Back To CourseGeography: Middle School
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Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.
Canada is one of the largest countries in the world by land area, second only to Russia. But given that it is so far north - indeed, nearly the entire country is north of the United States - many Americans assume Canada is always cold and snowy. While that's true in a few parts of Canada, in reality, the country possesses several varied and diverse climates and ecosystems. Today, we're going to explore the unique climates Canadians face each year and the characteristics of each region.
The first climate we'll look at also happens to be the one that most Canadians live in: the Southeastern Lowlands. This region extends from Southern Ontario through Eastern Ontario and into Western and Southern Quebec. It includes Canada's largest city, Toronto, and other major urban centers like Montréal and the Canadian capital, Ottawa. This area has weather patterns very similar to its American neighbors in the Great Lakes region of the United States and Southern New England. After all, weather doesn't stop at international borders!
Summers in this part of Canada can bring humidity and warm temperatures, averaging 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Severe storms and tornadoes are possible, though far less likely than in the United States. Winters can be much colder, with winter temperatures averaging between 10 and 20 degrees Fahrenheit, along with ice and snow. Precipitation levels in this area are stable year round, and the region is conducive to agriculture common to the U.S.'s Midwestern states, like corn and soybeans.
To the east of this region are Canada's Maritime Provinces: New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland. These provinces exist in the Atlantic climate zone. This zone is slightly cooler in the summer than the Southeastern Lowlands, with mean average temperatures between 60 and 65 degrees.
Winter temperatures are milder as well, averaging between 25 and 30 degrees Fahrenheit. Atlantic Canada, however, gets far more precipitation and wind. Gale force winds and huge snowstorms often steam up the East coast of the United States and through Atlantic Canada, dumping feet of snow on the region. Newfoundland, being farther north and east than the two continental provinces experiences colder and shorter summers but similar winters.
With the East coast of Canada covered, let's head west. The West coast climate zone of Canada covers a narrow strip of British Columbia less than 100 miles inland from the Pacific coast. Its climate is radically altered by the warm currents of the Pacific Ocean, much like the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. These currents keep the summers and winters milder than their inland neighbors. Temperatures rarely get higher than 70 degrees in the summer or lower than 40 degrees in the winter. The Pacific Ocean also causes this region to be the rainiest in Canada, dumping more than 75 inches of rainfall on the coast each year, leading to dense forest growth.
To the west of the Pacific Coast are the Rocky Mountains, which dominate the interior of British Columbia and the Yukon Territory. This climate zone, called the Cordillera, is the most complex in Canada. Temperatures fluctuate wildly depending on elevation, and the valleys of Southern British Columbia can record scorching summer temperatures of nearly 100 degrees Fahrenheit while it's snowing atop mountains just a few miles away. The Northern Cordillera in the Yukon Territory records far colder temperatures, but the fluctuations can be just as great - from averages around 55 degrees in the summer that plunge to below 0 in the winter. As the Rocky Mountains dominate this region and hold up rain clouds, precipitation across the region is not uniform, with Western areas receiving more rain than those to the east.
The result of the mountains holding up rain is the next climate zone to the east: the prairies. The Canadians prairies are very similar to those in the United States: wide sweeping grasslands that often get less rainfall than elsewhere. Unlike in the U.S., these prairies don't extend the entire length of the country - the Canadian North is far too cold for that. Instead, the Canadian prairies exist along the Southern half of the central Canadian provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. These prairies see warm summers, with temperatures averaging over 70 degrees, and bitterly cold winters, with average temperatures sometimes reaching below 0.
The final two climate zones we have yet to discuss are Canada's largest but the ones which affect the least Canadians: the Northern Boreal forests and the Arctic. The Boreal forests stretch across the country from Northern and Eastern Quebec all the way to the Rocky Mountains in Northern Alberta and the Northwest Territories. In this region, winters are cold and long, and summers are generally short. Precipitation, however, is moderate and conducive to the growth of expansive forests. Indeed, the Boreal forests that cover this region are its most defining characteristic. With less people living across this enormous landscape than live in the city of Toronto, the Boreal forest is one of nature's last great preserves. For example, over half of Canada's bird species call the Boreal forests their home!
Keep moving north, however, and you end up in a truly inhospitable landscape. The Canadian arctic zone covers Nunavut and the extreme North of the Northwest Territories and Quebec. Summer here is virtually nonexistent, with daytime temperatures only reaching above freezing two or three months out of the year, and even then they rarely stay above freezing overnight. Much of the climate exists above the Arctic Circle, and for approximately a month during the winter, the sun never rises above the horizon. Temperatures in the winter here are the coldest in North America, with average winter temperatures usually hovering between -20 and -10 degrees Fahrenheit.
See, I told you Canada was not just all cold and snow! Okay, so cold and snow definitely play their part (especially in the arctic), but Canada's diverse climate zones, shaped by the enormous landscape the country covers, see many different temperatures and precipitation patterns. In Atlantic Canada and southeastern Canada, for example, summers are warm while winters are cold and snowy. In contrast, the West Coast of Canada is never very warm or very cold and gets more rain than the rest of the country! Perhaps Canada's most defining climatic feature, however, are its Boreal forests, which cover an enormous part of the country and remain one of the last largely untouched areas of North America.
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Back To CourseGeography: Middle School
55 chapters | 528 lessons