Located in the north-eastern section of North America, Québec is the largest of the ten Canadian provinces. Its territory spans 1,667,441 km2, which means it is nearly three times the size of France and more than 40 times that of Switzerland. Québec is also a peninsula bounded on three sides by the Atlantic Ocean, the Labrador Sea and the Hudson Bay.
Nearly 80 percent of Québec’s population is mainly concentrated in the southern section of the province along the St. Lawrence River, around the Gaspésie peninsula, the Saguenay, the Lac Saint-Jean and the Abitibi areas. Half of its 7.9 millions inhabitants occupy less than 1% of the territory in the most highly urbanized areas.
Québec is divided into three main geological regions: the St. Lawrence Lowlands embedded between the Precambrian Massif of the Canadian Shield, north of the St. Lawrence River, and the Appalachians to the south. These natural boundaries extend beyond Québec territory.
- The St. Lawrence Lowland is a plain along the St. Lawrence River. The bedrock essentially consists of very ancient rocks dating back to the Paleozoic era, some 250 to 500 million years. They are mostly sedimentary rocks formed by the accumulation of sediments in a sea or ocean. Québec’s best fertile farmlands are located in the St. Lawrence Lowland.
- The plateau Laurentien or Canadian Shield occupies nearly 95 percent of the area of Québec. The Canadian Shield, dating to the Precambrian era, is the most ancient geological formation in the world that is more than two billion years old. It is an area mostly composed of igneous rocks mainly granites, but also metamorphic and sedimentary rocks. It is bounded on the south by the Laurentides (Laurentians) mountain chain which skirts the St. Lawrence River.
- In the Appalachian region located south of the river, lies a narrow stripe of old mountains with rounded peaks along the south-east border of Québec. The Appalachians like the St. Lawrence Platform consist of Paleozoic rocks.
All these mountains have been leveled by millions of years of systematic erosion and by glacier motion. Their elevations vary from 300 to 600 meters only. The highest peaks in Québec are Mont D’Iberville (1,622 m / 5,321 ft.), located in Nunavik’s Torngat mountains, and Mont Jacques-Cartier (1,268 m / 4,160 ft.), part of the Chic-Chocs mountain range in the Gaspésie.
Québec's territory is made up of lands, freshwater bodies and courses, and a marine environment that takes in the fleuve Saint-Laurent and the golfe Saint-Laurent as well as the coastline of Baie James, Hudson Bay, Hudson Strait, and Ungava Bay. In Québec, privately-owned lands represent only a small portion of the territory. Everything else is public land.
- Covers nearly 8% of the territory (116,910 km²);
- Is located in southern Québec, which contains most of the population lives in the lowlands of the Saint-Laurent, around Gaspésie and Lac Saint-Jean, and in Abitibi;
- Is subdivided into nearly 3.5 million lots represented by the cadastre.
- Covers more than 92% of the territory, which includes:
- land and inland water: 1,396,969 km²;
- a marine environment: 153,562 km²;
- Lies mainly in the center and northern parts of Québec, which are sparsely populated;
- Constitutes a major heritage, exceptional natural environment, and basin of natural resources essential to the socioeconomic development of all regions of Québec.
The manager of this public land is the ministère des Ressources naturelles. The Department is responsible for developing the territory as well as natural ressources including forestry, mineral and energy.
Nearly 80 % of Quebecers live along the shores of the Saint-Laurent (St. Lawrence River) in a temperate continental climate where four distinct seasons follow one another.
The beginning dates of the four seasons mark the four major turning points in the cycle of seasons for our planet. Spring and Automn equinoxes are the two days of the year having "equal night" and it's on these days that light and dark appear to be about the same length — roughly a twelve hour long day and night. Summer and winter solstices, however, indicate respectively the longest and the shortest day of the year.
Earth's axis is responsible for this day duration variation during the year. This same axis explains why the amounts of sunlight increase near the Spring equinoxe to reach its highest point at the Summer Solstice allowing the Northern Hemisphere to receive more direct sunlight and experience warming temperatures. Conversely, throughout the fall season, the sun’s midday position in the sky slowly sinks closer to the horizon, and the days shorten until the winter Solstice.
While the weather may not show it, springtime officially begins on the Vernal Equinox, around the date of March 20th. Temperature increases, snow begins to melt and Sugar Season occurs when the Sugar Maple trees sap begins to flow. Springtime is the shortest season. When snowstorms still occur in March, people say that winter is never-ending, whereas if the weather is unusually warm in May, they will say that summer is early.
Warmer and longer days signal the coming of the summer season. On around June 21st every year, locations north of the equator officially start summer which spreads until September 20. In Québec, the weather is hot and humid. In the cities, high temperature can reach above 30°C in midsummer heat waves, generally in July.
The first day of fall though officially arrives on or about September 21st and is called the autumnal equinox. As September draws to a close, daylight hours shorten and temperatures cool. The forests draw on their fiery cloaks, dazzling one and all with a symphony of brilliant reds, yellows and oranges. The main factor in the coloration of trees is the photo period or the length of daylight, that is the decreasing of daylight resulting from shorter days. Come mid-November, the trees have shed all their leaves, temperature has drop near the freezing mark and the chances of snow showers increase.
Winter doesn’t officially begin in the Northern Hemisphere until the Winter Solstice, around December 21st. But the real signs of the beginning of winter for Quebecers are the first falling snowflakes, even in November. Winter in the province is cold with lots of snow showers, but Quebecers have learned to cope with it. It is long too, since snow will begin to melt only in March. From mid-December to mid-March, the temperature ranges from -15°C to -20°C (5°F to -4°F), but can sometimes change suddenly within a 24-hour period.
Québec’s cold and humid climate is due to its nordic and maritime position. With such a huge land mass the province of Québec regions show wide temperature and precipitation variations, with relation to their latitude, relief and maritime influence. Québec has four types of climate.
Humid Continental Climate
Humid Continental climate in the province is located south of 50e N latitude. This climatic region is characterized by a hot and slightly humid summer, sometimes severely cold, and rather long winters. The thermal amplitude (difference between the highs and lows) of this climate is approximately 30°C (68°F). Precipitation is important all year long exceeding 900 mm per year. This zone is dominated by hardwood and mixed stands.
Subarctic climate, between the 50th and 58th parallels, consists of colder, longer winters and shorter, cooler summers. Precipitation is scarce. Annual average temperatures over Chapais and Natashquan nears freezing point. The regions of this climate are covered by taiga, dominated by open softwood forests on a lichen mat.
The extreme northern portion of the territory is subject to the rigours of the Arctic climate characterized by a very cold and dry winter, and a short thaw season. In Kuujjuaq, the mean duration of frost-free period is 115 days per year. Low precipitation observed amounts barely to 530 mm per year. It is the lowest in the province. The Arctic climate corresponds to the areas covered by tundra, a combination of stands of variable density, and tundra, characterized mainly by shrubs and lichens.
East Maritime Climate
East Maritime climate is found at the Îles-de-la-Madeleine. This climate features long but relatively cool winters and short, warm and rainy summers.
The distribution of vegetation on Quebec’s land area is mostly determined by climatic factors. In the St. Lawrence lowlands, the climate changes gradually from south-west to north-east. In the south of Québec, altitude variations, if important, can result in a level of vegetation comparable to the changes caused by latitude. The soil nature, the relief and the disturbance factors like forest fires, epidemics, and cutting, also affect vegetation distribution.
Québec is divided in three vegetation zones:
- Northern Temperate Zone, is dominated by mixed and deciduous forests,
- Boreal Zone, characterized by coniferous forests;
- Arctic Zone, characterized by low-growth bush, grass, moss and lichen formations.
Forests are everywhere in Québec. Vast, majestic, intersected by thousands of lakes and watercourses, they play a major economic, social and environmental role. Québec’s forests account for 20 % of the total Canadian forest and 2 % of the world’s forests. In Québec, dense forests cover an area of 761,100 km2, equivalent in size to the territories of Norway and Sweden combined. Some 70 % of the total area is productive (commercial) forest.