Canada has its roots in immigration and remains a nation formed of many different communities. From European colonization of Aboriginal territory to the recent arrival of refugees from Syria, the laws and regulations governing immigration to Canada have long been marked by discrimination. On the other hand, Canadians have shown their humanity by welcoming several hundred thousand refugees with open arms over the course of the country’s history. As a result, diverse cultural, religious and linguistic communities have established themselves here and integrated into Canadian society — some with relative ease, others with greater difficulty. Through articles, features, exhibits and timelines, this collection explores the diversity that defines Canadian society today. Image below: Vancouver's Chinatown, ca. 1955. © Rolly Ford/Heritage Vancouver.
The Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival or the Lunar New Year, is celebrated in Canada and several other countries. One of the largest celebrations for Canada’s Chinese population (consisting of more than 1.3 million people located mainly in Toronto, Vancouver and Montréal), it is also celebrated by Canadians from Vietnam, Korea and Southeast Asia. Although it is not a statutory holiday in Canada, many Chinese businesses are closed or have reduced hours for the occasion. Since 1 June 2016, this celebration has been recognized as an official holiday in Canada.
Belgians have contributed significantly to the economic, social and cultural development of Canada despite their relatively small numbers and their dispersion across the country. Originally, the majority of immigrants were Flemings whose settlement concentred in the agricultural regions of Québec, southwestern Ontario and Manitoba. Since 1945, Belgian immigrants have tended to be young, well-educated French-speaking professionals and entrepreneurs who prefer the urban centres, particularly in British Columbia and Alberta.
Ukrainians first came to Canada in the 19th century. The initial influx came as Canada government promoted the immigration of farmers. During the First World War, thousands of Ukrainian Canadians were imprisoned as enemy aliens due to their origins in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. According to 2016 Census, Ukrainian Canadians number 1,359,655 or 3.8 per cent of the country's population and are mainly Canadian-born citizens.
The first Russians in Canada were fur hunters, based in present-day Alaska, who operated among the Queen Charlotte Islands [Haida Gwaii] and along the coast farther south in the 1790s, and several Russian officers on detached service with the British navy, who were based at Halifax from 1793-95.
The Irish have played an important role in the history of Canada. From their early settlements in Newfoundland, to the larger waves of migrations in the 19th century and the present, the Irish have been ever-present in the Canadian landscape. Irish Canadians have contributed to Canadian society and its economy, and the Irish-Canadian identity continues to be expressed and celebrated.
Though often considered Anglo-Canadians, the Scots have always regarded themselves as a separate people. The Scots have immigrated to Canada in steady and substantial numbers for over 200 years, with the connection between Scotland and Canada stretching farther — to the 17th century. Scots have been involved in every aspect of Canada's development as explorers, educators, businessmen, politicians, writers and artists. The Scots are among the first Europeans to establish themselves in Canada and are the third largest ethnic group in the country. In the 2016 Census of Canada, a total of 4,799,005 Canadians, or 14 per cent of the population, listed themselves as being of Scottish origin (single and multiple responses).1
German Canadians — that is, Canadians who report their ethnic origin as solely or partly from Germany or of German ancestry — are one of Canada's largest ethnic categories of European origin. At the time of the British Conquest of New France, nearly 200 families living in the St. Lawrence Valley were of German origin. British North America, and then Canada, would receive six waves of immigration throughout their history, the most recent of which consisted of displaced people at the end of the Second World War. In the 2016 Canadian Census, 3,322,405 Canadians (nearly 10 per cent of the population) reported German origins, and 404,745 people in the country reported German as their mother tongue. A large proportion of these respondents lived in Ontario or central Canada.2
Filip Konowal, Ukrainian immigrant, Great War soldier, Victoria Cross recipient for valour at the Battle for Hill 70, patron of Branch #360 of The Royal Canadian Legion in Toronto, Parliament Hill janitor (born 25 March 1887 in Kutkiw, Ukraine; died 3 June 1959 in Ottawa, Ontario).
From the earliest years of the 17th century, the Dutch were engaged in the fur trade on the Hudson River. In 1614, they established trading posts on Manhattan Island and at Fort Orange (present-day Albany, New York). But only after the American Revolution (1775-1783) did Dutch immigration to British North America (now Canada) begin. The Dutch who had long been settled in the Thirteen Colonies fit easily into Canadian society. Since that time, Canada has experienced three waves of immigration from the Netherlands, the largest of them after the Second World War.
The ongoing Syrian conflict has catalyzed different responses in Canada. The Liberal government of Justin Trudeau, which came into power in November 2015, has greatly expanded the resettlement of Syrian refugees into Canada. However, the policies have also been criticized as Canada continues to fight Islamophobia and negative attitudes about refugees.
Beginning in early 1942, the Canadian government detained and dispossessed the vast majority of people of Japanese descent living in British Columbia. They were interned for the rest of the Second World War, during which time their homes and businesses were sold by the government in order to pay for their detention.
In the early 20th Century, most North End residents of Halifax perceived themselves as being collectively disadvantaged, compared to wealthier South End residents. However, within the North End certain groups — notably racial minorities, the elderly, non-British immigrants, members of the military, and unmarried women with children — stood out as being particularly vulnerable. They were among the hardest-hit in the aftermath of the Halifax Explosion of 1917.
It is generally recognized that the Czechs and SLOVAKS make up one ethnic group composed of 2 closely connected but still distinct Slavic units. After the breakup of the Czechoslovakia federation 2 independent states, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, were established in January 1993.
Chinese Canadians are one of the largest ethnic groups in the country. Despite their importance to the Canadian economy, including the historic construction of the CPR, many European Canadians were hostile to Chinese immigration, and a prohibitive head tax restricted immigration from 1885 to 1923.1
Immigration of Cambodians to Canada is relatively recent. From 1980 to 1992, Canada welcomed more than 18,000 Cambodia refugees who were fleeing the Khmer Rouge regime. They settled in Canada’s major urban areas. In the 2011 National Household Survey, 34,340 people reported being of Cambodian ethnic origin. Over the years since Cambodians began immigrating to Canada, many Cambodian Canadians have become distinguished in their fields; examples include actress Ellen Wong, journalist Chan Tep and graffiti artist FONKi.
The Orange Order was a political and religious fraternal society in Canada. From the early 19th century, members proudly defended Protestantism and the British connection while providing mutual aid. The Order had a strong influence in politics, particularly through patronage at the municipal level, and developed a reputation for sectarianism and rioting.
The welcoming and resettlement of many thousands of refugees from Southeast Asia in the late 1970s and early 1980s represents a turning point in the history of immigration in Canada. It was the first time that the Canadian government applied its new program for private sponsorship of refugees — the only one if its kind in the world — through which more than half of the Vietnamese, Cambodian and Laotian refugees who came to Canada during this period were admitted. In recognition of this unprecedented mobilization of private effort, the people of Canada were awarded the Nansen Medal, an honour bestowed by the United Nations for outstanding service to the cause of refugees. It was the first and remains the only time that the entire people of a country have been collectively honored with this award. But most importantly, this positive, humanitarian response by Canadians reflected a change in their attitude toward refugees. Never before in its history had Canada welcomed so many refugees in so little time.