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.
Immigration to Canada from the Philippines is relatively recent: it began in the 1970s. In the 2016 Census, 837,130 people reported being of Filipino ethnic origin. Filipino Canadians thus constitute the largest group of Southeast Asian Canadians. The Philippines also ranked first as country of birth among people who immigrated to Canada between 2006 and 2016. Filipino Canadians are deeply engaged in Canada’s artistic, cultural, social and political life. In the field of arts and culture, prominent Filipino Canadians include singer Joey Albert, comic- book author J. Torres and playwright C. E. “Chris” Gatchalian. In politics, Conrad Santos was the first Canadian of Filipino origin to be elected to a legislative assembly in Canada (that of Manitoba, in 1981). Dr. Rey D. Pagtakhan became the first Filipino Canadian to sit in the House of Commons, in 1988, and Tobias Enverga became the first appointed to the Senate of Canada, in 2012.
Immigration from Indonesia to Canada began after the Second World War. In the wake of the decolonization process, 300,000 “Indos” (Indische Nederlander), persons of mixed Dutch and Asian ancestry, were repatriated to the Netherlands. Some of them decided to continue their journeys, settling in Australia, the United States and Canada. Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, political instability also led many Indonesians to immigrate to Canada. According to the 2016 census, 21,395 individuals indicated that they had Indonesian origins. Notable Indonesian Canadians include violin maker Piet Molenaar and Toronto filmmaker Mike Hoolboom.
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 2016 Census, 38,490 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 immigration of Laotian nationals to Canada is relatively recent, having begun in earnest in the late 1970s. After the withdrawal of American troops from Vietnam in March 1973, mainland Southeast Asia (former Indochina) was left at the mercy of revolutionary forces in the region. In 1975, at the end of a 20-year-long civil war, communist revolutionaries of the Pathet Lao (Lao State) movement took power, abolished the monarchy and proclaimed the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. Living conditions deteriorated in Laos, as they did in Vietnam and Cambodia. Former civil and military officials were sent to labour camps and their families were denied access to employment and education. These difficult economic conditions, combined with an increasingly forceful communist regime and violations of human rights, sparked a mass migration in the region. Like Vietnamese, Laotians left their country in makeshift vessels, facing perilous conditions on the Mekong River and then the China Sea. This is the origin of the name often used to refer to these migrants: “boat people.” From 1979 to 1982, Canada welcomed nearly 8,000 Laotians. Approximately 20 per cent were of Chinese origin. Supported by the federal government and private sponsor groups, they resettled in various parts of Canada. Today, however, the Laotian population is concentrated in Québec and Ontario. In the 2016 Census of Canada, 24,590 people reported being of Laotian origin.
The settlement of Vietnamese nationals in Canada is relatively recent. It resulted from two waves of immigration in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. The first wave consisted mostly of middle- class people who were welcomed to Canada for their professional skills after the fall of Saigon in 1975. Because Vietnam had been part of the French colony of Indochina until 1954, these immigrants generally spoke French, if not English. The second wave of immigration consisted of refugees from the former South Vietnam, seeking to escape the harsh living conditions and deteriorating human-rights situation following the reunification of the two Vietnams into a single country. These refugees were widely referred to in the media as “boat people.” Moved by the desperate plight of the hundreds of thousands who, to escape the Communist regime, took to the high seas in makeshift boats that threatened to sink at any moment, many Canadians offered to sponsor their journey to Canada. In July 1979, the Government of Canada committed to accept 50,000 refugees from Indochina (Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos) by the end of the year. In April 1980, the government revised the target number of refugees it would admit and announced that Canada would accept 10,000 more. This brought the number of refugees to 60,000 for the year 1979–80.2
Japanese Canadians, or Nikkei (meaning Japanese immigrants and their descendants), are Canadians of Japanese heritage. Japanese people arrived in Canada in two major waves. The first generation of immigrants, called Issei, arrived between 1877 and 1928, and the second after 1967. According to the 2011 National Household Survey, people of Japanese heritage number 109,740 — or 0.3 per cent of the country’s population — and are mainly Canadian-born citizens. The first generations of Japanese Canadians were denied the full rights of citizens, such as the right to vote in provincial and federal elections and to work in certain industries. During the Second World War, the federal government interned and dispossessed over 20,000 Japanese Canadians. Japanese Canadians have settled primarily in British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario, and have contributed to every aspect of Canadian society. Well-known Japanese Canadians include novelists Kerri Sakamoto, Aki Shimazaki, Michelle Sagara, Hiromi Goto, Kim Moritsugu and Joy Kogawa, poet Roy Miki, writer Ken Adachi, filmmakers Midi Onodera and Linda Ohama, scientist David Suzuki, public servant Thomas Shoyama, architects Raymond Moriyama and Bruce Kuwabara, community leader Art Miki, judoka Mas Takahashi, and agriculturalist Zenichi Shimbashi. Artists include Takao Tanabe, Miyuki Tanobe, Roy Kiyooka and Kazuo Nakamura. Politicians include Bev Oda, the first Japanese Canadian Member of Parliament and cabinet minister; BC Liberal cabinet minister Naomi Yamamoto; and former Ontario Progressive Conservative cabinet minister David Tsubouchi. Vicky Sunohara was part of the national women’s hockey team that won silver (1998) and gold (2002, 2006) at the Olympic Winter Games. Devin Setoguchi of the Minnesota Wild and AHL players Jon Matsumoto and Raymond Sawada are Japanese Canadian hockey players.
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
Iran, formerly known as Persia, is one of the oldest civilizations of the world. Iranians are a relatively new community in Canada and one that continues to grow. Their immigration to the country began in the 1980s, in the wake of the 1979 Iranian Revolution. In 2016, there were 170,755 people of Iranian origin in Canada, and another 39,650 had multiple origins, one of them being Iranian (for a total of 210,405 Canadians). From 2011 to 2016, Canada welcomed 42,070 Iranian immigrants. Iran is one of the top ten birthplaces of recent immigrants to Canada, ranked fourth after the Philippines, India and China.
Kim Thúy, CQ, writer (born 18 September 1968 in Saigon, Vietnam). The winner of several prestigious literary awards for her first novel (Ru), this Quebec writer of Vietnamese origin is known for her short and elegant stories. Her novels deal with the migrant experience and the challenges of adapting to a new culture. Written in French, which Thúy calls her “second mother tongue,” they have been translated into 15 languages.
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.
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.1
The vast continent of Africa and its complex array of peoples has not had a close relationship with Canada. Prior to 1960, black Africans comprised a very small, scattered and almost unknown group of newcomers to Canada, although Africans of European and Asian ancestry had a clearer presence.
In 1991, Baltej Singh Dhillon became the first member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police permitted to wear a turban — as part of his Sikh religion — instead of the Mounties' traditional cap or stetson. Dhillon's request that the RCMP change its uniform rules triggered a national debate about religious accommodation in Canada.1
Black people have lived in Canada since the beginnings of transatlantic settlement. Although historically very few have arrived directly from their ancestral homeland in the continent of Africa, the term "African Canadian" became increasingly popular in the 1990s to identify all descendants of Africa regardless of their place of birth.3