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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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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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Anti-Asian Racism in Canada

Asian communities have been present in Canada since the 18th century. Throughout their long history in Canada, they have been subjected to discrimination and prejudice based on their differences in appearance and culture from the white majority. Racism against Asian Canadians has manifested through discriminatory voting laws, exclusionary immigration policies and forced relocation and internment (see also Right to Vote in Canada; Immigration Policy in Canada). Hate crimes against Asian Canadians are ongoing.

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Racial Segregation of Asian Canadians

The beginning of Chinese immigration to present-day British Columbia in the 1850s sparked a vociferous and sustained opposition from Euro-Canadian residents. This opposition intensified with the arrival of Japanese immigrants in the 1870s and South Asians in the early 1900s. To counter the supposed racial and economic dangers presented by these groups, labour leaders and others in the province successfully lobbied for legal and social restrictions on Asian employment, housing, education and civic participation in the province. These formed the basis for Asian segregation in British Columbia and Canada generally, which continued until the end of Japanese internment and the removal of all Asian voting restrictions in 1949. While it never attained the level of racial separation seen during the US South’s Jim Crow era, Asian segregation from whites in 19th and early 20th century Canada defined many aspects of everyday life in Canada.

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Malaysian Canadians

Malaysian immigration to Canada is a relatively recent phenomenon. In the 2016 census, 16,920 people declared they were of Malaysian origin. Among these Canadians were actor Osric Chau and writer Madeleine Thien.

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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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Indonesian Canadians

Immigration from Indonesia to Canada began after the Second World War. In the wake of the decolonization process, 300,000 “Indos” (Indische Nederlander), persons of mixed Dutch and Asian ancestry, were repatriated to the Netherlands. Some of them decided to continue their journeys, settling in Australia, the United States and Canada. Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, political instability also led many Indonesians to immigrate to Canada. According to the 2016 census, 21,395 individuals indicated that they had Indonesian origins. Notable Indonesian Canadians include violin maker Piet Molenaar and Toronto filmmaker Mike Hoolboom.

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Toronto Chinatown

Toronto’s Chinatown, one of the largest in North America, is an ever-evolving neighbourhood defined by numerous cohorts of Chinese immigrants with a diversity of culture, traditions and languages. (See Chinese Canadians.) Also known as Chinatown West, it is one of three Chinatowns in Toronto, more of the large Chinese settlements are included from the inner suburbs, like Scarborough and North York, and outer suburbs, like Markham, Mississauga and Richmond Hill.

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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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David Lam

David See-Chai Lam, OC, CVO, OBC, 25th lieutenant-governor of BC 1988–95, banker, land developer, philanthropist (born 25 July 1923 in Hong Kong; died 22 November 2010 in Vancouver, BC). After establishing himself as a successful banker in Hong Kong, David Lam moved to Vancouver in 1967 and became a central figure in the city’s real estate development. As a philanthropist, he made major contributions to the cultural life, community spaces and educational institutions of British Columbia. A vocal advocate of immigration and of Canada’s role within the Pacific Rim, Lam served as lieutenant-governor of British Columbia from 1988 to 1995. He was the first person of Asian ancestry to hold a vice-regal post in Canada.

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Lunar New Year in Canada

The Lunar New Year — also known as the Spring Festival, Chinese New Year, Tet for Vietnamese Canadians, or Solnal for Korean Canadians — is celebrated in Canada and several other countries. It is one of the largest celebrations for Canada’s Chinese population, it is also celebrated by Canadians from Vietnam, Korea and Southeast Asia. Although it is not a statutory holiday in Canada, many Asian Canadian businesses are closed or have reduced hours for the occasion. Since 1 June 2016, this celebration has been recognized as an official holiday in Canada.

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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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Internment of Japanese Canadians

The forcible expulsion and confinement of Japanese Canadians during the Second World War is one of the most tragic sets of events in Canada’s history. Some 21,000 Japanese Canadians were taken from their homes on Canada’s West Coast, without any charge or due process. Beginning 24 February 1942, around 12,000 of them were exiled to remote areas of British Columbia and elsewhere. The federal government stripped them of their property and pressured many of them to accept mass deportation after the war. Those who remained were not allowed to return to the West Coast until 1 April 1949. In 1988, the federal government officially apologized for its treatment of Japanese Canadians. A redress payment of $21,000 was made to each survivor, and more than $12 million was allocated to a community fund and human rights projects.

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Filipino Canadians

Filipinos have been in Canada as early as the late 19th century. Migration from the Philippines to Canada significantly increased from the 1960s onward. (See Immigration to Canada.) In the 2016 Census, 837,130 people reported being of Filipino ethnic origin. Filipino Canadians are the largest group of Southeast Asian Canadians. Among Filipino Canadians, women outnumber men by 56 per cent to 44 per cent. The Philippines was the most common country of birth among people who immigrated to Canada between 2011 and 2016.

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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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Farhan Zaidi

Farhan Zaidi, baseball executive, economist, (born 11 November 1976 in Sudbury, ON). Farhan Zaidi is the president of baseball operations for the San Francisco Giants of Major League Baseball (MLB). In 2014, he became the first Muslim and first South Asian person to serve as general manager of an American professional sports franchise when he was named GM of the Los Angeles Dodgers, a role he held until 2018. He also worked for the Oakland Athletics from 2005 to 2014. Zaidi has a degree in economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and earned his PhD at the University of California, Berkeley. He was named the MLB Executive of the Year in 2021 after the Giants finished first overall with 107 wins — the most in franchise history.

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Vivienne Poy

Vivienne May Poy (née Lee), fashion designer, author, philanthropist, entrepreneur, senator (born 15 May 1941 in Hong Kong). Vivienne Poy is a fashion designer who founded Vivienne Poy Mode in 1981. In 1998, she became the first Canadian of Asian descent to be appointed to the Senate. She is an accomplished author and publisher of histories and biographies. She was also governor of McGill University and chancellor of the University of Toronto, and played a key role in founding Asian Heritage Month in Canada.

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Franco-Americans

Between 1840 and 1930, nearly a million francophones from Canada emigrated to the United States. (See also Canada and United States.) Most emigrants came from Quebec. There were also Acadians from the Atlantic provinces. These emigrants lived throughout the Northern US, but most settled in New England. The largest cohort worked in the textile industry. The 1880s and 1890s were the crest of several waves of emigration that ended with the Great Depression. Also known as Franco-Americans, about two million French Canadian descendants live in New England today.

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Manzo Nagano

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.