A Canadian Geography Lesson

According to Google Analytics, the majority of my visitors are coming from the United States and Canada, with the United States pulling ahead by about 400 more visitors a month.

Even though Canada and the United States are neighbours and have a very similar “North American” culture, they are also very, very different.

I’m not even going to get started on all the differences but today I’m going to do a little Canadian Geography Lesson. Kelly originally gave me this idea after mentioning a couple times in the comments that she doesn’t know if she totally understands Canadian Geography. So I figured other people might not either. For example, when my Dad was sick, some people were confused as to why he had to go to a hospital so far away from us!

See, the thing with Canada is, there’s a lot of space but not a lot of people. Canada is the second largest land mass in the world, yet our population is only about 30 million.

The United States, on the other hand, is a smaller land mass with a population of about 300 million. That’s a difference of 270 million people. I’ll let that sink in for a minute.

“Big cities” in Canada are not big in the United States. For example, I’ve lived in three places my entire life. Fort St. John – population about 25,000, Grande Prairie – population about 50,000 and Kamloops – population about 85,000.

I remember when me and my brother went to Germany our hosts told us they were going to take us to visit a “small city, a population of about 500,000 people”. We gaped at them, because that’s a BIG CITY to us.

OK, now it’s time for some wonderful google map photos.

Here’s where Fort St. John is. Up in Northern, British Columbia where it’s winter 6-7 months out of the year. And it gets cold. I’m talking -35 to -40 C (-31 to -40 F) is not uncommon weather in the winter months.


Here’s Fort St. John to Kamloops. I drew some mountains in there to illustrate the windy, mountain road that makes up 300 kilometres of the drive. So that’s the distance separating me and Eric right now. From his apartment to my apartment it is exactly 989 kilometres (614.5 miles)


Here’s the distance from Fort St. John to Edmonton, where my Dad was in the hospital. Edmonton, with a population of about 800,000 is the closest “big city” to Fort St. John and it’s still 662 km (412 miles) away. If someone gets really sick in Fort St. John there are two options for hospitals; Edmonton or Vancouver. When my dad had his heart attack he went to Vancouver.

Talk about being inconvenient for families, hey? That’s just one downside of living in a small town.


Here’s Kamloops to Vancouver. I’m sure you’ve all heard LOTS about Vancouver lately as they’re hosting the Olympics in, like a week. Anyways, to me, Vancouver is a HUGE CITY. With all of it’s surrounding communities (all together called the “Lower Mainland”) it has a population of about 2 million.


Now here’s the real kicker. I live in Western Canada – which is considered to be British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba AND the Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut combined. Those FOUR provinces have an approximate population of 10 million people. Here’s a map of Western Canada:



Which means that 20 million of Canada’s 30 million population live in the East.

So, if all these little maps and stats didn’t sum it up for you, I guess what I’m trying to tell you is I live in an area that’s mostly land, not people and a “small” city to you is probably a HUGE city to me. I truly am a “Small Town Girl”. Canada has a lot of wide open spaces. Where I grew up you can drive for miles and there won’t be any houses anywhere!

This post was kind of fun to write! I hope you guys enjoyed it and maybe even learned something about Canadian geography? Tell me, what’s the population in the city that you live in? And what do you consider a BIG city?

PS: Google Maps is amazing.

54 Responses

  1. Ashley says:

    Wow, I had no idea Canada had so few people (comparatively). I have technically lived in small towns all my life. It’s just that they are completely surrounded by other small towns and big cities. Thanks for the lesson, Amber.

  2. Becky says:

    This was really cool to read! I don’t know the population where I live but it’s close to D.C. our capital so I’m thinking a lot!

  3. Nicole says:

    I never knew how few people you guys had living up there on all that land! :o) Amber, that was really fascinating. I also can’t believe how cold it gets up where you are from! Holy crap! People where I’m from complain if it gets below 20 F. I guess it’s all in what you’re used to.

    I live in Grand Rapids, Michigan, population of about 200,000 people (give or take). It’s a pretty medium-sized city. I think of a large city being something like Chicago, Illinois with over two million people. But Detroit, Michigan also feels like a big city, and I think their population is right around the 800,000 mark.

    Thanks for the Canadian geography lesson! I feel smarter already! :o)

  4. I will forever consider 25,000 to be a big town, haha. I grew up in a town with a population of ~350, including the surrounding farmers. The next closest town? ~600.

    No wonder I’m getting so excited to be moving back to nowhere! 😉

  5. Kelly says:

    Wahoo! Thanks for doing this post! I think I knew Canada was much bigger with less people, but didn’t think about what that would mean for the overall situation. I was talking to Eric about this and he said there are some places in the US like this (though not to the same extent) but I just don’t get it because I’ve always lived near a big city with tons of hospitals etc. I am so happy you wrote this. I feel like I know SO much more about Canada now that I read a few Canadian blogs 🙂 I can’t believe how COLD it gets…well I can believe it, I just can’t believe you live there happily haha.

  6. uh, WOW. I have Never thought about how huuuuge Canada is (land-wise, clearly). 614 miles between you and Eric?!! My gawd. That’s insane. I also had no idea the population of the entire *country* was only 30 million!

    🙂 so, um, thanks for the lesson!! Ha, clearly needed it over here.

  7. I’m from Toronto so prolly the exception. I consider Vancouver to be a relatively small city. In fact when I went to law school in Victoria I did so because I thought I would never again have the opportunity to live in SUCH a small place!!! No comment on the irony of where I live now!!!

  8. I live in New York City, the biggest of the big cities. 🙂 But I grew up in suburb of Portland. I’d say Portland and Vancouver are probably about equal (Vancouver is maybe a little smaller just because PDX has grown so much lately and I don’t have current figures). But when I was growing up, Portland had maybe around a 1 million total residents in Portland proper, and then with the suburbs (including us) it was 2-2.5 million in the area. The college town I lived in in had 75,000 people, so I’ve definitely seen it all and totally understand how one big city can feel really small to another.

    Funny story – I actually looked up Ft. St. John and Kamloops on Google maps the other day because of this very reason; I had no idea how far it was!

  9. Amber says:

    I really enjoyed this post! Since I am from the Midwest United States I really know more about the Eastern part of Canada but I feel as if I should know more about the Western half as I was born in Washington state but was too young to remember being there.
    This was a great lesson and very informative! Thanks, Amber!

  10. Morgan says:

    According to Google Population the town where I grew up has a population only 36,000. When I moved to Orlando I thought it was HUGE! As it stands we’re hovering around the 2 million mark for population and yet, after having lived here 10 years and visited cities like Chicago, Denver, San Fransisco, etc… I now think it’s rather small. Funny how that works!

    Thanks for the Canadian geography lesson! It’s crazy the vast land expanse ya’ll have compared to the U.S.!!!!

  11. erin says:

    Thanks for the geography lesson, that definitely helped me understand what canada’s like. but yeah, I grew up in the country — probably not like yours, but I had 3 cow farms right around my house, 1 directly in front, another to the left. and one a little ways behind. but about an hour from DC and Baltimore. So cities don’t entirely faze me well that is until i went to NYC, that was a trip!

    I’d love to see Vancouver!

  12. Great geography lesson! It is crazy to think of your population compared to the US!

    The only large city I’ve visited in Canada is Winnepeg, but there are so many other cities & sites I want to see. Top of the list is probably Lake Louise. I have seen pictures and it looks unbelievably gorgeous. Top cities I want to visit are Vancouver and Montreal. Some day I will get around to visiting these cities!

  13. That is fantastic! and it seems to me like you and eric are only a bike ride apart. it may be a week long bike ride, but still. fun.

    that is a fantastic geography lesson. i have an old friend from edmonton (used to live near me in SC) who talks about how far north that is. fsj is farther north that edmonton??? you’ve got to be kidding me?

    I have lived in some small towns and some bigger cities, but nothing huge. Greenville has just over 1 million people, then I moved to Boone NC for college (25,000 people), then to some other small towns about the size of boone, then finally to Raleigh with 1.1 million people. Raleigh and boone are my favorite places by far that I have ever lived.

    Vancouver and Edmonton are on my list of places that I want to visit. great post!

  14. Denise says:

    This was really interesting.

    And am I the only one that doesn’t know how to figure out who is visiting your blog? I’m so not tech savvy…

  15. Nora says:

    You know, I took a political geography class in college and we didn’t cover Canada AT ALL. This was incredibly interesting and helpful! And makes me want to visit Canada in the worst way.

    St Louis is about 2 million people, in the city and the suburbs (suburbs are St. Louis County, downtown is St. Louis City, something that confuses a lot of people). In my suburb alone, there are 50,000 people I think? Maybe more now, I’m not sure.

    A small town to me is 250, as several of my very good friends from college grew up in towns like that. Big cities? Chicago, NYC, LA.

  16. Kara says:

    Well, you KNOW the population of the city I live in 😉 and I have pretty much the same opinion of what BIG is, city-wise.

    I love it when people say, “Oh, I’m from a small town of about 8,000 people.” You think that’s small eh? Try 1,800 people! Ha! lol

    Great post! 🙂

  17. nicole says:

    wow! thanks for the history lesson! that was neat to read!!! 🙂

  18. Holly says:

    Thanks for the geography lesson – I live in Canada and I didn’t even know some of that stuff, lol. Who knew Western Canada was so big? And that thinsg were so far apart in BC? Hmm … I grew up in the smallest incorporated town in Canada wtih a population of 918 when I lived there (it’s our claim to fame, along with a lovely covered bridge that’s the longest in the world), then moved to Edmonton (population about a billion in comparison, though 800 000 is probably more accurate).

  19. LG says:

    It seems like lots of people State-side are clueless about Canada’s politics, healthcare, geography, history, housing, measurement sytems, weather, etc . (Not people who read your blog, mind you, but many others!) Perhaps it’s just that we get so much media from the States and they get very little of ours?

    Anyway, great idea to post this!

  20. To be perfectly honest, I thought this was going to be totally lame when you explained this post as a geography lesson, but I really learned a lot. I never realized Canada’s hospitals and towns are so far away from each other.

  21. Sarah says:

    The other fun/weird fact to mention is that one.. oh I’m estimating it now.. something like 80% of Canadians live within 200km of the Canada/US border. That’s another good illustration of how desolate Northern Canada is.

    I’ve lived mostly in Ontario (one long year in Northern SK). The current ‘big’ city I live in has a population of ~ 90,000.

  22. Meghan says:

    After growing up in Stewart, B.C. (population roughly 600 and 5 hrs to the closest civilization) Kamloops seems huge, but is nothing next to Vancouver (which I can still find overwhelming). Good post. By the way I love your drawing in of the mountains, they crack me up.

  23. kay* says:

    what a fun fun post!

    i’m in toronto and on my blog (apartment 412) i noticed most of the readers were from the US too – so i did a similar posts on ‘things that come from canada’ and listed actors, movies filmed here, singers, poutine (yummy!)….& some of the differences between Canada & the US…it was well received! perhaps it’s time for me to do a part 2 🙂

    loved this post!

  24. kay* says:

    oh! & when i visit the US and am talking about how small our population is compared to theirs i always use the following description to really make it sink in for them:

    “Our entire population, across all of Canada, – is roughly equal to the amount of people in the state of California.”

    The reaction is always “OOOOOOOOOOOH!”


  25. Lys says:

    this is great! i never would have guessed that canada had such a small population compared to the US. i grew up in a city of 65,000, which i thought was pretty large at the time…but when i met my boyfriend and he moved me to new york city, i got a real taste of what “large” was, in terms of city population.

  26. Jess says:

    Thanks for the lesson. I literally know nothing about Canadian geography, seriously I just assume everyone in Canada lives directly north of NYC, apparently that is very very wrong LOL

  27. lesli says:

    Thanks, Amber. I really found this interesting-especially about what you consider a huge city.
    I live and work in what is considered the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area which is made up of Minneapolis, St. Paul and the surrounding counties in both Minnesota & western Wisconsin. It is considered the 15th largest metropolitan area in the US with a population in 2000 of 2,968,806 . Yes, I just had too look up these figures! I used to think Minneapolis was big when I moved here from Des Moines, Iowa, which at the time had a population of close to 500,000. The only real big city to me is New York City!

  28. Lindsay says:

    I never realized that Canada’s population was that small. I’ve always lived in huge cities (LA has 4 million people), but I’ve always wanted to live somewhere with more open space.

  29. samdotcom says:

    Amber! I love this! And somehow it has made me all mushy in love with Canada. We rock.

    Most of my life has been spent in the Lower Mainland, but have traveled extensively through Canada and spent some time living in Calgary, which felt incredibly “small town” compared to Vancouver. I would love, though I’m not sure if it will happen, the chance to live in a true Canadian small town one day.

  30. Bella says:

    Wow, I didn’t know how much empty land there was in Canada. Now I feel I can talk to my friends who live there, and actually believe them when they say it’s a negative number in their temperature.

  31. Mandy says:

    I grew up in Calgary, AB which has ~1 million people. For me that is a big city, so when I went to LA I was blown away. Now I live in Fort McMurray, AB which is (I believe) a smidge further north than FSJ. The population is largely transient, but they estimate up to 65,000 live here at any one time. I’ve actually been thinking about doing a post like this as well.

  32. Caroline says:

    I will never complain about the cold in Boston again!
    Thanks so much for this post! I had NO idea you were so far west/so far away from me! I really feel like I can imagine what you are talking about better now haha.
    As for population, I don’t think I can even wrap my head around that kind of space/lack of people. It must be kinda nice (besides the hospitals being so far away), it kind of reminds me of Gilmore Girls, though I’m sure it’s really nothing like Gilmore Girls I just really love that show : )

  33. Nikki says:

    I love looking at maps (geek alert!) so this was really interesting to me! I have a cousin that lives in Hamilton, Ontario so I’m more familiar with eastern Canadian geography than the western side! I currently live in a small town of about 10,000. It runs into the neighboring town and the combined population of the “metro” area of the two is about 20,000. I grew up in Houston though: population about 2 million. So yeah…big change! My college town was maybe 200,000…that was the perfect size for me!

  34. Love the geography lesson! I needed it. There are about 200,000 in my town, which I consider pretty small. It’s all relative. I was born in a town with about 5,000 people, and I once lived in a little *village* of about 1,000- but I’ve also lived in a city of over 7 million!!!!!

  35. Paula says:

    I loved this post. I find geography so interesting (YES, I’m a geek!)

    Glasgow has a population of about 600,000 in the city. But apparently (according to wikipedia) there’s another 2 million in the suburban areas of Glasgow (I grew up just outside Glasgow myself) so this small area of Scotland is nearly half of the population. Like Canada, we’re very spread out here, with lots of population concentrated in small areas, although we’re a fraction of your size!

  36. I am shocked by how many Americans haven’t learned this stuff in school … we had to memorize all the states, and capitals, and know where they go on a map etc.

    I am from Saskatchewan … LOL, most Americans haven’t heard of it!!

  37. mandy says:

    I basically suck at geography, but this was a lot of fun to read. I’ve only ever been to Toronto in Canada but would someday love to make it out west. I come from a town of about 5000 so anything that has more people than that and more than 3 stop lights is a city to me. I’m about an hour from Pittsburgh, which is the closest “big” city but even that really isnt on the scale of NYC or Chicago.

  38. imerika says:

    holy crap, you have no idea how informative this was! i always wondered what canada was like…i mean, i know you guys are there and stuff, and i know it’s cold, but no clue it was THAT cold!!! how do you LIVE?

  39. tash says:

    I’m from Nova Scotia (and have also lived in Toronto) and I am shocked that it gets that cold for you! Brr! It’s a good thing the population is so low up in the northern parts of Canada – the rest of us Canadian cringe at your normal weather! LOL

  40. Samantha says:

    I’m horrible at geography and numbers so this was interesting! I decided to look up on wikipedia the population of the city I’m from. It’s 75,000. I glanced over comments and apparently other cities in the US are a lot more populated. I thought my city was big :-/ I guess there is quite a lot of open land in Missouri.. I don’t know. I’ve visited New York, Chicago, LA, etc on vacations, but guess never realized how much larger they are then where I’m from.

  41. Em says:

    The town I grew up in apparently had a population of 943 in the 2000 cenus and the town next to it has 82,000 or so people in it. I live in the “country” in between both places. But not tooo country because I can see my neighbors. But country enough that we have a couple acres and no houses on either side of us. Just across the road. Sadly, whenever I think of Canada I only think of Ontario and nothing else. When I envision you (not in a scary stalker way) I just put you north east of me.. But in reality I know you are north west of me.. But I like to think that only Ontario exists since it is literally nextdoor to us here. And I love Toronto. But in reality you are super far away from me. 🙂

  42. shoshanah says:

    I think this was a really interesting post. Its funny because even though Canada is so close to America, there’s a lot of information about Canada that I (and probably a lot of other non-Canadians) don’t know. I have a general idea of their geography, but other things like politics or history, I really have little or no background on.

  43. My husband and I honeymooned in Vancouver (we live in New Orleans Louisiana) and it was amazing! I appreciate this post – I was just commenting to the huby today that I need to brush up on my geography. I think it’s my biggest weakness.

  44. Kathleen says:

    Wow, that was so interesting. It’s embarrassing how little I know about Canada…but it’s so far away! I live right outside of Houston, and the metro population is about 4 million. It’s the fourth biggest city in the U.S., so I consider it “big” even if some cities in Europe dwarf it in comparison. I went to college in a town of 3,000 though, so I know what small-town life is like as well.

  45. bec says:

    I am from a town of 8,000 people so really tiny, and I am always so jealous that you live in BC I want to move there next year sooooo badly!

  46. michele the great says:

    WOW i learned so much! haha but actually, i didnt know the facts about the east compared to west. i hope i never live anywhere other than BC. 🙂

  47. Jen says:

    I didn’t realize that Fort St. John was pretty much just as close to Edmonton as Fort McMurray is (well, I think we are at about 499 kms – but that is our closest city, if we want to go anywhere else, we have to go via Edmonton – crazy right??? Though there is Boyle and Athabasca in between but they are SMALL!!!!).

    Anyhoo, Fort Mac has LOTS of people (we talked about that before – still less than 100,000) BUT we have very few amenities. It is an industrial town where pretty much everyone works at the oilsands plants and leaves very few people to work IN TOWN and makes it almost impossible for small companies to match salaries (for instance, if you have a high school education and are willing to drive a heavy hauler for a 12 hour shift, 3 days, 3 nights, 6 off – you can get paid $150,000 a year. If you have a 4 year Bachelor degree, you are lucky to make half that – and when housing runs $450,000 + (and we are talking townhouses/condos for that price) – well…it’s interesting…

    Um yeah…I kind of got off topic…we were talking Geography not Economics, right???

  48. eemusings says:

    I remember looking at a map one day and marvelling at how HUGE Canada was – so much bigger than the US! It’s also really humbling to see how small little old NZ is. It only takes a few days to drive down the entire country…

  49. Carissa says:

    thanks for the lesson! I really learned a lot, actually 🙂 I consider the town I live in a small town because compared to Los Angeles, it is small. BUT it’s not really that small. we have a population of 125,000 in Simi Valley! but then again, we are a valley, I can drive from one end of town to the other in 15 minutes, and I often see people I know at the grocery store 🙂 so that’s why I still think of it as a small town. but you are right, you TRULY live in a small SMALL town! 🙂

    the most shocking thing to me of this post is how far you have to go to get to a hospital! that just seems crazy to me that your dad had to go so far after he had a heart attack. that is not a comforting thought. if something every happened to my family, we luckily have a hospital right here in Simi. and I did have to take my dad to the hospital once a few years ago. I would have been freaking out if we didn’t have one close by!

  50. Lisa says:

    Your mother sent me the link to your blog ages ago and I will admit to lurking every so often. 🙂 I enjoy your writing and once in a while I get news from home as well, which is a bonus. This post made me laugh, and made me a wee bit homesick too. I will be directing a few people to it to read as they just don’t grasp the concept of living in the north. This, coming from those who live on an outcropping of rock 21 sq miles in size, approximately 700 miles from the east coast of the US! 🙂

  51. Anais says:

    This is probably going to sound sad, but thank you for giving ME that geography lesson. I know pretty much nothing about Canada… I knew that you were out west, but when I think of BC I sort of see it being East… :S

    Now I know 😉 And when in doubt, I’ll refer to this post lol!!!

  52. Lauren says:

    I moved from a town of about 700 people to Ottawa- our nations capital- for school. I was driving back to Ottawa and noticed the population sign. Ottawa is considered a big city here, and the population sign said exactly 900 000 people. I thought that was pretty cool.

  53. Healthcare says:

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