You read that right. Perhaps I can rephrase it better: Each Canadian Province or Territory has a largest island. When considering that list, which one is the smallest?
Today’s totally trivial topic comes courtesy of the confluence of many competing thoughts that pinged around my mind lately:
- I’m "-est" fixated (you know, things ending in -est like smallEST, largEST, tallEST, shortEST)
- Islands fascinate me, sometimes even islands-on-islands
- Rivers are cool
- Canada’s got weird geography too!
- Winter is here and I’m cold
- This is getting ridiculous. Start typing already.
Anyone can write something on the largest island in Canada. It’s Baffin Island in Nunavut. It’s the fifth largest island on the planet at more than five hundred thousand square kilometres. It would be the fifty-first largest country in the world if it ever gained independence from Canada, falling between Thailand and Spain. It’s big. I get it.
So, what about the smallest of the largest on the list? That honour goes to Alberta’s Big Island at 31 square kilometres. It has absolutely nothing in common with Hawaii‘s Big Island other than the name so don’t expect palm trees. And by the way, more than sixteen thousand Big Islands would fit on Baffin Island. That hardly seems "big" Yet consider that Alberta doesn’t have a coastline so its options in this contest of superlatives are rather sparse. Alberta does have rivers though, and Big Island can be found within the Peace River near the far northern edge of the Province.
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The Peace River flows nearly two thousand kilometres through northern British Columbia and Alberta until it joins with the Slave River at Lake Athabasca, one of the world’s largest freshwater deltas. It traverses Wood Buffalo National Park in the final segment, through a land of boreal forests, muskeg, mudflats and lakes. The surrounding terrain is relatively flat bogland atop an elevated plateau.
There’s little solid land to hold a river in its banks. Move the satellite image around. Follow the river upstream and downstream and notice the oxbow lakes, the former oxbows lakes carved into the landscape, and the old abandoned channels. It is a veritable mosaic of pathways, current and former, changing wildly, wandering and meandering wherever it wants to go through flat, marshy plains.
So Big Island is a river island, and probably a temporary one at that. Someday the Peace River will change course again as it has many times before, and Big Island will become a larger island or multiple islands or no island at all. Enjoy it while it lasts.