March 02, 2004
Taking The Steyn Challenge

In today's Mark's Mailbox, Mark Steyn writes:

. . . unlike certain other countries, Canada is not recognizable by its shape. You don't have to be an arrogant, ignorant, irrelevant, self-absorbed, pathetic, destructive, ineffectual, wasted Brit to think that. I was once on a radio show with Mordecai Richler and Garrison Keillor which began with Keillor condescendingly explaining to Mordecai that Canada had no definable shape as a country. You could picture the 49th Parallel, but the northern and eastern edges just sort of dribbled away into ice and water. If you're so high on the "world's 2nd largest land mass", here's a simple test: sit down and draw the outline of the Canadian map from memory.

I'm not even Canadian, but I think I can meet the challenge. Here's my map, done entirely from memory in under a minute on a double-sized yellow post-it note:

Of course, all those large and empty islands up top are impossible to draw accurately, because impossible to remember. Here's a second attempt on white paper, after a few minutes contemplation of the first:

I added the little notch on top of Minnesota, improved the Great Lakes area to make it fit better with the neighboring (United) states, fiddled with the coast of Labrador, put in Baffin Island, the only one whose approximate shape I can remember at all, and got rid of the nonexistent large island (Atlantis?) just north of Newfoundland. (I got a little carried away filling in the indistinguishable islands on the first map and continued too far east and then south.) Other than that, the first attempt seemed fairly accurate. Any complaints, Canadian readers?

Perhaps I should add that I'm not particularly 'high on the world's second-largest land mass', I just like geography in general.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at March 02, 2004 08:25 PM

As I read Mr Steyn's challenge, you have passed the test. Congratulations.
Points (not complaints!):
1. You might review the border 'twixt Alaska and the Yukon;
2. For the Arctic islands, visualise a triangle: the base being your present continental north edge, left edge being a continuation of the Alaska-Yukon border to the North Pole, the right edge being a continuation of the coast of Labrador (as you have it) to the Pole, then label the triangular interior as "Arctic Islands here". Your island on the north-east is recognisable as Ellesmere Island, but it is the northern-most of the Islands (CFS Alert at the northern tip is about 400 miles from the Pole);
3. You might look again at the Great Lakes: you have hidden Lake Superior, and added one east of Lake Ontario;
4. The border east of Lake Ontario to the Atlantic/Bay of Fundy: you have deleted the northern portions of New York, Vermont, and New Hampshire, and eliminated Maine.
5. Residents of PEI (a province) and Cape Breton Island would be displeased to have been displaced.

Fortunately you placed my home (Vancouver Island) correctly, although it angles more to the west, and about one quarter is south of the 49th Parallel.


Posted by: J.M. Heinrichs on March 2, 2004 10:33 PM

I've always wondered what it would do to one's psyche to be from one of those square states -- at least I'm from a parallelogram.

Posted by: Michael Tinkler on March 3, 2004 09:25 PM

Matching state names with state shapes is easy -- well, easy for some of us -- until you get to Colorado and Wyoming. I think they may have slightly different ratios of height to width, but it would take some very precise calculations to tell the difference.

Posted by: Dr. Weevil on March 3, 2004 09:31 PM

J. M. Heinrichs:

Only Canadians care about PEI, and only because they have to, seeing as how it's a province and all. Does anyone outside the U.S. know or care about Oklahoma or Nebraska? I would have said North Dakota, but I suppose the Canadians who live next door care at least a little bit.

As for your other criticisms, I think the Alaska/Canada border on the first version is pretty good. I even included the little dogleg where the tail-end of Alaska ends and the coast of B.C. begins.

Posted by: Dr. Weevil on March 3, 2004 09:37 PM

I think I see Janet Jackson's left boob in that second drawing.

Posted by: Debra Galant on March 4, 2004 07:53 PM

looks fine to me; I'm sure most of my fellow Canucks would not do better (heck, here in Ontario they're only vaguely aware of provinces to the West ... they know they're there, but that's about it.).

Posted by: rogueclassicist on March 7, 2004 12:57 PM

In sixth grade, we had to identify all the provinces of Canada on a blank map, adding the capital city and three principal products of each province. But the general outline was provided.

St. Johns is the capital of Newfoundland, right? And fish are one of the principal products along with timber and . . . They don't have a lot of products there.

Posted by: Joanne Jacobs on March 8, 2004 04:36 AM

Looks like an overinflated drawing of Massachuessets. Hmmm.

Posted by: Wind Rider on March 13, 2004 09:44 PM

What's up with the island in the middle of Lake Superior? It seems so deliberate, but I think it's mythological. (Not to say that I would've done nearly as well on the whole.)

Posted by: DJ on March 13, 2004 10:04 PM