Today Armenia comprises only a portion of historic Armenia, and also includes territories in present-day Turkey. The Republic of Armenia, the Armenian homeland, was created in 1991, but Armenians are dispersed throughout the world, including in the former Soviet Union and the disputed predominantly Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan. The 2006 census reported 50 500 people of Armenian origin living in Canada.
Immigration and Settlement
First Wave: To World War I
Armenian movement to Canada began with students, merchants and agriculturalists in the 1880s and 1890s, mostly from territories occupied by Turkey. By 1914 approximately 2000 Armenians, mostly sojourning men from rural areas, entered Canada and settled primarily in southern Ontario.
Many Armenians fled persecution and periodic state-sanctioned massacres by Turkey's Muslim majority. Some Armenians who immigrated to Canada found industrial work in Ontario communities including Brantford, Hamilton and St Catharines. For some, industrial labour became a stepping stone to commercial and trade/craft enterprises.
Second Wave: 1919 to 1950s
From 1915 to 1922 more than 1.5 million Armenians perished as a result of the Turkish government's policy of genocide. Armenians in Canada searched for surviving family to facilitate their coming to Canada, but Canadian immigration restrictions, including the classification of Armenians as Asians, barred all but 1500 survivors.
Most of the refugee newcomers were women and children. They composed a much more heterogeneous group than their predecessors, and their arrival revitalized the Armenian communities, leading to the formation of closely knit Armenian enclaves in Brantford, St Catharines, Hamilton, Galt, Guelph, Windsor, Toronto and Montréal. National survival and family reconstruction became crucial issues prompting endogamous marriages during the 1920s. Entrepreneurial activities expanded, especially in the oriental rug trade.
Among the newcomers were the "Georgetown boys," a group of about 100 orphan boys brought out in the 1920s by the Armenian Relief Association of Canada to live on a farm purchased for them near Georgetown, Ont. After the United Church of Canada took over the farm in 1928, the "Georgetown boys" were dispersed among Ontario farmers either as foster children or as contracted farm labourers.
Third Wave: 1950s to 1990s
Destabilization in the Middle East, liberalization of Canada's immigration laws, and withdrawal of the Asiatic classification of Armenians generated a flow of Armenians to Canada (1950s,1960s). They came largely from urban centres in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean countries in which Armenians had taken refuge after the genocide, and they settled principally in Montréal and Toronto. In Montréal, settlement moved along Park Avenue to St Laurent and into Laval. In Toronto, Armenians are dispersed throughout the city but have built community structures in northeast Metropolitan Toronto.
Today about 43% of Armenians live in metropolitan Montréal, about 36% in the Toronto-St Catharines-Hamilton area, and the remainder in other urban centres. Many are business owners (jewellery, fine rugs, automotive) or professionals in traditional fields of medicine, nursing and teaching as well as pharmacy, accounting, engineering, law, architecture and computer technology.
Armenia was the first nation to adopt Christianity as the state religion. The majority of Armenians in Canada belong to the Armenian National Apostolic Church, an autocephalic church with the Mother See in Echmiadzin, Armenia. In 1930 Armenians constructed their first church, St Gregory the Illuminator, in St Catharines, Ont. Following the Communist takeover of Armenia in 1920 and the subsequent subjugation of Echmiadzin, many anti-Communist Armenians in the diaspora split from the Mother Church and looked for religious leadership to the See of Cilicia, located in Beirut, Lebanon. The 2 groups differed only in their political affiliations. Following Armenian independence and the election of Catholicos Karekin II of Cilicia to the Catholicosate of the Mother See in Echmiadzin (1995), there is hope of church reunification.
As does the Apostolic Church, the Armenian Roman Catholic Church uses the classical Armenian language. In 1983 Armenian Catholics in Montréal constructed their first church, Notre Dame de Nareg. As does the church in Toronto (1993), it falls under the jurisdiction of the exarchate for Armenian Roman Catholics of North America (New York), who ultimately comes under the authority of the pope in Rome.
In 1960 Montréal and Toronto Evangelicals founded their first churches. Though some Evangelical congregations are affiliated with the United Church of Canada, they are autonomous and have services in the Armenian vernacular language.
The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Tashnag) has been the dominant nationalist political force in Canada for almost 100 years (established in Brantford, 1902-04) and today ranks as the largest political organization in Canada with 9 chapters. The second largest political group in Canada is the Armenian Democratic Liberal Party (Ramgavar), which upholds a conservative, pro-church ideology. Ramgavars established in Montréal in 1963 and have chapters in Toronto and Vancouver. The Social Democrat Hunchagian party started branches in Canada before 1914 but succumbed to Communist attacks in the 1920s. A small group reorganized in Montréal and Toronto in 1979-80.
To improve their general level of learning, Armenian pioneers organized reading rooms in Canada. They also founded Armenian supplementary schools to give their children a rudimentary knowledge of Armenian language and culture. More recently Armenians have built schools in Montréal and Toronto. Some Armenian churches operate Armenian-language Sunday schools, and many organizations provide day-care centres, summer camps, Saturday schools and publicly subsidized heritage-language classes. The 2006 census reported 31 330 people who described their mother tongue (first language learned) as Armenian.
Genocide and the fear of national extinction have spurred Armenians to preserve and enhance their ethnic heritage in Canada. Much of Armenian-Canadian culture focuses on the genocide, particularly in the light of the Turkish government's continued denial of the genocide. Each year Armenians gather at solemn services to pay tribute to the genocide martyrs and remember a lost homeland. Even as a unique Armenian-Canadian culture blossomed, the legacy of the genocide affected its artistic endeavours. Armenian cultural associations and the Armenian language press, including several trilingual newsletters such as Abaka [Future] (Ramgavar, established in Montréal, 1975) and Horizon (Tashnag, established in Montréal, 1979) played a major role in linguistic and cultural maintenance. Cultural activities include choirs, theatre, concerts, literary events, music, dancing, national feasts and picnics. Many exceptional artists of Armenian heritage contribute their talents to the Canadian cultural scene, notably Atom Egoyan, the award-winning filmmaker, and photographer Michael Torosian.
Charitable, Athletic and Youth Groups
A branch of the Armenian Relief Society (ARS) was formed in Brantford in 1910. The principal objective of the ARS, the largest women's group in Canada, is to aid Armenians in distress and enhance Armenian education and culture. The Armenian General Benevolent Union has a similar purpose, and since its revival in Canada in the 1970s it, too, has made outstanding contributions to the consolidation of Armenian community life. Most institutions and organizations have sports and youth programs, including scouts and guides.
For more than 100 years Armenians in Canada have had 2 major agendas: community development in Canada and assistance to the homeland. Turmoil in the Armenian and Karabagh republics has rallied the community. An earthquake (1988), a blockade by Azerbaijan (1989) and Turkey, and a drawn-out war with Azerbaijan over the disputed Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh (1988) set in motion a vast variety of activities to help the beleaguered homeland, attesting to the diversity and vibrancy of the Armenian-Canadian community.