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South Asian Canadians

South Asians trace their origins to South Asia, which encompasses India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Most South Asian Canadians are immigrants or descendants of immigrants from these countries, but immigrants from South Asian communities established during British colonial times also include those from East and South Africa, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Fiji and Mauritius. Others come from Britain, the US and Europe. In the 2016 census, 1, 963,330 Canadians reported South Asian origins (1,603,000 single and 360,330 multiple responses).

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Sinhalese Canadians

The Sinhalese are the largest ethnic group of Sri Lanka. Immigration to Canada began in the mid-1950s and increased in the late 1980s. According to the 2016 Canadian census,  7,285 people claimed  Sinhalese ancestry (4,355 single and 2,925 multiple responses). The census reported 152,595 people of Sri Lankan origin in Canada.

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Celebrating Asian Heritage in Canada

Many Canadians today see our diverse population as a source of pride and strength — for good reason. More than one in five Canadians were born elsewhere. That is the highest percentage of immigrants in the G7 group of large industrialized nations. Asia (including people born in the Middle East) has provided the greatest number of newcomers in recent years. Since the 1990s, Canadians — who once thought primarily of Europe when they considered events abroad — now define themselves, and the world, differently. As former prime minister Jean Chrétien said: “The Pacific is getting smaller and the Atlantic is becoming wider.”

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Southeast Asian Canadians

Immigration to Canada by Southeast Asians is relatively recent; most arrived in Canada after 1974. Southeast Asia is located south of China and east of India. It consists of multiethnic nations with common histories, structures and social practices, as well as a cultural system that recognizes ethnic pluralism. Southeast Asia is comprised of 11 countries: Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar (Burma), the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, East Timor and Vietnam.

In the 2011 National Household Survey (NHS), more than one million Canadians indicated that they were of Southeast Asian origin. Filipino Canadians were the most numerous (662,600), followed by Vietnamese Canadians (220,425), Cambodians or Khmer (34,340), Laotians (22,090), Indonesians (18,125), Thais (15,080), Malaysians (14,165), Burmese (7,845) and Singaporeans (2,050). Southeast Asians of the Hmong people (an ethnic minority living in the mountains in the south of China, and the north of Vietnam and Laos) have also settled in Canada, as well as several hundred Chinese originally from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos who came to Canada following the “boat people” crisis.

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Refugees to Canada

Refugees are migrants who fled their countries of origin to escape persecution or danger and have found asylum in another country. Over time, Canada has been the landing ground for many migrants seeking refuge from all over the world. However, discriminatory immigration policies have also prevented some asylum seekers in need of protection from entering Canada (see Canadian Refugee Policy).

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Afghan Canadians

The Afghan community in Canada is relatively new. Until 1978, about 1,000 Afghans were living in Canada. Following the 1978 coup led by the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan, the subsequent Soviet invasion and occupation of the country and continued war over the last four decades, the Afghan population in Canada has grown. According to Statistics Canada’s 2016 census, approximately 84,000 Afghans are living in Canada, the majority of whom are settled in the suburbs of major cities.

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Chinese Head Tax in Canada

The Chinese head tax was enacted to restrict immigration after Chinese labour was no longer needed to build the Canadian Pacific Railway. Between 1885 and 1923, Chinese immigrants had to pay a head tax to enter Canada. The tax was levied under the Chinese Immigration Act (1885). It was the first legislation in Canadian history to exclude immigration on the basis of ethnic background. With few exceptions, Chinese people had to pay at least $50 to come to Canada. The tax was later raised to $100, then to $500. During the 38 years the tax was in effect, around 82,000 Chinese immigrants paid nearly $23 million in tax. The head tax was removed with the passing of the Chinese Immigration Act in 1923. Also known as the Chinese Exclusion Act, it banned all Chinese immigrants until its repeal in 1947. In 2006, the federal government apologized for the head tax and its other racist immigration policies targeting Chinese people.

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Filipino Canadians

Immigration to Canada from the Philippines is relatively recent: it began in the 1970s. In the 2016 Census, 837,130 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 2016. 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.

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African Canadians

Prior to 1960, black Africans comprised a very small, scattered and almost unknown group of newcomers to Canada, although Africans of European and Asian ancestry had a clearer presence. According to the 2016 census, 1,067,925 Canadians reported being of African origin (682,570 single and 385,355 multiple responses). Of that number, 230, 110 people reported Central and West African origins; 355, 040 reported North African origins; 260, 145 reported Southern and East African origins and; 239, 560 reported other African origins.

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Chinese Canadians

Chinese Canadians are one of the largest ethnic groups in the country. In the 2016 census, 1.8 million people reported being of Chinese origin. Despite their importance to the Canadian economy, including the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), many European Canadians were historically hostile to Chinese immigration. A prohibitive head tax restricted Chinese immigration to Canada from 1885 to 1923. From 1923 to 1947, the Chinese were excluded altogether from immigrating to Canada.

Since 1900, Chinese Canadians have settled primarily in urban areas, particularly in Vancouver and Toronto. They have contributed to every aspect of Canadian society, from literature to sports, politics to civil rights, film to music, business to philanthropy, and education to religion.

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Immigration Policy in Canada

Immigration policy is the way the government controls via laws and regulations who gets to come and settle in Canada. Since Confederation, immigration policy has been tailored to grow the population, settle the land, and provide labour and financial capital for the economy. Immigration policy also tends to reflect the racial attitudes or national security concerns of the time which has also led to discriminatory restrictions on certain migrant groups. (See also Canadian Refugee Policy.)

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Immigration to Canada

The movement of individuals of one country into another for the purpose of resettlement is central to Canadian history. The story of Canadian immigration is not one of orderly population growth; instead, it has been — and remains one — about economic development as well as Canadian attitudes and values. It has often been unashamedly economically self-serving and ethnically or racially discriminatory despite contributing to creating a multicultural society (see Immigration Policy in CanadaRefugees to Canada). Immigration has also contributed to dispossessing Indigenous peoples of their ancestral lands.

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Japanese Canadians

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. The 2016 census reported 121,485 people of Japanese origin in Canada, or 0.35 per cent of the Canadian population. 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.

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Korean Canadians

Korea was a single, independent country for 1,300 years before splitting in two after the Second World War. North Korea is today an isolated military dictatorship while South Korea is a liberal democracy. Almost all Korean immigration to Canada has been from South Korea. In 2016, the census recorded 198, 210 Canadians of Korean origin (177, 925 single and 20, 290 multiple responses.)

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Cambodian or Khmer Canadians

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 2016 Census, 38,490 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.

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Slovak Canadians

Slovakia, the land of the Slovaks, is located in Central Europe and borders the Czech Republic and Austria to the west, Poland to the north, Ukraine to the east and Hungary to the south. Slovak Canadians are a deeply religious people, family oriented, and proud of their origin and language, always quick to correct those who refer to them as Czechs or Czechoslovaks. They have been coming to North America since the second half of the 19th century and have contributed significantly to the economic, social and cultural development of Canada. In the 2016 Census of population, 72,290 Canadians reported being of Slovak origin.

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Masumi Mitsui

Masumi Mitsui, MM, farmer, soldier, Canadian Legion official (born 7 October 1887 in Tokyo, Japan; died 22 April 1987 in Hamilton, ON). Masumi Mitsui immigrated to Canada in 1908 and served with distinction in the First World War. In 1931, he and his comrades persuaded the BC government to grant Japanese Canadian veterans the right to vote, a breakthrough for Japanese and other disenfranchised Canadians. Nevertheless, Matsui and more than 22,000 Japanese Canadians were displaced, detained and dispossessed by the federal government during the Second World War (see Internment of Japanese Canadians).

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Maltese Canadians

The Republic of Malta is an archipelago comprised of seven islands located in the Mediterranean Sea, south of Sicily. Although waves of immigration occurred in 1840, around 1907, and between 1918 and 1920, there were few Maltese in Canada until after the Second World War (WWII). The 2016 Canadian census reported 41, 915 people of Maltese origin (12, 815 single and 29, 100 multiple responses).

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Finnish Canadians

Between 1835 and 1865, several hundred immigrants from Finland settled in Alaska (which was part of Russia at that time). Many moved down the coast to British Columbia (see Sointula). Some early Finnish immigrants to Ontario worked on the construction of the first Welland Canal, which was completed in 1829. The 2016 census reported 143, 640 people of Finnish origin in Canada (25, 875 single responses and 117, 765 multiple responses).

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German Canadians

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.