Thursday, June 07, 2012

Epistle to Dumb Yanks - Part I - Preface

UPDATE: Just as I was about to begin the seventh and last part of this series (Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, Part VII), I found this item from the Prince Albert Herald. (Prince Albert is a Saskatchewan city located on the North Saskatchewan River.) Look what the author says about waterways:
"Across the great Canadian landscape stretching from the Pacific coastlines of British Columbia to the Maritime Provinces of the Atlantic, there lies an intricate, interwoven pattern of streams and rivers.

To those who first settled these lands, those rivers were the lifeblood of a nation, carrying goods, services and pioneers and paving the way for the birth of the Canadian economy via the fur trade.

Centuries after the fact, one Canadian man seeks to retrace the steps of his ancestors on a 5,073-kilometre, six-month journey spanning six Canadian provinces — by means of paddle and foot."
That's our history, folks. Along the waterways, not the American border.
===========Original Post Starts Here==========

As with any population, there are smart Yanks and dumb Yanks. We have smart Canucks and dumb Canucks, so what I'm about to go on and on about should be taken as a respectful attempt to set the dumb Yanks straight about a few things, not to assume airs of superiority. The smart Yanks will either know some of this or will be wise enough to know that keeping one's mouth shut is the best practice when you know you're lacking some facts.

A day or two ago, I was reading comments on some American blog. (I don't remember which one, but I'm pretty sure it was from my bookmarks and is not in my blogroll.) At any rate, once again some dumb Yank remarked about how Canada's population is concentrated within 100 miles of the American border. These Yanks who repeat that meme never come out and say precisely what they think the significance of that is, but it's usually after a string of negative comments about Canada and how superior they are to Canada and Canucks and having repeated it enough times, they are completely confident that for some reason we Canucks are so inferior that we have to snuggle up close to them for our own protection.

Anywho, I'm "mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more".

So, come along for the ride as I take you on a cross Canada tour and explain the history behind Canada's population distribution. For the most part, these dumb Yanks are right about the locale of Canada's population distribution, but, assuming my hunch about their reasoning is correct, they are dead wrong about the reasons for that.

I'm going to go across Canada from the East coast to the West coast explaining how Canada's population came to be concentrated as it is. I'll do that in Parts II, III, IV, V and VI. Hopefully, I'll get it all done today. In the meantime, you can salivate in anticipation, as I'm sure you're going to learn something.

But, if you are one of those dumb Yanks who cling to this myth, you can start by examining this map and ponder the significance of those geographic regions.  In case you're stymied, let me give you some cheat notes, to accompany the map:

Our largest population centers are, for the most part, concentrated along these waterways:
  • the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River (and it's tributaries), 
  • the Red River, and 
  • the flood plain of the Frazer River and also in places that are, and where at the time of settlement, conducive to agriculture. 
  • other lessor known rivers, such as the North and South Saskatchewan

The gray region on the map is the Rocky Mountains. Other than in a few fertile river valleys at the base of those mountains, this region is not suitable for the development of major populations. Try living on a mountain peak for a while and see how long it takes before you start feeling like the angel stuck on the top of a Christmas tree.

The green area is Boreal forest. This area has long been exploited by the logging and mining industries (neither of which have produced major cities) and more recently, for hydro-electric dams. You folks that live in the North Eastern states, may know that much of your power comes from hydro-electric dams in Northern Quebec, roughly (a bit west of) where the number 7 appears on the map.  There are hydro electric power plants scattered all across this region, supplying power to much of southern Canuckistan.

The forest grows on a thin layer of soil, underneath which is solid bedrock, (ie) not conducive to agriculture, but even if it was, the region is too cold and the growing season too short.  The communities that sprang up around logging, pulp and paper mills and mining locales are pretty much single industry towns, with populations of less than 10,000. [There is a community in Northern Manitoba, BTW, which is built on the bedrock. None of the buildings have basements and even the sewage system is above ground. That place is called Flin Flon, if you want to learn more.  (I'll give you bonus points, if you do.) It's a mining town. Not far from there is another single industry Manitoba town that owes its existence to the forestry/pulp and paper sector. That town is The Pas and it started out life as a fur trading fort.]  [Note: the North and South Saskatchewan Rivers converge into one at about the mid-way point between the Saskatchewan-Alberta border and the Saskatchewan-Manitoba border, and continue on as just the Saskatchewan River. The Saskatchewan River passes through The Pas.] Hint: Remember that bit about fur trading forts, too. They figure prominently in both Canada's history and population distribution.

Oh ya, and while we're in the green zone, I mustn't forget to mention the oilsands, which in essence is a strip-mining operation, nearby which exists the booming city of Fort McMurray. Ft. Mac, as we affectionately call it, has a population of well over 65,000.  It's also known as Wood Buffalo, which encompasses the city and surrounding area. The population of Wood Buffalo grew an astounding 27.3 percent between the 2006 and 2011 censuses (censi?) and it's very nearly 590 miles from the American border.

But to return to the map.

The pale peachy coloured region north of the green Boreal Forest region, is frozen most of the year, although that may change with global warming and all. You may have heard of permafrost (another map) and polar ice caps. Neither are too great for sustaining large, dense populations. A goodly part of the green region on the first map is also on and off permafrost. In a nut shell, the characteristics of Canada's geographic regions is, in large part, responsible for her population distribution being so close to the American border.

Oh, and as far as the border goes, read this.  It's about the border. Pay particular attention to the dates at which various parts of the border were established. Compare those dates to the dates on which major population centres in southern Canada were established.   For the most part, the border was drawn after the population pattern was established.

Here ends Part I. Later today, I hope to have at least the Atlantic Provinces and Quebec covered.

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