Canada as a Northern Nation

More than one-third of Canada's area is composed of the forested Subarctic region, which includes the northern regions of eight of Canada's ten provinces as well as much of the Yukon and the Mackenzie region of the Northwest Territories. For example, the province of Québec has the largest northern area of all individual provinces, making up more than 80% of its territory. The Arctic and Subarctic regions have a sparse population, amounting to just over 1,400,000 in total in 2001 (Bone, 2003: 84), as compared to the total population of Canada of just over 30,000,000 in 2001. Approximately 80% of Canada's Aboriginal peoples live in the boreal Subarctic, sometimes referred to as "Mid-Canada." From a political perspective, 38 of Canada's 301 elected Members of Parliament represent this vast region. Thus, Canada's North represents less than 5% of Canada's population, but controls more than 12% of Canada's parliament. Most of the remainder of Canada's population lives in a narrow east-west band of approximately 400 km in width just north of the border between Canada and the United States.

In the Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut, all north of latitude 60°, the total Aboriginal population numbers approximately 46,000, as compared to a total population of approximately 95,000 (Source: Statistics Canada information from the 1996 Census). Aboriginal peoples are in the majority overall in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, but are outnumbered five to one in Yukon. A few tens of thousands of Aboriginal people reside in the northern regions of Québec, Newfoundland, and Labrador, and the northern regions of most of the other provinces.

Major cities north of 60° latitude include Whitehorse, the capital of Yukon Territory (population 22,500 in 2001), Yellowknife, the capital of the

The Rivers Northern Territory
Provinces and territories, main cities, towns, and rivers in northern Canada.

Northwest Territories (population 17,500 in 1998), and Iqaluit, the capital of Canada's newest territory of Nunavut (with a growing population in excess of 5000 in 2003). The largest towns in the three territories include Dawson City and Watson Lake in the Yukon, and Hay River, Inuvik, and Fort Smith in the Northwest Territories, all with populations between 1600 and 4000 at present.

All of Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut are located in the North. Of course, it is necessary to define what is meant by "north." Hamelin (1979) has developed a measure of "nordicity," as the degree of northernness of any place in Canada. Bone (2003: 8-11) has summarized this nordicity index, which has a maximum value of 1000 polar units by Hamelin's definition, for many locations in the country. As examples, Montreal in Québec has a nordicity index of 45 polar units, Whitehorse in the Yukon Territory has an index of 283, and Sachs Harbour on Banks Island in the far north has an index of 764.

Canada is a country that is home to many nations of indigenous people, and it is the chosen destination of many international travelers bound on a wilderness vacation. It is also the destination of many researchers from around the world, who wish to study Arctic ecology or climate change. Although Canada's modern history began with exploration of the Arctic, it is paradoxical that most Canadians think of the Arctic as barren and inhospitable, and of little relevance to their daily lives. However, this view is far from reality when one considers that the Mackenzie watershed represents one of the two most sensitive areas on the planet to global warming. Much of the weather in southern Canada and the northern United States originates from climatic events in the Arctic regions of Canada. Details of climate change impacts and adaptation challenges in northern Canada have been documented by Maxwell (1997), Stewart and Malcolm (1999), and Malcolm (2002).

Canada's North has been described in two main visions: the northern frontier and the northern homeland. In the frontier image is the vision of great mineral and hydrocarbon wealth in the face of a harsh environment. In contrast to this, most northerners view

Aboriginal peoples in northern Canada.

Climate Northern Canada

Aboriginal peoples in northern Canada.

the North as a friendly and accepting place for them to raise and nurture their families. Those northerners who live, work, and play in a northern environment have developed a deep and lasting attachment to their surroundings (Bone, 2003: 1-2).

During the relatively short time since the 16th century, the Arctic has captured the imagination of Canadians. The Further Reading section at the end of this entry provides a sample of the varied art and writings authored and edited by Canadian sources. Further details of Canada's Arctic history, and of the economic, political, and cultural relationships of Canada's northern regions, as described in this narrative, can be found in Bone (1992 (2003)), Coates and Morrison (1992), Wonders (2003), and in various publications available through the Internet site of Canada's Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development ( The North of Canada has inspired famous people from many walks of life, such as Sir John Franklin the explorer, Lawren Harris the famous artist from the Group of Seven, John Hornby the adventurer, and Pierre Berton, William Wonders, Shelagh Grant, and C. Stuart Houston as editors and historians.

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