Canada is home to around 35 million people, but where do they all live? In this lesson, we’re going to explore some of Canada’s major cities, and see how they uniquely tell us something about Canadian geography.


According to one folk tradition, the name ”Canada” actually dates back to the early Spanish explorations of North America. The story goes that Spanish explorers were asked to report on what was north of what is now the American West. Their response: Acá nada. Nothing up there.

Of course, the roughly 35 million people who call Canada home would beg to differ. They know that Canada has lots to offer; it’s just covered in snow for a good portion of the year. Let’s take little tour of the Great White North and see just what’s up there.

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Ontario: Toronto and Ottawa

Let’s start with Ontario, the most populous of Canada’s 13 provinces and territories. This is also one of Canada’s most urbanized provinces, although its top population centers are almost exclusively found along the southern border. Actually, the largest cities in almost every province tend to be found along Canada’s southern border, which is more temperate than the far north, but in Ontario’s case this is especially significant considering that this border is the Great Lakes. Ontario is therefore one of Canada’s oldest and most prosperous provinces as well, tapping into shipping opportunities along the lakes.

There are two major cities of note in Ontario. First is Toronto, the most populous city in Canada with around 5.9 million residents. Toronto is sort of the Manhattan of Canada, home to highly modern urban culture, numerous corporate businesses, and one of the world’s largest stock exchanges. Toronto is also the capital of Ontario, but it’s not the only capital in the province. Ontario is also home to Ottawa, the capital city of Canada. Combined with the greater metropolitan area built around it, Ottawa’s population is around 1.3 million. Ottawa has a reputation as one of the technological centers of Canada with numerous tech companies located there.

Québec: Québec City and Montréal

From Ontario, let’s take a quick hop over to Qu;bec. Qu;bec is the second most populous Canadian province, and is the cultural capital for French Canadian heritage. While French is spoken in many provinces, Qu;bec is the only one to recognize French as its sole official language.

The capital of Qu;bec is Qu;bec City, with a population of roughly 800,000. Like other major Canadian cities, it is located along the nation’s southern border and participates in global trade, finance, and industry. Perhaps the most famous city in Québec, however, is Montréal (which is often mistakenly assumed to be Québec’s capital). With a population of barely under 4 million, Montr;al is one of the most important cultural centers in Canada. Not only is it the epicenter of French Canadian culture, it’s also the home of Canada’s street performance and acrobatic tradition, as well as one of the most progressive cities in Canada (a nation consistently ranked among the top five most progressive in the world).

The Stock Exchange tower in Montreal

British Columbia: Vancouver and Victoria

Both Ontario and Qu;bec are found on the eastern side of Canada, but Canada has major cities in the west as well. To see them, we’ll have to travel over to the province of British Columbia on the Pacific coast. British Columbia has long been involved in the same industries that turned Oregon and Washington into population centers, including logging, fishing, and shipping, and over time major cities emerged. The largest is Vancouver. Not only is Vancouver home to about 2.5 million people, it’s also home to one of Canada’s most popular hockey teams, the Vancouver Canucks (although the Montréal Canadiens hold the most Stanley Cup wins in the NHL).

There are a few other cities of note in British Columbia as well. The province’s oldest city, Victoria, is considered a major cultural center and one of the most beautiful historic cities in North America. It’s home to around 365,000 residents, and is also the capital of British Columbia. Of course, we can’t leave British Columbia without also talking about Greenwood, which boasts a claim to be Canada’s smallest official city with its roughly 680 residents.

Victoria, British Columbia

The Territories: Whitehorse, Yellowknife, and Iqaluit

Nearly all of Canada’s major cities are in the south, where more temperate annual climates allow for year-round economic and cultural activity. Roughly 80% of Canadians live in these cities. However, we shouldn’t ignore the territories of Canada, all of which are further north and all of which have lower populations. For example, the capital of the Yukon territory, Whitehorse, ranks as the most populous city in northern Canada at around 30,000 people. The capital of the Northwest Territories, Yellowknife, is the only official city in that territory. The most northern Canadian territory, however, is Nunavut, much of which is above the Arctic Circle. Like the Northwest Territories, Nunavut only has one official city, Iqaluit. At only 200 miles south of the Arctic Circle, this frozen Inuit fishing center is actually closer to the capital of Greenland than any other Canadian capital city. I bet the Spanish wish they’d explored far enough north to see that.

Iqaluit is the smallest capital city in Canada

Lesson Summary

Canada is a unique nation, with nearly all of its major cities located along its southern border. Some of its largest cities are Toronto, Ontario (5.9 million), Montr;al, Qu;bec (3.9 million), Vancouver, British Columbia (2.5 million) and the nation’s capital Ottawa, Ontario (1.3 million). It’s worth noting that many provincial capitals don’t have the largest populations in that province, including Québec City, Québec and Victoria, British Columbia. Since roughly 80% of Canadians live in the southern cities, the northern territories of Yukon, the Northwest Territories, and Nunavut are much less populated. Their capitals (Whitehorse, Yellowknife and Iqaluit, respectively) are the largest cities in each territory, but even added together contain under 60,000 people. This means that Canada’s population is uniquely concentrated in southern urban centers, cities full of arts, culture, business, and people. So, maybe we should be calling this country Camucho instead of Canada. There’s quite a bit there.