Canada: natural heritage at the heart of national identity

Overview

Shaggy polar bears hunting seals amid the ice floes of the Arctic; antlered moose moving silently through the boreal forest fringing the Great Lakes of North America; the lush temperate rainforests along the Pacific coastline of British Columbia.

This rich and spectacular natural heritage is a source of pride and identity for Canada, the host country of World Environment Day 2017. Abundant natural resources also support Canadian economy prosperity – through tourism as well as sustainable use – and the health and well-being of its 36 million inhabitants.

Successive Canadian governments have moved to protect the environment. For instance, since the designation of an area around a hot mineral spring in Alberta in 1885 that later became Banff National Park, authorities have added more than 40 new national parks.

Internationally, Canada has been a leader in efforts to protect biodiversity and combat climate change. It is also a frontrunner in the development of clean energy.

World Environment Day will be an important part of Canada’s 150th birthday celebrations. As part of the festivities, Canada is offering free passes for its national parks throughout 2017.

“In the spirit of this year's theme, ‘Connecting People to Nature,' I encourage all Canadians to explore our country's beautiful natural areas, including our national parks, national wildlife areas, and migratory bird sanctuaries, said Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change.

Key Facts

People: Canada has a population of about 36 million people. While 81 per cent live in cities, Canadians also live in small towns, rural areas and everywhere in between. English and French are the official languages.

Area: Canada is a vast country with 10 provinces and 3 territories that extend from the Atlantic to the Pacific and northward to the Arctic Ocean, covering 9.98 million square kilometres. This makes it the second largest country in the world by total area.

History: Before French and British colonization, the area was inhabited for millennia by Indigenous Peoples. Modern Canada began with the confederation of several British colonies in 1867 and expanded by gradually absorbing the remainder of British North America, creating more provinces and territories right up until 1999.

Government: Canada has a parliamentary system of government and a constitutional monarchy. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was elected in October 2015.

Economy: Canada has strong manufacturing, service, natural resource and agriculture industries that make it one of the world’s wealthiest countries. The United States is Canada’s main trading partner.

Environment: Canada is a land of open spaces, from frozen tundra to vast prairies and forests. It has nine per cent of the world’s freshwater and is studded with more than two million lakes. Many mountain ranges, including 5,959-metre Mount Logan, the tallest, lie in the west. Canada’s Arctic archipelago of 36,563 islands gives it the longest coastline in the world.

Wildlife: Canada’s rich and diverse flora and fauna reflect its many terrestrial and marine eco-zones. Striking species include the grey wolf and the beaver as well as the polar bear and moose, birds like the grey jay and the snowy owl, and both Atlantic and Pacific salmon.

Protected areas and national parks:  As of the end of 2015, 10.6 per cent (1.05 million square kilometres) of Canada’s terrestrial area (land and freshwater), and 0.9 per cent (51,000 square kilometres) of its marine territory have been recognized as protected. There are 46 national parks. Canada’s first national park and the world’s third, Banff National Park, was established in 1885, spanning 6,641 square kilometres of valleys, mountain, glaciers, forests, meadows and rivers.