How Big is Big?

Taking a quantitative look at the “Big Land” nickname.

“The Big Land” is a common nickname for Labrador, said to have been bestowed and popularized by the late Winston White. By the way, you can borrow his book, Getting Along in the Big Land, in ebook format from both Memorial and the provincial public library. There is a lot more Labrador literature online than one might at first suppose!

But how big is Labrador?

Perhaps that question is best answered by looking up at the sky from the ice on a cloudless March day.  Or maybe by reading about Elizabeth Penashue’s journeys in Nitinikiau Innusi: I Keep the Land Alive (also at NLPL), or by looking at a Geoff Goodyear photograph, or by making a trip to the Torngats.  (There are many options!)

But in terms of numbers—I used Statistics Canada’s—Labrador is 269,136 square kilometres in area: slightly smaller than New Zealand, and slightly bigger than the United Kingdom. That’s big.

Part of what makes Labrador seem so especially large is its size per person.  Among countries, only Greenland is bigger, per inhabitant.  On the other hand, that’s not an entirely fair comparison, since Labrador isn’t an entire country.

So how big is Labrador, within Canada?

It’s certainly big within the provincial context: more than 2.5 times Newfoundland’s size. And if you zoom out a little, Labrador is still huge.  Put all the four Atlantic provinces together, and Labrador still has 54% of the total area of the Atlantic Provinces (and 1% of the population).

On the other hand, we like to think of ourselves not only as Atlantic, but also as Northern.  If we were a territory, we’d be the smallest, by a lot!  We wouldn’t miss by much in population, but the average of the three territories is more than four times larger than Labrador, and even the smallest (Yukon) is nearly double our size.

What about the provincial Norths?

Now here is an interesting question, and probably the best direct comparison.  Provincial Norths are hard to define, but one handy method is to use electoral district boundaries.  In fact, that’s pretty much the only way to get Labrador regional numbers anyway, since we aren’t otherwise actually an official political catchment or census area.  Using this handy Statistics Canada map, I picked out the 12 northernmost electoral districts in the provinces.  Unsurprisingly, these also seem to be the twelve largest districts in the country!  Among them, Labrador is sixth of 12 in total size, and not far off the average.

The twelve northernmost electoral districts in the provinces, including Labrador.  Adapted from an excellent map on Wikipedia by user DrRandomFactor, licensed through Creative Commons.
The twelve northernmost electoral districts in the provinces, including Labrador. Adapted from an excellent map by Wikipedia contributor DrRandomFactor, licensed through Creative Commons.


In the East, we’re big—and in the North, we’re just right.

Bonus Trivia

By population, Labrador is the smallest electoral district in the country—so keep in mind next election time that your vote is likelier than most to make a difference!

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