Why is Canada divided in much larger political sections than the US?

That is, why are the Canadian provinces (other than Maritime and Atlantic) so huge by comparison with the US states?

I can guess it’s because there were fewer people moving in each area, so it necessitated less delineation and governing but that’s just a WAG on my part. Swathes of the provinces and territories of Canada are largely devoid of people but the same is also true of many plains and western US states and Alaska.

I think it’s only really true of Alaska, though, which is comparably sized. The plains states are jam-packed compared with someplace like the far north of Ontario. (Kenora District is approximately the size of California, with a population of around 64,000.)

The trick is to draw a line at about 51 degrees latitude and pretend the provinces only go up that far. That’s where virtually all cities of note are (well, okay, Edmonton is a little further north) and if you pretend the provinces only go up that far they are roughly comparable in size and population to midwestern American states.

Also Alaska is bigger than any of the Canadian provinces and all of the territories except Nunavut.

They are huge in terms of area, but not in terms of population. Canada’s most populous province, Ontario, has 13 million people, which would put it in fifth place among American states. Quebec, in second place in Canada, would be in 14th place in a mix of Canada and the US.

I know Canada is sparsely populated WRT to the US but how come going back places like Quebec and Ontario weren’t smaller territories to begin with or as GreasyJack eludes to, did they have a land they had staked out and just drew the borders north because they could?

Originally most of Canada was lumped together as the North-West Territory and the provinces you mention above were much smaller. Here is a timeline which shows how the provincial borders evolved. (link stolen from Polycarp)

Essentially, because the provinces, which in general were originally much smaller (encompassing the populated areas), had large sections of hinterland glued onto them.

Most of the northern regions of the provinces other than the Atlantic provinces were originally part of the immense regions of Rupert’s Land (the Hudson Bay watershed) and the North-Western Territory (the Arctic Ocean watershed). The colonies of Upper and Lower Canada, the embryos of modern-day Ontario and Quebec (merged into one Province of Canada in 1841), consisted of the St. Lawrence River and Great Lakes basins. Similarly, the colony of British Columbia only extended as far north as the Simpson River.

In 1862, what is now northern BC was detached from the North-Western Territory as the Stikine Territory, and became part of BC a year later, in response to the Gold rush.

In 1867, the provinces of Canada, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia formed the Dominion of Canada, with the Province of Canada splitting back into Ontario and Quebec. Three years later, Rupert’s Land and the North-Western Territory were ceded to Canada as the North-West Territories; at the same time, a small square area around Fort Garry (modern Winnipeg) became the Province of Manitoba. BC joined in 1871, and the rest of the Arctic Islands (until then retained by the UK) were ceded to Canada in 1880. Yukon was created in 1898.

The most populated parts of the Northwest Territories were erected as provinces in 1905: Alberta and Saskatchewan. The Northwest Territories had been governed from Regina, but as this was now in Saskatchewan, the territory was henceforth governed from Ottawa.

Finally, in 1912, the remaining parts of the Northwest Territories north of Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec (which had been slowly expanding in the meantime) were transferred to those provinces.

In other words, the provinces, which had started out as fairly densely populated regions gradually accreted very sparsely populated areas that had been part of the Northwest Territories.

Fun fact: following redistricting in Western Australia, the federal riding of Nunavut is now the largest single-member electoral constituency in the world.

If you look at colonial maps of the U.S. you’ll see that several of the colonies’ boundaries extended much further west than they do now – in theory some extended from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River. They were only cut up into smaller sections when settlers moved in and complained about being governed from far-off Raleigh or wherever. Ditto in the west, with the Louisana Territory, Dakota Territory, Kansas Territory, etc.

The two states carved from Dakota Territory, North and South Dakota, have a combined population of about 1.4 million. The province of Manitoba, directly north, has about 1.2 million people spread over something like five times the area.

Incidentally, if you look at a map of Canada’s federal ridings, you can get a clearer conceptual idea of the spread of Canada’s populations. The ridings ideally have sort of equal populations (with exceptions due to constitutional provisions; e.g. PEI is guaranteed four ridings and the territories are guaranteed one each). As you can see, the (say) northern two-thirds of Manitoba are all one riding (Churchill), while all the rest of the province’s 14 ridings are squeezed into the south, with half of them in the City of Winnipeg.

Aaaaand another thing. Ridings, like US congressional districts, are political sections. Provinces and states are administrative sections.

As an aside the term riding is used here in Ireland but peculiarly only for one county, Tipperary North Riding and South Riding are electoral districts.

Funny story about that. In Canada, the unofficial terms for electoral district are riding in English and in French, comté. That’s because the first electoral districts were coextensive with the counties (hence the French term); but as the population of English Canada increased, agitation for “rep by pop” grew, and the electoral divisions were subdivided into parts of counties, for which the term “riding” (originally meaning “part of a county,” as in the three ridings of Yorkshire, from thriding, “third part”) was used. “Riding” as a general term for any electoral district (federal or provincial) is unique to Canada.

The Connecticut’s Colony’s charter, in theory anyway, gave it a long strip of land stretching all the way to the Pacific coast.

The reason is that there are only so many variations of “Rough Riders” to go around, so they had to divide into fewer (therefore larger) geographic divisions.

I don’t think so; I believe the claim just extended to the Mississippi River, on the western edge of what is now Illinois. Still big, but not that big: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_Reserve

Elsewhere on Wikipedia,

As the Western Reserve article notes, Connecticut’s founding grant was “sea to sea.” Not that anyone involved had even seen any part of this nominal territory even as far west as the Mississippi, let alone beyond that.

Look carefully at the map there. Virginia’s theoretical claims once included not only the entire present states of West Virginia and Kentucky (where the claim was more than theoretical), but a large swath of “Northwest Territory,” extending across what is now several Midwestern states–overlapping the Connecticut claim–and even a bit of what is now southwestern Ontario. But then, most of the same land was also “New York,” too.

I’m no expert, but I was going by these two sources:

(1) This Wikipedia article on the Connecticut Colony, which talks about the sea-to-sea land grant in the “History” section, in two places. (However, the map on that page does show the territory stopping at the Mississippi.)

(2) The book How the States Got Their Shapes by Mark Stein, which takes this as established fact. The book also includes an amusing map of the ridiculously long and thin Connecticut which never was, stretching from coast to coast.

It’s interesting in Canada/US, the more west you go (generally), the larger the state.

I imagine (as noted above several times) this is a function of population. Although, I don’t know why the good people of (say) southern California felt they should be part of northern California and vice versa. Why not seperate states?

Same thing with Canada. Why did Regina and Saskatoon think they should be in the same state? Or Edmonton and Calgary?

For that you can blame Spain, and later Mexico, for whom Alta California was pretty much all their holdings west of Texas.

Strictly speaking, California is now separate states. One’s called California, one’s called Nevada, one’s called Arizona. . .