Government of Canada
Symbol of the Government of Canada

CHAPTER 1: The First Warriors

The Challenge of Nature (2 pages)

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The Canadian Landscape

Canada is immense. It stretches from the Atlantic to the Pacific, encompassing several different time zones. Its climate ranges from temperate in the south to arctic in the north. All of western Europe could fit easily inside this vast territory. It took centuries of explorations - often conducted by military men - to establish precise maps, from the first sketches of sixteenth century explorers to the great aerial surveys produced by the Royal Canadian Air Force.

The environment has remained practically unchanged for some 3,500 years. From the Atlantic to the western extremities of the Great Lakes, vast forests cover the southern part of the country. Then hundreds of kilometres of prairie stretch ahead, ending only at the Rocky Mountains. The Pacific slope of these mountains is more temperate, with dense forests running along the west coast as far as Alaska. North of the St. Lawrence River, the Great Lakes and the Prairies, the vegetation slowly becomes boreal, shifting into tundra as one nears the Arctic Ocean.

The inhabitable area is limited, at least insofar as agriculture is concerned, to the southernmost parts of the country. Settlement was concentrated there because the subarctic taiga and tundra could not support larger populations. In the Middle Ages, Canada's climate was more temperate. It remained so until the fourteenth century, when the little ice age began, reaching its apogee between the end of the seventeenth century and the middle of the nineteenth. This colder period affected not only Canada but the earth's entire Northern Hemisphere. Agriculture was disturbed and the population, including military people, had to change their ways of eating and dressing and their modes of travel in order to cope with the new conditions, particularly the snow, which posed a major problem to transportation. In the St. Lawrence Valley, where annual temperatures vary enormously, from as cold as -40° C in winter to as hot as +35° C in summer, the European settlers borrowed numerous techniques from the Amerindians for survival in such extreme conditions. This environment influenced their battle methods as well.

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