Ethnic Groups in Canada, groups of people in Canada who share the same history and culture. There are more than 100 different ethnic groups in Canada, and many have maintained their own languages and cultures. Canada has been described as a cultural mosaic where ethnic groups remain distinct.
In contrast to Canada, the United States is characterized as a melting pot in which ethnic identities are absorbed by a larger American identity. Through a policy called multiculturalism, the Canadian government officially encourages each of Canada’s ethnic groups to preserve its own heritage and to share it with the rest of the Canadian population. This article discusses Canada’s major ethnic groups, including government policy and general information about each group’s geographic distribution, culture, and history.
Most social scientists agree that for a group to constitute an ethnic group it has to see itself and be seen by others as distinct. Social scientists also agree that such a group must have two essential attributes: a long and shared history and a cultural tradition of its own, which includes family customs and manners that may or may not be tied to religion. Other characteristics often shared by members of an ethnic group include language, geographical origin, religion, food, race, and literature.
Canada has two founding ethnic groups, the British and the French. British Canadians have traditionally dominated Canada, but French Canadians have maintained their own language and culture in the populous province of Québec. In the 1960s the sizable French minority pressured the federal government to prevent the French language and culture from being absorbed by the Anglophone society. In response, the Canadian government began to consider ways of preventing discrimination against the country’s various ethnic groups. Other major ethnic groups in Canada include Germans, Italians, aboriginal peoples, Ukrainians, Chinese, and Dutch.
In the late 1960s the government began to admit prospective immigrants based on their work skills and education, thus eliminating a long-standing bias against non-Europeans. Canada now has one of the most liberal immigration policies in the world, and ethnic groups from non-European countries are a growing percentage of the immigrant stream. The government classifies many of these ethnic groups as visible minorities, defined in the Employment Equity Act (1986) as “persons, other than aboriginal peoples, who are non-Caucasian in race or non-white in color.” In 1968, 9 of the top 10 countries of origin for immigrants were European. By 1976, 5 of the top 10 were non-European. In 2004 nearly half of all legal immigrants entering Canada came from Asia and the Pacific Rim. Overall, visible minorities have continually increased as a percentage of the Canadian population in recent decades, from 6.3 percent in 1986 to 9.4 percent in 1991, 11.2 percent in 1996, and 13.4 percent in 2001.
Ethnic groups emerged as a national issue in Canada during World War II (1939-1945). French Canadians in Québec opposed the federal government drafting people into the armed forces. At the same time, the government arrested some Italian Canadians without warrants and confined thousands of Japanese Canadians and took their assets. In an effort to defuse tensions between ethnic groups, the government emphasized patriotism and national unity, adopting the first Canadian Citizenship Act in 1947. In 1960 Canada approved the Canadian Bill of Rights, the first federal law to bar discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, race, color, religion, or sex.
In the 1960s French Canadians began to demand cultural protection from the government because they feared losing their language and culture to the dominant Anglophone society. Radical French Canadians urged Québec’s secession from Canada and carried out terrorist bombings. In 1963 Prime Minister Lester Pearson established the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism to examine how to ensure an equal partnership between British and French Canadians.
The report released by the commission in 1969 emphasized that Canada was both bilingual and multicultural. The commission encouraged the federal government to help members of all of Canada’s ethnic groups “participate fully” in Canadian society. The government introduced the Official Languages Act in 1969, which established English and French as the two official languages of Canada. In response to requests by several ethnic groups, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau adopted multiculturalism in 1971 as a government policy. He committed the Canadian government to acknowledge the contributions of all ethnic groups in Canada. The government also signaled that there is no official culture into which every Canadian is expected to assimilate.
As more visible minorities came to Canada in the 1970s, the government began to focus more attention on human rights. In 1977 the government passed the Canadian Human Rights Act, in which it pledged that all Canadians would have equal opportunities and established a commission to help eliminate discrimination if it was reported and confirmed. In 1982 the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was ratified as part of the Constitution of Canada to ensure that people of all ethnic groups have equal rights in Canada. It protected voting, legal, language, and civil rights.
In 1986 the government passed the Employment Equity Act to ensure equal job opportunities for minority groups, including aboriginal people and visible minorities. Parliament enacted the Canadian Multiculturalism Act two years later, confirming its commitment to honor ethnic groups’ heritages. The act committed the government to “recognize and promote the understanding that multiculturalism reflects the cultural and racial diversity of Canadian society and acknowledges the freedom of all members of Canadian society to preserve, enhance, and share their cultural heritage.” Federal officials say the act is an ongoing work, which they will modify as the Canadian population’s needs change. In 1996 the federal government established the Canadian Race Relations Foundation to help stamp out racism in Canadian society. Led by a 15-member board of directors, the foundation studied data on racism and promoted programs to eliminate discrimination.
Despite the influx of non-European immigrants since the 1970s, the British and French remain the largest ethnic groups in Canada. Official numbers for these ethnic groups are misleading though, since many British and French Canadians began to report “Canadian” as their ethnic origin in the 1980s and 1990s. Many British and French Canadians registered this way in the 1996 census, the first year “Canadian” was included as a suggested choice.
British Canadians, often called Anglophone or Anglo Canadians, have been numerically and culturally dominant since Canada became a nation in 1867. Anglo Canadians include people with four different ethnic origins: England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. At the time of the 1871 census Anglo Canadians represented 60 percent of the population. Those of Irish origin were the most numerous, followed by the English, Scottish, and Welsh. A century later, in 1971, Anglo Canadians represented 45 percent of the national population, and the English were the largest single group, followed by the Scottish, Irish, and Welsh.
During the 1980s and 1990s the official number of Anglo Canadians dropped. Much of the decline is due to changes in the census that encouraged people to register as Canadians. Increasing numbers of individuals with British ancestry claimed Canadian identity when asked about their ethnic origin. Taking this information into account, people of British ancestry were estimated to constitute 44 percent of the population in 2000. In the 2001 census, however, only 20.2 percent of Canadians claimed British ancestry.
The English Canadian population is concentrated in Ontario, British Columbia, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Alberta. The Scottish Canadians are most numerous in Ontario and the Atlantic provinces (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Prince Edward Island). Most of the Irish live in rural areas of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Ontario, and Québec. The Welsh are by far the smallest group among the British Canadians, and they have also settled in the Atlantic provinces and Ontario.
The language spoken by British Canadians is mostly English, but some Welsh speak their own Celtic language and some Scots, Gaelic. The English tend to belong to the Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian, or Roman Catholic religions. The Irish are primarily Roman Catholic and Anglican. The Scottish are mainly Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, and Episcopal Church of Scotland. The Welsh are primarily Anglican, Presbyterian, and Methodist. See also United Kingdom.
As early as 1753 the Irish established colonies on the Atlantic Coast of northern North America. In the 1830s, 1840s, and 1850s large numbers of Irish fleeing famine in their homeland moved to British North America, then a collection of British colonies. They favored Upper Canada (now Ontario), Lower Canada (now Québec), and the Maritime provinces (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island). The Irish continued to immigrate to Canada into the 20th century, but at reduced numbers.
After the British were defeated in the American Revolution (1775-1783), many people loyal to Britain, known as the United Empire Loyalists, moved from the United States to the British colonies. This massive immigration was followed by the arrival of thousands of people from England seeking to escape the economic upheaval caused by the Industrial Revolution. In 1871 the English were the third largest ethnic group in Canada, behind the French and the Irish, and numbered just over 706,000.
The years between 1890 and 1930, when Canada was heavily promoted to Europeans as a land of opportunity, brought the heaviest English immigration to Canada. The English initially settled in many of the same areas as the Irish. By the 1921 census the English population in Canada exceeded those of the Irish and Scottish combined.
The Scots came to Canada in three waves, each larger than its predecessor. The first wave occurred from 1763 to 1815, and the second wave occurred from 1815 to 1870. The Scots continued to immigrate in large numbers during the third wave, from 1870 to 1930. The Scottish immigrants called Nova Scotia home and like the English, they were among the United Empire Loyalists that came to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in the late 1780s. Most of the Welsh came to Canada during the 20th century.
As one of the founding groups of Canada, the British have held many of the positions of power since they first settled in the country. Anglo Canadians have formed the dominant culture throughout Canada, except in Québec. New immigrants and aboriginal groups have had to adjust to the Anglo Canadian culture. Anglo Canadians have distinguished themselves in every walk of life, including government, science, education, medicine, law, farming, and mining.
The French were the first Europeans to establish permanent military and trading settlements in what is today Canada. They founded the colony of New France in 1608. A 1666 census of New France indicated a total population of 3,215 French settlers. When Britain defeated France in the French and Indian War (1754-1763) and took over New France, the French Canadians became subordinate to the British. At the time of the 1871 census French Canadians constituted 31 percent of the population.
By 1971 the French had declined slightly, to about 29 percent of the population. During the 1980s and 1990s French Canadians, like Anglo Canadians, experienced declines in official population as growing numbers registered “Canadian” as their ethnic origin. Taking this information into account, 27 percent of the population was estimated to be of French ancestry in 2000. In the 2001 census only 15.75 percent of Canadians claimed French ethnicity.
In the 1600s the French began settling along the Atlantic Coast of northern North America and in the St. Lawrence River Valley. By 1749 the French were well established in what is now eastern Ontario. In the early 19th century the French also settled in what is today Manitoba. Since their early immigration, French Canadians have been concentrated in Québec and parts of New Brunswick.
The French language and culture were firmly established in New France and continued to be dominant even after the British achieved political control in 1763. French immigrants hailed from all parts of France, and no one regional dialect took hold. In time the dialects fused together to form a single dialect, Canadian French, which is distinct from the French spoken in France.
French Canadians are almost entirely Roman Catholic, with more than 95 percent reporting it as their religion in both 1871 and 1971. (The 1971 census was the last census to record religion and ethnic information together.)
After Britain took over New France in 1763, immigration from France slowed considerably and has been insignificant since. The French Canadian population continued to grow because of a high birth rate. During the last half of the 20th century, however, the birth rate lagged and the population shrank. As a result, the biggest issue for Francophones is preserving their culture and language. Québec’s provincial government has enacted laws that promote the use of French over other languages, and the provincial government has also sought special status as a “distinct society” in the constitution (see Meech Lake Accord and Charlottetown Accord). The Québec government sponsored referenda on independence from Canada in 1980 and 1995. Both measures failed.
French Canadians can be found in most occupations, especially in Québec. French Canadian politicians, including prime ministers Sir Wilfred Laurier, Pierre Trudeau, and Jean Chrétien, have played a prominent role in the development of Canada. Many French Canadians are educators, scientists, newspaper editors, and artists. French Canadian singer Céline Dion has won international popularity in the entertainment world.
|V||OTHER EUROPEAN CANADIANS|
Canadians who reported European origins other than French or British constituted 13 percent of Canada’s 1996 population. In the 2001 census 2.7 million people reported German origins; 1.3 million, Italian; 1.1 million, Ukrainian; 923,000, Dutch; 817,000, Polish; 349,000, Jewish; and 364,000, Norwegian. Many of the Germans, Ukrainians, Dutch, Poles, Norwegians, and Jews live in the Prairie provinces (Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta), as well as in Canada’s major cities of Toronto, Ontario; Montréal, Québec; and Vancouver, British Columbia. The Italians are concentrated in those cities, and also in Alberta and northern Ontario.
The Germans, Italians, Ukrainians, Dutch, Polish, and Norwegians in Canada generally speak English and the language of their respective homelands. Canadian Jews, defined by ethnicity and religion, have various origins, including Ukraine, Germany, Poland, Russia, and Romania. Smaller numbers of Jews emigrated from non-European countries, including Israel and Morocco. Jews in Canada count Yiddish and Hebrew as their mother tongues in addition to English and sometimes the language of their country of origin.
Germans are usually Lutheran, Roman Catholic, or Mennonite. Italians and Poles are mainly Roman Catholic. Ukrainians generally belong to the Ukrainian Orthodox or Ukrainian Catholic churches. The Dutch generally belong to the Dutch Reformed Church, known in Canada as the Christian Reformed Church. Most Norwegians are Lutheran. Jews in Canada belong to four denominations of Judaism: Reformed, Orthodox, Conservative, and Reconstructionist.
Germans, Ukrainians, Dutch, Poles, and Scandinavians (including Norwegians) were among those immigrants who helped settle the Canadian West during the early decades of the 20th century. The Mennonites came to Canada to avoid military service in Germany and to escape religious persecution. All of these European immigrant groups lived in rural block settlements in the Prairie provinces. Later immigrants from Scandinavia, Western Europe, and central Europe have settled in Toronto, Montréal, and Vancouver.
Italians and other southern Europeans, including Greeks and Portuguese, can be classified as new immigrant groups because most of them moved to Canada over a 15-year period after World War II (1939-1945). They came in response to Canada's need for unskilled and skilled labor in the mid-20th century. Concentrated in Alberta and northern Ontario, the earliest Italian immigrants worked as miners and loggers. More recent Italian immigrants have settled in Toronto, Montréal, and Vancouver.
|VI||ABORIGINAL PEOPLES OF CANADA|
Aboriginal peoples of Canada include First Nations (identified by the census as North American Indians), the Métis (people of mixed European and aboriginal heritage), and the Inuit. The size of Canada’s aboriginal population tends to vary depending on the definition used. In the 2001 census all of the aboriginal peoples together constituted about 3.3 percent of Canada’s population.
According to the 2001 census, 976,000 individuals identified themselves as aboriginals. Of that, 609,000 identified themselves as North American Indians, while 292,000 identified themselves as Métis. An additional 45,000 identified themselves as Inuit.
In 2001 about 45 percent of Canada’s aboriginal population lived in the Prairie provinces, 16 percent lived in British Columbia, and 14 percent lived in Ontario. Nearly one-quarter of these people lived in urban centers, while the remainder lived in rural areas. The Inuit are concentrated in northern Québec and in the Canadian Arctic Lands, which include parts of the Yukon Territory, the Northwest Territories, and Nunavut. Less than half of Canada’s Indians live on the approximately 2,240 Indian land reserves in Canada. The Métis and Inuit do not live on reserves.
There are at least 50 Indian nations in Canada. The largest one is the Cree, followed by the Ojibwa; Mi’kmaq; Iroquois, technically a confederacy of six nations; and Montagnais-Naskapi. The largest numbers of Cree and Ojibwa live in Ontario and the Prairies provinces, while the largest populations of Mi’kmaq live in Québec. Smaller numbers of Mi’kmaq also reside in Newfoundland and Labrador and the Maritime provinces. The largest Iroquois population lives in Ontario, while the largest number of Montagnais-Naskapi live in Newfoundland and Labrador and Québec.
The 1996 census provided information on 27 aboriginal languages. The largest number of aboriginals who learned to speak an aboriginal language as a child and who still understand it speak Cree, followed by speakers of Inuktitut (the Inuit language), Ojibwa, Montagnais-Naskapi, and Mi’kmaq. Only about 23 percent of aboriginals speak their mother tongue, while about 68 percent speak English and about 6 percent speak French. In the 2001 census the number of mother-tongue speakers had dropped to 19 percent and the number of English speakers had risen to 72 percent.
Today most aboriginal people are Roman Catholic, Anglican, or belong to the United Church of Canada. Prior to encountering European missionaries, many of Canada’s aboriginal peoples practiced shamanism (see Shaman) or animism. These are not religions in the Western sense, but loosely structured beliefs that things in nature, such as trees or rocks, have spirits or souls and that a supernatural force controls the universe.
No one knows how long the First Nations and Inuit have occupied North America, but scientists generally believe these people came from Asia, crossing a land bridge that once connected Asia to Alaska. Different groups are thought to have come in waves, the earliest arriving at least 15,000 years ago, with later arrivals reaching North America about 4,000 years ago. When French settlers first began settling in northern North America in the early 1600s, aboriginal groups ranged across northern North America, with more than half concentrated either on the Pacific Coast or in the Great Lakes area. The First Nations on the coasts caught fish while those inland were hunter-gatherers. In the Arctic lands the Inuit lived in small bands as hunters of sea animals. See also First Americans
By 1500 probably more than 300,000 aboriginal people lived in northern North America. This population began to drop as soon as Europeans arrived in the 16th century. Long before the Europeans began to settle in northern North America, their diseases, such as smallpox, caused widespread epidemics among the aboriginal people, who lacked immunity to them. As European colonists continued to arrive in the 18th and 19th centuries, the total population of aboriginal peoples shrank. This process continued in the 19th and 20th centuries as the newcomers took First Nations and Inuit land for farming, forestry, and mining.
Despite Indian treaties that promised them land reserves and government assistance, aboriginal peoples became economically and socially marginalized in Canada. The First Nations, Métis, and Inuit began to gain political leverage in the mid-20th century, as their land became more economically important. In addition, many nonaboriginal peoples became more willing to negotiate with the aboriginal peoples about land and treaty grievances. Since the 1970s the government has negotiated with aboriginal groups staking claims to land and wanting self-government. See also Native Americans of North America.
Asian Canadians include people who came to Canada from Asia, their descendents, and people of direct Asian descent. The government divides Asian Canadians into five groups (ranked by size): East and Southeast Asians (Chinese, Filipino, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Malay, and other Asian); Arabs and West Asians (Afghan, Armenian, Iranian, Israeli, Kurdish, and Turkish); South Asians (Bangladeshi, Bengali, Pakistani, Punjabi, Sinhalese, Sri Lankan, Tamil, and other Indians); Indo-Chinese (Burmese, Cambodian, Laotian, Thai, and Vietnamese); and Pacific Islanders (Fijian and Polynesian). By percentage of population, the largest group was the Chinese (3.5 percent). After that, the South Asians, Arabs and West Asians, and Filipinos were the largest groups.
Asian immigrants to Canada have generally settled in the urban centers of Toronto, Montréal, and Vancouver. During the 1990s many Asian immigrants also settled in Calgary, Alberta. The Chinese have been a major source of Asian immigration to Canada since the 19th century. Many came from Hong Kong in the 1990s, before Britain surrendered control of the region to the Chinese government in 1997. The large influxes of Chinese immigrants from Hong Kong and China settled primarily in Vancouver and Toronto. In 2001 about 345,000 Chinese lived in the Vancouver metropolitan area, and more than 435,000 lived in the Toronto metropolitan area.
Asian Canadians, having come from so many different countries, share no one language. Most of them speak the language of their home country, but many also speak English. As immigration increased to Canada from Hong Kong and mainland China in the 1980s and 1990s, Chinese became the most frequently reported language spoken in Canadian homes after English and French. Punjabi, spoken by many South Asians, and Tagalog, spoken by many Filipinos, also experienced strong growth as Asian immigration to Canada increased.
Asian Canadians are Christian and Eastern non-Christian. Six major religions—Hinduism, Sikhism, Islam, Jainism, Buddhism, and Zoroastrianism—are common among people from the Indian subcontinent. Also common are several Christian denominations. The Chinese generally do not profess a specific religion. If they adhere to a Chinese religion, it is likely to be Buddhism or Taoism. However, in Canada, many Chinese are Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Baptist, Anglican, or United Church of Canada.
Asian immigration began in the late 19th century, when the Canadian government recruited Chinese men to help build the Canadian Pacific Railway, and some Asians then settled in British Columbia. Many Canadians feared and mistrusted non-British foreigners, and Canada’s immigration policy discriminated against them. In the 1880s the government imposed a head tax (fee for each person entering the country) on Chinese immigrants. In 1923 the government passed the Chinese Immigration Act, which effectively barred Chinese from entering the country. Chinese immigration began to increase after the government repealed the act in 1947. Still, the Asian population in Canada remained small.
By the late 1960s, however, the government was desperate to bolster its workforce. Fewer Europeans were coming to Canada due to prosperity in Europe. The government made immigration standards more objective so that biases against non-Europeans would no longer be a factor.
While race is no longer a factor in Canada’s immigration laws, education and work skills are. As a result, Asian immigrants who have gained legal entrance to the country are often highly educated. Many are doctors, engineers, and other professionals. Asians can be found in government and most white-collar professions. Hong Kong-born Adrienne Clarkson served as governor-general of Canada from 1999 to 2005, and Ujjal Dosanjh, an Indian Canadian, was premier of British Columbia in 2000 and 2001.
Black Canadians numbered 662,000, or 2.2 percent of the Canadian population, in 2001. Black Canadians include people with origins in Africa, the West Indies, the Americas, and the United Kingdom. Most blacks have settled in Canada’s urban centers. The largest black community is in Toronto, followed by one in Montréal and one that straddles Ottawa, Ontario, and the neighboring city of Hull, Québec.
Canadian blacks are culturally diverse but many, such as those of Caribbean ethnicity, speak English. Some, such as the Haitians, speak French.
Most black Canadians are Roman Catholic, Anglican, or members of the United Church of Canada. Some blacks adhere to the British Episcopal Methodist and African Episcopal Methodist churches.
The first blacks to arrive in significant numbers in what is now Canada came as slaves of United Empire Loyalists after the American Revolution (1775-1783). Most settled in the Maritime provinces. An even greater number of freed blacks settled in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick at that time. In 1787 Nova Scotia virtually abolished slavery, and Upper Canada (now Ontario) followed suit six years later. By 1800 the colonies in British North America had severely restricted slavery if they had not abolished it altogether. When slavery was officially abolished in the British Empire in 1833, British North America became even more attractive to slaves in the United States.
From the 1820s to the 1850s Upper Canada (Canada West from 1841 to 1867) was a haven for slaves trying to escape from the United States. Thousands came to Canada via the Underground Railroad, a series of escape routes out of the United States operated by American abolitionists. The major routes crossed the border at Niagara Falls and Detroit, ending up in what is today southern Ontario. Much smaller numbers went to the Maritimes and to what is now Québec.
The second major wave of black immigration began in the late 1960s, when immigration policy became less biased against non-Europeans. Most black immigrants in this group were from the Caribbean, with a few from Britain and the United States.
Early black immigrants were largely unskilled, but today many are well educated and work in technical, health service, and professional occupations. Haitian-born Michaëlle Jean was appointed governor-general of Canada in 2005.
|IX||OTHER ETHNIC GROUPS|
Smaller populations of ethnic groups in Canada include Arabs (a category that counts Arab groups with origins other than those of the Asian category of Arabs and West Asians) and Latin, Central, and South Americans. Arabs include Egyptians, Iraqis, Lebanese, Maghrebis, Palestinians, and Syrians. The Latin, Central, and South Americans include Argentinians, Brazilians, Chileans, Colombians, Ecuadorians, Guatemalans, Hispanics, Mexicans, Nicaraguans, Peruvians, Salvadoreans, Uruguayans, and Central and South American Indians. Other Canadian ethnic groups also include Americans, Australians, and New Zealanders.
The populations of these ethnic groups are so small that the federal government does not publish specific counts for fear individuals could be identified and private information gained about them from the census. The visible minorities of this group are recent immigrants to Canada. Most of them arrived after the late 1960s. Like all recent immigrants to Canada they have settled mainly in the cities of Toronto, Montréal, and Vancouver.