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Until the early 20th century, Canada was primarily an agricultural nation. Since then it has become one of the most highly industrialized countries in the world. To a large extent the manufacturing industries are supplied with raw materials produced by the agricultural, mining, forestry, and fishing sectors of the Canadian economy.

Between 1973 and 1993 Canada's output of goods and services, or gross domestic product (GDP), increased in real terms by about three-quarters to C(Canadian)$704.8 billion (U.S.$546.3 billion). Federal government annual expenditures for the same year were C$167.5 billion, which exceeded the year's revenues, leaving a deficit of C$40.5 billion.


The Canadian economy depends heavily on agriculture, which employs about 4 percent of the labor force. In the early 1990s Canada had some 280,000 farms, which averaged 242 hectares (598 acres) in size. The annual value of farm output amounted to C$24.2 billion in 1993. Because of its abundant production and relatively small population, Canada is a leading exporter of food products. Farms in Canada are about equally divided between crop raising and livestock production. Wheat is the most important single crop, and the Prairie provinces of Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan form one of the greatest wheat-growing areas of the world, with an average annual production of more than one-fifth of the world's supply. One-half of Canada's wheat is grown in Saskatchewan. The prairie provinces also grow a large percentage of the coarse grains and oilseeds produced in Canada. After wheat, the major cash receipts from field crops are obtained from sales of canola, vegetables, barley, maize, potatoes, fruits, tobacco, and soybeans. Annual output totals in the early 1990s included (in metric tons) wheat, 29.9 million; barley, 10.9 million; maize, 5.6 million; canola, 3.7 million; potatoes, 2.9 million; and oats, 3.0 million.

Livestock and livestock products account for about 50 percent of yearly farm cash receipts. Ranching prevails in the west, and the raising of livestock is a general enterprise, except in parts of Alberta and Saskatchewan, where beef cattle form a specialized industry. Ontario and Qubec rank highest in production of dairy products, with about 71 percent of the national output; in poultry farming, with 64 percent; and in egg production, with 54 percent. Qubec produces 82 percent of the maple products, and Ontario produces 89 percent of the nation's tobacco crop.

In early 1990s the livestock population of Canada included about 14.7 million cattle and calves, of which approximately 1.2 million were milk cows; 10.7 million hogs; and 949,000 sheep and lambs. Fruit farming is done in Ontario, British Columbia, and Qubec, with apples contributing about 40 percent of the total value. Berries, peaches, grapes, and cherries are other important crops. Tomatoes, onions, carrots, turnips, peas, and beans are major vegetable crops; Ontario produces about one-half of the total vegetable crop, followed by Qubec and British Columbia.

Forestry and Fishing

Forestry is a major source of Canada's wealth, and forest products annually account for nearly 14 percent of Canadian exports. Forests cover some 4.2 million sq km (some 1.6 million sq mi) of the country, and the provincial and federal governments own about 90 percent of this land. Canada has more than 150 varieties of native trees; about 80 percent of them are softwoods, such as spruce, Douglas fir, hemlock, cedar, pine, and balsam. Canada's annual timber harvest in the early 1990s was about 186 million cu m (about 6.6 billion cu ft). Forestry sustains a complex and diversified export and domestic industry, employing more than 250,000 people. Canada leads the world in newsprint production, with about 28 percent, and accounts for more than one-half of world exports; most of the Canadian export is sent to the United States. The sawmill and planing-mill industry is centered in British Columbia. Qubec and Ontario lead the nation in pulp and paper production.

The fishing resources of the country are harvested from the northwestern Atlantic and northeastern Pacific oceans and from the most extensive bodies of fresh water in the world. In the early 1990s the number of people employed in fishing or fish-processing operations was approximately 114,600. Canada is a leading exporter of fish products, with annual exports in the early 1990s valued at about C$2.6 billion, or about three-quarters of the country's annual production. The United States receives more than one-half of exports, followed by Japan and the nations of the European Union. The catch, which totaled about 1.2 million metric tons annually in the early 1990s, includes herring, redfish, scallops, salmon, flatfish, lobsters, and crab. Northern cod, formerly a large part of the catch, has been under a fishing ban imposed by federal government order in 1992, owing to the near-extinction of the fish. The government has provided emergency assistance payments and job retraining to people thrown out of work by this action in the Maritimes, where the economic impact has been heavy.


Fur trapping had an important role in Canada's early economic development, and the practice continues today. The value of trapped and farm-raised pelts rose from $25.6 million in the 1960-1961 time period to C$147.4 million in 1986-1987, but declined rapidly in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Production was worth just C$42.2 million in 1990-1991. Farming operations consist mainly of raising mink, which contributes more than 90 percent of the annual value of pelts from fur farms, with fox accounting for virtually all the remainder. The fur farms are mainly concentrated in Ontario, Nova Scotia, Quebec, and British Columbia. In the early 1990s, 1.9 million pelts of all types were harvested annually. Trapping is carried on primarily in northern Canada; Ontario, Qubec, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba are the main producers of wildlife pelts (see Fur Industry).


The mining industry in Canada has a long history of exploration. The most significant period of growth, however, has been since World War II ended in 1945, with mineral discoveries in almost every region of the country. Mining is an important source of national wealth; in 1992 annual mineral production was valued at about C$36 billion. The Canadian mining industry is strongly oriented toward exports, and Canada is one of the world's leading mineral exporters. The United States, the European Union, and Japan are the leading purchasers of Canadian minerals.

The growth of the mining industry is due in part to petroleum and natural gas discoveries in western Canada; development of huge iron-ore deposits in Labrador and Qubec; the discovery and development of large deposits of nickel in Ontario and Manitoba, uranium in Ontario and Saskatchewan, and potash in Saskatchewan; extraction of sulfur from natural gas in the western provinces; development of copper, lead, and zinc deposits; and the production of gold in Ontario, Qubec, British Columbia, and Northwest Territories. The leading minerals, in order of value, are crude petroleum (591.2 million barrels annually in the early 1990s), natural gas (118.9 billion cu m/4.2 trillion cu ft), natural gas by-products (26.6 million cu m/939 million cu ft), gold (157,600 kg/347,300 lb), copper (744,700 metric tons), zinc (1.2 million metric tons), nickel (189,100 metric tons), coal (64.6 million metric tons), and iron ore (32.8 million metric tons). These minerals together typically account for more than four-fifths of the value of annual mineral production. Alberta leads the country by a wide margin in the yearly value of mineral output; it is usually followed by Ontario, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Qubec, and Manitoba. Canada usually leads the world in the annual production of asbestos and zinc and ranks second in production of nickel, potash, and uranium. Other minerals in which the country is among the leading producers are cobalt, copper, gold, gypsum, iron ore, lead, molybdenum, natural gas, platinum-group metals, silver, sulfur, and titanium concentrates. The mining industry is subject to market fluctuations that adversely affect dependent local economies.


The Canadian economy is largely dependent on manufacturing, and industry, which employs about 15 percent of the labor force, and accounts for about 17 percent of the annual gross domestic product. Manufacturing has grown remarkably since 1945. In the early 1990s the leading manufactures, measured by value of output, were transportation equipment, food products, paper and allied products, chemicals and chemical products, primary metals, refined petroleum and coal products, electrical and electronic products, fabricated metal products, wood, and printed materials. The most important manufacturing provinces are Ontario, which now accounts for more than one-half the manufacturing production of Canada, and Qubec, which accounts for nearly one-fourth. The chief manufacturing cities include Toronto, Montral, Hamilton, Vancouver, Windsor, Winnipeg, and Kitchener.


Endowed with many fast-flowing rivers, Canada is the world's leading producer of hydroelectricity. More than 85 percent of the country's hydroelectric output is generated in the provinces of Qubec, Ontario, Newfoundland, and British Columbia. In 1979 the first of three planned hydroelectric stations on La Grande Rivire, near James Bay in Qubec, began operations; when completed in 1985, these installations, owned and operated by Hydro-Qubec, had a capacity of 10.3 million kilowatts, more than any other hydroelectric complex in Canada or in the United States. The powerhouses on La Grande Rivire constitute the first phase of a larger hydroelectric project that is projected (see James Bay Project). Churchill Falls, in the Labrador region of Newfoundland, is another major Canadian hydroelectric facility.

Since the early 1950s, Canada has sought to use its abundant resources of natural uranium to generate electricity. The first nuclear power plant, a demonstration station at Rolphton, Ontario, was completed in 1962. A huge nuclear plant was opened at Pickering, Ontario in the early 1970s. In addition, a great complex of nuclear facilities on the Bruce Peninsula, in Ontario, owned and operated by Ontario Hydro, was completed in the early 1990s. No new nuclear facilities are under construction or in the design stages.

In the early 1990s Canada had an installed electricity-generating capacity of 112 million kilowatts. During that period, the annual output of electricity was about 511 billion kilowatt-hours, of which 63 percent was provided by hydroelectric plants, 17 percent by nuclear power plants, and 20 percent by conventional plants using fossil fuels. Canada exports about 10 percent of its energy production to the United States.


The natural variety of seasons and scenic wonders of Canada draw large numbers of tourists. In the spring, blossom festivals flourish across Canada, especially in the Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia and the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia. Noteworthy is the Ottawa Festival of Spring (Tulip Festival) in May. Alberta's Calgary Exhibition and Stampede in July is world-famous. The Niagara Grape and Wine Festival and autumn-color tours in central Ontario and the Laurentian Mountains of Qubec are among the other attractions. In the winter the abundant snowfall has been exploited; skiing centers are expanding. Also attracting visitors are more than 730,000 sq km (more than 282,000 sq mi) of natural areas preserved in Canada's federal, marine, and provincial parks.

Tourism has become one of the leading industries of Canada. In the early 1990s the country was visited by some 36.8 million tourists annually. Expenditures were about C$25 billion a year, with U.S. residents spending some 46 percent of the total.

Currency and Banking

The unit of currency in Canada is the Canadian dollar, which consists of 100 cents (C$1.36 equals U.S.$1; 1996). The Bank of Canada has the sole right to issue paper money for circulation. Chartered commercial banks operated more than 7600 domestic branches in the early 1990s and had combined assets exceeding C$635 billion. Under the Bank Act of 1980, no Canadian subsidiary of a foreign bank may hold assets equal to more than 16 percent of the assets of the entire banking system. A major revision of the Bank Act in 1992 permitted banks, trust companies, and insurance companies to diversify into each other's markets. In the mid-1990s there were 9 domestic and 54 foreign-owned banks operating in Canada. Most foreign-owned and major domestic banks have their head offices in Toronto; a few are based in Montral. Trust and mortgage loan companies, provincial savings banks, and credit unions also provide banking services. Securities exchanges operate in Toronto, Montral, Winnipeg, Calgary, and Vancouver.

Foreign Trade

From the 16th to the 18th century, the leading Canadian items of export were fish and furs. During the 19th century, the exploitation of the white-pine forests of the Laurentian region was initiated, and timber became the staple item of export. With the improvement of railroad lines early in the 20th century, the western prairie regions were opened, and wheat became the chief item of export. The mining industry began to grow at about the same time; valuable mineral deposits were discovered in the Laurentian region (previously mining had been confined largely to iron and coal in Nova Scotia, and gold, silver, and copper in British Columbia), and exploitation of the spruce timber of northern Ontario and Qubec began. Manufacturing industries developed to supply and process the goods of the three primary industries, agriculture, forestry, and mining. The advance of hydroelectric and thermoelectric technology contributed immensely to the economic expansion in northern Canada.

The per capita foreign trade of Canada ranks among the highest of any nation in the world. The growth since 1945 of Canada's external trade has been remarkable. The value of exports in 1946 was C$2.34 billion; this figure increased to C$3.16 billion in 1950, to C$5.39 billion in 1960, to C$16.82 billion in 1970, and to C$64.3 billion in 1980. By 1994 the export total was C$219.4 billion (U.S. $162.5 billion). Imports showed a comparable increase, from C$1.93 billion in 1946 to C$3.17 billion in 1950, to C$5.50 billion in 1960, to C$13.95 billion in 1970, and to C$58.5 billion in 1980. The import total rose to C$202.3 billion (U.S. $149.9 billion) in the mid-1990s.

Most of Canada's foreign trade is with the United States, which typically takes about four-fifths of Canada's exports and supplies more than two-thirds of its imports. The value of the Canada-United States merchandise trade is greater than between any other two countries in the world. Components of Canadian exports are increasingly manufactured items; while resource exports such as minerals, timber, and grains are still important, their share of total export volume is decreasing. Leading export items to the United States are motor vehicles and motor-vehicle parts, an exchange which began in the mid-1960s under an agreement providing for free trade in transportation equipment. The cross-border exchange increased particularly after Canada and the United States entered into a free-trade agreement in 1989. The agreement was superseded in 1994 when the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was approved, which admitted Mexico into the pact and continued trade liberalization policies.

In the early 1990s principal trading partners (in addition to the United States) for exports were Japan, Great Britain, Germany, China, the Netherlands, South Korea, and France. Chief sources for imports were Japan, Great Britain, Germany, Mexico, France, Taiwan, and China.

The leading products Canada sells abroad include automobiles, trucks, motor-vehicle parts, crude petroleum, lumber, newsprint, wood pulp, wheat, industrial machinery, natural gas, office machines, and aluminum. Principal imports are motor-vehicle parts, automobiles, general purpose and specialized machinery, chemicals, computers, crude petroleum, telecommunications equipment, and fruit and vegetables.


The natural water and mountain barriers of Canada, combined with a dispersed population, necessitate efficient and economical transportation facilities. Since the earliest explorations of the country, water transportation has been indispensable. The Saint Lawrence-Great Lakes navigation system extends about 3769 km (about 2342 mi) from the Gulf of Saint Lawrence into the center of the continent. The opening of the Saint Lawrence Seaway in 1959 contributed greatly to industrial expansion. In the early 1990s cargo carried through the Montral-Lake Ontario section of the seaway exceeded 32 million metric tons. Nearly 59,000 vessels engaged in foreign trade entered and cleared Canadian ports annually; cargo unloaded totaled some 69.1 million metric tons, and about 153.8 million metric tons were loaded. The ports in Vancouver, Sept-les, Montral, Port-Cartier, Qubec, Halifax, Saint John (New Brunswick), Thunder Bay, Prince Rupert, and Hamilton together handled most of the total. Canadian merchant vessels of 1000 gross tons or more numbered 59 in the early 1990s, with a total deadweight tonnage of nearly 640,000.

The government-owned Canadian National Railways is the largest public utility in Canada and operates nearly one-half of the 85,563 km (53,169 mi) of track in the country. The system serves all ten provinces and the Northwest Territories. The privately owned Canadian Pacific Railway (CP) serves all of Canada except Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, and the two territories; it operates 21,490 km (13,354 mi) of railroad track. Nationwide passenger rail transport is provided by VIA Rail Canada, founded in 1977 to take over the passenger services of Canadian National Railways and CP Rail. In 1989, in response to the growing rate of airplane and automobile travel, the federal government announced cuts of more than 50 percent in passenger services, which are heavily subsidized. Further cuts were announced in 1993.

The total length of the federal and provincial highway and road system in Canada in the early 1990s was about 290,194 km (about 180,327 mi). The Trans-Canada Highway, completed in 1962, stretches from St. John's, Newfoundland, to Victoria, British Columbia. In the early 1990s about 13.1 million passenger cars, 3.7 million commercial vehicles, and 324,000 motorcycles and mopeds were registered.

Two major airlines, Air Canada and Canadian Airlines International, maintain a broad network of domestic and international routes. Other smaller carriers are licensed. Of the more than 510 airfields certified by Transport Canada, the busiest are Lester B. Pearson International Airport, in Toronto; Vancouver International Airport; Dorval and Mirabel international airports, near Montral; and Calgary International Airport.


The publicly owned Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) owned and operated 65 originating radio stations, including AM, FM, and short-wave, and 29 originating television stations in the early 1990s. Broadcasts are in English, French, and a variety of Native American languages. A total of 695 private originating radio stations (362 AM, 333 FM) and 116 private television stations were operating. Of the 10.1 million households in Canada in the early 1990s, 99 percent had radios and televisions; about 88 percent had access to cable television systems.

In the early 1990s more than 15.9 million telephone lines were in service in Canada. Most domestic telephone service is provided by the Stentor Alliance, a consortium of regional networks that includes nine telephone companies. Seven of the firms are privately owned; the other two are owned and operated by the provinces of Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Qubec-Tlphone is an associate member. Also within this consortium is Telesat Canada, which was established in 1969 by the federal government and private firms to provide commercial communications via satellite. In 1972 it launched the world's first stationary communications satellite designed for domestic commercial use. Called Anik I, after an Inuit word for brother, the satellite helped provide television broadcasting and telephone service to remote northern Canada. Numerous satellites have been put into orbit since that time. Teleglobe Canada provides international telephone service.

In the early 1990s Canada had 106 daily newspapers, with an aggregate daily circulation of 5.8 million copies. Widely read newspapers include the Calgary Herald and Edmonton Journal, in Alberta; The Province and Vancouver Sun, both in Vancouver, British Columbia; Winnipeg Free Press, in Manitoba; Chronicle-Herald, in Halifax, Nova Scotia; The Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, and Toronto Sun, all in Toronto, Ontario; and The Gazette, Le Journal Montral, and La Presse, all in Montral, Qubec. The Globe and Mail receives national distribution. The country also was served by many other publications, including Maclean's, a weekly news magazine; Chtelaine, a women's journal published in English and French; and Canadian Geographic. The government-controlled Canada Post provides mail delivery throughout the country.


The civilian labor force in Canada during the early 1990s was made up of approximately 13.8 million people. Employment was concentrated in services (73 percent), and in industry (23 percent). Approximately 533,000 people worked in agriculture, forestry, fishing, and trapping.

Union membership in the early 1990s exceeded 4 million people, or nearly one-third of all workers. About 60 percent of the union members belonged to organizations affiliated with the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC); many of these unions were also linked with the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations. Smaller union groupings included the Qubec-based Confederation of National Trade Unions (CNTU), the Centrale des Syndicats Dmocratiques, and the Canadian Federation of Labour.