A Note from the Canadian Shield

Canadian Shield LakeshoreThe Canadian Shield is one of North America’s most beautiful, serene, and vast wild places. The area is unique because of its climate and its large number of fresh water lakes. These unique characteristics provide habitat for plenty of land and water life. The landscape and abundance of wildlife also make this area a rich source of inspiration for fine art images and nature photography.

Also called the Laurentian Plateau, or Bouclier canadien (French) the Canadian Shield is a massive geological shield covered by a thin layer of soil that forms the nucleus of the North American or Laurentia craton.

The Laurentian Plateau is one of the world’s largest geologic continental shields, centered on Hudson Bay and covering 8 million square km (3 million square miles) over eastern, central, and northwestern Canada from the Great Lakes to the Canadian Arctic and into Greenland, with small extensions into northern Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and New York, U.S.

This area also constitutes the largest mass of exposed Precambrian rock on the face of the Earth. During the late Precambrian era, fierce convulsions in the Earth’s crust resulted in a warped, collapsed Shield. The foundation of much of the ecozone is now metamorphic gneiss, a highly banded rock formed by intense pressure and heat. The region, as a whole, is composed of ancient crystalline rocks whose complex structure attests to a long history of uplift and depression, mountain building, and erosion.

Forged by Ice

The present appearance of the physical landscape of the Canadian Shield is not so much a result of the folding and faulting and compression of the rocks millions of years ago as it is the work of ice in relatively recent geologic time. During the Pleistocene Epoch (2.6 million to 11,700 years ago), the vast continental glaciers that covered northern North America were centered in this region. The ice, in moving to the south, scraped the land bare of its overlying strata of weathered rock. Some of this material was deposited on the shield when the ice melted, but the bulk of it was carried southward to be deposited south and southwest of the Canadian Shield. This material is the basis for the sandy loam that makes the soils of the Great Plains so agriculturally productive.

The advance of glaciers continuously plucked and scoured the land, forming striations in the bedrock and carrying large boulders many kilometers. In retreat, massive glaciers enveloped most of the landscape with great amounts of glacial deposits including gravel, sand, shale, and numerous sediments. The vast majority of inadequately drained depressions that were left behind, as well as natural faults in the bedrock, now form the millions of lakes, ponds and wetlands that give this ecozone its distinctive character.

North to south the Canadian Shield extends from the Canadian Arctic Archipelago to the states of Wisconsin and New York; east to west from Labrador to the western Northwest Territories. Along its edge lie many of the great lakes and waterways of Canada and the United States: the eastern shores of Great Bear Lake, Great Slave Lake, Lake Athabasca and Lake Winnipeg; the northern shores of Lake of the Woods, Lake Superior and Lake Huron; and the north shore of the St Lawrence River.

The forest that makes up the Canadian Shield is known as a boreal forest or taiga. This type of forest is forged by long, cold winters and short, hot, wet summers. Boreal forests are mostly populated by coniferous trees such as pines, cedars, spruce, and fir trees. The boreal forest gets its name from the Greek god of the north wind, Boreas. In the early part of the last century, vast stretches of these forests were stripped of the majestic old-growth red and white pines. The lakes and rivers were used as transportation systems to bring the logs in great rafts to the mills.

Wetlands of the Canadian ShieldLaurentian Plateau Whitetail Deer
These images are from the Border Lakes region of northern Minnesota and northwestern Ontario. This forested, lake-filled landscape covers 5.1 million acres surrounding Quetico Provincial Park, Voyageurs National Park and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. This region is part of the Superior National Forest in northeastern Minnesota, and in Canada it includes La Verendrye and Quetico Provincial Parks in Ontario. Fine art prints, canvases and downloads are available for many of the images in our archive.

— Ron Abel

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