The territory extends north of the 49th parallel and north of the St. Lawrence River and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. It has an area of nearly 1.2 million km2 and accounts for 72 % of Québec’s geographic area. The northern territory wholly or partially encompasses three administrative regions, i.e. the Côte-Nord, Nord-du-Québec (Nunavik and the Eeyou Istchee James Bay Territory) and the Saguenay‑Lac‑Saint‑Jean regions.
The northern territory is as vast as it is diverse, from a geographic, economic, social, or environmental standpoint. Moreover, its characteristics underpin several issues raised in the 2020‑2023 Northern Action Plan.
The northern climate
The mean annual temperature varies widely in the territory, ranging from de 2.7°C at the 49th parallel and on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River, to -10.8°C in the extreme north. In comparison, the mean annual temperature is 6.6 °C in the southernmost portion of Québec. Climate change projections call for average temperature increases that are 1.25 to 1.5 times greater for Québec’s northern territory than for Québec as a whole. The predictable warming of 5°C to 10°C by 2100 will alter the nature of the territory in the short and medium terms.
Northern Québec plant and animal species are especially noteworthy for their adaptation to increasingly extreme environmental conditions at higher latitudes and altitudes. Accordingly, the boreal forest gradually gives way to the taiga, which extends to the latitudes of Hudson Bay. Increasingly stunted trees disappear on the Arctic tundra dominated by moss, lichens, and prostrate shrubs. Animals appear to be well adapted to such conditions: caribou, wolves, polar bears, salmon, Arctic char, small carnivores, birds, rodents, and insects make up a complex, interlinked network.
The territory has nearly 130 000 inhabitants, equivalent to approximately 1.5% of the population of Québec. There are 32 local communities comprising James Bay, Saguenay, and Côte-Nord residents. The Aboriginal peoples account for nearly one-third of the population, divided into the Inuit, Cree, Innu, and Naskapi Nations, and 31 communities.
- The First Nations and the Inuit
The James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement and the Northeastern Quebec Agreement are treaties that establish the rights of the Cree, Inuit and Naskapi Nations and apply to a vast portion of northern territory, which is also covered by an agreement-in-principle of a general nature signed by four Innu communities. Moreover, the territory is also subject to rights claims.
While French is widely used in the territory, such use varies depending on the region. English as a mother tongue or second language is also adopted in several northern communities. The First Nations and the Inuit also use Inuktitut, Cree, Innu, and Naskapi.
Québec’s northern territory has a wide variety of natural resources, mainly mineral, forest, wildlife, and water resources. A major portion of economic activity hinges on such resources and the entrepreneurial and social fabric and community vitality relies extensively on them.
Mineral resources: Mineral deposits abound in the territory, which accounts for all Québec production of nickel, cobalt, zinc, iron, and platinum and ilmenite group metals. It also accounts for a significant portion of Québec production of precious metals, mainly gold.
Critical or strategic minerals offer development potential
New technologies in the aviation, telecommunications, renewable energies, energy storage and transportation electrification sectors are spurring demand for critical or strategic minerals (CSM). To satisfy the new needs, Québec’s northern territory offers significant mineral potential and could contribute to supplying resources such as lithium, graphite, cobalt, rare-earth elements (REE), niobium, titanium, and vanadium.
- Forest resources
The boreal forest covers a significant portion of Québec’s northern territory. The allowable annual cut calculation in the territory is 11.8 million m3 of timber, which accounts for 39% the forest potential in forests in the domain of the State.
- Wildlife resources
The wildlife resources in the northern territory are a key element of biodiversity in Québec. Such resources are especially important with respect to the culture, traditions and diet of the First Nations and the Inuit and afford a unique array of hunting, fishing, and trapping activities, and wildlife viewing excursions.
- Water resources
Québec accounts for 3% of the planet’s freshwater reserves, most of it situated in the northern territory, where more than 85% of Québec’s installed hydroelectric generation capacity is found.
The northern territory occupies nearly three-quarters of Québec’s geographic area. The circulation of goods and people by means of a structured transportation network and the transmission of radio waves and data by adapted telecommunications infrastructure are a key challenge for its development.
The road network in the territory encompasses more than 3 000 km of roads, in addition to the network of roads related to natural resource development. The roads are located mainly in inhabited or developed sectors, making most of the territory inaccessible by land. More than 20 northern communities are only accessible by sea or by air.
Five of the 20 commercial ports in Québec’s strategic port system are situated north of the 49th parallel. Of this number, only four are deep-water ports: Baie‑Comeau, Baie-Déception, Port-Cartier and Sept-Îles account for overall tonnage estimated at more than 60 million tonnes.
- Aerodromes and airports
There are 42 aerodromes and six main airports (Baie-Comeau, Sept-Îles, Chibougamau-Chapais, La Grande-Rivière, Kuujjuaq and Puvirnituq) in Québec’s northern territory that have at least one landing strip more than 1 800 m (6 000 feet) in length. Aircraft provide the main means of regional transportation in several communities, such as villages in Nunavik and the Basse-Côte-Nord region.
Five railways and one railcar ferry crisscross the northern territory, mainly in a north-south direction: the Chemin de fer d’intérêt local interne du Nord-du-Québec (CN), the Chemin de fer Cartier inc. (CFC), the Compagnie de Chemin de fer du littoral nord de Québec et du Labrador inc. (QNS&L), the Arnaud Railway (CCFAQ), the Tshiuetin Rail Transportation railway, and the Georges-Alexandre-Lebel railcar ferry (CN) that links Baie-Comeau and Sept-Îles to Matane.
- Logistical hubs
Logistical hubs stemming from the convergence of different modes of transportation are found in the northern territory, including the Société ferroviaire et portuaire de Pointe-Noire (SFPPN) (train/boat), the Société du Port ferroviaire de Baie-Comeau (boat/train/road), the Matagami transhipment yard (train/road), or the La Grande-Rivière airport (road/aircraft — procurement logistics in Nunavik). The hubs are starting points to access and extract resources in the territory and to deliver goods and services.
Most of the population in the territory has access to fibre optic or microwave high-speed Internet services but improvements are still necessary, especially in Nunavik.
Last update: February 23, 2023