Canada is the world’s second largest country, sprawling across a huge swath of North America. With political and economic clout to match its size, it is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, la Francophonie, the G8, and the OECD.
Canada was actually the first site of European colonization in the Americas, when Viking explorers briefly settled Newfoundland around 1000 CE; however, they were preceded by the ancestors of today’s First Nations peoples, or indigenous Canadians, by about 25,000 years. French explorers founded the first permanent settlements in eastern Canada during the 16th century, and built an economy centered on the fur trade. Although the French later lost their Canadian possessions to Britain, several areas of the country, especially the province of Quebec, have maintained their French cultural and linguistic heritage. Canada remained a British territory during the American Revolution, and as such saw a massive influx of British loyalists from the thirteen colonies. Throughout the 1800s the country gradually expanded its borders westward, while taking steps toward a greater degree of self-rule. The 20th century saw Canada taking an increasingly independent role in international politics, while maintaining close relationships with its European and North American allies, as it moved toward complete sovereignty. This was finalized by the Canada Act of 1982, which established Canada as a fully independent Commonwealth monarchy.
A technologically advanced, developed nation, Canada is endowed with a wealth of natural resources. Its economy is dominated by the service sector, while agriculture remains important in the interior prairies, and the forestry and oil industries retain greater significance than in most other developed countries. Its population density is low, and centered in the south of the country; this has allowed Canada to become famous for its immense tracts of unspoiled wilderness, which draw millions of outdoorsmen annually. Visitors should not, however, neglect the attraction of the Canadian urban environment; large, cosmopolitan metropolises like Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal offer an array of amusements varied enough to satisfy any traveler.
Canada has a low unemployment rate, but because of its low population density relative to size, consistently suffers from labor shortages, especially in oil-rich Alberta and British Columbia. The government has encouraged immigration throughout its history to deal with these problems; in fact, Canada today claims the world’s highest per capita immigration rate. Expatriate workers in Canada can expect to benefit from a large, varied job market, high standard of living, and wages comparable to–sometimes exceeding–those in the US. Like many Commonwealth countries, the British Isles have historically been the source of most Canadian immigrants, although the trend has gradually shifted in favor of China and Southeast Asia. This has resulted in a truly multicultural society, especially visible in cities like Vancouver and Toronto, both home to large immigrant communities where most foreigners will be able to find a taste of home.
English and French are co-official in Canada, but the prevalence of their usage varies by region. The Canadian varieties of these languages are sometimes challenging for speakers from other parts of the world, especially in Newfoundland and Quebec. Several indigenous languages are regionally recognized, of which the most widely spoken is Inuktikut.