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.
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
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 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.
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.
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.
Canadians of Caribbean origin belong to one of the largest non-European ethnic groups in Canada. A group of 556 Jamaicans arrived in Canada in 1796 after an unsuccessful British attempt to enslave them in Jamaica (see Black Canadians), but early contact between Canada and West Indians were few.
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).
Soldiers rounding up terrified civilians, expelling them from their land, burning their homes and crops ‒ it sounds like a 20th century nightmare in one of the world's trouble spots, but it describes a scene from Canada's early history, the Deportation of the Acadians.3
Immigration to Canada from the Philippines is relatively recent: it began in the 1970s. In the 2011 National Household Survey, 662,600 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 2011. 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.