The world's second-largest country Canada is a mosaic of cultures, languages and ethnic groups. The stylish, European metropolis of Montreal, where French and English speakers coexist uneasily but share a love of a good time, is miles away from both Toronto's more puritanical Bay Street financiers and the sprawling prairies. Though moaning about government cutbacks rivals ice hockey as a national sport, the public health and education systems are first-rate. The economy is healthy, buoyed by exports, and, despite the inclement winters, the quality of life is unrivalled.
English and French are the official languages. English is the first language of nearly two-thirds of Canadians, while about a quarter of Canadians, mainly in Quebec, count French as their first language. Reflecting Canada's immigrant population, a large number of other languages (Chinese, German and Italian) are also spoken.
Most of Canada's 28.5 million people are of European origin, notably the UK, France and Ireland. In recent years, the number of Canadians of Asian origin, particularly in Western Canada, has risen. There is also a small aboriginal population. Predominantly North American Indian, Inuit and Métis, First Nations people number about 800,000.
Just less than half the population is Roman Catholic, while about one-third is Protestant. There are also small Jewish and Islamic communities, but an increasing number of Canadians claim no religious affiliation.
About 40% of the Canadian population are of British descent, while 27% are of French origin. Another 20% are of other European background, about 10% are of E or SE Asian origin, and some 3% are of aboriginal or Métis (mixed aboriginal and European) background. In the late 1990s, Canada had the highest immigration rate of any country in the world, with more than half the total coming from Asia. Over 75% of the total population live in cities. Canada has complete religious liberty, though its growing multiculturalism has at times caused tensions among ethnic and religious groups. About 45% of the people are Roman Catholics, while some 40% are Protestant (the largest groups being the United Church of Canada, Anglicans, and Presbyterians). English and French are the official languages, and federal documents are published in both languages. In 1991, about 61% of Canadians cited English as their mother tongue, while 24% cited French.
*Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition, Copyright (c) 2003.