Home » The Saturday Series » Canadian-ism (s) » The Hugeness (4/10)

The Hugeness (4/10)

After the weather, hockey and the use of both French and Eng­lish, here is another episode in this “what defines Canada” quest.


Unless you’re from Rus­sia or China, you will prob­a­bly feel that Canada is a pretty big place. And you would be right: Canada occu­pies a large por­tion of North Amer­ica and even if “the North” is very sparsely pop­u­lated with only about 100,000 peo­ple (3÷4 of us actu­ally lives within 150 kilo­me­ters of the US bor­der), we are hard to miss since the coun­try cov­ers 9,984,670 km². And if you’re from Rus­sia, please let’s not argue about the North­west Pas­sage — it’s not like we can nav­i­gate it yet, okay?

A huge coun­try with a rel­a­tively small pop­u­la­tion (a lit­tle bit under 32 mil­lion), the den­sity is among the low­est in the world. The pop­u­la­tion is spread across ten provinces and three ter­ri­to­ries. Ad Mari Usque Ad Mare; from Sea to Sea is our motto… From the Mar­itimes to British Colum­bia, across the prairies and the moun­tains, there’s a lot of space… and a lot of roads to link us all.

As in the USA, Canada boasts a strong car cul­ture. Truth is, unless you live in Mon­tréal, Toronto or Van­cou­ver, you will need a car to get around. I still remem­ber back in France, where dri­ving 60 kilo­me­ters to the sea­side was con­sid­ered as a rel­a­tively long trip… I live in a very close sub­urb, still a good 15 km from work. And I’m not even talk­ing about peo­ple liv­ing in Ottawa’s fur­thest sub­urbs, like Kanata, 25–30 km away. Going to work, to the super­mar­ket, to the movie the­ater isn’t really a mat­ter of walk­ing a cou­ple of blocks. Drive, drive, drive.

Roads and streets are wide, and cross­ing them as a pedes­trian can be quite scary the first time. French roads are usu­ally one lane, and streets are old, nar­row, wind­ing and some­what have a neigh­bor­hood feel. In Canada, streets and roads alike are built for cars not for peo­ple. Dri­ves (no pun intended) me nuts sometimes.

For the huge roads, huge cars. SUV, 4×4, brand new from the GM fac­tory and ready to eat asphalt. I some­times quite don’t get why peo­ple keep on buy­ing expen­sive cars here, since roads are quite bumpy (bye bye sus­pen­sion!) and the steel frames get dam­aged very eas­ily with the salt we spread on roads in win­ter. Yet, most sub­ur­ban house­holds have a two lanes dri­ve­way and make full use of their two or three cars.

Every­thing is big. Peo­ple (with­out nec­es­sar­ily being fat­ter, peo­ple look stronger and taller than in Europe), houses, farms, stores, movie the­aters, schools, play­grounds, equip­ment, clothes, food por­tions, sport events and trends.

Liv­ing in a big coun­try has its advan­tages. Sure, we might spend more on gas dri­ving around all the time (and I wish we didn’t), but it’s rel­a­tively easy to find a place to leave since the occu­pa­tion rate isn’t 100%, unlike in France right now. Buy­ing a house is usu­ally afford­able as well in most sub­urbs — it gets trick­ier in TO, Mon­tréal and Van­cou­ver of course. We can also enjoy down­town parks (and even a government-owned farm in Ottawa!), the longest skat­ing rink in the world (7.8 km!), a vari­ety of cul­tures and the great geo­graph­i­cal diver­sity through­out Canada.

Yet… every­thing looks so small that when I visit Europe now, I feel like I’m in Lil­liput!


  1. I knew Canada was huge when I was still a kid, by watch­ing Hong Kong’s TVB movies. Peo­ple seemed to want to emi­grate to Canada because of the huge roads, huge houses, huge back­yards, huge cars and what-nots :D

    Our roads and houses and cars in Malaysia really pale in com­par­i­son! (of course the rich and famous have bigger-than-average houses and cars)

  2. i agree! canada is pretty big.
    do they serve big­ger food their too?

    the road looks nice a wide; per­fect for rid­ing a motor­cyle at 120mph on!

  3. By the way, con­sider your­self tagged!

  4. Aiglee: same here ;-) How big is Venezuela?

    Kyh: I think we’re a bit more pop­u­lated than OZ but yeah, basi­cally same kind of advantages ;-)

    Ren­nyBA: it’s funny that our coun­tries are so sim­i­lar, and I had never real­ized that before. Except for great hockey play­ers with names I can’t pro­nounce of course ;-)

    Linguist-in-waiting: I know… peo­ple can seem cold here and it’s a total dif­fer­ent way of life. Walk­ing around in a mall isn’t my favorite activ­ity and prob­a­bly never will be. Yet, I adapted fine… chose to see the bright side I guess ;-)

    Ghosty: I haven’t been West much yet (Win­nipeg is as far as I went) but I’d love to visit.

    Larry Gam­bone: agreed. The car cul­ture often dri­ves me crazy here, espe­cially because I didn’t grow up in such envi­ron­ment. Urban plan­ning isn’t great either… but I tried to focus on the bright side ;-)

    Kirant Kai: yeah, I under­stand. Didn’t feel the huge­ness is China much either, it’s so packed everywhere!

    Art: I know… but let’s be real­is­tic, it’s sad but the ice cap up there won’t be here forever…

    Beaver­boosh: but would the Chi­nese buy it? And more impor­tant, can I be a trans­later for the deal? ;-)

    Theresa: I must admit it’s the first thing that sur­prised me in Canada: dri­ving these empty stretches of freeway!

    Pelf: a lot of French are attracted to Canada because of the huge­ness too. Yet, lots of Cana­di­ans go travel in Hong Kong… to each his own!

    Jay Cam: you should know that, you’re American!

  5. You know it is funny that you said that the roads in Canada are intim­i­dat­ing for the pedes­tri­ans just because they are wide:). In Greece they are intim­i­dat­ing just because Greeks drive on them, LOL!

    Oh well at least you got the big roads to drive the big cars and not get squeezed with eachother every­time there is traf­fic congestion.

    Enjoy­able post this one, not as enjoy­able as me dri­ving on the pave­ments of Greece of course but still enjoyable:).

    Take care gal!

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