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Canada's Cultural Mosaic


Canada's emphasis on a pluralistic society is worthy of study. I'll try to give a very brief overview here.

A definition of pluralism is

a. A condition in which numerous distinct ethnic, religious, or cultural groups are present and tolerated within a society.

b. The belief that such a condition is desirable or socially beneficial.

David Suzuki

David Suzuki

a brief history of immigration in Canada

Tens of thousands of years before the coming of the first European settlers, ancestors of Canada's Native People migrated across a frozen icepack linking Asia to North America. Over many centuries they spread across the continent, forming a rich tapestry of cultural and linguistic groupings. Approximately 500 years ago, Europeans arrived in what would eventually become Canada. First came French colonists who carved out homes along the St. Lawrence River and its tributaries. They were followed by settlers from France and Britain who gradually established competing colonial outposts in the Maritime provinces. The 18th century victory of British arms at Quebec, followed by the British defeat in the American Revolution sent Loyalists northward to British North America (Canada) in search of new homes.

During most of the next century and a half, immigration continued. Settlers came mainly from Britain, including English, Scots and Irish. Some were drawn to the opportunities of the new world. Others, including many Scots and Irish famine immigrants, escaped the grinding poverty and starvation which followed crop failures or eviction from their lands. Americans also immigrated. Many were lured north to Canada by Canadian land agents or labour recruiters. Some immigrants came empty-handed and alone. Others came in family groups and with the resources necessary to begin life afresh in a new land. Some succeeded, while others struggled and reaped only misery.

While the majority of early immigrants came to Canada from Britain or the United States, other nationalities also came, including non-whites. Many immigrants from continental Europe were drawn to Canada by its economic promise, or as an escape from religious or political threats. In the years before the American Civil War, the Europeans were joined by thousands of black slaves who escaped by following the Underground Railway northward into Canada. After Canadian Confederation in 1867, thousands of Irish and Chinese labourers were imported as workers to build the Canadian Pacific Railway. On the Pacific coast, other Chinese joined the rush of fortune hunters from all over the world who trekked into British Columbia and later the Yukon interior after the discovery of gold.

After the turn of the century, hundreds of thousands of American farmers moved northward into the Canadian prairies in search of farm lands. At the same time, many from central and eastern Europe, seeking land, were recruited by Canadian immigration agents anxious to fill the west with farmers.

With the end of World War II, the Canadian economy began a period of expansion. Indeed, the economy grew so rapidly that soon there were too few workers in Canada to meet the demand. Fearing that the economy might stall, Canada lifted its restrictions on immigration to bring in tens of thousands of workers and their families from Europe. While preference was still given to people from Britain and western Europe, the need for workers remained so great that the door was gradually opened to other Europeans as well. Immigrants from southern Europe and refugees from then-Soviet occupied Europe arrived. Unlike earlier waves of immigrants, most who came after World War II did not settle on farms or in remote mining and lumbering towns. The majority settled in cities. Nor were they all labourers. Many were well-educated and trained professionals.

In the years that followed, Canada became home to waves of refugees fleeing from behind the Iron Curtain -- from Hungary (l956), Czechoslovakia (l968) and Poland (l982-85). Canadian attitudes toward immigrants became more welcoming. As Canadians supported efforts to end racism and discrimination in Canadian law, the last racial and ethnic barriers to Canadian immigration were finally removed in 1967. The result was a dramatic change in the sources of immigrants. Non-Europeans, especially immigrants from Asia and the Caribbean, arrived in increasing numbers. Today, immigrants and refugees from the developing world and from other non-European sources outnumber European immigrants by about three to one. As a result, visible minorities have become an increasingly important part of the national fabric.

Source: Mount Allison University website


immigration patterns

Multiculturalism in Canada was adopted as the official policy of the Canadian government during the premiership of Pierre Elliot Trudeau in the 1970s and 1980s.

In 1971, Canada became the first country in the world to declare multiculturalism as official state policy. The bold step charted the path to a vibrant and evolving cultural mosaic premised on mutual respect for Canadians of all backgrounds and ancestry.

In Canada there are three categories of immigrants: family class (closely related persons of Canadian residents), independent immigrants (admitted on the basis of a point system that account for age, health and labour-market skills required for cost effectively inducting the immigrants into Canada's white-collar or blue-collar labour market) and refugees seeking protection by applying to remain in Canada.

The People’s Republic of China was the leading country of birth among individuals who immigrated to Canada in the 1990s. It was followed by India, the Philippines, the Special Administrative Region (SAR) of Hong Kong, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Taiwan. These seven Asian countries alone accounted for over 40% of all immigrants who came to Canada during 1990 to 1999.

Among the European immigrants who arrived during the 1990s, the most frequent countries of origin were Poland, the United Kingdom and Romania.

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European immigrants accounted for the vast majority (90%) of the immigrants who came to Canada before 1961. Since then, the proportion of European-born has declined steadily with each subsequent wave of immigrants.

Of those immigrants who arrived during the 1990s, 11% were born in the Caribbean, Central or South America. This figure was down from 16.5% of those who came during the 1980s and 1970s, and were from these regions. Jamaica was the leading country of birth among those who arrived in the 1990s, followed by Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, and Mexico.

Immigration from Africa has increased slightly since the 1980s. People born in Africa made up 8% of immigrants who came in the 1990s, up from 6% of immigrants who arrived during the previous decade. The most frequent countries of birth of those coming from Africa in the 1990s were Somalia, Algeria and the Republic of South Africa.



Michael Ondaatje

Michael Ondaatje

Canada's responses to refugees

Canada has had a proud record of welcoming refugees to the country.

On 4 June 1969, Canada signed the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. In the 40 years since Canada became a party to the Refugee Convention, it has gained the enviable reputation of being a world leader in protecting refugees.

During the decades 1980-1999 an average of 30,000 refugees were admitted to Canada annually, for an estimated total of about 0.6 million. Given this heavy intake of refugees, it is not surprising that in 1986 the United Nations awarded Canada the Nansen medal for its outstanding humanitarian tradition of settling refugees. It is worth noting that Canada is the first country to be so honoured by the United Nations.

Where do these refugees come from? In the 35-year period following World War II, the refugees admitted in large numbers have come from such varied countries as Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Uganda, Chile, Indochina, and Lebanon. In the last two decades, however, they have come again from Indochina and Lebanon, as well as from Iraq, Iran, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Southeast Asia, Somalia and other African countries, El Salvador and other Latin American countries, Poland and former Yugoslavia, among others.

The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) which was introduced in 2002 to replace the former Immigration Act of 1976. The many changes included broader discretion for immigrations officers when evaluating applications. The IRPA is accompanied by the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations.

READ MORE: Brief history of Canada’s responses to refugees

visible minority population

A visible minority is defined by the Canadian government as "persons, other than aboriginal peoples, who are non-Caucasian in race or non-white in colour".

Almost one in five individuals in 2011 identified themselves as a member of a visible minority group, up from 13.4 per cent a decade earlier and 4.7 per cent in 1981. South Asians, Chinese and blacks were the largest visible minority groups, accounting for 61 per cent of the visible minority population.

Of the 6.3 million people who said they were a visible minority, 31 per cent were born in Canada and 65 per cent were immigrants.

Statistics Canada attributes the boost in visible minorities to the increasing numbers of immigrants from non-European countries — 82.4 per cent.

Ontario remains the province of choice with 3.6 million immigrants — just over half of all newcomers to Canada — calling it home.

Of the 1.2 million immigrants who arrived between 2006 and 2011, nine out of 10 settled in Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia and Alberta. Just over 43 per cent of them choose to settle in Ontario.

Statistics Canada projects that, by 2031, almost one-half of the population over the age of 15 will be foreign-born or have at least one foreign-born parent. The number of visible minorities will double and make up the majority of the population of cities in Canada.


Percentage of visible minority by province

Percentage of visible minority by province

Paul Anka

Paul Anka

criticisms of immigration policies

Unfortunately because of the 2007 financial crisis and the increasing migration rate, immigration in Canada has been under harsh criticism.

The Toronto Star's article "When immigration goes awry" is one example.

Canada's livable cities are an unsung national asset. One of the things that makes them special is the presence of immigrants from all over the world who have contributed new energy and cultural diversity. But, in immigration as in everything else, too much of a good thing isn't better. Ottawa's policy of mass immigration, for which no reasonable explanation has ever been offered, risks doing irreparable damage to our cities. This policy of rapid urban growth is being implemented by Ottawa even though it has no jurisdiction over urban affairs and even though the policy has never been stated explicitly.

Yet the impact is already evident.

Highway 401 across Toronto has become the busiest road in North America, the city can't find a place to put its garbage, and its public schools can't afford to provide the English instruction newly arrived children need. In Vancouver, meanwhile, controversy rages over the British Columbia government's plan to expand the Port Mann bridge that links the rapidly growing Fraser Valley suburbs to the city.

Another common concern is explained in the article "Multiculturalism policy falling behind the times".

In the Canadian Journal of Law and Jurisprudence, political philosopher Joseph Heath has argued that immigrants should be given advance notice that integration may be "incompatible" with their cultural beliefs and "will probably require considerable willingness to adjust."

He cites, as an example, the fact that many non-Western newcomers underestimate the extent to which the Charter's gender equality provisions will diminish their daughters' willingness to conform to traditional male-dominated customs.

In a National Post article Barbara Kay explains why she thinks "Multiculturalism was Canada's biggest mistake".

The underside of multiculturalism is its ideological root in West-bashing. Sometime around 1960, it was determined by a few French intellectuals (whose unintelligible gibberish other intellectuals pretended to understand) that the greatest criminals against humanity in the history of the world weren’t the Nazi and Communist murderers of 100 million people. Rather, it was European colonialists, who imposed their cultural values on their captive audience.

Even though Canada was a colony itself, and had never indulged in imperialism of any kind, Canadians were informed they must share in the blame because of their religious, racial and cultural association with former colonialists.

Multiculturalism is idealistic in theory, but its real effect has been the entrenchment in our intellectual and cultural elites of an unhealthy obsession with a largely phantom racism amongst heritage Canadians that no amount of penance or cultural self-effacement can ever transcend.

In its ideological insistence on the equal value of all cultures other than ours (ours being the sole inferior one), multiculturalism’s main “accomplishment” has been to instill self-loathing in heritage Canadians, a sense of responsibility-free entitlement in identity groups, and the suffocation of critical diversity in the public form.

In September 2010 immigration minister Jason Kenney says the government hopes to attract more students from China to Canadian colleges through a new Student Partners Program.

"International students bring with them new ideas and experiences and contribute both financially and culturally to the communities and institutions where they study," Kenney said in a news release.

There are currently more than 200,000 international students studying in Canada, contributing $6.5 billion to the Canadian economy.

The China program is based on a similar one introduced last year for India. It brought an additional 8,000 students from India to study in Canada, increasing the total number of Indian students to 19,000.

Of course there will be criticisms that this program is biased toward certain countries leaving others feeling left out.

Though these arguments are valid, immigration rate will not slow down.

According to Laurent Martel, a Statistics Canada analyst, "We’re heading towards a point where immigration will be the only source of growth in Canada.”

That point won’t be reached until after 2030, when the peak of the baby boomers born in the 1950s and early ‘60s reach the end of their lifespans.

“You’re going to see an increase in the number of deaths in Canada and the number of deaths will exceed the number of births — so natural increase will become negative,” said Martel.

“The only factor of growth will then be immigration.”

Michael Lee-Chin

Michael Lee-Chin

The Toronto Star reported in a May 2012 article that immigration applications from key Asian countries have dropped by more than half since 2006, when the Conservative government began transforming its migrant selection.

Critics say the disproportionate declines from China, India, the Philippines and Pakistan could be an indication of how Ottawa’s policy changes favour some immigrant countries over others, and would have an impact on the immigrant mix.

Statistics obtained by the Star show a significant drop in the annual number of Chinese, Indians, Filipinos and Pakistanis applying for permanent residency between 2006 and 2011.

Applicants from China fell 45 per cent from 55,647 to 30,507; India by almost 51 per cent from 61,559 to 30,283; the Philippines by 32 per cent from 37,132 to 25,378; and Pakistan by 65 per cent from 31,330 to 11,066.

While the number of applications fell overall for the top 10 source countries from 227,689 to 140,712 during the period — a reflection of policy changes to control immigration intake and backlog — the declines of the top four countries were bigger than English- or French-speaking countries.

According to Citizenship and Immigration Canada, the number of immigration applications from the United States has dropped by only 10 per cent from 8,352 in 2006 to 7,546 in 2011 while applicants from France fell by 7 per cent from 5,141 to 4,795.

Since coming into power in 2006, Ottawa has made significant changes to the immigration system, tightening language requirement, restricting eligibility to limited occupations in demand, and capping the applications it processes each year.

It plans to have applicants’ credentials pre-assessed prior to arrival and give Canadian employers more power in selecting immigrants through employments.

[Jason] Kenney said he did not anticipate fundamental changes in primary immigrant source countries, but he expected to see “an increase in the capacity of immigrants from those countries to succeed.”

“I really don’t care where people come from as long as they are able to succeed in Canada. I think more employers have the same attitude,” Kenney has told theStar.

“One issue here is language proficiency. All of the data says the primary reason why foreign trained professionals are not hired in Canada is language proficiency, which is an indicator of people’s soft social skills,” he added.

“Even if they have a book smart about the job, but if they don’t understand the cultural context, that can be a barrier.”

a few famous visible minority Canadians

Oscar Peterson, legendary jazz pianist

Pop singer Paul Anka's father was Syrian, his mother was Lebanese

Dr. David Suzuki, science broadcaster and environmental activist

Adrienne Clarkson, Governor General October 7, 1999 – September 27, 2005

Michaëlle Jean, Governor General September 27, 2005 – October 1, 2010

Olivia Chow, former New Democratic Party Member of parliament (2006–2014), former city councillor (1991–2005) in Toronto and widow of Jack Layton (leader of the New Democratic Party)

Lincoln Alexander, Canada's first black Member of Parliament and first black Lieutenant Governor of Ontario

Donovan Bailey, 1996 Olympic gold medalist sprinter

Michael Lee-Chin, billionaire financial mogul and philanthropist

Alfred Sung, fashion designer

Atom Egoyan, filmmaker best known for the Oscar-nominated film "The Sweet Hereafter", is of Armenian heritage

Tommy Chong of the comedy act Cheech & Chong

Kristin Kreuk, actress known for her portrayal of Lana Lang in the television series "Smallville"

Sandra Oh plays Dr. Cristina Yang in the ABC series "Grey's Anatomy"

Measha Brueggergosman, opera singer

Deepa Mehta, director and screenwriter of the Oscar-nominated film "Water"

Naheed Nenshi, mayor of Calgary, Alberta, first Muslim to become mayor of a major Canadian city

Michael Ondaatje, novelist and poet who won the Booker Prize for his novel The English Patient (1992)

Russell Peters, Anglo-Indian stand-up comic and actor

Bruce Bunji Kuwabara is an architect and a founding partner of the firm KPMB Architects, Board Chair of the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal

Wadih Fares is a community developer, President and CEO of WM Fares Group in Halifax, Nova Scotia

Cindy Lee is a Taiwanese-born Canadian businesswoman who founded T&T Supermarket Inc., the largest Asian-Canadian grocery retail chain in Canada

Figure skater Patrick Chan, 2014 Olympic silver medalist

Grammy award winning rapper, singer, songwriter and actor Drake

Pop singer and song writer Dan Hill

Lawrence Hill, author of the critically acclaimed 2007 novel The Book of Negroes


Ethnic Diversity Survey: portrait of a multicultural society

Ethnic origins of people in Canada

Multiculturalism in Canada

A conference hosted by the Trudeau Foundation  (the late Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau was a key architect of Canada’s multicultural policy)

A conference hosted by the Trudeau Foundation (the late Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau was a key architect of Canada’s multicultural policy)


Chaas on January 07, 2015:

The honetsy of your posting shines through

francis5k on May 20, 2012:

Thanks Tranquilheart for the article.. interesting!

WilliamKovacs on February 01, 2011:

Most of Canada, the UK and the US are immigrants.

Tranquilheart (author) from Canada on September 29, 2010:

Thanks Tony!


Tony McGregor from South Africa on September 27, 2010:

Great Hub! I will have to come back to read it again when I have more time. Meanwhile I just enjoyed the quick read.

Love and peace


Tranquilheart (author) from Canada on September 18, 2010:

Hello sid,

I appreciate your comment. Glad you found my hub useful.


sid_candid on September 17, 2010:

This is a nice hub with loads of important information about Canada. Good job done.

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