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“If some countries have too much history, we have too much geography,” said former Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King in a speech to the House of Commons in 1936. Canada’s total area measures 9,984,670 square kilometres, of which 9,093,507 are land and 891,163 are freshwater. Canada’s coastline, which includes the Arctic coast, is the longest in the world, measuring 243,042 kilometres.

Canada stretches 5,500 kilometres from Cape Spear, Newfoundland and Labrador, to the Yukon–Alaska border. From MiddleIsland in Lake Erie to Cape Columbia on Ellesmere Island, it measures 4,600 kilometres. The southwesternmost point of Canada is at the same latitude as northern California.

If we indeed have too much geography, most Canadians see relatively little of it in their daily lives. Much of Canada’s population lives relatively close to the U.S. border, as shown on the population density map below.

Canadians continue to gravitate toward urban areas. From 1996 to 2006, the urban population grew 9%, from 23 to nearly 25 million people. Together, census metropolitan areas (CMAs) and census agglomerations contain 80% of Canada’s total population, although they cover only 4% of the land area. Canada now has 33 CMAs, up from 27 CMAs in 2001 and 25 CMAs in 1996.

Map 15.1 Population density, 2006

Physical geography

One of the fundamental aspects of physical geography is land cover—the observed physical and biological cover of the land, such as vegetation or man-made features. (See the full-colour map of Canada’s land cover on the inside front cover of this book.) The most pervasive types of land cover are evergreen needleleaf forest, which covers 26% of Canada, and barren and sparsely vegetated land, which covers 29%.

Map 15.2 Climate regions

Facets of climate change

Much of the low vegetation and barren land is found in the Arctic, which makes up 39% of Canada’s total surface area—about 3.9 million square kilometres.

Climate change in the Arctic is raising the possibility that the Northwest Passage may become easily navigable. The effect of climate change on Arctic ice is shown in the map accompanying the first Focus article of this chapter.

Map 15.3 Normal precipitation, 1971 to 2000

Another facet of climate change that may affect other parts of Canada is the possibility of changing precipitation patterns. Mapping data showing such shifts, if they are occurring, are not yet available; a map of precipitation patterns that have occured in the recent past is shown on the third page of this chapter.

One type of event that is not associated with climate change is tsunamis; these long high sea waves are usually the result of earthquakes or an underwater disturbance. The second Focus article features a reference map showing recent significant seismic events on the west coast, the edges of the area’s major tectonic plates, and the degrees of risk along the coastline in the event of another tsunami.