect of the English-French biculturalism built into the Canadian confederation, means that national symbols in Canada tend to be either somewhat superficial or regionalized. There are, however, certain symbols that are deployed at both official and unofficial events and functions which are generally shared across the entire country, and can be seen as general cultural symbols, even if their uses may not always be serious.
Canada is often symbolically connected with three key images—hockey, the beaver, and the dress uniform of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Hockey, often described as Canada's national sport, is a vigorous, often violently competitive team sport and, as such, it carries the same kind of symbolic weight as baseball does for many Americans. What gives it its profound symbolic importance is the way in which hockey events, such as the winning goal scored by the Canadian national team during a competition with the Russian national team in the 1970s, are used as special cultural and historical markers in political discourse. Hockey is used, in its symbolic form, to signify national unity and a national sense of purpose and community. That most Canadians do not follow hockey in any serious way does not diminish its role as a key cultural symbol.
National Identity.Leading up to and following the emergence of Canada as an independent political state in 1867, English Canada and English identity dominated the political and cultural landscape. The remaining French presence, in Quebec and throughout the eastern part of the country, while a strong cultural entity in itself, exercised only limited influence and effect at the national level. English symbols, the English language, and the values of loyalty to the English crown prevailed throughout the nation as the core underpinnings of national identity.
Food in Daily Life. The agricultural and ethnic richness of Canada has led to two distinctive characteristics of everyday food consumption. The first is its scale. Canadians are "big eaters," with meat portions in particular dominating the Canadian meal. There are generally three regular meals in a given day. Breakfast, often large and important in rural areas, but less so in urban areas, is most often not eaten in a group. Lunch, at midday, is most often a snack in urban areas, but remains a substantial meal in rural centers. Dinner, the final formal meal of the day, is also the meal most likely to be eaten by a residential group as a whole, and it is the largest and the most socially important meal of the day. It is the meal most often used as a social event or to which invitations to nonfamily members are extended, in contrast with lunch which is often, for adults, shared with coworkers. Meat plays a key role in all three of the formal meals, but with increasing importance at breakfast and dinner. Dinner should have some special, and most often, large, meat portion as its key component. Each of these three meals can be, and often are, very substantial. There are general rules concerning appropriate foods for each meal, rules that can be quite complex. For example, pork can figure in each meal, but only particular kinds of pork would be considered appropriate. Pork at breakfast may appear as bacon, or sausage, in small portions. Both of these products are made with the least valuable portion of the pig. At lunch, pork may appear in a sandwich in the form of processed meats, also made from the least valuable portion of the pig. For dinner, pork appears in large and more highly valued forms, such as roasts or hams, which require often elaborate preparation and which are presented to diners in a way that highlights their value and size.
The other main feature of Canadian food is diversity. The complex ethnic landscape of Canada and the tendency of ethnic groups to retain a dual cultural orientation have meant that Canadian cuisine is quite diverse in its content, with many ethnic dishes seen as somehow quintessentially Canadian as well. Whether pizza or chow mein, cabbage rolls or plum pudding, Canadian cuisine is best characterized as eclectic rather than consistent in content. There are a small number of food items that are considered distinctively Canadian, such as maple syrup, but overall the Canadian diet is drawn from a panoply of ethnic sources.
Major Industries. Canadian manufacturing is dominated, in terms of economic effect, by automobile manufacturing, and to a lesser extent by resource processing such as steel and other metals production. The automotive sector is the single largest sector, but resource extraction and processing, including mineral, chemical, and forestry products taken together, is the most important productive and commercial activity in Canada. In general, Canada exports more than it imports, in large part because of the combination of its raw material resource-based economy and the automotive sector.
The provision of services is the second most important commercial activity in Canada in terms of number of people employed, accounting for slightly less than half the labor force, but manufacturing, resource extraction, and agriculture dominate employment and commercial activity.
Social Welfare and Change Programs
Canada is an example of a capitalist welfare state, in that tax-base-funded programs exist to provide some measure of protection to the impoverished and those at risk of impoverishment. These programs, usually administered at the town or city level, but funded from taxes collected at the provincial and federal level, take two main forms. The first is an insurance program designed to provide income support in the event of unemployment. Individual workers pay premiums based on their wages, and the fund is supplemented by general tax revenue as needed. There are strict guidelines for qualification and the income support paid out of the fund represents a percentage of the unemployed person's previous income. There are also time limits on this support. This is a national program, and while guidelines regarding qualification vary from region to region, it is generally available to all employed persons. The second program, a general welfare program, provides subsistence support for persons and families unable to work or unemployed for longer periods than those covered by the insurance program. Levels of support in this program are often very low, providing incomes to both individuals and families well below the low-income cutoff points used by governments to measure poverty. Recently these programs have been altered to require recipients to perform some labor for the community in order to qualify. This change, along with reductions in levels of actual income support, have been controversial in Canada, with the debate focusing on the role of the state in providing support to the economically disadvantaged, a basic principle of the welfare state.
Religious Beliefs. Religious affiliation is more prevalent than religious observance, though this varies by ethnic and religious group. Most Canadians claim some religious affiliation, most often Christian, although between the 1981 and 1991 census periods, the number of people claiming no religious affiliation has almost doubled from about 1.7 million to a little under 3.4 million. Nevertheless, there are significant practitioners of all the major world religions in Canada. Officially, Canada is a Christian nation, with respect for the Christian God enshrined in statute. Swearing on the Bible, for example, is part of most legal proceedings, though nonsecular alternatives are also practiced. Prayers open many official functions.
Personal religious observance has declined in the last several decades, a phenomenon similar to that found in most industrialized countries. This appears to be mostly a Christian phenomenon. Often new Canadians will make special efforts to maintain their religious observances as part of the process of retaining their original ethnic or cultural identity. Some religious groups have grown in membership, such as those associated with evangelical Christianity, but overall the trend in Canada has been toward increasing secularism in public and in private lives. An exception is the increase in the observance of traditional religious practices among First Nations peoples in recent decades, which should be seen both as a spiritual revitalization and as part of the historic process of reasserting their ethnic and political identities in Canada.
What is the author’s purpose in this reading?
What is the overall theme? What are some of the subthemes?
Describe Canada’s geography.
Which European cultures have the most influence in Canada?
Why does the much of the population live in the Carolinian region?
What are two of Canada’s major industries?
Why was a hockey goal against Russia in the 1970s so important that it spurred a continuation of hockey being a national symbol?
What symbols are associated with the United States, but not really part of the average American citizen’s life?
List at least 4 things that the U.S. and Canada have in common.
Describe at least 3 things that you would have in common with the average Canadian.
Create a Venn-diagram or other graphic organizer that compares this article to the video. Include at least 5 items in each area (themes and author’s purpose, content, styles, tone, specific facts, etc).