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Canadians themselves subdivide their country in different ways. There is Atlantic Canada, Québec, Ontario and Western Canada. Finally, there are the Yukon and Northwest Territories, which occupy a vast northern region extending from east to west above the 60th parallel. To simply say there is an East and a West is to deny that each of these areas has its own history, economy and demographic composition. A bit bigger than the United States, Canada is 13 times the size of France and the United Kingdom. It occupies the whole northern part of North America, with the exception of Alaska, and spans 5.5 time zones. To the north, the Arctic Ocean is the only boundary. Greenland lies to the northeast. To the east and west, the Atlantic Ocean and Pacific Ocean, respectively, put several thousand kilometres between Canada and its neighbours, except for the tiny French islands of St-Pierre and Miquelon. Finally the United States lies across all of Canada's land-based borders. This is actually the world's longest undefended border.
The most striking thing about Canada when looking at a map is that there's water everywhere. Some huge bodies of water stand out, such as Hudson Bay, Great Slave Lake, Bear Lake, Lakes Superior, Erie, Huron and Ontario.
The country is a lot hillier in the western region where three mountain chains running north-south succeed each other. East of these mountains, great plains stretch across Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, as well as in the continental part of the Northwest Territories to the Canadian Shield.
Northern Ontario and Québec are part of the same geological formation, the Canadian Shield. This undulating terrain is the last vestige of what was, during the Precambrian period, an imposing mountain massif. The Québec peninsula becomes more hilly toward the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The coast is a succession of, sometimes very impressive, fjords and cliffs. Southern Ontario borders the Great Lakes. This is the most highly populated region of Canada; it includes Toronto, the biggest city in Canada and the fourth biggest in North America by population.
The St. Lawrence River originates from the Great Lakes, quickly enters into Québec territory, surrounds the island of Montréal, and flows below the walls of Québec City before widening into the gulf. The St. Lawrence is one of the continent's main points of entry and remains the main focus of Québec's history, population and economy. Southern Ontario and the St. Lawrence Valley offer rich soil and a slightly milder climate favouring agriculture. Along the Atlantic coast, originating in the southern United States, the Appalachians shape the landscape of southern Quebec.
To the east, beyond the Appalachians, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia along with Newfoundland and Labrador make up the Atlantic provinces. Fishing, sea traffic, farming and forestry have characterized their economies for a long time. For centuries, the shallow waters of the Grand Banks have been an ideal habitat for bottom feeders, at least until overfishing decimated cod stocks and led to the collapse of the fishery in the early 1990s. Finally, way in the north, large islands form a triangle-shaped archipelago, a paradise for arctic explorers in search of a challenge.
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