The name "Québec", which comes from the Algonquin word kébec meaning "where the river narrows", originally referred to the area around Quebec City where the Saint Lawrence River narrows to a cliff-lined gap.
Early variations in the spelling of the name included Québecq (Levasseur, 1601) and Kébec (Lescarbot, 1609).
Its access to the Atlantic Ocean and the interior of North America made it the base of early French exploration and settlement in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Since 1959, the Saint Lawrence Seaway has provided a navigable link between the Atlantic Ocean and the Great Lakes.
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Its topography is very different from one region to another due to the varying composition of the ground, the climate (latitude and altitude), and the proximity to water.
The Saint Lawrence Lowland (south) and the Canadian Shield (north) are the two main topographic regions, and are radically different.
It is bordered to the west by the province of Ontario and the bodies of water James Bay and Hudson Bay; to the north by Hudson Strait and Ungava Bay; to the east by the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and the province of Newfoundland and Labrador; and to the south by the province of New Brunswick and the U. states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and New York.
Most inhabitants live in urban areas near the Saint Lawrence River between Montreal and Quebec City, the capital.
Approximately half of Quebec residents live in the Greater Montreal Area, including the Island of Montreal.
Lake Mistassini is the largest natural lake in Quebec.
The Saint Lawrence River has some of the world's largest sustaining inland Atlantic ports at Montreal (the province's largest city), Trois-Rivières, and Quebec City (the capital).