Tundra, which comes from a Sami word meaning “barren land,” refers to a treeless arctic region characterized by permafrost. Canada’s tundra is known for its freezing temperatures, lack of trees, low-growing vegetation and abundant rock outcrops. The southern boundary of tundra in Canada extends from the Mackenzie River delta to the southern reaches of Hudson Bay and northeast to the Labrador Peninsula. The term “alpine tundra” is often used to describe any area above the treeline in mountainous areas. But “alpine tundra” and “arctic tundra” are not interchangeable. (While the two regions share some similarities, the differences are significant.)
The Arctic Circle is a parallel or line of latitude at approximately 66°33’ N that marks the border of the Arctic, the northernmost region of Earth. The geographic point at the centre of Arctic Circle is the North Pole. In Canada, communities located close to this cartographic boundary include Old Crow in the Yukon, Fort McPherson in the Northwest Territories, and Repulse Bay and Qikiqtarjuaq in Nunavut. The latitude of the Arctic Circle shifts slightly depending on the tilt of the Earth’s rotational axis.
The Rocky Mountain Trench is a long and deep valley extending approximately 1,500 km from the Bitterroot Valley in northwest Montana through British Columbia to the Liard Plain just south of the Yukon Territory. Its predominantly flat floor is 3–20 km wide and ranges in elevation between 600 m and 1,000 m above sea level. With walls made of sedimentary, volcanic and igneous rock, the Trench is sometimes referred to as the “Valley of a Thousand Peaks” because of the towering mountain ranges on either side: the Rocky Mountains to the east and the Columbia, Omineca and Cassiar mountains to the west. Humans have relied on the rich resources provided by this distinctive landscape from pre-colonial times to the present.
The Aroostook War was a confrontation between British and Maine authorities in disputed territory known as Madawaska. During the Napoleonic Wars, Britain was in dire need of wood and the region’s pine forests became an important commodity. Claimed by both Maine and New Brunswick, Madawaska became fertile ground for confrontations between the two. The war peaked in 1838‒39 when the governor of Maine, John Fairfield, sent a group, led by Rufus McIntyre, to stop “provincials” from entering territory that Fairfield believed was Maine’s. McIntyre was captured and accused of invading the colony. The conflict ended in 1842 with the Webster-Ashburton Treaty, which divided the territory along the Saint John River.
A continental divide is a ridge or natural boundary of elevated terrain that separates the drainage basins of a continent. Each drainage basin contributes its water to river systems, which in turn flow into distinct larger bodies of water, such as oceans. The main continental divide in Canada follows the ridge of the Rocky Mountains.
A delta is a deposit of sediment at the mouth of a river that accumulates as the river flows into a standing body of water such as a lake or ocean. Because sediment tends to be rich in nutrients, deltas become fertile wetlands inhabited by diverse wildlife. Among the largest deltas in Canada are those of the Mackenzie and Saskatchewan rivers, as well as the Peace-Athabasca Delta (where the Peace, Athabasca and Birch rivers meet). Certain deltas offer advantageous access to natural resources and maritime transportation, but development projects are often controversial due to the ecological importance of these environments.
In the heart of the Gaspé Peninsula, 196 km east of Rimouski, is Parc national de la Gaspésie (established 1981, 802 km2). First established in 1937 by means of special legislation, the park has in the past bowed to mining and forestry pressures. It is now completely protected through the park's Act.
The Canadian Shield refers to the exposed portion of the continental crust underlying the majority of North America. The crust, also known as the North American Craton, extends from northern Mexico to Greenland and consists of hard rocks at least 1 billion years old. With the exception of the Canadian Shield, the rocks of the North American Craton are buried deep within the continent and covered by soil and other material. At 5 million km2, the Shield makes up roughly 50 per cent of Canada’s land mass. Shaped like a horseshoe — or the shields carried during hand-to-hand combat — the Canadian Shield extends from Labrador in the east to include nearly all of Québec, much of Ontario and Manitoba, the northern portion of Saskatchewan, the northeast corner of Alberta, much of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut and into the Arctic Archipelago. (It also reaches into parts of the United States, in New York, Wisconsin and Minnesota.) While at times a barrier to settlement, the Shield has also yielded great resources, including minerals, coniferous forests and the capacity for hydroelectric developments.2
British Columbia is Canada's most westerly province, and is a mountainous area whose population is mainly clustered in its southwestern corner. BC is Canada’s third-largest province after Québec and Ontario, making up 10 per cent of Canada’s land surface. British Columbia is a land of diversity and contrast within small areas. Coastal landscapes, characterized by high, snow-covered mountains rising above narrow fjords and inlets, contrast with the broad forested upland of the central interior and the plains of the northeast. The intense "Britishness" of earlier times is referred to in the province's name, which originated with Queen Victoria and was officially proclaimed in 1858.1
Lake St. Clair, 1,114 km, elevation 175 m, average depth 3.7 m, is bordered by the province of Ontario to the east and the state of Michigan to the west. Almost circular in shape, it has a length of 42 km and a maximum width of 39 km. It is connected to Lake Huron to the north by the St. Clair River and drains into Lake Erie to the south via the Detroit River. Lake St. Clair is part of the St. Lawrence Seaway, a significant transportation route stretching from Lake Superior through the Great Lakes to the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The cities of Windsor, Ontario, and Detroit, Michigan, are located at the southwest end of the lake, making it a popular site for recreational fishing and boating.
The Fraser River is the longest river in British Columbia, stretching 1,375 km. It begins on the western side of the Rocky Mountains at Mount Robson Provincial Park, and ends in the Strait of Georgia at Vancouver. Named for explorer Simon Fraser, the river was a transportation route and source of food for the Indigenous people of the region long before Fraser travelled its waters. In 1858, gold was discovered on sandbars south of Yale, setting off the Fraser River Gold rush.
The Athabasca River is the longest river in Alberta (1,538 km). The first 168 km (located in Jasper National Park) are designated as a Canadian Heritage River. As a tributary to the Mackenzie River, water flowing on the Athabasca River eventually drains into the Arctic Ocean. River flow is highest during the summer and lowest during winter, and it is ice-covered from mid-November to mid-April.
The political boundaries that are of concern to Canada today are the international boundaries primarily with the US and Greenland and, because they are of more than local importance, the boundaries of the provinces and territories. The evolution of both types involved 2 distinct stages. After political decisions were made on the allocation of territory, such territories were delimited and the boundaries described in state documents. Then, usually some time later, the boundaries were surveyed and marked on the ground (the process of demarcation).1