The S&P/TSX composite index edged 3.15 points higher to 14,212.74 with any TSX losses held in check by energy and gold stocks, which rose alongside oil and bullion prices as traders generally avoided riskier assets such as equities and base metals.
Gains in oil and gold also helped support the Canadian dollar, which was faring better than some other currencies. The loonie declined 0.08 of a cent to 90.22 cents US.
Investors sought the perceived safe haven of U.S. dollars and Treasuries after Russia took effective control of the Crimean peninsula, calling it a necessary protection for citizens living there. There are worries that Russia might seek to expand its control by seizing other parts of eastern Ukraine.
U.S. indexes tumbled as traders weighed the potential economic consequences of Russia's move and the effect of possible sanctions.
"It’s a surprise. I don’t think we’ve had this level of political events impact the markets in some time," said Patrick Blais, managing director and portfolio manager at Manulife Asset Management.
The Dow Jones industrials dropped 153.68 points to 16,168.03, the Nasdaq gave back 30.82 points to 4,277.3 and the S&P 500 index fell 13.72 points to 1,845.73.
European stocks also tumbled with Frankfurt's DAX falling three per cent and the Paris CAC 40 down 2.66 per cent. Russia’s benchmark stock index plunged 12 per cent.
The gold sector led TSX advancers, up about 1.65 per cent as traders seeking safety pushed April bullion up $28.70 to US$1,350.30 an ounce.
"Gold is a sentiment-driven market and the (gold) equities as well," observed Blais.
"And with news of this sort, gold names could have a pretty good run. The backdrop is definitely supportive. With the uncertainty I think they’ll keep moving higher."
The energy sector rose 0.23 per cent with oil prices spiking more than $2 as Russia’s military advance into Ukraine raised fears of economic sanctions against a country that is one of the world’s major energy producers. The April contract in New York jumped $2.33 to US$104.92 a barrel.
Pengrowth Energy Corp. (TSX:PGF) had an $91.1-million net loss, equivalent to 17 cents per share, in the fourth quarter. Analysts had expected a net loss of three cents a share and its stock slipped 45 cents to $7.01.
The TSX was also supported by a strong earnings report from auto parts giant Magna International (TSX:MG). Its quarterly net earnings rose 31 per cent from a year ago to US$458 million or $2.03 a share as sales jumped 14 per cent to US$9.17 billion. The company also raised its quarterly dividend by 19 per cent to 38 cents per share and Magna shares gained $5.18 to $103.75.
The base metals component was down 2.57 per cent as May copper lost two cents to US$3.17 a pound. Prices for the metal were also pressured by Chinese data as both the official and HSBC versions of the country's monthly manufacturing survey showed the sector was weaker last month than in January.