Global migrants and the new Pacific Canada

TitleGlobal migrants and the new Pacific Canada
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2009
AuthorsYu, H
ISBN Number0020-7020
KeywordsAliens, Citizenship, Demographic aspects, Emigration and immigration, Immigrants, Immigration policy, INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS, Migration, Multilingualism, Research

In 2006, 83.9 percent of all new immigrants to Canada came from regions outside of Europe, and the very moniker "visible minority" to designate nonwhite Canadians had become a questionable descriptor of Canada’s urban populations. Over 96 percent of Canada’s "visible minorities" live in metropolitan regions. Two main groups - south Asians and self-identified ethnic Chinese - accounted for half of all visible minorities in Canada, with each accounting for roughly a quarter of the total. Ethnic Chinese and south Asians account for eight percent of Canada’s total population, but because they have settled overwhelmingly in either the metropolitan regions of Toronto or Vancouver, they have transformed those cities. Between 1980 and 2001, for instance, the largest proportion of new migrants to Canada were ethnic Chinese who came from various locations in southeast Asia (including Hong Kong), along with migrants born in the People’s Republic of China. These various ethnic Chinese migrants went overwhelmingly (87 percent ) to the five largest cities in Canada, with 41 percent going to Toronto and 31 percent to Vancouver alone.2 Chinese Canada is not homogenous, with a range of linguistic and social variation reflecting diverse origins not only in Asia, but from around the globe. The same can be said of south Asians, who, like ethnic Chinese, often come to Canada as part of global diasporas that emanated from home villages decades and even centuries earlier, bringing with them a wide array of family journeys and complicated histories from around the world and over many generations. By 2006, south Asians had slightly surpassed ethnic Chinese as the largest group of "visible minorities" in Canada, but both are categories that envelop a complex spectrum of family and personal histories that cannot be reduced to simple ethnocultural or racial categorizations. Ironically, the new Pacific Canada is also a return to an old Pacific Canada, a world in which migration networks and trade flows connected the new nation of Canada to Asia and the Pacific region. In the late 19th century, both before and after Confederation, British Columbia was engaged with a Pacific world through its dominant migration patterns and trade connections. It is often seen as a matter of ethnic trivia that "the Chinese built the railroad," but the fact that trans- Pacific migrants from China built the Pacific portions of every major transcontinental railroad in the late 19th century is a significant indication of a growing Pacific world of migration and trade that had been developing throughout the century. It was much easier for migrants to the western coasts of North America to arrive by transPacific shipping than it was for migrants to come from the Atlantic coast. In 1789, when the expedition of Captain John Meares arrived to trade with the Nu-chul-nath peoples, on board were 29 Chinese who helped build the fort and who likely intermarried with local First Nations peoples after the trading post failed. In 1858, when the colony of Victoria was established as the first British colony on the Pacific coast, Chinese merchants and labourers arrived at the same time as British migrants. The 15,000 or so Chinese workers who built the western portion of the Canadian Pacific Railway in the 1880s did so because it was possible to bring them in large numbers to British Columbia by water from China and from California. It should also be noted that the British capital that funded the bunding of the CPR would find a return on its investment from the creation of a more rapid means of transporting the luxury goods of Asia across the land barrier of North America, avoiding the difficult sea journey around either the Cape of Good Hope in Africa or Cape Horn at the tip of South America. Silk and other trade goods from Asia were rapidly unloaded in Vancouver and rushed across Canada on express trains before being loaded onto waiting ships in Halifax for the journey to European markets.