The States and Provinces of the USA and Canada
is made up of 50 states, the District of Columbia, and a number of
overseas possessions. Canada has ten provinces and three
*In Canada, the Maritime Provinces refer to Nova Scotia, New Brunswick,
and Prince Edward Island, and sometimes to Newfoundland (although this
is technically incorrect).
*Canada’s prairie provinces are its breadbasket; these are Manitoba,
Saskatchewan, and Alberta, although Alberta is also important for its
oil and natural gas.
*Nunavut is the largest province or territory by area (but the smallest
in population; just counting provinces, Quebec is the largest by
area. Ontario is the most populous province (the Northwest
Territories are the most populous territory, but with about 42,000
people (now that Nunavut is separate), they have fewer people than
Johnson City). Prince Edward Island is the smallest province in
both area and population.
*The Turks and Caicos Islands, a British possession in the Caribbean,
have occasionally considered joining Canada as a new province or
territory, or perhaps joining an existing province (Nova Scotia has
offered to take them).
*Five of Canada’s provinces are divided into counties (New Brunswick,
Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Ontario, and Quebec). Alberta,
Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Newfoundland and Labrador have districts
instead, as do the Northwest Territories and Nunavut (and even parts of
northern Ontario and Quebec). British Columbia has regional
districts, and the Yukon Territory is one district. Many parts of
Canada also have municipalities, city areas that act as counties.
*Counties are generally less important in Canada than they are in the
US, but Canada also has ‘ridings.’ Ridings are the popular name
for electoral districts, often coterminous with the districts of the
*Of the USA’s 50 states, four are called commonwealths: Virginia,
Kentucky (formerly part of Virginia), Massachusetts, and
Pennsylvania. Although they call themselves commonwealths, they
function just as the other states do.
*Puerto Rico and the Northern Mariana Islands, two US insular areas,
are also called commonwealths, and this means that they have a more
structured relationship with the US government than do the other US
overseas territories (like Guam, American Samoa, and the US Virgin
*The largest state in area is Alaska, the largest in population is
California; Texas is second in both area and population. The
smallest state in area is Rhode Island, but it has the longest official
name of any state: The State of Rhode Island and Providence
Plantation. The smallest state by population is Wyoming (with
even fewer people than the District of Columbia), but Alaska, despite
its size, is ranked 48th in size. Tennessee is 34th largest by
size and 16th largest by population.
*The 13 oldest states were British colonies, and most of the rest were
created out of territories purchased or conquered by the United States
government, but Vermont, Texas, and Hawaii were all independent
republics that were annexed as states, and California also briefly
existed as a republic before it became a state, although it was
essentially a puppet of the US Army, and was never really independent.
*Article IV, Section 3 of the US Constitution says that states may only
be formed with the consent of Congress, and of the state or states from
which the new state will be formed (if it is formed from one or more
existing states—if it comes from a territory, it’s all fair
game). This means that West Virginia violates the US
Constitution, but people have mostly gotten over that.
*Most states are divided into counties. Louisiana, however, is
divided into parishes, Alaska has boroughs and census areas (census
areas have no local government), and thirty-nine of Virginia’s cities
are independent of county government (as are a few other cities in the
US). Texas has more counties than any other state (254) while
Delaware has the fewest (3). Tennessee, with 95, ranks 10th among
states with the most counties.
*In both the US and Canada, the states and provinces (and to a much
lesser extent, territories, the District of Columbia, and overseas
possessions) have local powers and rights distinct from those of the
national government. However, in both countries, the national
government supersedes the sub-national ones when necessary.