All the rocks on earth are no comparison to the Rock of our salvation.
When God created planet Earth, He separated the land from the water, making a clear distinction between the two. While human beings have learned how to build boats to traverse water, most of Earth’s population chooses to live on land. Not all water on Earth is the same—there is fresh and salt water—and neither is all land on Earth the same.
God has given Canada a great variety of land—rainforests, deserts, mountains, hills, valleys, and plains. He created that variety intentionally and with purpose. Ancient Israel’s King David marveled, “O Lord, how manifold are Your works! In wisdom You have made them all. The earth is full of Your possessions” (Psalm 104:24). God inspired Moses to record, “Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). Canada is a country with remarkable diversity in its climate, terrain, flora, and fauna. That diversity brings challenges, but also great blessings, and has shaped the way Canadians have spread out across their nation, building a foundation for prosperity and growth.
Canada is the second-largest country in the world by total land and water area—9.985 million square kilometres. In land area only, it is the fourth-largest country, with 9.094 million square kilometres. There’s no getting around it—Canada is huge!
Yet Canada is not so big from a population perspective, currently ranking 38th according to WorldPopulationReview.com, with roughly 39 million people. By simple calculation, the population density of Canada is about four people per square kilometre—one of the lowest in the world. But this math neglects the fact that nearly half the population of Canada lives in an area of 230,000 square kilometres. (This is the Quebec City–Windsor Corridor, a mere 2.5 percent of Canada’s total area, where the population density is 82 people per square kilometre.)
Why does such a large country with a relatively small population have so many citizens clustered together? The answer is not that Canadians need to huddle together to keep warm, though parts of Canada are indeed cold at certain times of the year, and some parts are cold year-round. While the primary reason is not temperature, it is an element of geography. One geographic feature in particular accounts for most of Canada’s peculiar population distribution and much of its wealth.
Heading east from the wide-open prairies of central Canada, a noticeable change in terrain begins near the eastern edge of Manitoba. There you find no more grasslands with cultivated fields and small farming communities. The land becomes rough and rocky with less vegetation. Welcome to the beautiful and rugged Laurentian Plateau—a visible portion of the Earth’s crust and the world’s largest mass of exposed Precambrian rock.
The Laurentian Plateau is an eight-million-square-kilometre area of igneous and metamorphic rock that forms the core of the continent of North America. It underlies five million square kilometres of Canada—50 percent of the country. From Labrador in the east, it extends westward across Canada to include most of Quebec, much of Ontario and Manitoba, the northern third of Saskatchewan, the northeast tip of Alberta, the eastern half of the Northwest Territories, and most of Nunavut. Since most of the Laurentian Plateau is located within Canadian territory, it is understandably referred to as the Canadian Shield.
Productive soil on relatively flat land is essential for establishing the agricultural base to sustain a high population density. Most of planet Earth’s land surface is covered by a layer of soil ranging in thickness from a few centimetres to a few metres. The soil across much of the Canadian Shield is at the very low end of that range—and what soil exists is often stony, poorly drained, and not very fertile. Furthermore, the land is full of craggy outcrops and hills of solid rock, the worn remnants of ancient mountains. The Canadian Shield contains little arable land suitable for farming or raising livestock.
The agricultural productivity of the Canadian Shield is meagre, but that is not the only reason for the sparse settlement of this region of Canada. Granite, one of the hardest substances, is the predominant rock forming the Canadian Shield. Granite may make great kitchen countertops, but building on it can be extremely difficult. Digging any significant hole or trench in the Canadian Shield requires blasting. Houses, roads, sewer lines, and other important infrastructures required to sustain large populations are costly—and challenging to construct and maintain—when working with such a hard material.
While the land of the Canadian Shield is unsuitable for large-scale agriculture and difficult to build on, it is not completely barren. Due to the shallow permafrost, vegetation in the northern portion of the Canadian Shield is minimal and any trees that manage to grow are typically stunted. But in the central and southern portions we find vast boreal forests, the dominant ecosystem of the Canadian Shield. Conifers and deciduous trees abound—pine, spruce, fir, cedar, hemlock, poplar, aspen, birch, ash, and maple—a veritable treasure trove of soft- and hardwood lumber.
The Canadian Shield also contains a wealth of mineral ores such as gold, silver, nickel, copper, asbestos, zinc, iron, uranium, cobalt, palladium, and—discovered more recently—diamonds. Commercial mining operations began in the nineteenth century and have contributed greatly to Canada’s economic development. Canada’s mineral production was valued at $55.5 billion in 2021, mostly coming from the Canadian Shield. In gold alone, the production was 223 tonnes, valued at $13.7 billion, making Canada the fourth-largest global producer of that precious metal (“Gold Facts,” Government of Canada, Natural-Resources.Canada.ca, February 17, 2023).
There is another natural resource of the Canadian Shield that is arguably more valuable than lumber or minerals. The Canadian Shield is a storehouse of fresh water. Tens of thousands of lakes, large and small, can be found within the area of the Canadian Shield. These lakes provide a habitat for fish, drinking water for people and wildlife, areas for recreation, and opportunities to produce hydroelectric energy.
Only about 10 percent of Canada’s population lives on the Canadian Shield, as this large rocky plate undergirding half of the country is not ideal for human settlement. But while the Canadian Shield may not be the best place for a farm or a city, it is by no means empty and barren. It is filled with an incredible array of natural resources and is the solid physical foundation upon which the country’s economy has been built. Truly, the Canadian Shield is a blessing from God that is “very good.”
As Christians, we too must have a solid foundation, striving to be obedient to our Saviour (Luke 6:46; John 14:15). Jesus Christ told His followers to build their spiritual foundation on solid rock (Matthew 7:24–27). But unlike the difficult granite of the Canadian Shield, our Rock is Jesus Christ Himself (1 Corinthians 10:4). A strong physical foundation is only sustainable with a strong spiritual foundation built upon Christ—the only tried, precious spiritual cornerstone we are to build upon (Isaiah 28:16).