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.
For Canada, Asia does not exist “over there.” It is, has been, and will continue to be, right here, contributing to and shaping our country. Canada’s citizenry includes over 6.7 million people — 20 percent of the population — who were born outside Canada. Recent immigrants to this country are more likely to have come from Asia and the Middle East than from Europe (Census of Canada, 2011).
This collection of articles, exhibits, images and quizzes explores francophone Canada in all its complexity, bringing its communities, institutions and struggles for language and education rights into focus. It also showcases francophone culture in Canada, from arts, literature, music, folklore and symbols to the identity and heritage of these communities. Above image: Saint Boniface Cathedral, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Nov. 2013. 38962960 © Wwphoto | Dreamstime.com
On 15 July 1940, an unusual vessel docked at the Port of Québec, and a crowd gathered to greet the new arrival. The small craft used for patrolling and transportation on the St. Lawrence River at Québec City, the Jeffy Jan II — rechristened HMC Harbour Craft 54 by the young Canadian Navy during the war — was sent to surveil the ship and its sensitive cargo and passengers. The vessel in question was the prison ship MS Sobieski.
On 15 April 1947, Jackie Robinson played in his debut game with the Brooklyn Dodgers, becoming the first African American to play in the major leagues in the modern era. Prior to that point, professional baseball in the United States was segregated, with African Americans playing in the Negro leagues. When Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s colour barrier in 1947, he entered American history books. What many baseball fans may not realize, however, is that Robinson was embraced by Canadian fans one year earlier as a member of the Montreal Royals, a farm team for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
The Underground Railroad was a secret network of abolitionists who helped African Americans escape from enslavement in the American South to free Northern states or to Canada. It was the largest anti-slavery freedom movement in North America, having brought between 30,000 and 40,000 fugitives to British North America (Canada).
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.
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 2011 National Household Survey, 22,090 people reported being of Laotian origin.
Manzo Nagano, businessman (born 26 November 1853 in Kuchinotsu [Minamishimabara], Nagasaki Prefecture, Japan; died May 1924 in Kuchinotsu [Minamishimabara], Nagasaki Prefecture). Manzo Nagano is the first known Japanese immigrant to Canada. In March 1877, at age 24, he left Japan for the West aboard a British steamer, arriving in May in British Columbia. He eventually settled in Victoria, where he ran a number of businesses. He returned to Japan in failing health in 1923, and died the following year.
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.
Richard Pierpoint (also Pawpine, Parepoint; Captain Pierpoint, Captain Dick; Black Dick), loyalist, soldier, community leader, storyteller (born c. 1744 in Bondu [now Senegal]; died c. 1838, near present-day Fergus, ON). Pierpoint was an early leader in Canada’s Black community. Taken from West Africa as a teenager and sold into slavery, Pierpoint regained his freedom during the American Revolution. He settled in Niagara, Upper Canada, and attempted to live communally with other Black Canadians. In the War of 1812, he petitioned for an all-Black unit to fight for the British and fought with the Coloured Corps.
Order-in-Council P.C. 1324 was approved on 12 August 1911 by the Cabinet of Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier. The purpose of the order was to ban Black persons from entering Canada for a period of one year because, it read, “the Negro race…is deemed unsuitable to the climate and requirements of Canada.”
Domestic work refers to all tasks performed within a household, specifically those related to housekeeping, child care and personal services for adults. This traditionally unpaid work may be assigned to a paid housekeeper (the term caregiver is preferred today). From the early days of New France, domestic work was also considered as a means for men and women to immigrate to the colony. In the 19th century, however, domestic service became a distinctly female occupation. From the second half of that century until the Second World War, in response to the growing need for labour in Canadian households, British emigration societies helped thousands of girls and women immigrate to Canada. In 1955, the Canadian government launched a domestic-worker recruitment program aimed at West Indian women. It wasn’t until recently, in 2014, that the government lifted the requirement that immigrant caregivers live with their employer in order to qualify for permanent residence — a requirement that put domestic workers in a vulnerable position.
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.
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.
Arlene Dickinson, entrepreneur, business executive, television personality (born 8 October 1956 in Germiston, South Africa). Dickinson is best known as a star of CBC’s Dragons’ Den and as the CEO of Venture Communications Ltd., one of Canada’s largest independent marketing agencies. With a reported net worth of $80 million, Dickinson is one of Canada’s most successful entrepreneurs. Her success has been recognized by several honours and awards, such as the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal.
Wabanakwut Kinew, hip hop artist, broadcaster, university administrator, author, politician (born 31 December 1981 in Kenora, ON). An Ojibwa activist and public intellectual, Wab Kinew began his career as a musician and rapper with the hip hop group Dead Indians. He gained national attention through his radio and television journalism for the CBC, including 8th Fire, a television series on Indigenous issues. Kinew’s 2015 memoir, The Reason You Walk, was a national bestseller and finalist for the RBC Taylor Prize. In 2016, Kinew was elected to the Manitoba legislature, despite controversial tweets and rap lyrics that dogged his campaign. In 2017, he announced his intention to seek the leadership of the Manitoba New Democratic Party.
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.