Introduction to Canada

Provinces and territories of Canada

Provinces and territories of Canada

Provinces of Canada:

  • Ontario
  • Quebec
  • Nova Scotia
  • New Brunswick
  • Manitoba
  • British Columbia
  • Prince Edward Island
  • Saskatchewan
  • Alberta
  • Newfoundland and Labrador




The provinces and territories of Canada are sub-national governments within the geographical areas of Canada under the authority of the Canadian Constitution. In the 1867 Canadian Confederation, three provinces of British North America—New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and the Province of Canada (which upon Confederation was divided into Ontario and Quebec)—were united to form a federated colony, becoming a sovereign nation in the next century. Over its history, Canada’s international borders have changed several times, and the country has grown from the original four provinces to the current ten provinces and three territories. Together, the provinces and territories make up the world’s second-largest country by area.

Several of the provinces were former British colonies, and Quebec was originally a French colony, while others were added as Canada grew. The three territories govern the rest of the area of the former British North America.

The major difference between a Canadian province and a territory is that provinces receive their power and authority from the Constitution Act, 1867 (formerly called the British North America Act, 1867), whereas territorial governments have powers delegated to them by the Parliament of Canada. The powers flowing from the Constitution Act are divided between the Government of Canada (the federal government) and the provincial governments to exercise exclusively. A change to the division of powers between the federal government and the provinces requires a constitutional amendment, whereas a similar change affecting the territories can be performed unilaterally by the Parliament of Canada or government.




Territories of Canada:

  • Northwest Territories
  • Yukon
  • Nunavut

Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia were the original provinces, formed when several British North American colonies federated on July 1, 1867, into the Dominion of Canada and by stages began accruing the indicia of sovereignty from the United Kingdom. Prior to this, Ontario and Quebec were united as the Province of Canada. Over the following years, Manitoba (1870), British Columbia (1871), and Prince Edward Island (1873) were added as provinces.

The British Crown had claimed two large areas north-west of the Canadian colony, known as Rupert’s Land and the North-Western Territory and assigned them to the Hudson’s Bay Company. In 1870, the company relinquished its claims for £300,000 ($1.5 million), assigning the vast territory to the Government of Canada. Subsequently, the area was re-organized into the province of Manitoba and the Northwest Territories. The Northwest Territories were vast at first, encompassing all of current northern and western Canada, except for the British holdings in the Arctic islands and the Colony of British Columbia; the Territories also included the northern two-thirds of Ontario and Quebec, and almost all of present Manitoba, with the 1870 province of Manitoba originally being confined to a small area in the south of today’s province. The British claims to the Arctic islands were transferred to Canada in 1880, adding to the size of the Northwest Territories. The year of 1898 saw the Yukon Territory, later renamed simply as Yukon, carved from the parts of the Northwest Territories surrounding the Klondike gold fields. On September 1, 1905, a portion of the Northwest Territories south of the 60th parallel north became the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. In 1912, the boundaries of Quebec, Ontario, and Manitoba were expanded northward: Manitoba’s to the 60° parallel, Ontario’s to Hudson Bay and Quebec’s to encompass the District of Ungava.




In 1869, the people of Newfoundland voted to remain a British colony over fears that taxes would increase with Confederation, and that the economic policy of the Canadian government would favour mainland industries. In 1907, Newfoundland acquired dominion status. In the middle of the Great Depression in Canada with Newfoundland facing a prolonged period of economic crisis, the legislature turned over political control to the Newfoundland Commission of Government in 1933. Following Canada’s participation in World War II, in a 1948 referendum, a narrow majority of Newfoundland citizens voted to join the Confederation, and on March 31, 1949, Newfoundland became Canada’s tenth province. In 2001, it was officially renamed Newfoundland and Labrador.

In 1903, the Alaska Panhandle Dispute fixed British Columbia’s northwestern boundary. This was one of only two provinces in Canadian history to have its size reduced. The second reduction, in 1927, occurred when a boundary dispute between Canada and the Dominion of Newfoundland saw Labrador increased at Quebec’s expense – this land returned to Canada, as part of the province of Newfoundland, in 1949. In 1999, Nunavut was created from the eastern portion of the Northwest Territories. Yukon lies in the western portion of Northern Canada, while Nunavut is in the east.




All three territories combined are the most sparsely populated region in Canada, covering 3,921,739 km2(1,514,192 sq mi) in land area. They are often referred to as a single region, The North, for organisational and economic purposes. For much of the Northwest Territories’ early history it was divided into several districts for ease of administration. The District of Keewatin was created as a separate territory from 1876 to 1905, after which, as the Keewatin Region, it became an administrative district of the Northwest Territories. In 1999, it was dissolved when it became part of Nunavut.

CANADA Map