Minority Development in Toronto, Canada

Toronto’s visible ethnic diversity is relatively new. The majority of residents prior to World War Two were British and French descendants who permanently settled in the city in the late eighteenth century.

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In the first major wave of modern immigration from 1946 to the late 1960s, due to a system that encouraged family sponsorship, chain migration of Western European groups were common, with the Italians , Portuguese and Greeks the largest cohorts. Typically, the majority of immigrants who arrived during this period had close knit family and friend connections. In addition, many came with little study and work in Canada upon arrival to the city.

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Many of us arrived from small rural, impoverished towns [in Italy] . . . our formal education was very low. Most of us could not even speak English. Even today, my English isn’t very good.

At the time, there were few public programs in place to assist immigrants to integrate to Toronto. This resulted in many first-wave immigrants relying on their close connections to assist in the integration process, which in turn, had the unintended consequence of reducing their incentive to learn English, since their main mode of communicating in their social milieu was in their native language. Due to the relatively low education levels and for many, the inability to speak English fluently, many first-wave immigrants, mostly men, filled positions as manual laborers, craftsmen, mechanics and miners.

Commentators have suggested the manual labor skills these groups possessed is one of the predominant reasons why the Canadian government and the city of Toronto welcomed them (See Delovie 2000). The end of World War Two brought an enthusiastic interest in revitalizing, modernizing and building Toronto through the construction of roads, railways and infrastructure. Taking advantage of the depressed economies and high unemployment rates in Western Europe, Canada encouraged immigration from this region, with many Western European governments—especially Italian and Greek—even assisting in actively promoting temporary and permanent emigration to Canada since it provided relief to their ravaged domestic economies.

With an increase in the ethnic diversity of Toronto’s population, policy responses became necessary to meet the demands and concerns of the changing population, and these can be traced in three distinct phases. With the advent of the 1971 policy on multiculturalism, the first phase stressed cultural reinforcement in public activities. Facing pressures to assimilate, many ethnic groups sought public support during this phase to maintain their traditions and heritage. For example, ethnic minority groups were supported by the government to bring their “cultures” into public activities in events such as Black History week6 (See Canadian Heritage 2006) or Caribana, a festival dedicated to capturing the spirit of the Caribbean peoples living in Toronto. By the late 1970s, the increasing number of ethnic groups living in close proximity to each other fostered policy responses to strengthen inter-group relations in the city. In the background, there was a growing concern that discriminatory attitudes based on negative attitudes by the dominant population toward ethnic minority groups were restricting inclusion and integration. There was “a feeling that the dominant group . . . was trying to exclude others, maintain control, or limit ethnic group participation” (Kyrugly-Smolska 1997: 2). Community institutions from media to business were not recognizing the full participation of all.

As a consequence, Toronto’s public institutions were encouraged to setup and participate in diversity training programs that sensitized individuals to ethnic differences. The end goal of these programs was to “open-up” public institutions to greater ethno-cultural diversity in both the content and delivery of its service. Finally, in the third phase from the late 1980s to mid-1990s, antidiscrimination policies were strongly emphasized. This phase is marked by public policies in Toronto that sought to combat racism, which was also particularly featured in other larger Canadian urban centers such as Vancouver or Montreal.

The central issue during this phase was that racism based upon physical characteristics had not been sufficiently addressed in policies of multiculturalism. Anti-Black and anti-Asian prejudices in the workforce and in everyday life, though sometimes subtle, were present and became a public issue. Media campaigns, increased ethno-cultural activities in schools, and diversity training in the workforce were anti-discrimination initiatives initiated by both the province of Ontario and city of Toronto. The non-European ethnic groups that dominated second-wave immigration to Toronto largely differed from the first wave, since they were more formally educated and experienced in skilled occupations.

This was the result of a more stringent process in accepting immigrants based on a points system which rewarded skills and education, to the extent that 80 percent of newcomers to Toronto are secondary school graduates and 40 percent have completed university (City of Toronto 2001b).

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