America's neighbor to the north: 25 facts about Canadian history and culture
O, Canada! Yes, the United States is by far the most populous country in North America, but its northern neighbor Canada (with which they share the world’s largest non-military border) is physically much larger. Canada has it all, boasting gorgeous forests and mountains in British Columbia and beautifully booming cities like Québec City and Vancouver; in fact, Canada’s vast geographic territory inspired the country’s official motto of “From Sea to Sea.”
That said, there is so much more to Canada than its sprawling Atlantic-to-Pacific landscape; the country has a rich history and culture than many people don’t know about. While the country is not as old as you’d think (it’s turning 153 years old on July 1, 2020), indigenous people were said to have ventured there 12,000 years ago. Since Canada was settled, many historically significant happenings—from the Canadian fur trade to the building of its cross-country railroad—have shaped the unique nation into what it is today: one that is economically thriving and culturally unique.
Sure, Canada today is recognized for its maple syrup, hockey games, excessively polite citizens, and extremely cold temperatures. But Canada also offers cultural festivals attended by millions annually, massive national parks, and numerous World Heritage sites. Additionally, tons of notable people with various talents hail from Canada—from famous rock ’n’ roll stars like Neil Young, to renowned authors like Margaret Atwood, and even the inventor of insulin. Santa Claus and Sasquatch also call Canada home (though most residents haven’t had run-ins with either of them).
In the spirit of paying homage to the U.S. neighbor to the north, Stacker has rounded up a list of 25 interesting facts about Canada. We’ve gathered our information from various reputable sources and publications. Let’s take a look, eh?
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How Canada got its name
The name Canada came about from a happy misunderstanding dating back to 1535. Two indigenous people encountered the French explorer Jacques Cartier, helping to route him to “kanata”—they were actually trying to lead him to a small village called Stadacona (modern-day Québec City). Today, it’s believed that the naming of the nation Canada is probably derived from this Huron-Iroquois word meaning “village” or “settlement.”
Canadian fur trade
From the early 17th century until the mid-19th century, animal fur trading was a huge commercial enterprise across the land that is now Canada (it mainly involved trapping beavers for their fur and creating the felt hats coveted by Europeans). This competitive trade played a major role in Canada’s development—it opened the continent to settlement, established relationships between Europeans and indigenous people, and helped pay for missionary work.
A country united by a railway
The coast-to-coast Canadian Pacific Railway, incorporated in 1881, eased travel throughout the country for tourism, immigration, war preparation, and natural resource exploration. For decades after it was established, the Canadian Pacific Railway represented the chief mode of intercontinental transport in Canada.
The U.S. has invaded Canada multiple times
The United States during the American Revolution (1775) tried its hand at taking over Canada, creating a tension that eventually led to more fighting during the War of 1812. Even then, Canada became subject to U.S. invasion on a few other occasions—three times in the 19th century and again in 1990.
The Calgary Stampede
The Calgary Stampede is dubbed “The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth” and is one of Canada’s most well-known events. Hosted annually in Calgary, Alberta, this 10-day festival started in 1912 and now attracts over 1 million visitors per year, putting on rodeos, concerts, a parade, theater performances, carnival games and rides, agricultural competitions, chuckwagon racing, and First Nations Inuit exhibitions.
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Celebration of Light
Another popular event in Canada is the Celebration of Light, a massive musical fireworks competition hosted in Vancouver. During this multiday event that attracts over 1.4 million visitors a year, different countries compete for the best fireworks display while musical performances add to the excitement.
National parks bigger than countries
Canada is revered for its gorgeous landscapes and natural beauty. The country is home to Wood Buffalo National Park, which at 17,300 square miles, is Canada’s largest national park and bigger than several entire countries, including Denmark, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. The park was created to serve as a home for bison.
Chilly temperatures that rival Mars
It’s no secret that America’s northern neighbor experiences some very cold temps and harsh winters. In Ottawa, the average daily low temperature in January is just 6 degrees Fahrenheit, which actually seems warm in comparison to the lowest temperature ever recorded in Canadian history; on Feb. 3, 1957, in Snag, Yukon, temperatures dropped to an utterly frigid -81.4 degrees Fahrenheit—which is about the same temperature as the surface of Mars.
World’s largest non-military border
Canada and the United States share the world’s longest non-military border; it stretches for 5,525 miles, with the border between Alaska and Canada being 1,538 miles by itself. All but 10% of Canada’s population resides within 100 miles of its border with the United States. Uniquely, the border between Stanstead, Quebec, and Derby Line, Vermont, is home to a local library built across the two countries and serves both cities.
Canada’s literacy rate is more than 99%
Canada’s impressive literacy rate puts it in the top percentile globally for literacy. The country is also home to a number of literary icons, including Lucy Maud Montgomery (“Anne of Green Gables”), Douglas Coupland (“Generation X”), Margaret Atwood (“The Handmaid's Tale”), and Alice Munro (“Lives of Girls and Women”).
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