Most people's conception of Canada goes little beyond appreciating its vastness, recognizing its flag and identifying a few well-known physical features. And while it's true that the majority of travelers are attracted by the opportunity to explore Canada's wilderness areas, natural wonders and low-key rural charm, there is a lot more to Canada than maple trees, Niagara Falls and wide open spaces.
It's the edginess between Canada's indigenous, French and British traditions that gives the nation its complex three-dimensional character. Add to this a constant infusion of US culture and a plethora of traditions brought from Europe, Asia and Latin America by migrants, and you have a thriving multicultural society very much in the process of forming its own identity. Those expecting Canada to be a blander counterpart of the USA should check their preconceptions at the door - Canada's wild northern frontier, which has etched itself into the national psyche, and its distinct patchwork of peoples have created a country that is decidedly different from its southern neighbor.
Full country name: Canada
Area: 9,976,000 sq km (3.9 million sq mi)
Capital city: Ottawa (pop: 1,010,500)
People: British descent (28%), French descent (23%), Italian descent (3%), aboriginal peoples (2%), plus significant minorities of German, Ukrainian, Dutch, Greek, Polish and Chinese descent
Languages: English, French and 53 native languages
Religion: Catholic (45%), Protestant (36%) and minorities from most of the world's major religions
Government: Parliamentary democracy
Prime Minister: Jean Chrétien
Governor-General: Adrienne Clarkson
GDP: US$774 billion
GDP per head: US$25,000
Annual growth: 3%
Major products/industries: processed and unprocessed minerals, food products, wood and paper products, transportation equipment, chemicals, fish products, petroleum and natural gas
Major trading partners: USA, Japan, EU (UK, Germany, Netherlands), China and South Korea