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Europeans began “exploring and staking claims” in several parts of North America with the advent of the Age of Discovery (from early 15th century). The native population dwindled owing tothe violent conflicts and introduction of European diseases. After Britain, Spain, and France had fought against each other and established their presence in North America, several independence movements started across the continent in the late 18th century leading to creation of the modern countries.
After the 13 British colonies on the North Atlantic coast were declared independent in 1776, they became the USA. The northern territories controlled by Britain and France were unified to form Canada. New Spain (from modern-day southern US to Central America) became the first Mexican empire after it was declared independent in 1810.
North American Countries with Area and Population
|S. No||Country||Area in SQKM||Population 2011|
|2||Antigua and Barbuda||442||81,799|
|8||Bonaire (Neth.)||294||17,408 (2013)|
|9||British Virgin Islands (UK)||151||28,054 (2010)|
|11||Cayman Islands (UK)||264||56,601|
|12||Clipperton Island (Fr.)||6||NA|
|14||Cuba||109886||11238317 (2014 census)|
|17||Dominican Republic||48671||9,980,243 (2015 estimate)|
|18||El Salvador||21041||6,377,195 (2015 estimate)|
|21||Guadeloupe (Fr.)||1628||403,750 (Jan. 2014)|
|22||Guatemala||108889||15,806,675 (2014 estimate)|
|23||Haiti||27750||10,604,000 (2015 estimate)|
|24||Honduras||112492||8,249,574 (2010 estimate)|
|25||Jamaica||10991||2,950,210 (July 2015 estimate)|
|26||Martinique (Fr.)||1128||386,486 (January 2013)|
|27||Mexico||1964375||125,235,587 (2015 estimate)|
|28||Montserrat (UK)||102||4,900 (2012 estimate)|
|29||Navassa Island (US)||5||NA|
|31||Panama||75417||3929141 (July 2015 estimate)|
|32||Puerto Rico (US)||8870||3,474,182 (2015 estimate)|
|33||Saba (Neth.)||13||1,991 (2013)|
|34||Saint Barthélemy (Fr.)||21||1,883|
|35||Saint Kitts and Nevis||261||52,971|
|37||Saint Martin (Fr.)||54||36,286|
|38||Saint Pierre and Miquelon (Fr.)||242||6,080|
|39||Saint Vincent and the Grenadines||389||109,357|
|40||Sint Eustatius (Neth.)||21||3,543 (2010)|
|42||Trinidad and Tobago||5130||1,223,916 (July 2014 estimate)|
|43||Turks and Caicos Islands(UK)||948||49,000 (2012 census)|
|44||United States||9629091||322,369,319 (2016 estimate)|
|45||United States Virgin Islands (US)||347||103,574 (2015 estimate)|
The Great Plains and the Mississippi River System are among the most interesting geographical features of North America. Except a few hills, the Great Plains is generally a large swathe of treeless areas and shallow river valleys. Mississippi (3,765 km) is the most important river of North America. It combines with its tributaries – Missouri and Ohio rivers – to become the third largest river system (6,236 km) in the world.
North America is a home to numerous islands located off the continent's coasts. Greenland, the world's largest island, is also a part of the continent geographically. According to the United States Geographical Survey (USGS), the geographic center of North America is about 24 km (15 mi) from Rugby, North Dakota. Mt McKinley (20,322 ft) in Alaska and the Death Valley (282 ft below sea level) in California are the highest and lowest points in the continent.
Canada is one of the oldest regions in the continent with large reserves of iron, nickel, zinc, copper, gold, lead, molybdenum, and uranium. The Canadian Shield in the north is also known for its boreal forests, which are the lifeline of the logging industry. Central America is considered the geologically most active zone in the continent with volcanic eruptions and earthquakes frequenting the region. This region also has several mountain ranges with Sierra Madre de Chiapas and the Cordillera Isabelia being the longest ones.
The richness in biodiversity in Canada and the USA is directly linked to their diverse landscape and large areas. While continental US and Canada are known for their vascular plants and temperate forests, Hawaii is home to more than 1,800 species of flowering plants. Laurel forests, which are temperate evergreen cloud forests, could be seen in large swathes in the southernmost point of North America.
More than 430 species of mammals are endemic to the continental U.S. White-tailed deer, American mink, American beaver, striped skunk, and red fox add diversity to the fauna of North America. Gray wolf, brown bear, caribou, wolverine, and the musk ox are synonymous with Canada.
The red-tailed hawk is not only quite commonly seen in the U.S., but also in the entire continent. Apart from cougars, Jaguars, and spider monkeys, it is the red brocket (deer) found in tropical forests that make the continent's fauna exclusive.
Greenland is the coldest region in the entire continent by virtue of having an Arctic climate. The average temperatures hardly exceed 10°C (50° F) even during the peak of summer. However, the southern part of the country can witness temperatures rising more than 20° C (68° F) in June, July or August. Canada is known for harsh winters owing to its continental climate. Coastal regions, including British Columbia, have a temperate climate with mild winter and warm summers with average temperature ranging from 25 to 30 °C (77 to 86° F).
Different climatic zones exist in the USA, thanks to its geographic variety. While south Florida and Hawaii have tropical climate, the Great Plains witness semi-arid climate. The Mediterranean climate in coastal California is in sharp contrast to the sub-Arctic climate of Alaska. North Mexico has a dry climate unlike in the tropical lowlands of southern part of the country that witnesses an average rainfall of more than 2,000 mm. The capital city of Mexico remains pleasant throughout the year with the difference between summer and winter mean temperatures being approximately 6 to 8 °C (11 to 14 °F).
English, Spanish, and French are the dominant languages in the continent. In Canada, English and French are considered co-official languages. In fact, places such as Ontario, Manitoba, and the US state of Louisiana have significant French-speaking population. Mexican is widely spoken in southern part of the USA. Greenland has a significant Danish-speaking population and Dutch is spoken in some of the Caribbean nations.
A large chunk of North America’s population is found in the U.S.A., Mexico and Canada, and Christianity is the dominant religion in these countries. Followers of Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism have also made inroads into this continent.
Mexico is comparatively new to the idea of an industrialized country as it is on the cusp of change from traditional operations to modern operations. Electronic goods, industrial exports, oil and automobiles are revenue-generating sectors of Mexican economy. Cuban economy has largely been state-controlled. It is now in a revival mode after it received a setback owing to its adherence to socialist principles.
The North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is one of the largest trade blocs in the world with its member nations – USA, Canada, and Mexico – establishing strong economic cooperation to eliminate trade barriers. The Caribbean trade bloc, CARICOM (Caribbean Community), is one of the earliest entities formed in 1973 with an objective of promoting economic integration among the 15 Caribbean nations.
Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) was implemented in 2004 by Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua along with Dominican Republic and the U.S.A. to promote financial cooperation among its members and create a free trade area similar to NAFTA. Guatemala has the largest economy in Central America, with bananas, coffee, sugar, and petroleum being its main exports.
Cuisine in North America is as varied as its topography. While Caribou stew, smoked salmon, roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, and Montreal-style smoked meat are a craze in Canada, the US swears by its hamburgers, pies, and hot dogs. Rice and fish is the staple food of the Caribbean. Flying fish, lobster, crab soup, turtle stew, and meat pies are common in almost every island in the region. Coconut is a dominant ingredient in the curries. In fact, the cuisine of Southeastern Mexico also has a Caribbean influence. Seafood is more popular in regions close to the Pacific Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico. Cuban dishes are mostly sautéed or slow-cooked. Sofrito, which is widely used for seasoning, adds a distinctive flavor to the native cuisine. Stews, meat dishes, and tomato-based sauces are quite a hit among the locals.
From Mexican Mariachi to American Rock & Roll, the North America is known for introducing several genres of music to the world. American pop stars such as Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson are still considered the stalwarts. Cuban music is inspired by various musical styles like salsa, mambo and the cha-cha-cha. Popular Cuban music has strong African and European influences. The evolution of Caribbean music is largely attributed to the descendants of African slaves. Calypso and reggae are some of the genres that got worldwide popularity. Celine Dion and Shania Twain are the names that continue to bring the focus back on Canadian music.
Art & Sculpture
The Afro-American and European sculptors who migrated to the US revived the classical tradition and gave prominence to the idea of American Expressionism. After artists such as Jackson Pollock showed interest in Native American art, several American artists followed suit and began to recreate their traditional art. They also gave birth to a new art blending European and Native American ideas. Cuba has a long tradition when it comes to visual arts. The country has witnessed a steady transition from pre-revolution modernist masterpieces to contemporary paintings and sculptures.
The mural paintings of Mexico is revered by art lovers all over the world. The immediate impact of Mexican Revolution (1910 to 1920) on Mexican art was 'dramatic', to say the least. Apart from murals, paintings with nationalistic and political messages were created on public buildings, and they had established a tradition in other parts of the Americas.
Design & Architecture
The US is distinctly known for its ability to create the tallest and the swankiest buildings of the world. Names such as Frank Lloyd Wright and Philip Johnson are associated with the US architecture. In Mexico, it is common to find colonial architecture with traces of Baroque style. The Meso-American architecture is noted for its pyramidal structures. The colorful colonial buildings on the streets of Cuba are among the most photographed architecture. Besides, the country includes an assortment of styles and influences for creating a uniquely Cuban-style of architecture.
American literature has wowed the world with its dedicated practitioners dishing out thought-provoking ideas through novels, verses, essays and plays. The world vividly remembers such names as T. S. Eliot, Robert Frost, and Ezra Pound. Modern playwrights such as Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller and novelists such as Toni Morrison, Virginia Woolf, William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway are amongst the doyens of American literature. Mexican literature is also known for its prolific patrons and globally recognized authors. Cuban literature has received a belated recognition. Its themes of freedom and independence got prominence not before the advent of the 19th century.
Hollywood, or the American movie industry, is perhaps the most popular across the world. It is closely intertwined with the Canadian cinema which finds a respectable position in the world cinema. Notable filmmakers such as James Cameron, David Cronenberg, and Deepa Mehta have added to the list of glorious movies made in North America.
The Golden Age of Mexican cinema (1936 and 1969) has left the movie buffs with much to relish. Salma Hayek is another name that is inherently linked to Mexican and world cinema. Movies such as 'I Am Cuba' (1964) and 'The Last Supper' (1976) brought limelight on Cuban cinema. In fact, the 'Imperfect Cinema' of Cuba has been widely acknowledged as very thought-provoking and ingenious works of art.
North America has an extensive railway network. The United States, Canada, and Mexico have an interconnected rail system. Plans are afoot to connect Alaska to the North American rail network. Freight-oriented railways in Mexico has a railroad network that connects the US. Panama Canal Railway connects Atlantic Ocean with Pacific Ocean. The railway line runs parallel to the Panama Canal. Guatemala runs occasional chartered tourist trains across the country. Cuba's railway system is the only one in the Caribbean islands. It provides both passenger and freight services within the country.
Pan-American Highway is a network of roads totaling a length of about 48,000 km (30,000 mi). It links almost all the mainland nations. This is considered as the world's longest "motorable road." The U.S.A. has the world's largest road network with 6.4 million km (4 million mi) of roadways including interstate highways and U.S. Highways.
The Trans-Canada Highway is the lifeline of Canada. In fact, Canada and the U.S.A. have built the Alaska Highway that connects Anchorage (Alaska) to Canada and the rest of the United States. Mexico also has a large road network of 323,977 km. The Inter-American Highway, which is a section of Pan-American Highway in Central America, runs for 5,470 km (3,400 mi) between Nuevo Laredo, (Mexico), and Panama City, (Panama).
Like Alaska, several North American islands are not linked to continental road network and are served by ferries or private boat. West Indies, Vancouver Island, and Newfoundland (island) are some of the examples. Alaska's state-owned ferry system (Alaska Marine Highway) serves local transportation purpose. The same system operates a ferry service from Bellingham (Washington) to British Columbia in Canada. The rail ferry service between Alaska and British Columbia is one of the few such services in the entire world. Panama operates one of the busiest waterways in the world – the Panama Canal. It connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
The popularity of air travel as a feasible mode of transport was felt following the World War II.
The busiest airports in North America are located in the United States. Except the Toronto Pearson International Airport in Canada, nine out of 10 busiest airports are in the U.S.A. Atlanta International Airport (Atlanta) and O'Hare International Airport (Chicago) are among the major gateways to North America. While Panama has around 53 airports with paved runways, Cuba's state-owned airline 'Cubana' serves several destinations in North, Central and South America along with Europe and the Caribbean.
|North America Timeline|
|900AD||Toltec civilization develops in present day Mexico|
|1000||Vikings visit coast of Newfoundland|
|1325||Aztecs establish Mexico City|
|1492||Christopher Columbus discovers the New World (the Americas)|
|1499-1502||Amerigo Vespucci recognizes the new world as a separate continent|
|1521||Spain defeats Aztecs and captures Mexico city|
|1605||First French settlement in Port Royal (present day Nova Scotia)|
|1607||First English settlement in Virginia Colony (Present day Virginia)|
|1775||Start of American Revolution|
|1776||USA gains independence from British Monarchy|
|1821||Mexico declares independence from Spain|
|1867||Four Canadian Colonies federate and create Dominion of Canada|
|1991||Cold War ends and era of economic expansion begins|
|1994||NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) is signed between USA, Canada, and Mexico creating world largest Free Trade Area|
|2004||CAFTA (Central American Free Trade Agreement) is signed between Central American Countries|