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is almost unimaginably vast. It stretches from the Atlantic to the Pacific and from the latitude of Rome to beyond the Magnetic North Pole. Its archetypal landscapes are the Rocky Mountain lakes and peaks, the endless forests and the prairie wheatfields, but Canada holds landscapes that defy expectations: rainforest and desert lie close together in the southwest corner of the country, while in the east a short drive can take you from fjords to lush orchards. What's more, great tracts of Canada are completely unspoiled - ninety percent of the country's 28.5 million population lives within 100 miles of the US border.
Like its neighbour to the south, Canada is a spectrum of cultures, a hotchpotch of immigrant groups who supplanted the continent's many native peoples. There's a crucial difference, though. Whereas citizens of the United States are encouraged to perceive themselves as Americans above all else, Canada's concertedly multicultural approach has done more to acknowledge the origins of its people, creating an ethnic mosaic as opposed to America's "melting-pot". Alongside the French and British majorities live a host of communities who maintain the traditions of their homelands - Chinese, Ukrainians, Portuguese, Indians, Dutch, Polish, Greek and Spanish, to name just the most numerous. For the visitor, the mix that results from the country's exemplary tolerance is an exhilarating experience, offering such widely differing environments as Vancouver's huge Chinatown and the austere religious enclaves of Manitoba. Canadians themselves, however, are often troubled by the lack of a clear self-image, tending to emphasize the ways in which they are different from the US as a means of self-description. The question "What is a Canadian?" has acquired a new immediacy with the interminable and acrimonious debate over QuAİbec and its possible secession, but ultimately there can be no simple characterization of a people whose country is not so much a single nation as a committee on a continental scale. Pierre Berton, one of Canada's finest writers, wisely ducked the issue; Canadians, he quipped, are "people who know how to make love in a canoe".
The typical Canadian might be an elusive concept, but you'll find there's a distinctive feel to the country. Some towns might seem a touch too well-regulated and unspontaneous, but against this there's the overwhelming sense of Canadian pride in their history and pleasure in the beauty of their land. Canada embraces its own clichAİs with an energy that's irresistible, promoting everything from the Calgary Stampede to maple-syrup festivals and lumberjacking contests with an extraordinary zeal and openness. As John Buchan, writer and Governor-General of Canada, said, "You have to know a man awfully well in Canada to know his surname."
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