A riding is the colloquial name for a Canadian electoral district, the geographic constituency represented by Members of Parliament and provincial legislatures. A common misconception is that the term is somehow related to the distance one could ride on a horse! Oddly, it appears to have originated during the 13th century Viking occupation of Britain, when Yorkshire was divided into three counties called þriðing, an Old English word borrowed from Old Norse meaning “third part.” The word eventually became riding in contemporary English.

The term riding was first used in Canada in the 19th century, to describe subdivisions of counties. While most electoral districts consisted of an entire county, populous ones were split into ridings. Their first official mention was in the 1867 Constitution Act; which divided Canada into 181 electoral districts – most of them counties, but several referred to as “ridings.” As the voting population grew (especially in cities,) more ridings were created and the term was eventually used for all electoral districts.

Canada now has 338 ridings. New ridings are added and existing ones modified based on population changes every decade, most recently in 2012. Ridings are mostly named for a city or region, though sometimes honour historical figures (particularly in Alberta and Quebec.) Each province has its own separate ridings to elect members of their legislatures. These are different (and typically smaller) than federal ones – except in Ontario, where nearly all provincial and federal ridings are the same. Several provinces once had multi-member ridings (some until the 1990s,) though all are now represented by a single member. As riding is no longer used anywhere else in the world, it is a uniquely Canadian term!

Image Source: Elections Canada

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