Economy and Culture of Canada

A HUMAN PERSPECTIVE The fur trade was a major economic activity in early Canada. It began in the 16th century, when Canada's Native American peoples, now known as the First Nations, started trading with European fishermen along the northern Atlantic coast. A brisk trade soon developed, and trappers and traders poured into Canada. They came first from France and later, from England. As the trade expanded westward, it depended heavily on daring French-Canadian boatmen called voyageurs. They moved animal pelts from the wilderness to trading posts, often paddling 16 hours a day. According to one trader, these hardy souls often endured “privation and hardship, not only without complaining, but even with cheerfullness.”

An Increasingly Diverse Economy

Canada is one of the world's richest countries. It is highly industrialized and urbanized. As you just read, Canada's early economy was based largely on the trade of its many natural resources. Today, the manufacturing and service industries fuel the nation's economic engines.

Canadian Economy


Farming, logging, mining, and fishing are important Canadian industries. Although only about 5 percent of Canada's land is suitable for farming, Canada produces large amounts of food for domestic use and for export. Canada also is a leader in the production of newsprint—paper made from wood pulp.

Mining, too, is a major industry because of Canada's extensive mineral deposits. Uranium, zinc, gold, and silver are just a few of the minerals Canada exports to the world.

Three ocean coastlines—Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic—have given Canadians access to ample fish supplies. Traditionally, Canada has been a major exporter of fish. In recent years, however, overfishing has caused supplies to decline. As a result, some fishers have begun raising salmon and other fish on fish farms.


About 17 percent of Canadians earn their living from manufacturing. Their efforts account for nearly one-fifth of the nation's GDP. Automobiles, steel, household appliances, electronics, and high-tech and mining equipment are just some of the products Canada manufactures.

Most of the manufacturing is done in the Canadian heartland, which reaches from Quebec City, Quebec, to Windsor, Ontario.

Agriculture and Industry of Canada


Canada's service industries are the country's real economic powerhouse. In fact, more than 70 percent of the GDP comes from service industries. Those industries employ more Canadians than all other industries combined. Service industries include finance, utilities, trade, transportation, tourism, communications, insurance, and real estate. Canada's spectacular natural beauty has made tourism one of the fastest growing of the service industries. At the end of the 20th century, the Canadian tourism industry employed the same percentage of workers—about 3 percent—as those who were engaged in agriculture.

Historically, Canada's economy has always relied on trade. The fur trade between Canada's native peoples and European fishermen was just the start of what would become a key Canadian industry. The United States is Canada's chief trading partner. This is largely because the two nations share the longest open border in the world and the same language—English. In 1994, Canada and the United States, along with Mexico, signed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). This pact made trade between them even easier than before. At the turn of the 21st century, about 85 percent of Canada's exports went to the United States, and about 75 percent of Canada's imports came from its neighbor to the south.

A Land of Many Cultures

From its earliest settlement, Canada has been a land of diverse cultures. The first settlers were the Inuit and the First Nations peoples who came after the last Ice Age. Many thousands of years later, the English and French arrived, bringing their languages and traditions with them. Interaction between the French and native peoples gave rise to another culture, the metis, people of mixed French and native heritage.

More recent immigrants from Europe and Asia also have made their contributions to the cultural mix. As in the United States, Canada's cultural richness has come from all corners of the world.


Canada is officially a bilingual country. It has an English-speaking majority and a French-speaking minority. (Only in Quebec are French speakers in the majority.) In addition, the languages of First Nation peoples still survive, and the native languages of immigrants can be heard on many city streets.

As the English and the French settled Canada, their different cultures became a source of conflict. The English were largely Protestant, and the French were Roman Catholics. Religious and cultural conflicts between the two groups have continued over the years, as noted in the graphic at the bottom of this page. Today, these two religions continue to dominate Canadian society. But Muslims, Jews, and other religious groups are represented in ever-increasing numbers.


Settlement patterns in Canada have always been influenced by the country's harsh environment and the accessibility of transportation routes. Canada's port cities—especially Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver—and its rich farmlands make up the country's most densely settled areas. In fact, more than 80 percent of all Canadians live on just 10 percent of the land. This region is mostly along a 100-milewide strip of land just north of the U.S. border.

Canada's population has become increasingly urban. At the beginning of the 20th century, about one-third of the people lived in urban areas. By the end of the century, nearly four-fifths were city dwellers. Some Canadian population groups are clustered in certain areas. For example, about 75 percent of all French Canadians reside in Quebec. Many of Canada's native peoples are found on the country's 2,300 reserves, public land set aside for them by the government. The territories in the remote Arctic north are home to most of the Inuit. Large numbers of Canadians of Asian ancestry live on the West Coast.

Life in Canada Today

Most Canadians live active personal and professional lives and enjoy a relatively high standard of living. In 1998, Canada's labor force was nearly evenly split between men and women. Men made up about 55 percent of the work force and women, about 45 percent. As the chart on page 159 shows, Canada's service industries employ more than 75 percent of the work force. Manufacturing is a distant second, accounting for approximately 15 percent of Canadian workers. Canada's population is well educated. The oldest university, Laval, was established in Quebec during the period of French settlement. The first English-speaking universities were founded in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia in the 1780s. Today, Canada boasts a 97 percent literacy rate.


Canadians value their leisure time and use it to engage in many recreational activities. Sports such as skating, ice hockey, fishing, skiing, golf, and hunting are popular. Canadians also enjoy their professional sports teams. Canada has its own football league and its professional ice hockey, baseball, and basketball teams compete in U.S. leagues.

The Canadian love of sport goes back to its native peoples, who developed the game we know as lacrosse, and to its early European settlers, who developed ice hockey. Two annual events that are favorites nationwide are the Quebec Winter Carnival, held in Quebec City, and the Calgary Stampede, pictured on page 99.


Not surprisingly, Canada's long history and cultural diversity have given the nation a rich artistic heritage. The earliest Canadian literature was born in the oral traditions of the First Nations peoples. Later, the writings of settlers, missionaries, and explorers lent French and English influences to the literature.

The early visual arts included the realistic carvings of the Inuit and the elaborately decorated totem poles of the First Nations peoples of the West Coast. The artistry of the Inuit carvings has been evident since prehistoric times. Inuit carvers used ivory, whalebone, and soapstone to carve figurines of animals and people in scenes from everyday life. A uniquely Canadian style of painting developed among a group of Toronto-based artists called the Group of Seven early in the 20th century. The performing arts—music, dance, and theater—enjoyed spectacular growth during the last half of the century. The Stratford Festival in Ontario, honoring William Shakespeare, is known worldwide.

In this section, you read about life in Canada today. In the next section, you will learn more about Canada's subregions.