Wednesday, February 25, 2004

THE CENTRE OF THE COUNTRY

In this huge, regionally fragmented country in which most of the population is stretched out over a thin east-west axis I think the question of where people consider the centre of the country to be is an amusing one. The comments to this post generated some discussion on the topic and I am know revisiting it with several possible suggestions for the location of the centre along with an argument for my own choice.

I think there are some principle ways to evaluate the location of the centre of the country: it could be done on a strict evaluation of geographical landmarks or population distribution, or more subjectively as a combination of these factors with consideration of historical significance.

I tried to locate someone who had already calculted the exact centre of Canada based either on geography or population. I couldn't find anything but I didn't look that hard, so if anyone knows an exact reference feel free to let me know. In the absence of an easy answer I did some calculations of my own. First geographically.

Based on Canada's most extreme points:
*northernmost point: near Cape Columbia, Ellesmere Island, Nunavut (83 deg. 7' North)
*southernmost point: Middle Island, Ontario in Lake Erie (41 deg. 41' North)
*easternmost point: Cape Spear, Newfoundland, Newfoundland and Labrador (50 deg. 37' West)
*westernmost point: Yukon-Alaska border (141 deg. 0' West)

The possibilities:

The exact centre (calculated by me):
95 deg. 14' West, 62 deg. 17' North, in Southern Nunavut

Churchill, Manitoba:
The nearest town of any significance to this location.

Manitoba-Ontario border:
If we consider only the East-West axis, the border is almost the exact centre. It also works well given the common distinction of Manitoba being in the west and Ontario in the East.

Winnipeg:
The closest major city to the border. Also has good historical significance.

On the strict analysis of population the centre moves into Ontario. The population East and West of Ontario is almost exactly eaqual: 9,523,000 to the East, 9,073,000 to the West. A more detailed analysis of Ontario would be time consuming but given the number of larger cities west of Toronto (Windsor, London, Kitchener, St. Catherines, Hamilton) in comparison to those east of the city (Kingston, Ottawa) I think the centre could be somewhere in South-Western Ontario. Possibilities:

Kitchener-Waterloo or London. If you want to go with something smaller it could be Guelph or Stratford.

There is a further consideration. If we accept the Ottawa-Montreal-Toronto axis as the political, economic, cultural centre of the country (which I imagine many Canadians are loathe to do) then the centre of the country would be somewhere between these cities. I think the obvious half-way point in this case would be Kingston. I think Kingston is also not a bad choice given its history as a one time capital of Upper Canada, and the home of our first prime minister.

I suppose you could also argue that Ottawa is the centre given that it is, roughly, in the centre and, you know, the capital, but that's pretty boring.

Now for my own thesis on the exact location of the centre of the country. Full disclosure of my bias: I was born in Ontario and I'm a student of Upper Canadian history. I have traveled to every Canadian province and provincial capital (except PEI/Charlottetown) as well as Yukon and Whitehorse.

If we consider that the population centre of the country is in Ontario, that the East-West geographic centre is (marginally) in Ontario, that it is the province with the largest population, also that the capital and the country's largest city (both by population and economy) are in Ontario then the centre of the country has to be somewhere in Ontario. Consider as well that points East of Ontario are generally considered to be Eastern Canada and points West to be Western Canada.

Within Ontario I think there are convincing arguments that could place the centre to the West or even East of the city. I think though, the centre of the province has to be considered Toronto. It is the largest city, it is the political and economic capital. Further the East-West consideration works again. In Ontario points West of Toronto (Hamilton, London, Windsor) or considered Western Ontario. Points East (Kingston, Cornwall, Ottawa) are considered Eastern Ontario.

I think, however we can get even more specific than Toronto. Within Toronto Yonge Street divides the city East-West the same way Toronto divides the provice, and Ontario the country. Further, Yonge St. is a very significant street. It was one of the two original streets established by Governor John Graves Simcoe. It is the longest street in world. The Eaton Centre, Union Station, the major financial institutions and City Hall are located on or just slightly East or West of Yonge.

When standing on Yonge Street, I think you're standing at the centre of the country.

Posted by Matthew @ 3:25 PM