What Makes Up North America?

This continent is home to three very large countries – Canada, the USA, and Mexico – and 20 smaller countries. It stretches all the way from the Arctic Circle to Central America (the narrow strip of land that joins South America) and includes Greenland and the long chain of Caribbean islands.

Ancient Origins

Aztec and Maya Culture
Aztec and Maya Culture. Photo: Arian Zwegers on Flickr

Humans first arrived in North America about 20,000 years ago. They entered Alaska from Asia and spread throughout North America to become the ancestors of today’s Native Americans.

There are about 3 million Native Americans living in the USA and Canada.

The Native Americans of Mexico and Guatemala are descended from the ancient Aztec and Maya people, conquered by the Spanish 500 years ago.

Many Caribbean people are descendants of African slaves forced to work on sugar plantations.

“Straight on” and “tout droit”
Canada has two official languages so road signs must be written in English and French. The first European settlers in Canada were French, followed by the British. In Quebec, Canada’s largest province, French is the only official language.

Canada’s national emblem is the maple leaf – enough, as more than 85 percent of the world’s supply of maple sugar comes from Canadian maple trees. Yummy on pancakes!

Five most populated countries in North America

United States
327.2 million people.

129.2 million people.

37.59 million people.

16.91 million people.

11.48 million people

Greenland belongs to Denmark. It is the second largest island in the world (after Australia), but only 56,000 people live there!

Most popular spectator sports

American football
American football. Photo: USA TODAY Sports via Reuters

American football
(nearly half of American households watch the Super Bowl championship on TV).
NASCAR (stock car auto racing).
Ice hockey
(It’s a national obsession in Canada, where the modern game was invented).

Name that hurricane

Hurricane Florence viewed from the space station
Hurricane Florence viewed from the space station. Photo: NASA

The US National Hurricane Center has six lists of names to identify the hurricanes that batter the Caribbean islands and the Gulf of Mexico from July to November each year.

The lists are alphabetical and alternate male and female names.

If a hurricane causes heavy destruction its name is retired.

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina flattened New Orleans. When the list of names from that year comes up again in 2011, Katia will replace Katrina. Other changes will be Don for Dennis, Rina for Rita, Sean for Stan, and Whitney for Wilma.

Melting pot
Most Americans can trace their family roots back to other countries. The United States has opened its doors to immigrants from all over the world, making it an exciting mix of cultures and traditions. More than 28 million Americans speak Spanish as their first language.

How to: elect a US president

01: Every four years, choose two candidates – one from the Republican Party, one from the Democrat Party. Begin January with the first state primaries – elections in which each of the 50 states vote to choose delegates to go to the party conventions.

02: There can be a lot of presidential hopefuls, so keep a running total of the primary results to see which candidate is winning the most pledges of support. Some states wait until June to hold their primaries and it may take some time to find a clear front-runner.

03: Have lots of balloons and banners ready for the national conventions when the lucky candidates accept their nominations and announce vice president running mates.

04: Raise lots of money from backers for the final run to the White House. This is when the two presidential candidates confront each other in TV debates and rush backwards and forwards across the country shaking as many voters’ hands as possible.

05: The presidential election always takes place on the first Tuesday in November. Stay glued to the TV as the results come in.

Blasts from the past

Left Erikson, a viking explorer, visits the coast of Canada.

Christopher Columbus lands on Hispaniola and Cuba

The Spanish conquer Mexico and Central America.

Pilgrim Fathers found Plymouth colony, New England.

US declares independence from Britain.

Mexico gains independence from Spain.

USA abolishes slavery.

Dominion of Canada created.

Panama canal opens. It cuts across the country of Panama, linking the pacific and Atlantic Oceans.

Caribbean islands win independence from Britain.

Mexico City
stands on the site of the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan, built in 1325 on an island in Lake Texcoco – that makes it 300 years older than New York City.

You won’t believe it!
Guatemala’s unit of currency, the quetzal, is named for a bird. With its brilliant golden-green feathers and long tail, the forest-dwelling quetzal was sacred to the Aztecs and Mayas.

Treasure ahoy!
Disney’s three Pirates of the Caribbean movies grossed a record-breaking US$2.79 billion – riches beyond the wildest dreams of Blackbeard, Sir Henry Morgan, Calico Jack Rackham, and the rest of the villainous pirates who once sailed the waters of the Caribbean in search of real treasure!


North America
Total land area: 24,454,000 sq km (9,442,000 sq miles)

Biggest country
Canada: 9,970,610 sq km (3,848,655 sq miles)

Smallest Country
St Kitts and Nevis: 269 sq km (104 sq miles)

Highest mountain
Mount McKinley, Alaska: 6,194 m (20,322 ft)

Longest river
Mississippi/Missouri: 6,019 km (3,740 miles)

Biggest lake
Lake Superior USA/Canada: 82,414 sq km (31,820 sq miles)

Most populated city
Mexico City: 20,450,000 people

Tallest building
CN Tower, Toronto: 553 m (1,815 ft}