For anyone interested in learning more about Canada, there is no shortage of places to look. Canada may, in fact, be one of the countries in the world that works hardest to spread information about itself, and over the years there have been thousands of high-quality books, magazines, movies, pamphlets, websites and museums produced to share all sorts of knowledge about all things Canadian.
Through its various departments and ministries, the Government of Canada produces a number of high-quality publications designed to teach people about Canada, many of which can be ordered free of charge for Canadian residents, and for only minimal shipping fees for foreigners.
Some of the better ones include:
Discover Canada, The Rights and Responsibilities of Canadian Citizenship. An illustrated guide intended to help educate Canadian immigrants about their new home. Provides an overview of most elements of Canada, including history, government, regions, culture and law.
How Canadians Govern Themselves. A common staple of Canadian classrooms, this classic textbook-style summary of Canadian government was authored by the late Senator Eugene Forsey (1904-1991).
Symbols of Canada. A beautifully illustrated guide explaining the significance of most of Canada’s national and provincial symbols, including flags, flowers and animals.
A Crown of Maples: Constitutional Monarchy in Canada. A colourful look at the role of the monarchy and Queen Elizabeth II in the development of modern Canada.
For those more interested in straight facts, every year Statistics Canada produces a publication known as the Canada Year Book, providing clear and concise summary of the most important statistical data relating to Canadian demographics and economy. The 455-page volume can be ordered for $24.95 from either the Stats-Can website or most major online bookstores. The Statistics Canada website can be difficult to navigate, but for those with perseverance, it’s the ultimate online source for Canadian demographic data.
Canada maintains one of the largest diplomatic presences in the world, with embassies or consulates located in most major cities of most nations. Canadian consular staff tend to have access to a wide variety of publications and information which they are happy to share with interested visitors, and many Canadian missions abroad are interesting, informative buildings in their own right. For a complete list of consular offices and embassies, visit Foreign Affairs Canada’s Directory of Canadian government offices abroad.
Lastly, the official website of the Government of Canada is mostly clean and well organized, and serves as a convenient hub to a variety of pages providing information on Canadian symbols, history, culture and — of course — government.
Outside of government publications, there have been thousands of fine books written on the subject of what Canadians often refer to as Canadiana, or Canada studies. Since the 1960s and 1970s in particular, there has been a conscious effort on the part of many of Canada’s leading historians, political scientists and anthropologists to create comprehensive reference guides about various aspects of the country. Along with the books listed below, I encourage you to look over this site’s readings page for additional books of a more specific or focused nature.
The Canadian Encyclopedia has long been one of the most important resources on all things Canada and has undergone a number of different evolutions over the years. The first edition was published as an illustrated, three-volume set in 1985, followed by an updated four-volume set in 1988, both released by Hurtig Publishing. Shortly after, ownership of the publication was transferred to McClelland & Stewart, and in 2000 a new one-volume edition was released, with the illustrations removed. From 1991 to 2000, McClelland & Stewart also released a yearly CD-ROM edition of the encyclopedia, before finally donating the publication to the Historica-Dominion Institute, a non-profit historical research think tank, which now operate the encyclopedia as a free online resource.
1000 Questions About Canada remains one of the most accessible and readable summaries of a broad variety of Canadian topics, including history, geography, sports, entertainment and culture, presented in a simple question-and-answer format. Written by prolific Canadian archivist John Robert Colombo (b. 1936), the book has been released several times over the years under slightly different names. The first edition was 1001 Questions About Canada (Doubleday, 1986), followed by 999 Questions About Canada (Doubleday, 1989), and then finally 1000 Questions About Canada (Dundurn, 2001).
Canadian Who’s Who is a biographical dictionary of over 13 000 noteworthy living Canadians that is published every year by the University of Toronto. Though it tends to get dated fairly quickly, for over 100 years it has remained a leading resource for those seeking strict, factual data about the ages, birthplaces, educational backgrounds and career histories of famous Canadians.
The Historical Atlas of Canada is a three-volume set of richly detailed maps and essays describing the geographic and political evolution of Canada as a modern country. First published by the University of Toronto in 1987, a one-volume, condensed version was later released in 1998 under the title Concise Historical Atlas of Canada. The creators have since made many of their maps and data accessible through an interactive website known as the Historical Atlas of Canada Online Learning Project.
For those interested in a more contemporary perspective, there have been a number of excellent Canadian Atlases published for modern use, my personal favourite being the Canadian Oxford World Atlas. Featuring dozens of pages of detailed maps describing the topography, natural resources and population centres of modern-day Canada, it released its sixth edition in 2008.
Canada’s Weather: The Climate that Shapes a Nation is a beautifully illustrated, incredibly thorough look at not only Canadian weather, but also Canadian nature and geography in general. Published by Firefly Books in 2009, it was written by Chris St. Clair (b. 1958) a Canadian meteorologist at the Weather Network.
The Oxford Companion to Canadian History (2004) is a one-volume, encyclopedia-style reference book containing brief profiles of the most important places, people and events from Canadian history. Published by Oxford University Press, it features contributions from over 500 Canadian historians. A similar, smaller reference book was released in 1988 by Canadian historians David J. Bercuson (b. 1945) and J.L. Granatstein (b. 1939), known as the Collins Dictionary of Canadian History (Collins Publishers). Though now somewhat outdated, it remains a useful source for those looking for brief overviews and quick summaries.
History professor Ed Whitcomb (b. 1942) has authored a remarkable series of short books summarizing the histories of the 10 provinces and three territories of Canada, known as the A Short History of … series. Brief and to the point, each one offers a succinct summary of the economic, political and demographic conditions that have defined the regions of Canada from aboriginal times to the present.
Politics in Canada, now in its seventh edition (2008), is probably among the most comprehensive texts ever written on the Canadian political system, and provides an honest, frank and often critical summary of all the major institutions of Canadian governments, as well as an overview of the country’s history, and its contemporary debates and controversies. Written by Professor Robert Jackson (b. 1934), who has served as an adviser to several prime ministers, it leaves few topics untouched.
The Canadian Parliamentary Guide is an extremely comprehensive yearly publication released by Grey House Publishing that contains data on just about everything you could ever want to know about Canada’s government and its politicians. Among other things, this includes biographies of every single sitting member of the House, Senate and all provincial legislatures, vote tallies from every past federal and provincial election, and a lengthy summary of Canadian history. Like the Canadian Almanac, it is not a cheap book to buy new, though used copies from previous years can be much more affordable.
Dynasties and Interludes (2010) is a thick, but highly readable summary of every federal election in Canadian history, from 1867 to the present. Authored by a team of political scientists, it provides a lively account of the personalities and debates that have dominated Canadian politics over the years, and is a wonderful reference source for anyone looking for historical context of the controversies of today.
This website’s bibliography offers a good selection of more specific Canadian books on a number of topics. If you enjoyed this site, it may be worthwhile to check some of them out.
In 2010, Samara, a Canadian civic affairs think tank, held a vote to determine a list of the 12 best Canadian political books of the last 25 years.
Amazon.com has a list of “Canadian Essentials,” that includes not only books, but CDs and DVDs as well.