The Hugeness (4/10)

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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 Montreal, 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, Montreal 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!


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. huge countries with low population (like in australia) often come with a huge benefit ~ cheap lands and cheap houses (not to mention biggggg)!

  2. I understand you!! When I think back to Venezuela, I also think that everything is pretty small and I didn’t think that before coming to Canada, things and people here are huge!

  3. Again the similarity to Norway strikes me again. Of course the climate, but also the long distance between between counties and cities. With a population of almost 5 mill and a distance from south to north like from Scandinavia to Italy, you know what I mean 🙂

    Wishing you a great end to your week!

  4. I guess that is the thing that I don’t like here in the United States. Whenever I visit Europe, I cannot help but feel human, due to the fact that I always interact with other people. I see them on the trams, the bus, everywhere. Here in the US, people are all in their cars, traveling by themselves. I feel anonymous here.

    I guess that is just because I don’t have a car myself. But individualism also shows in other aspects too. Here in the US, everything is do-it-yourself, and I suppose it’s the same thing in Canada too. Take grocery shopping for instance. Just go to one large building and you have everything you need. When I was in Vienna, I liked the fact that there was a separate store for my cheese, another store for the fruits and vegetables, and another store for my fresh herbs in little pots, and another store for my cold cuts.

    Sorry to play devil’s advocate this time, and although I acknowledge that there is an advantage to being big, I still personally prefer the compact structure of the Old World.

  5. Having grown up in the country, I appreciate being able to get away from the hustle and bustle … and everything else. It’s hard to do in many places in the US, which probably explains why we’re such isolationists in many ways. … I’m considering a trip to western Canada to visit a friend this spring – lot’s of wide-open out there! 😀

  6. One thing though, some of that bigness is artificial and unnecessary, the results of decisions made by governments and corporations for their own interests. They destroyed the rail roads, the passenger services and the tram lines. Public money was focussed on road building rather than public transit. Is it any wonder people began to buy so many cars? Rather than building villages connected to the cities by electric trains, the corporations built sprawling suburbs connected by freeways to the cities. Little emphasis has been placed upon developing smaller, more efficient vehicles, in fact the opposite. We had a choice in this country and the elites chose, to our everlasting detriment, the US model rather than one that better suited the country.

  7. Reminds me of that song, “In a Big Country…”

    What’s really scary is that you had to add “yet” to that sentence about the Northwest passage!

  8. Hey Zhu,
    You know what they say about big coutries, they are full of big c****. I guess that is the opposite of small countries!
    I larf, people in Norway think it is big… it fits inside of the province of Ontario three times (but it is long and skinny)!
    Canadians should sell the country off to the Chinese, who need more space anyway, and buy an island to resettle in the Bahamas!
    BB of Brobdingnag

  9. 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 😀

    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)

  10. I haven’t been back so long, that I almost forgot about the hugeness of it all. Think I’ll stick with Pamplona – you can get anywhere by walking or bus. 🙂

  11. 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!

  12. 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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