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It has been said that Canada is defined by its geography. Certainly its history has been heavily shaped and formed by the landscape and the waters that Europeans encountered upon their arrival here. As explorers, naturalists, mariners, merchants and settlers arrived on the shores of Atlantic Canada, they were confronted by what they saw as a hostile and dangerous environment and an unforgiving sea. As they voyaged further north, they were met by both icebergs and an extremely cold climate. The Atlantic coast, while offering an abundance of fish, whales, seals, and fowl, was not highly conducive to settlement, having little arable land. As Europeans moved further into the continent, especially through the Gulf of St. Lawrence and up the river, they learned of numerous waterways, including the Ottawa, Saguenay, St. Francis and Richelieu rivers, and the Great Lakes, which provided easy access to an entire continent of wonders. However, the barrier formed by the Canadian Shield discouraged settlement further north and limited the establishment of communities to the narrow strips of arable land along the shores of rivers and lakes. Settlers also encountered a multitude of unfamiliar birds, animals, sea life and plants, and continued to learn of new species well into the late 19th century. Europeans tried to cope with the daunting new land by mapping, recording and claiming it as their own.
Explorers and traders also entered the continent from the north, via Hudson Bay, and from the south, via the Hudson and Mohawk rivers. In present-day Ontario, they met an enormous diversity of plant life and ecologies that had evolved as a result of the varied climate and geology of the region. With the St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes forming a southern boundary, most of central Canada was easily traversed. In 1678, the newcomers first saw Niagara Falls, one of the most wondrous of North America's natural attractions.
The Northwest encompassed a wide range of geographic and climatic features. It was home to many different groups of Aboriginal peoples, and supported a variety of flora and fauna. European understanding of the specific nature of this land and its inhabitants varied greatly, with observations ranging from highly accurate and scientific to outlandish or fantastic. With time, the new settlers learned from the Aboriginal peoples about survival in potentially deadly environments, and adopted many of their housing and transportation methods, clothing, food sources and medicines.
The Pacific region was not seriously mapped and charted until the late 18th century. The treacherous waters off the coast were a hazard to navigation and to settlement; the numerous mountain ranges stretching from the northwest of present-day Yukon to the southeast of present-day British Columbia, limited exploration and settlement from both east and west. Moreover, the wide range of environmental conditions -- from the Pacific rain forest to the arid valleys of the interior, and from the Arctic temperatures of the far north to the mild temperatures of the lower mainland -- delayed the arrival of European settlers. However, these geographical and geological features and environmental conditions also produced a unique selection of flora, fauna and natural phenomena.
Last to be explored were the Arctic regions of what is now known as Canada. This part of the world resisted early efforts at exploration, as many Europeans perished in their attempts to find the Northwest Passage to the Far East. In the post-Napoleonic period, the British Navy renewed efforts to map the Arctic and to discover a water route to China. The many expeditions sent overland and by sea eventually helped complete the outlines of the map of Canada. By 1900, the map was almost completely filled in, providing a real sense of the country's magnificence.
We hope you enjoy these selections of landscape views, which are mostly from the Peter Winkworth Collection of Canadiana. They are augmented by works of art chosen from our permanent holdings for their informative value, aesthetic appeal and quality of execution -- that present a unique perspective on Canada's geography and landscape.