Gotta know 'em, eh? — Provinces

The provinces are listed from west to east, one of the conventional orderings. All population figures are from the 2001 census. Mother tongue means first language learned and still understood.

  1. British Columbia: area 944,735 km2 (3rd largest; 0.04% smaller than Tanzania), population 3,907,738 (3rd largest, 13% of total). Named after the Columbia River, which in turn was named by Captain Robert Gray for his ship Columbia. Became Canada's 6th province in 1871. Except for the Peace River country in the northeast, all of B.C. is mountainous, the mainland being traversed by a series of mountain ranges from the Coast Mountains on the Pacific Ocean to the slightly more imaginatively named Rockies on its eastern boundary. Off the coast are a chain of islands, also mountainous, the largest of which is Vancouver Island. Note that the city of Vancouver is on the mainland, not on Vancouver Island. The southern coastal area has the mildest climate in all of Canada, sometimes with whole winters without snow (but lots of rain). Economically, the forests and industries related to them have always been dominant, and the province accounts for 44% of Canada's wood harvest. Mining is also important; B.C. produces 58% of Canada's coal. And of course many visitors are attracted to "Super, Natural British Columbia" (the official tourist slogan). As recently as the 1980s, at times B.C. got ahead of Alberta and Ontario to have the highest per-capita GDP of any province, but in the last decade or so it has fallen below the national average, even below Saskatchewan. Population by mother tongue: 74% English, 8% Chinese, 3% Punjabi, 2% German, 2% French, 11% other. B.C.'s population has increased 108-fold since joining Confederation, compared with a mere eightfold for the country as a whole, and it is the only province that has grown faster than the national average between every successive census without exception. Many are drawn from abroad: 24% of its people were born outside Canada, the second-highest ratio after Ontario. B.C. is also tied with Ontario for having the most highly urbanized population (85%). Major metropolitan areas: Vancouver (1,986,965, or 51% of province's total), Victoria (311,902, or 8%). Licence plates read "Beautiful British Columbia". Postal/Internet abbreviation BC, postal codes start with V. Capital: Victoria.
  2. Alberta: area 661,848 km2 (4th largest; 2% smaller than Burma), population 2,974,807 (4th largest, 10% of total). Named after Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, 4th daughter of Queen Victoria. In 1905, Alberta and Saskatchewan were removed from the Northwest Territories to become Canada's 8th and 9th provinces. Alberta is the westernmost of the three Prairie provinces, with its western boundary along the Continental Divide and the 120th meridian, and its eastern boundary along the 110th meridian. Most of Alberta consists of plains, except for the Rocky Mountains and its foothills in the west, and the northeast portion which is part of the Canadian Shield, a vast rocky area of lakes and forests. Alberta is blessed with valuable mineral resources including petroleum (78% of Canada's production) and natural gas (88%). Before the discovery of the Leduc oil field in 1947, Alberta's economy was dominated by agriculture, especially wheat and cattle; agriculture and food processing are still major sectors of its economy today. With its prominent oil and ranching industries and its conservative free-enterprise politics, Alberta is sometimes called the Texas of Canada, but without Texas's heroic story of being founded by proud men defending their right to own slaves. Alberta is the only province without a sales tax, and today has the highest GDP per capita of any province, 26% above the national average, and the highest rate of population growth (10.4%) between 1996 and 2001. Population by mother tongue: 82% English, 3% Chinese, 3% German, 2% French, 10% other. Major metropolitan areas: Calgary (951,395, or 32% of province's total), Edmonton (937,845, or 32%). Licence plates read "Wild Rose Country". Postal/Internet abbreviation AB, postal codes start with T. Capital: Edmonton.
  3. Saskatchewan: area 651,036 km2 (5th largest; 0.2% smaller than Afghanistan), population 978,933 (6th largest, 3% of total). Named from the Cree word "kisiskatchewanisipi", meaning "swift-flowing river", referring to the Saskatchewan River which traverses the province from west to east. In 1905, Saskatchewan and Alberta were removed from the Northwest Territories to become Canada's 8th and 9th provinces. Saskatchewan is the central one of the three Prairie provinces, and all of its boundaries are artificial. The northern half, home to only 3% of the population, is part of the Canadian Shield. The southern half is part of the Great Plains and is a major agricultural area. Saskatchewan grows 60% of Canada's wheat, the most important crop. Canola, oats, and barley are also widely grown. With 16% of Canada's crude oil production, Saskatchewan is a distant second to Alberta. In the mining sector, the biggest economic contributor is potash (potassium compounds), which is exported for use in fertilizers. In political contrast to its twin sister Alberta, Saskatchewan in 1944 elected North America's first avowedly socialist government, which set the model for the public medical care system that has since spread to every other province. Population by mother tongue: 85% English, 3% German, 2% Cree, 2% Ukrainian, 2% French, 6% other. Between 1900 and World War I there was a great inrush of people from eastern Canada, the United States and Europe, so that from 1911 until World War II, Saskatchewan was the 3rd most populous province, after Ontario and Quebec. Major metropolitan areas: Saskatoon (225,927, or 23% of province's total), Regina (192,800, or 20%). Licence plates read "Land of Living Skies". Postal/Internet abbreviation SK, postal codes start with S. Capital: Regina (rhymes with "mynah").
  4. Manitoba: area 647,797 km2 (6th largest; 2% larger than Somalia), population 1,119,583 (5th largest, 4% of total). Named from the Cree words "Manitou bou", meaning "the narrows of the great spirit", referring to Lake Manitoba, which narrows to less than 1 km wide at its centre. Became Canada's 5th province in 1870. Manitoba is the easternmost of the three Prairie provinces, and the only one with a coastline, along Hudson Bay. This coast does not really provide a great economic advantage because the shipping season lasts only 3 months, and it's so cold that trees cannot grow near its shores. All of Manitoba has a continental climate with great temperature extremes. The Hudson Bay Lowlands and the Canadian Shield cover the northern 80% of Manitoba, which is a "land of 100,000 lakes" and many rivers. The southern 20%, home to 93% of the population, is a fertile agricultural area where wheat and canola are grown. In the north, there are large mines of nickel (25% of Canadian production), copper and zinc. Manitoba has a more diversified economy than the other western provinces, with major secondary industries including food processing and manufacturing of transportation equipment. In the early twentieth century, Winnipeg was the commercial capital of the Prairies, and it is still an important transportation centre, being a crucial link between Western and Eastern Canada. Population by mother tongue: 75% English, 6% German, 4% French, 2% Ukrainian, 2% Cree, 2% Tagalog, 9% other. Major metropolitan area: Winnipeg (671,274, or 60% of province's total). Licence plates read "Friendly Manitoba". Postal/Internet abbreviation MB, postal codes start with R. Capital: Winnipeg.
  5. Ontario: area 1,076,395 km2 (2nd largest; 4% larger than Mauritania), population 11,410,046 (largest, 38% of total). Named from an Iroquoian word meaning "beautiful lake", referring to Lake Ontario. One of the four original provinces of 1867. The Canadian Shield and the Hudson Bay Lowlands cover 88% of the province but are home to only 7% of the population. This area's economy is dominated by mining, especially of nickel (75% of Canadian production) and gold (47%). The rest of the people live in the Great Lakes - St. Lawrence Lowlands in the southern part of the province. This includes Canada's industrial heartland, the "Golden Horseshoe" curving around the western end of Lake Ontario. The most important manufacturing sector is automobiles and related equipment. Ontario contains both the nation's financial, commercial and cultural capital, Toronto (on Lake Ontario), and the nation's political capital, Ottawa (on the Ottawa River, which forms the boundary with Quebec). The Ottawa area is also a centre for manufacture of telecommunications equipment. Ontario accounts for 42% of Canada's GDP, and its GDP per capita is 10% above the national average, second to Alberta. Population by mother tongue: 71% English, 5% French, 4% Chinese, 3% Italian, 17% other. Immigrants from outside Canada make up 26% of its population, the largest fraction of any province, and 55% of all Canada's immigrants live in Ontario. Ontario is tied with B.C. for having the most highly urbanized population (85%), and includes many of the country's largest cities. Major metropolitan areas: Toronto (4,682,897, or 41% of province's total), Ottawa (806,096, or 7%), Hamilton (662,401, or 6%), London (432,451, or 4%), Kitchener/Waterloo (414,284, or 4%), St. Catharines/Niagara (377,009, or 3%). Licence plates read "Yours to Discover". Postal/Internet abbreviation ON, postal codes start with K, L, M, N or P. Capital: Toronto (rhymes with "wanna" in local dialect).
  6. Quebec: area 1,542,056 km2 (largest; 1% smaller than Mongolia), population 7,237,479 (2nd largest, 24% of total). Named from an Algonquian word meaning "where the river narrows", a reference to the narrowing of the St. Lawrence River near Quebec City. One of the four original provinces of 1867. Quebec is similar to Ontario in that most of it is in the Canadian Shield, but the population is concentrated in the St. Lawrence Lowlands in the south. Northern Quebec supplies not only minerals, but also, through a serious of dams, large amounts of hydroelectric power, much of which is exported to the United States. The industrialized south is the centre of Canada's aerospace and pharmaceutical industries. Population by mother tongue: 81% French, 8% English, 2% Italian, 8% other. The name "Canada" was originally used by French colonists to refer only to what is now the southern part of the province of Quebec, so it is kind of ironic that today it's the only province with a serious movement (including the members of its current government) dedicated to secession from Canada. Referenda on vaguely worded questions proposing some type of "sovereignty" were held, and voted down, in 1980 (60% against) and 1995 (50.6% against). Just after the 1995 referendum, the Canadian Parliament passed a resolution recognizing Quebec as "a distinct society within Canada", citing "its French-speaking majority, unique culture and civil law tradition". Major metropolitan areas: Montreal (3,426,350, or 47% of province's total), Quebec City (682,757, or 9%). Licence plates read "Je me souviens" (I remember). Postal/Internet abbreviation QC (formerly PQ), postal codes start with G, H or J. Capital: Quebec City.
  7. New Brunswick: area 72,908 km2 (8th largest; 2% larger than Sierra Leone), population 729,498 (8th largest, 2% of total). Named for the British royal family of Brunswick. One of the four original provinces of 1867. One of the three Maritime provinces, New Brunswick is 85% forested, the highest rate of all Canadian provinces. Forestry and pulp and paper are the most important industries in its resource-based economy, but other important sectors are fisheries, agriculture (especially potatoes), and mining (notably zinc, of which it is the largest producing province, at 27% of Canada's total). Population by mother tongue: 65% English, 33% French, 2% other. New Brunswick is the only fully bilingual province, with French and English having equal status. With its large bilingual population, New Brunswick has become a convenient location for nationwide call centres. After P.E.I., it is the second least urbanized province, with 50% of its population living in rural areas. Major metropolitan areas: Saint John (122,678, or 17% of province's total), Moncton (117,727, or 16%). Licence plates read "New/Nouveau Brunswick". Postal/Internet abbreviation NB, postal codes start with E. Capital: Fredericton.
  8. Nova Scotia: area 55,284 km2 (9th largest; 3% smaller than Togo), population 908,007 (7th largest, 3% of total). Latin for "New Scotland". One of the four original provinces of 1867. One of the three Maritime provinces, Nova Scotia consists of a peninsula jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean, together with Cape Breton Island. Nova Scotia leads the Atlantic provinces in the value of its fish catch, of which lobster is the most important economically. Coal mining is also important, with 8% of Canada's coal produced there. Agriculturally, dairy and poultry farming are the largest sectors, although the province may be better known for fruits and vegetables. In the 19th century, before the tremendous growth in Western Canada, Nova Scotia was the 3rd most populous province, with 10% or more of the country's population. National policies on trade and on transportation (such as the building of the St. Lawrence Seaway) have been blamed for the decline in secondary industry since Confederation, and for the fact that today its GDP per capita is 29% below the national average. Population by mother tongue: 93% English, 4% French, 3% other. Major metropolitan area: Halifax (359,183, or 40% of province's total). Licence plates read "Canada's Ocean Playground". Postal/Internet abbreviation NS, postal codes start with B. Capital: Halifax.
  9. Prince Edward Island: area 5,660 km2 (smallest; 1% larger than the island of Bali), population 135,294 (smallest, 0.5% of total). Named after Edward, Duke of Kent, the father of Queen Victoria. Was previously named St. John's Island, but was changed in 1798 because it became too easily confused with Saint John, N.B., and St. John's, Nfld. Became Canada's 7th province in 1873. One of the three Maritime provinces, P.E.I. is not only the smallest of all the provinces in both area and population, but is also the most densely populated and has the least urbanized population (which is 55% rural). The island was connected for the first time by a fixed link to the mainland in 1997, with the opening of the Confederation Bridge to New Brunswick. The mainstays of the economy are agriculture (especially potatoes, producing 30% of Canada's total), tourism and fishing (notably lobster). Visitors are attracted to the red sandy beaches and to the home of Anne of Green Gables. Do not confuse P.E.I. with the Quebec island of Anticosti, 300 km to the north. Although Anticosti is 41% bigger than P.E.I., it has a population of only 266 (or 99.8% smaller) and contains no historical or literary attractions, nor even any agriculture. P.E.I. has the lowest per-capita GDP of any province (33% below the national average). Population by mother tongue: 94% English, 4% French, 2% other. Major metropolitan area: Charlottetown (58,358, or 43% of province's total). Licence plates read "Birthplace of Confederation" (referring to the 1864 constitutional conference) or "Confederation Bridge". Postal/Internet abbreviation PE, postal codes start with C. Capital: Charlottetown.
  10. Newfoundland and Labrador: area 405,212 km2 (7th largest; 0.4% smaller than Paraguay), population 512,930 (9th largest, 2% of total). Island portion named "new found isle" by John Cabot in 1497; mainland named by Joćo Fernandes, a Portuguese explorer and lavrador, or "landholder", in the Azores. Became Canada's 10th province in 1949. It is not considered to be one of the three Maritime provinces, but together with them, it is considered a part of "Atlantic Canada". Newfoundland and Labrador is the least densely populated province. Mainland Labrador makes up 73% of the land area of the province but is home to only 5% of its population. The principal economic activity there is mining of iron ore, of which Labrador produces 62% of Canada's total. On the island of Newfoundland, known to many as "the Rock", the cod fishing industry has dominated the economy for 500 years. Unfortunately, cod stocks have been severely depleted in the last 20 years because of overfishing. The unemployment rate of Newfoundland and Labrador, currently 17%, has consistently been the highest of any province. Thanks to recent development of the offshore Hibernia oil field, discovered in 1979, the province's per-capita GDP is now slightly higher than P.E.I.'s, but still 30% below the national average. Population by mother tongue: 98% English, 2% other. Only 2% were born outside Canada, the lowest rate of any province, and the population shrank by 7.0% between 1996 and 2001, principally because of migration to other provinces. Major metropolitan area: St. John's (172,918, or 34% of province's total). Licence plates read "A World of Difference". Postal/Internet abbreviation NL (was NF until 2002), postal codes start with A. Capital: St. John's.

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