Canada, which occupies almost the entire northern part of the North American continent, is the second largest country in the world, after Russia. Despite its vast expanses, extending over 4 million square miles, Canada has a relatively small population of just under 31 million people. The majority of Canadians are concentrated in the southern part of the country, near the border with the United States. Most of the good agricultural land is found in the more densely populated southern areas, while the rest of Canada is dominated by enormous wilderness regions that are inhospitable for farming, but rich in natural resources. Although a century ago, the majority of Canadians lived in rural areas, today over 80% of the country�s population lives in urban centers of 10 000 or more.
The country is made up of five distinctive regions, including ten different provinces and three territories: British Columbia with its stunning mountains and Pacific coastline, the prairie provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, the central heartland areas of English Ontario and French Qu�bec, the Atlantic provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland, and the Arctic territories of Nunavut, the Northwest Territories, and the Yukon. Culturally and physically, Canada is a very diverse and complex country.
The first inhabitants of Canada arrived via the Bering Strait, at least 20,000 B.C., and reached the eastern areas of the country by about 10,000 B.C. As the ice of the glaciers melted, other waves of migrants entered the regions of the high Arctic about 4,000 years B.C. At the time of the arrival of the Europeans, it has been estimated that the native population of Canada was about 250,000 people. Most of these native groups were semi nomadic Algonquian speaking peoples, with large pockets of Iroqoian speaking peoples located in the East, the highly sophisticated Northwest Coast tribes, with their own complex linguistic patterns, and the Inuit in the Arctic areas.
While the first permanent European occupation started with the French and the founding of Qu�bec City in 1608, Basque fishermen and whalers had plied Canada�s eastern shorelines long before this period. The French created a colony of farmers and fur traders in the St. Lawrence River Valley, which by the time of the English Conquest in 1759, had reached a population of 60,000 people. During the English colonial period, 1759 - 1867, large numbers of immigrants came to Canada from the British Isles and settled in the areas of the Canadian Maritimes and what is now Ontario. Still today, these two eastern regions have strong Scottish, English, and Irish traditions among their populations.
In 1867, Canada became a semi-independent nation and set about the populating of its western regions. In 1885, Canadian Pacific Railway completed the country�s first transcontinental railway, and by 1914, over 2 million settlers had poured into the prairies and the western coastal areas. Almost half of these settlers came via the United States, while many of the others came from the United Kingdom, or Eastern Europe.
World War I and World War II were both major turning points for Canada as a nation. Closely linked with the United Kingdom, Canada made tremendous contributions to the Allied war effort. These sacrifices helped mature the young nation and prepared it for a gradual transition to full sovereignty. Canada obtained control of its foreign policy in 1931, and then brought home its constitution (which had originally been an Act of the British Parliament) in 1982. Today, Canada is a vibrant and sophisticated country, with one of the highest living standards in the world. Its riches include a highly educated population, vast natural resources, and the extraordinary beauty of its wilderness areas. During the last thirty years, Canada has opened its doors to immigrants from around the world, and by 2005, it is calculated that 12% of our population will be made up of visible minorities. The future looks bright for Canada.