Canada – Area And Physical Features

CANADA occupies the northern part of the North American continent, and is 3,745,574 square miles in area. To grasp the extent of a country of this size is most difficult to the European reader, and it may perhaps indicate more clearly the meaning of the figures if we say that it is eighteen times as large as Germany or France, thirty times the size of the United Kingdom, and approximately equals an area the size of the whole of Europe.

It is bounded on the north by the Arctic Ocean, on the west by the Pacific Ocean and Alaska, on the south by the United States, and on the east by Newfoundland and the Atlantic Ocean. Both on the western and on the eastern shores are innumerable bays and indentations, many of which, sheltered as they are, form excellent harbours and safe anchorage. From east to west Canada extends 3,000 miles, from north to south 1,500 miles. On the Atlantic, the principal bay is the Bay of Fundy, notable for its extraordinary fast and high tide, which runs in various places from twelve to seventy feet at high water.

Cutting into the heart of Canada on the north east is Hudson’s Bay, an enormous inland sea with an area of 350,000 square miles, capable of accommodating with ease the whole of the British Isles. There is also the Gulf of St. Lawrence, 80,000 square miles in extent, which leads to the magnificent St. Lawrence River. The St. Lawrence proper is 755 miles in length, and drains the eastern part of Canada. Its principal tributaries are the Saguenay, 112 miles long, which drains the Lake of St. John, the St. Maurice, 400 miles long ; the Ottawa, 750 miles long ; the Richelieu, 75 miles long, which drains Lake Champlain. There is, besides, an innumerable number of streams flowing from north and south, those on the north being the more important and the longer. The St. Lawrence also serves as the outlet for the chain of great lakes which divide part of Canada from the United States.

Lake Superior is 420 miles long ; Lake Michigan 316 miles ; Lake Erie 239 miles ; Lake Huron 345 miles, and Lake Ontario 193 miles long. From the last named of these there is a navigable channel through the St. Lawrence to the sea. In all, these lakes have an area of 95,000 square miles. Beyond the great lakes there is a number of smaller lakes which yet surpass in size any of those to be found in Europe. The Great Bear Lake, for example, covers 11,200 square miles ; the Great Slave Lake, 10,100 square miles ; Lake Winnipeg, 9,400 square miles ; Lake Winnipegosis, 2,030 square miles ; Lake Manitoba, 1,900, and the Lake of the Woods 1,500 square miles. Other rivers of great size besides the St. Lawrence in the eastern part of Canada are the St. John, 500 miles long, which rises in the State of Maine, and flows through New Brunswick into the Bay of Fundy. It drains in its course some 26,000 square miles. Other great rivers of the Dominion are the Mackenzie River, in the north-west, 2,400 miles in length ; the Coppermine and Great Fish Rivers, which flow into the Arctic Ocean ; the Saskatchewan River, 1,500 miles in length ; the Red River and the Assiniboine, which flow into Lake Winnipeg, which discharges in turn of the Nelson River into Hudson’s Bay. In British Columbia is the Fraser River and the Columbia, 1,200 miles in length ; in the Yukon district is the Yukon, which flows into the Pacific Ocean. Two great rivers, the Peace River 1,000 miles, and the Athabaska River, 40 miles in length, drain through a chain of small lakes into the north-west of Hudson’s Bay.

On the west, running parallel with the Pacific Ocean, is a continuous belt of broad, high mountains, known as the Corderillas, or Rocky Mountains. These extend from far north in the Yukon, in an almost continuous belt through British Columbia into the United States of America. The parallel ranges are more than 400 miles in width, in other words, twice as broad as England at its greatest breadth. The coast range runs along the shore of the Pacific, and the Rockies proper lie on the eastward. Between them are the Selkirks, the Cariboo, and the Cassiar. These western mountains sink in the east to broad rolling plains, which extend from the Arctic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico.

Two breaks occur in its surface, which elsewhere runs uniformly and gently to the east. The first of these occurs in the region west of Lake Superior, and so gives rise to the St. Lawrence, the Mississippi, and the Red River. The second is the Ozark Mountains, which separates two of the tributaries of the Mississippi.

In the east the central lowland gradually rises to the Atlantic highlands, which, with some breaks, can be traced from Hudson’s Bay southward almost to the Gulf. North of the St. Lawrence they are known as the Labrador highlands, and south as the Appalachian highlands. These again slope steeply on the east to the Atlantic lowlands. From this arrangement of highland in the west and lowland in the east, with a slight rise towards the eastern coast, results the characteristic of Canadian rivers ; short in the west, flowing into the Pacific from the mountains ; long rivers from the eastern slopes flowing east or south, long rivers from the western slopes to the Appalachian, flowing west, and short Atlantic rivers on the east. Between the Rockies and Appalachian are the woodland belt and the Prairie belt, the woodland in the east extending over 2,700 square miles, including the whole of Ontario and Quebec and extending westward to Manitoba.

The prairie belt is about 1,000 miles, extending from the east of Manitoba to the Rocky Mountains in the west. British Columbia is a high rugged plateau, bounded by the Rockies on the east, and the Pacific Ocean on the west. Westward beyond the Cascades there is a coastal range which appears in the islands which border the Pacific coast. Where the Canadian Pacific Railway crosses the Rockies there are the Summit, Selkirk, and the Gold ranges. These ranges, running parallel, are separated by long valleys in which are the tributaries of the rivers running west. The topmost range of the Rockies, namely, the Summit, rises sheer in towering heights, above the plains 3,000 to 5,000 feet high. The highest point, Mount Columbia, is 14,000 feet, and is the cradle of the Athabaska, which flows to the Mackenzie ; the Saskatchewan, which flows into Hudson’s Bay, the Fraser and the Columbia, which flow into the Pacific. Many of the peaks in this range of the Rockies rise to 12,000 feet or more, and the vast glaciers and snowfields which feed innumerable rivers which flow in all directions. The Selkirks are lower and better wooded than the Rockies, and the Gold and Cascade ranges, lower still, are forested almost to their summits.

In the central plain, beginning in the north within the Arctic circle, we find the Tundra region, bare, pitiless, covered with a network of lakes. Southward this becomes forest, and these in turn, as the climate becomes temperate, give way to the grass-lands.