Mapping the Physical & Human Characteristics of Canada

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  • 0:05 Characteristics of Canada
  • 0:35 French Canada
  • 2:04 First Nations
  • 3:52 Alberta's Oil Patch
  • 5:05 The Arctic
  • 5:55 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson, we explore just a few of the physical and human characteristics of Canada, from Canada's vibrant French-speaking culture to the oil patch of Alberta. After the video, feel free to test your knowledge of Canada's characteristics with our short quiz.

Physical & Human Characteristics of Canada

Canada is an enormous place. The second largest country in the world, with roughly 35 million Canadians stretched out across its landscape, there are more unique communities, breathtaking landscapes, and interesting geographical features than in many other countries. It'd be impossible to cover each and every one in a single book - let alone in a single video like this one! Instead, this lesson will explore just a few of Canada's most important physical and human characteristics - the things that have helped make Canada the country it is.

French Canada

If you've ever watched a Canadian TV show or been to Ottawa or Montreal, the first thing that probably struck you was Canada's bilingualism. Indeed, although more than four-fifths of the country speaks English, a vocal and important minority of Canadians speak French as their first language. This is due largely to historical accident: French exploration and subsequent colonization of the New World centered on the St. Lawrence River, the large waterway that connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes.

When 'New France,' as this colony was called, was handed over to the British after the French and Indian War ended with the Treaty of Paris in 1763, the British rechristened it the province of Quebec. Despite friction with its new British rulers, the Quebecois maintained their language and many of their French customs. As a result, competing systems grew up in Canada through Canadian confederation in 1867 and onto today. For example, Quebec's legal system was built, and largely still functions on, French common law, while the rest of Canada's was built and based on English common law.

The friction between English and French speakers in Canada continues to shape politics in the country. Quebec, for instance, held referendums in 1980 and 1995 when Quebecers narrowly decided to remain part of Canada and not declare their independence. Though the 21st century has seen considerably less friction - the Bloc Quebecois, for instance, the political party favoring Quebec independence, won only four seats in the 2010 federal elections - Anglophone-Francophone animosity remains an issue just below the surface in Canadian society.

First Nations

Another group that often considers itself disadvantaged in Canada is aboriginal, or First Nations, people. These are people who descended from native tribes who lived in Canada long before the arrival of European colonists.

According to the 2011 Census, aboriginal people make up 4.3% of the Canadian population, though issues with underreporting and misrepresentation likely push this number higher. Aboriginal people live throughout all of Canada, from Iroquois tribes in Ontario and Quebec, to coastal tribes in British Columbia, to the descendants of Inuit in the Canadian Arctic. Aboriginal people make up a comparatively larger portion of the population in Canada's northern provinces; for example, more than 50% of the Northwest Territories considers itself aboriginal.

While some aboriginal people choose to live within normal Canadian society, much of the aboriginal population chooses to live with other descendants of their tribes or bands on reservations. These aboriginals on reservations receive numerous benefits because of their aboriginal status, such as lower taxes, subsidized housing, and aboriginal communities often have greater independence than other Canadian communities. For example, they are often recognized as separate nations existing inside of Canada and not necessarily a part of the country.

Despite these benefits, Canada's aboriginal population has faced historic persecution and hardship at the hands of European colonists and, later, the Canadian government. For example, many aboriginal children as late as the 1950s were forced to leave their families and go to residential schools, where assimilation into white Canadian society was harshly - and at times violently - forced upon the children. Angst against these past and current injustices periodically erupts in protest, such as the 2012-13 Idle No More movement, which saw aboriginal people across the country join in demonstrations aiming to raise awareness about aboriginal issues.

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