Canadian peatlands can be classified into ombrotrophic bogs and minerotrophic fens, the latter subdivided into poor, moderate-rich, and extreme-rich fens, each with distinctive indicator species, acidity, alkalinity, and base cation content. If hydrology is considered the most important factor in peatland classification then the primary division must be between ombrotrophic bogs and minerotrophic fens; however both chemical and vegetational differences strongly indicate that the primary division of peatlands should be between acidic, Sphagnum-dominated bogs and poor fens on the one hand, and alkaline, brown-moss-dominated rich fens on the other. Although some metals such as sulphur and aluminum also vary along this gradient, nutrient contents of the surface waters do not. Bogs and fens are oligotrophic to mesotrophic wetlands that should be distinguished from eutrophic, non-peat-forming wetlands such as marshes and swamps by the presence in the former of a well-developed ground layer of bryophytes associated with relatively little seasonal water level fluctuation. Oligotrophy is probably maintained in bogs and poor fens by reduced water flow, whereas rich fens maintain mesotrophy by having larger water through-puts; however this is not well documented. Sphagnum appears to have real ecological significance, both in the initial stages of acidification and in controlling surface water temperature. Seasonal variation in surface water chemistry in all peatland types is relatively small, however precipitation events leading to changes in water levels do affect some chemical components. Although both autogenic and allogenic factors affect peatland development, initiation of peat formation and early development of peatlands during the Early and Mid Holocene were considerably influenced by regional climatic change. Later developmental patterns during the late Holocene and those seen at the present time appear to be more influenced by autogenic factors.