Sunday, April 14, 2024

Canada’s Northwest Territories

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Map of the Northwest Territories

Canada’s Northwest Territories includes three major geographic regions: 1) the Arctic Islands to the north, 2) the Arctic Mainland, and 3) the Mackenzie Valley area. The Arctic Islands are a group of islands in the Arctic Ocean, located north of the Canadian mainland. Arctic mainland, sometimes called the Barren Lands. To the northeast and west of the tree line lies the Mackenzie Valley area. The geography of the Northwest Territories can be considered in terms of Canada’s seven geographic regions. Because four of these regions affect the Northwest Territories, namely the Western Cordillera, the Interior Plains, the Canadian Shield, and the Canadian Arctic. The capital of the territory is called Yellowknife (Yellowknife) located on the Arctic mainland. [ Yellowknife derives its name from the Aboriginal group known as the “T’atsaot’ine” or “Yellowknives”. It became the capital of the Northwest Territory in 1967. Known for its precious minerals, its traditional name is Smbak’è, meaning place of nobility.]

Canada’s seven geographic regions are:

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1) Canadian Shield: The Canadian Shield, also called the Laurentian Plateau, is a geological shield consisting of a large area of exposed igneous and high-grade metamorphic rocks. Much of Ontario forms this, the ancient geological center of the North American continent. The Canadian Shield is one of the world’s richest mineral deposits. It is rich in substantial deposits of nickel, gold, silver and copper. There are many mining towns across the Shield extracting this mineral. One of the largest, and best known, is Sudbury, Ontario.

2) Western Cordillera: A chain of mountain ranges extending from the US state of Alaska through northwestern Canada, the western United States and Mexico. The largest range is the Canadian Rockies; Others include the Rocky Mountain Coastal Range. They are very high and rugged in many places. Most of the Western Cordillera were built about 170 million to 40 million years ago.

3) Canadian Arctic: About 40 percent of Canada’s land is considered to be the Canadian Arctic and Northern Territory, comprising the northern part of the Northwest Territories, Nunavut and Yukon. Canada’s Arctic is home to about 150,000 inhabitants, more than half of whom are indigenous.

4) Appalachian Region: This mountain range extends through both the United States and Canada. In Canada, they are found in the coastal provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Quebec. Here, the term “Appalachian” refers to the various regions associated with the mountain range and its surrounding terrain.

5) Interior Plains : The Interior Plains is a large region that covers Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta as well as parts of the Northwest and Yukon Territory. The area is fairly flat, but has some low hills.

6) Hudson Bay Lowlands: Hudson Bay, a large body of brackish water in northeastern Canada, covers 1,230,000 square km. It is located north of Ontario, west of Quebec, northeast of Manitoba and southeast of Nunavut, but is politically fully part of Nunavut. Canada’s Hudson Bay was named in 1609 after English navigator Henry Hudson.

7) St. Lawrence Lowlands: The St. Lawrence Lowlands of Quebec are a large area (29,000 km-sq) along the banks of the St. Lawrence River. It is known for a rich agriculture and is where most of the population of the province of Quebec is concentrated.

The St. Lawrence Lowlands is one of Canada’s most densely populated, prosperous and productive regions. Major urban areas include Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa-Gatineau and Quebec City. These lowlands include the traditional territories of the Mohawk, Algonquian and Iroquoian peoples and the Cree.

Arctic Islands part of the Northwest Territories:

The Arctic Archipelago – the world’s second largest high Arctic land area – consists of 94 main islands, some of which belong to the Northwest Territories. Banks Island, the northeastern part of Victoria Island, the western part of Melville Island, and the Parry Islands border the territories. Ice never disappears from these islands in the Northwest Territories and covers all the surrounding sea for most of the year, severely limiting navigation. The southeastern sector of the archipelago is not as cold due to its proximity to the open waters of the North Atlantic. With its higher elevation, it receives more precipitation than elsewhere in the Arctic, making it one of Canada’s driest regions overall.

The archipelago differs from the other two regions of the Northwest Territories in being cooler in summer, with an average July temperature of only 10°C in most areas due to the surrounding cold waters. The great contrast between long summer days and short winter days reflects the high latitude. The severe climate and permafrost (permafrost is land at or below 0°C for at least two consecutive years. About 50 percent of Canada is covered by permafrost, mainly in the Arctic Islands, Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut) results in poor soil development. Vegetation varies from tundra, low shrubs to grasses, but even this limited vegetation is lacking in certain areas. The territories’ first national park, Aulvik, was established in 1992 in the Banks Islands archipelago.

Arctic Mainland of the Northwest Territories:

The Canadian Shield forms the Arctic mainland. Canada’s oldest rocks (3.96 billion years) have been found east of Great Bear Lake. During the Pleistocene (the Pleistocene is known for its frequent glaciation, the Ice Age) ice sheets polished its surface, dumping surface material beneath the bedrock. Rocks, sand and gravel remain in the melted ice. Overall it forms a gently undulating rocky surface of low elevation with a wonderful maze of rivers and lakes. As in the islands, truly good soil is generally absent. Vegetation is tundra type, although there are some notable shrubs. Like inland waterways in refuges, some vegetation extends from the forest to the south and west.

Climatically, as well as geographically, the Arctic Mainland lies between the Arctic Archipelago and the Mackenzie Valley, with severe winter temperatures and moderate summer temperatures due to its continental location. Baker Lake, for example, west of Hudson Bay, has an average daily high of -27°C in January and 16°C in July, with an average total rainfall of 268 mm.

Great Slave Lake and Great Bear Lake are the two largest lakes in the Northwest Territories.

Northwest Territories Mackenzie Valley Area:

Geologically, the region extends from the Canadian Shield at its eastern end through a succession of minor Paleozoic (shale, limestone, dolomite, sandstone, conglomerate) and Mesozoic (chalk, clay, black shale, and marl) sedimentary formations. Great Bear Lake (31,328 sq km) and Great Slave Lake (28,568 sq km) lie along the contact line of the shield. The greater economic development and larger population of the subarctic Mackenzie Valley separates it from the Arctic mainland. Much of the Mackenzie Valley region consists of a narrow northward fringe of flat continental interior plains. There are occasional flat-bedded hilly areas several hundred meters above the general surface. In the west it rises abruptly into the mountainous terrain of the rugged Cordillera region with peaks over 2,700 m. The area is united by the Mackenzie River and its tributaries, whose total drainage area (1.8 million km-square) and system length (4,241 km) are the largest and longest in Canada.

The upper Mackenzie Valley lies within the boreal forest transitional zone, where spruce and larch trees are common. The lower Mackenzie Valley is within the northern boreal forest area, with a large number of tree species including white birch, jack pine, balsam fir and compelling aspen.

The Mackenzie Valley has a wider temperature range than the other two regions. At Fort Good Hope, for example, the average daily temperature is -25°C in January and 21°C in July. Precipitation with snowfall is significantly higher than in other regions of the Arctic.

Wood Buffalo National Park, across the Alberta border, is Canada’s largest national park (44,802 km-sq.). The park was established in 1922 to protect the only herd of bison in the state and has become a summer nesting site for several thousand bison and the nearly extinct whooping crane.

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