Why does Canada have a sparse Population?

Canada is the second-largest country by landmass in the world, only behind Russia. But for a country this big, the entire population is less than 40 million. So, why does Canada have a sparse population?

Canada’s sparse population is because of its small number of inhabitants due to low birth rates and strict immigration. But there are other factors such as remoteness, extreme climate, wide forest areas, minimal arable lands, and national parks. All these factors restrict population distribution.

Even though Canada has a sparse population, the population density is different across areas. For example, 90% of the country’s population lives within just over 240 kilometres of the US border. Here, we examine why Canada has a sparse population despite its massive landmass.

Factors Responsible for the Sparse Population in Canada

Canada is one of the most sparsely populated places in the world. However, the low population density of the country is quite explainable once you consider the following factors.

1.      Large Tracts of Forest Areas

If you’ve ever been to Canada, you don’t have to travel far before you start seeing the forest. The country has more than 347 million hectares of uninhabited forest, accounting for 38% of its land area. Unsurprisingly, Canada holds 9% of the global forest. Several regulations protect the forest and limit deforestation.

Since 1990, deforestation has affected less than 0.5% of the forest area in Canada. This is so even though forestry is a major employer of labour and contributes substantially to the GDP. With its forest area very stable, it’s clear that the population has not spread to these parts.

2.      Extreme Weather Conditions

You don’t have to live in Canada to hear about how cold it is. While some people exaggerate the intensity of the coldness, the country is generally a cold place to live. As a result, most of the population stays in the warmer parts of the country. This is why provinces such as British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec are the most populated. The territories, on the other hand, are a different story entirely.

The estimated population of The Northwest Territories is less than 45,000, with a landmass of 1,144,000 square kilometres. Despite its low population, it’s still the most populated territory because some parts have slightly warmer weather. The other two territories, Yukon and Nunavut, are mostly uninhabitable due to the weather.

Yukon has a mostly subarctic climate while Nunavut is largely an arctic tundra. The summers in these areas only last for a few weeks, and winter is long, cold, and harsh, with some places even going for weeks without sunlight.

3.      Remoteness

Another issue that contributes to the sparse population is how remote several parts of Canada are. As the second-largest country by land area, several parts are difficult to access.  The country’s remoteness manifested itself during the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway. It also makes it difficult to construct the necessary roads and tracks to link cities and open up some areas.  

Also, the country contains 20% of the world’s freshwater volume, which is problematic for transportation. With thousands of lakes all over the country, building roads here is a little tricky. Canada is home to 62% of the 1.4 million lakes in the world that are over 0.1 square kilometers in size.  The country has a total number of 879,800 lakes.

4.      Strict Immigration Process

The low population in Canada is one of the reasons for its sparse population. One of the factors responsible for this is its immigration policies. Although Canada accepts thousands of immigrants annually, the process for getting a visa is very strict. You have to meet many requirements before you can get the visa. Factors such as age, experience, qualification, financial resources, etc., can prevent people from immigrating to the country.

The strict immigration policy also makes it almost impossible for illegal immigrants to get into the country. Although few cases, it’s usually easy to track down illegal immigrants since they usually have to enter through the border. Apart from that, Canada has natural borders in the form of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans which prevent any illegal immigration. Its only land border is with the United States, which is more of a migration magnet.

5.      National parks

Canada has a strong conservation policy which has helped to maintain its natural beauty. There are several national parks here, and they don’t just exist to serve as tourist attractions. These parks are also a form of population control as they limit development or construction within such areas designated as parks. There are currently 48 national parks in the country, covering 3% of the total landmass. This means over 340,000 square kilometers are protected from any form of habitation.

6.      Minimal Arable Lands

Another factor responsible for the population distribution in Canada is that it has limited land fit for agricultural purposes. Despite the country’s large size, arable lands are in short supply, and most of these lands have limited growing seasons. This influences the settlement and explains why the territories have a very small number of people living in them because the land and climate don’t support agriculture. Most of the population lives in areas with a temperate climate and arable soil.

7.      Low Birth Rate

The low birthrate in Canada is also one of the factors responsible for the sparse population. In 2020, Canada recorded a fertility rate of 1.47 births per woman, which is the lowest in a long time. However, the low birth rate isn’t a new thing. It has been going on for a while, leading to a dwindling population. Canada needs a minimum birth rate of 2.1 births per woman to maintain its population, but it hasn’t achieved this since 1971.

In Conclusion

Canada has a sparse population due to its expansive landmass compared to its minimal residents. Its population density is around four people per square kilometre, and several factors are responsible for these.

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