Gulf | The Canadian Encyclopedia



A gulf is a body of water partly surrounded by land and connected to an ocean or sea. This connection sometimes takes the form of a narrow passage called a strait. The nomenclature of water inlets can be inconsistent between sources. Sometimes, the terms gulf,  bay and sea are used interchangeably. For example, the Arabian Sea and Hudson Bay can both be classified as gulfs. However, in most cases a gulf is deeper and larger than a bay and is also more enclosed from the ocean or sea to which it is connected. Because gulfs are partially surrounded by land, their waters are typically calmer than those of oceans. This makes them suitable for activities such as transportation, fishing and leisure.

Gulf of Saint Lawrence

The Gulf of Saint Lawrence near Hermanville, Prince Edward Island.

Gulfs in Canada

Canada has many gulfs by virtue of its vast coastlines and waters. For example, the Gulf of Saint Lawrence borders Quebec, Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. It opens into the Atlantic Ocean in the east and the mouth of the Saint Lawrence River to the west. Throughout history and to this day, the Gulf of Saint Lawrence has served as an important source of seafood and allowed transportation between Eastern Canada and the rest of the world.

Northern Canada’s vast waters also include many important gulfs. Most lie along variants of the Northwest Passage, which allows transportation between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Examples include Amundsen Gulf, Coronation Gulf and Queen Maud Gulf.

The Strait of Georgia, which lies between British Columbia’s southwest coast and Vancouver Island, was originally named a gulf. In 1792, George Vancouver mistakenly called it the Gulf of Georgia and it appeared as such on early maps. This classification was a mistake because, unlike a gulf, a strait is a channel that connects two large bodies of water. In this case, the Strait of Georgia connects to the Pacific Ocean on either end of Vancouver Island. Regardless of its classification, the Strait of Georgia is important for transportation, recreation and the shellfish industry. The strait also provides a unique, diverse habitat for many at-risk species.