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Factors Governing Population Distribution in Canada Term Paper

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Population growth is an essential indicator of societal transformation. As population grows, people move to a different location in search of resources to satisfy their needs. These movements lead to uneven distribution of people with areas having most of the resources attracting the large population. Some of the factors that tend to attract people to disparate areas thus causing this uneven distribution include physical constraints and opportunities such as topography, location, size, and climate, political and socio-economic factors. The population of Canada is not alien to these factors; for instance, approximately 34.7 million people are unevenly distributed in the three territories and ten provinces. This paper discusses Canada’s size, location, topography as well as climate, and how these factors have governed the distribution of population.

Background of Canada’s Population

The area covered by Canada is the largest country in the world after Russia and has the largest coastline. Despite the large area, it has a small population that is growing gradually. In comparison, its population forms only 11 per cent of United States’ population. A large part of Canada’s land is composed of swamps, lakes, and the Hudson Bay. Radiations from Hudson Bay cover fifty per cent of the land surface, thus making Canada unsuitable for cultivation because the land is infertile. The Canadian Shield covers the area from Arctic Ocean to Great Lakes, hence separating the eastern part of the country from the western part. The Shield and the Rocky Mountains in the North have discouraged settlement in the area because of the subarctic climate (Thraves 24).

Statistics indicate that Canada is witnessing rapid population growth. The population has increased from 11 million in the early 1940s to over 30 million as indicated by recent statistics. The population increase has been steady in the past five decades and between 2006 and 2011, the population grew by 5.9 per cent. The rapid growth hinges on immigration. Canada receives the highest number of immigrants as compared to any other country in the G8. Population increase due to increased birth rate and reduced mortality rate is only responsible for 10 per cent of the entire population growth annually (Statistics Canada Para.1). The vast land available in Canada as well as its enormous resources implies that the probability of the population increasing is high. There has been speculation that such a population accompanied with the unsurpassed exposure to natural resources could make Canada the next superpower (Roberts et al. 80).

The latest census also reveals that close to half of Canadians reside in two provinces, viz. Ontario and Quebec. The total number of people residing in Northwest, Yukon, and Nunavut is surprisingly lower than that of the tiniest province- Prince Edward Island. Canada’s population is also concentrated in the urban areas with very few people opting to live in the rural areas. Toronto is the largest town in the country in terms of population with about 2.6 million residents whilst the metropolitan section has 5 million constituents. The second in line is Montreal Quebec with a population of about 1.6 million, in the third position is Calgary that has a total population of 1 million and the rate of its growth is increasing rapidly. The population of Calgary is anticipated to reach that of Montreal within a few years if the speedy growth persists (Statistics Canada Para.1).

The rapidly growing population is unevenly distributed in the country with a majority of the citizens residing in the Southern part close to the peripheries of United States. This dense population along the Southern belt has mainly been due to the hospitable climate in the South. The summers are warm whilst the winter is friendly making a suitable climate for cultivation. Secondly, the area is close to the U.S., which is a key trading partner to Canada; hence, it is sensible for the constituents move closer to the area (Thraves 102). This information about Canada reveals that, a number of factors, especially its geography, have been influencing the population growth and distribution.

The Canadian population distribution
The Canadian population distribution

Topography of Canada

A large area of Canada is largely composed of the Canadian Shield. The Shield, also referred to as the Precambrian Shield or Laurentian Plateau, forms close to fifty percent of the country and is recorded as the biggest geological continental shield in the globe. Some parts of this geological shield stretch to the northern United States. This area was the first fraction of North America that rose above the sea level. The successive rise and drops, folding, attrition, as well as continental ice sheets formed the existing topography of the land mass. The persistent incursion and removal of ice sheets that took place between 1.6 million and 10,000 years ago created pressure on the surface of the land, hence forming the Hudson Bay whilst abrading several lake basins and the soil that had been eroded because of the depression was replaced by glacial debris (Schwartzenberger 31).

The crustal plate maximum height above sea level is approximately 610 meters. However, along the northern part of the Labrador as well as Baffin, the height is almost 1500 meters. The geological shield also has several mountain ranges, which include Laurentian, Adirondack, and the Superior Highlands located in northern Minnesota. The numerous rocks and volcanic features make it a suitable area for mining metallic minerals such as zinc, gold, and uranium. The shield stretches through a landmass that amounts to 8,000,000 km2 (Twomey 65).

The Geology of the Canadian Shield

Water bodies are mainly concentrated in this crustal plate and the principal reason for this concentration is due to the watersheds in the area. The watersheds are young and as they assemble, the post-glacial rebound promotes the formation of rivers and lakes. In the ancient times, the Canadian Shield had mountains located in most parts that it covered. Nonetheless, after several persistent volcanic actions, the land was eroded to form the present topographic nature that has very low relief. Most of the volcanic belts in the region have witnessed a lot of corrosion over the past centuries, and they are now reduced to almost flat plains. The Sturgeon Lake Caldera lies in Ontario, and is among the best-conserved mineralized lakes in the globe (Shuter and Rodgers 159-181). The lake has existed for the past 2.7 billion years. Notably, the largest dike swarm in the world is located within the crustal plate- Mackenzie dike swarm. The mountains in this region have deep roots, but due to of erosion, they become extinct and rocks that were once far in inner parts of the earth are now exposed to the surface (Thraves 102). Despite the massive erosion, some mountains still exist in the northern part of Canada, commonly referred to as Arctic Cordlillera. The landmass of this region is largely divided and it contains a range of mountains with the uppermost height at Nunavut’s Barbeau Peak. In contrast, this geological shield has a strong link with the antique continent known as Arctica (Lew et al. 275).

The Canadian Shield
The Canadian Shield

The Ecology of the Canadian Shield

The rigorous glaciations that transpired during the ice age enveloped the Canadian Shield and eroded the entire rock leaving behind an emaciated layer of soil in the bedrock and some only having some bare projections. The soil found in the lowlands of the crustal plate is not suitable for cultivation or forestation for the soil highly dense; therefore, the population is this area is very scarce. The composition of soil in the remaining region of the Shield does not retain water and it is frequently frozen. The vegetation is not as concentrated as in the north. The southern region of the geological shield has an immense stretch of boreal forests that play a significant role in the preservation of the natural environment and the timber industry. However, the impact of glaciation has affected the region significantly, as hydrographical drainage is meager.

Mining and Economics

The constituents of Canada enjoy the vast land, which is rich in a variety of minerals. Some of the minerals include zinc, nickel, diamond, as well as silver. These minerals stretch unevenly across the Shield and most of towns within this crustal plate practice mining as a part of their economic activities. One of those towns that practice mining in large scale is Sudbury. The town is disparate from other towns in geological shield because it has a crater that was caused by the antique crater; that is, Sudbury Basin. This element makes it rich in metals. Diamonds exist in some parts of Northern Territories of the crustal plate. This type of topography has discouraged settlement in this region (Twomey 48). The population along the Canadian Shield is scarce as most of the land is only suitable for mining and not cultivation. The land is rocky and has poor climate thus making it inhospitable for human settlement. A majority of individuals in this area have opted to move to the southern part of Canada where they can easily trade with the U.S.


Climate has a huge impact in determining population distribution in Canada. The country’s climate is distinct from one region to another. The southern region of Canada is frequently the meeting zone for the cold air, which originates from the arctic area, and the humid air from the south. When the two meet, the air is directed to east and west. Canada’s location in the continent, as well as surrounding water bodies, plays a major role in determining the country’s climate, which explains why areas with similar latitude have disparate climate, for instance Victoria and Winnipeg (Lew et al. 275). Describing the climatic regions of an area is always difficult mainly because climate gradually changes as time progresses. However, climatologists have managed to divide the climatic regions of Canada into five major regions. The large northern region, which is poorly populated, has several climatic regions, but the main regions identified by climatologists are Arctic and Subarctic (Banting 34).

The East Coast climatic region lies within the southern region and is symbolized by Halifax. The region receives steady rainfall throughout the year except in July when the precipitation goes below the amount required by the citizens. The soil in this region can retain up to 100mm of moisture (Thraves 36). For instance, in Halifax, adequate moisture is preserved before a high demand for water rises and by the time that happens, the precipitation is often back to normal. When the land retains enough water during the time that there is adequate precipitation, run off occurs. The water lost through run off always amounts to 773mm. The climate is ideal for human settlement since it supports economic activities such as cultivation. This ideal climate, in unity with other factors, has attracted massive population in the region thus making it densely populated.

The Great Lakes climatic is the second climatic region found within the southern part of Canada along Southern Ontario and represented by Windsor. This area receives regular rainfall although the amount is lower than that of Halifax. During the summer, the region loses more water through evapotranspiration as compared to the East Coast region (Banting 24). This aspect reveals how the inner parts of the country are exposed to high temperatures during the summer. In May, the temperatures increase and surpass the amount of moisture preserved by the land, but the region starts to regain the loss in two months. In August, the land begins to receive ample rainfall and soil moisture goes back to normal. However, during the summer, the vegetation depends on the soil moisture, which is insufficient and not good for growth of plants. In Windsor, people suffer from water shortage that amounts to 86 mm yearly. This climate has discouraged settlement in the area, though the impact has not been severe. The population distribution is dense, but not as concentrated as Halifax is (Banting 37).

The Prairie climate region if typified by Edmonton. The area rarely receives enough precipitation. In this region, the temperature, which records a potential evapotranspiration of 555m, exceed the amount of rainfall that is recorded at a disappointing figure of 120 mm especially during the summer. This low-level amount of precipitation makes the soil to have a shortage of moisture mainly because when the rainfall resumes in the winter, it cannot regain the amount of moisture that was lost during the preceding months. Consequently, the climate has discouraged many from settling in the region and those who inhabit this region do so because of other factors (Twomey 46).

The dominant climatic regions in the North are the Subarctic and Arctic and are at times referred to as boreal climate, which is symbolized by Inuvik and Alert. The climate is exemplified by prolonged and cold winters, whilst the summers are brief and placid. Precipitation is rare thus causing water deficiency of about 100 mm. The vegetation in this region is of scarce variety as only hardy species survive in the area. Most of the land in this region is covered with boreal forests and the remaining land is not opportune for farming because of the barren soil and the numerous swamps instigated by ice sheets. The climate is inhospitable for human survival and this factor coupled with other reasons has discouraged people from occupying the region. There are no huge cities in the area and the few people who have decided to inhabit the zone are concentrated in minute communities (Schwartzenberger 24).

The West Coast zone has the most moderate climate in the country. It receives warm airflows from the Pacific Ocean, which is suitable for the growth of vegetation. It has maximum winters whilst the summers are minimum typified by Victoria. The area hardly receives snows especially in the lowlands, and the highlands areas such as Rocky Mountains prevent the air Prairies from reaching the region (Lew et al. 276). The prevented air then cools down around the western slopes causing massive rainfalls accompanied by frequent snows. The valleys that lie between the highlands become hot during the summer with minimal rainfall. In contrast, the West Coast has high populace because of its hospitality and suitability for farming. Settlement along this area is dense and given that many people can comfortably conduct farming, big cities have developed as industrialization progresses (Twomey 63).

Location and Size

Occupying a total area of 8.9 million km2, Canada has a population of 34, 755, 634 people. This population is contrary to the anticipation of many people, who would expect that it would be among the most populated countries in the world due to its large area. Canada falls into ten provinces and three territories with most of the Canadian land lying on the side of the three territories. However, despite the large area covered by the three territories- Nunavut, Yukon and Northwest Territories (NT), very few individuals occupy the region. The main reasons for this sparse populace include poor climate coupled with rough topography, which does not favor human survival.

Nunavut, a territory that was separated from the NT in 1999, covers the largest area in Canada, but it is the least populated area. It is home to less than 32,000 Canadians. It is among the most scarcely populated places in the globe mainly because of its low temperatures. However, the population in the region is expected to increase in the coming years principally because there is a high birth rate whilst the mortality rate is declining. The census conducted in 2011 disclosed that the populace had risen by 1.1 per cent (Statistics Canada Pata.1). Coincidentally, the next in line after Nunavut in growth rate is Yukon, another region that is sparsely inhabited. However, the territory has been suffering from massive migration as native Inuit move to other regions in search of greener pastures. The residents of this area rely on renewable energy such as diesel for survival (Roberts et al. 79).

Looking closely at this territory reveals that the low population is not only due to low temperatures coupled with poor topography that is unsuitable for agriculture, but also absence of economic opportunities. Furthermore, climate change is currently playing a critical role in promoting the scarcity of the populace in the area. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has reported that global warming is highest in the territory and the rate is still escalating. These reports are creating fears among the residents and probably these fears may result to massive emigration from the region in the near future (Marchildon and Chatwood 41-52).

Most Canadians reside in the ten provinces of Canada, especially close to the U.S. border. The most populated provinces include Ontario and Quebec, and “the two provinces are carry over half of the total population of Canada” (Shuter and Rodgers 159-181). Apart from climate, the main reasons for this high concentration include security, high-tech industrialization, modern technology, and good infrastructure. The economies of these provinces are strong and host the biggest towns in the country, viz. Toronto and Montreal. The massive development in these provinces attracts enormous number of immigrants and natives from NT who come in pursuit of employment opportunities as well as investment (Boswell 46).

However, the census conducted in 2011 showed that Alberta and Saskatchewan are having rapid population growth rates. Experts have suggested that the economy is presently moving to two provinces as industrialization is dropping in Ontario and Quebec. Even though the population of Ontario has risen to over 12.9 million, the economic downturn in 2008 is affecting the population growth (Baskerville 172). Two cities in Ontario- Windsor and Thunder witnessed a population decline mainly because of the difficulties they are currently having in the economy, which is an infrequent occurrence especially for an urbanized country like Canada.

Quebec, despite the challenges and minimal decline in growth, the province is now home to over 7.9 million people and might soon hit the 8 million mark. This growth majorly hinges on the high birth and immigration rate. However, its main challenge is the fact that native citizens of the province are moving to other areas in search of employment opportunities. Even though the province is losing potential members of the labor market, this aspect is beneficial for it is reducing the dense population in Quebec, which has surpassed the national average of 3.7 persons per km2 (Boswell 46).

The oil industry is still having a huge impact in influencing how people migrate to the Western Canada, which is evident in the way cities like Labrador and Newfoundland are rapidly experiencing population growth. Population growth in the rural areas has been decreasing steadily over the past years majorly due to the rapid growth of cities in the country (Wells, McMahon, and Ballingall 16). Currently, more than a third of the population is concentrated in the main towns of Canada, viz. Toronto, Montreal, as well as Vancouver. This intense concentration of people in towns is mainly due to the massive number of immigrants, who come to seek various opportunities such as education and jobs.


Even though Canada is unusually large in terms of land coverage, its population does not correspond with the area that it covers. Most parts of the country are still empty with many individuals only residing in the southern parts that border the U.S. This dense population is principally due to trade with the U.S., which is their main trading partner. The geological features of Canada have played a major role in discouraging settlement in several parts of the country, especially the Northern Territories. However, the geological features have also created a land rich in natural resources such as minerals, which is an indication of how wealthy the country would be if the population were evenly distributed to exploit the resources. Fortunately, the country’s population has not relied entirely on the geological features, as socio-economic and political factors are also playing a major role in the population distribution. Industrialization and application of modern technology has lured people to the urban areas. The massive number of foreigners migrating into the country, the high birth, and low mortality rate signify a brilliant future both politically and socio-economically for Canada.

Works Cited

Banting, Erinn. The Great Lakes, Canada: Weigl Educational Publishers, 2006. Print.

Baskerville, Jon. “Canada census 2011: Not scientifically valid.” Significance 7.4 (2010): 170-172. Print.

Boswell, Randy. “Canada Census 2011: Canada leads G8 in growth, population hits 33.5 million.” National Post 8 Feb. 2012: 46. Print.

Lew, Alan, Colin Hall, and Timothy Dalen. World Geography of Travel and Tourism: A Regional Approach, Massachusetts: Butterworth- Heinemann, 2008. Print.

Marchildon, Gregory, and Susan Chatwood. “Northern Canada.” Circumpolar Health Supplements 9.1 (2012): 41-52. Print.

Roberts, Lance, Rodney Clifton, Barry Ferguson, Karen Kampen, and Simon Langlois. Recent Social Trends in Canada, 1960-2000, Canada: McGill-Queens, 2005. Print.

Schwartzenberger, Tina. The Canadian Shield, Canada: Weigl Educational Publisher, 2005. Print.

Shuter, Jennifer, and Arthur Rodgers. “Delineating demographic units of woodland Caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) in Ontario: cautions and insights.” Rangifer 32.2 (2012): 159-181. Print.

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Thraves, Bernard. Saskatchewan: Geographic Perspectives, Canada: CPRC Press, 2007. Print.

Twomey, Patrick. Working and Living in Canada, London: New Holland Publishers, 2008. Print.

Wells, Paul, Tamsin McMahon, and Alex Ballingall. “Oil Power.” Maclean’s 125.12 (2012): 15-20. Print.

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