Thursday, February 17, 2005

A Geography Lesson

Several summers past, we crossed the Canada-USA border between Alberta and Montana (around the letter "h" in the 49th parallel label on the map below). When we stopped at a gas station (in Shelby, I think it was), the young lady at the checkout inquired of our destination.

"We're going to Canada," said I.

She: "So, you're heading north?"

Me: "No, we're going south."

She (with an incredulous look and tone): "You're going south to Canada?"

As a matter of fact we were, over 600 kilometres or 375 miles south. Mind you, we had to drive about 3000km/2000mi east before going south.

from the National Atlas of Canada

So it is that I have decided to use a little blog space to revert to my former trade and offer my non-Canadian readers a brief and selective geographical overview of this country and its location. There is obviously a stereotype that exists: endless winters, barren wastelands, and maybe even dog sleds, igloos, and mounties.

There is quite a bit of truth to some of that stereotype. We are a northerly country that by and large experiences a very real winter. However, the map readily shows that the red dots (each representing 1000 people) become pretty sparse as soon as you get very far away from the southern fringes of the country near the American border. In fact, it is estimated that more than 70% of us live within 150km/95mi if the American border, and approximately 85% dwell within 300km/190mi of the USA. In my own case, I just have to drive a few miles to a short bridge in order to enter the lower forty-eight.

So, in a sense, while some of the stereotypes do hold somewhat true for much of the land mass that is Canada, they are not as accurate as most might think about the regions in which most of the Canadian people reside.

On the map, the latitude lines are arcs. For a quick reference, I have labelled the 49th parallel (the long border with the USA in the west). I have (with a straight black line) also labelled where it is approximately located in eastern Canada. Yes, it curves up quickly in the east in this particular map projection.

The green arrows represent (very approximately — partly because I drew them straight) what places lie on a similar latitude to the extreme southern tip of Canada. The western line runs approximately through Detroit, Chicago, Des Moines, mid-Nebraska, and the Oregon-California border. It then extends through northern Japan, North Korea, northern China, and northern Turkey. The eastern arrow skirts close to Boston, southern France, and mid-Italy (Rome). That's surprising to many people, including many Canadians.

The area that I have circled with a red line is where I and a goodly percentage of Canadians live. This area along with the Atlantic provinces lies below the 49th parallel . In fact, it is said that about 70% of us live below the 49th parallel, perhaps on a similar latitude to southern Minnesota, southern Montana, and southern Washington. That would also locate most of us below some European nations: the UK, The Netherlands, and Poland, and well below the Scandinavian countries. Once again, this is somewhat surprising.

I know that's not the type of material that constitutes a typical blog, but I thought that some people out there in blogland may appreciate the perspective.

Maybe I'll tackle climate on another day.



Karla said...

Interesting Post. As a fellow Canadian, I even learned a thing or two!

Wash Lady said...

You know I'm LMAO, right? Didn't I just lament to you a few days ago that I am severely geographically challenged?
Well done - even *I* could understand that lesson. Next?

Mel said...

Fun to read. :)

Anonymous said...

who gave you a right to educate us here southerners??
betcha don't know nothing about pole beans and blackeyed soup.

Christi said...

I learned quite a bit, too. Now I know that I want to move to the southern part of Canada. I'll start making my plans now.

So, you must've been one of them there social studies kinda teachers or something. Being myself a teacher, you are one of those that I am not comfortable talking shop to. I am a special ed teacher, and I can honestly say that I am TERRIBLE with anything to do with geography, geology, history, politics, economics, or any of that stuff. I do have a friend at work who's a social studies teacher, and her stories intrigue and confuse me. Ahhh, but I like to start to talk about disabilities and teaching strategies, and I can really twist her all up!

Wash Lady said...

Anon - *I'm* a southerner and I don't know anything about blackeyed soup......but I grow the best damn pole beans in this area.

I'm hoping that you were choking on that tongue in your cheek?

-epm said...

Two words: jet stream.

Lattitude be darned, I'd rather spend January in Rome than Toronto... Climatically speaking, of course. :)

Iona said...

>but I thought that some people out there in blogland may appreciate the perspective.

Perspective highly appreciated :)

NL-ExPatriate said...

Thank you for the lesson.

I'm actually from Newfoundland and Labrador. I've been trying to figure out why NL and the East is so misrepresented on maps as being up around the Yukon?

I think I've finally stumbled upon an explanation. At first I thought North wasn't being represented properly North is always at the top middle.

But since I've been looking at maps I've discovered that they don't have north in the middle of the map on the top?
North is more like North West this explaines the positioning of NL up around the yukon and higher than all of BC. When in reality the island portion of NL is over 60% below the 49'th parallel.
I'm presently talking with Rand McNally about their poor cartography in hopes they will correct their mistake.
The news weather maps are a whole different story. one step at a time I guess.
The only reasoning I can think of for the misplacing North at the top center of the map is to include the United states and Alaska?

Anvilcloud said...

Dear NL-Ex

I think the problem is that most maps are conical (with the latiude lines being arcs). This kind of projection keeps the size of the north in balance pretty well, but all projections are flawed because you are depicting a round earth on a flat piece of paper. You have seen the kind of maps that maps the north look disproportionately huge. But you're right in that they could rotate the map a bit to bring the east down somewhat and the west up.