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Toronto: «The World in a City»

José Carlos Teixeira *


Canada is a country whose history and urban areas have been critically shaped by immigration. Since the end of the Second World War, significant changes in both immigration policies and global migration patterns have contributed to the transformation of major urban areas in Canada. Immigrants in general seem to prefer settling in urban centres, and in this “new age of migration” Toronto – Canada's largest city and its primary “port of entry” for immigrants – has witnessed radical changes in its social, economic and political landscapes, becoming a “city of nations” and among the most multicultural spaces in North America and in the world.


The Internationalization of Immigration to Toronto

According to Statistics Canada projections, the number of visible minority persons in Canada could reach between 6,313,000 and 8,109,000 by 2017, or about 20 percent of the population, (Statistics Canada, 2005).

In 2006, the City of Toronto was home to slightly more than 2.5 million residents. Today, Toronto is also one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world. It is considered by some scholars as a “World in a City”; in part, because it is home to immigrants from over 170 countries who speak over 100 languages. Indeed, in 2001 visible minorities represented 37 percent of the population of Toronto (Anisef and Lanphier, 2003). During the 1990s and early 2000s, almost 40 percent of all immigrants to Canada settled in Toronto, up from 28 percent in the early to mid 1980s (Hoernig and Walton-Roberts, 2006). Today, some 44 percent of Toronto's population are foreign-born, the second highest percentage of foreign-born population globally, after Miami.


The Impact of Official Multiculturalism on Toronto

Both humanitarian and economic criteria shape Canada's current immigration policies. While the majority of these newcomers have been working class immigrants or refugees in search of better lives, Toronto also has become a magnet for highly educated and skilled immigrants, including those with substantial assets to invest in the city's as well as in the country's economy. The country of origin and particularly levels of educational attainment seem to be the most important factors behind the success of these immigrants' adjustment to settlement in Toronto. As immigrants and their families come into more and varied contact with Canadians – in neighbourhoods, schools, work, shopping, and travel around the country – they learn the languages and habits of the people they meet in a process called “acculturation.” This process has been the single most powerful influence behind immigrant integration, although race, social class, and government policies can affect rates of integration. Of the government policies that have supported integration, arguably none has been more important than that of Multiculturalism.

In 1971, the Federal government of Canada announced the creation of an official policy of Multiculturalism to support the mosaic of people who, through immigration, comprised an ever-greater portion of the population of urban Canada. However, multiculturalism has been, to some degree at least, a controversial subject in Canada. Multiculturalism has been commonly held to be responsible for segregation and even for the emergence of subversive radicalism among second-generation immigrant youth. This being said, however, it must be noted that multiculturalism in Canada, and in Toronto, has played an important and positive role in fostering tolerance and mutual respect among the diverse ethnic communities and cultures of the country. Today “there can be no doubt that Canadians generally, and Torontonians in particular, acknowledge that theirs is a pluralist society in which equality remains an important social goal. For all its flaws, multiculturalism helped frame that view” (Troper 2003, p. 46).

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Toronto: The Emerging Social Mosaic

One of the most important changes in Toronto during the post-war period has been a shift in the origin of immigrants, from Europe to various countries in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, and the Caribbean. This shift has had a dramatic impact upon the social space of Toronto. However, the involvement of minority communities in general in Toronto, at the municipal, provincial and federal levels, has not been occurring at an equal pace across different groups (Bagga, 2007). At this stage, there is an urgent need for more active participation of minority groups in the federal and provincial political scenes. More needs to be done to encourage their participation in elected Canadian political institutions.

Today, the former Protestant majority of Toronto is long gone as a result of immigration, and the city now possesses a Catholic plurality, with there being more Muslims in the city than Presbyterians (Troper, 2003).

Another characteristic of immigrant groups in Toronto is the importance they attach to homeownership and home improvements. In this regard, the Portuguese, along with the Italians and immigrants from Hong Kong, show one of the highest levels of homeownership of all ethnic groups, with more than two-thirds owning their own dwelling (Murdie and Teixeira, 2000).

In contrast, more recent immigrants, and particularly visible minorities, face huge challenges today in Toronto's expensive and tight rental housing market. For example, pockets of concentration of Afro-Caribbean and African immigrants, including refugees, have been identified settling – often in public housing – in particular neighbourhoods of the city and its suburbs (Mensah and Firang, 2007). Within this context, policy makers face the challenge of how to plan for multicultural Toronto. As Wallace (2000) notes, there are paradoxes in planning for immigration policy at the local level in a multicultural city like Toronto.


The Future of Multicultural Toronto

While the significance of immigration in the recent history of Toronto is clear, what will the future hold for Multicultural Toronto? Despite the undeniably positive economic and cultural benefits that accompany immigrant concentration in Canada's largest city, ensuring a successful future for Multicultural Toronto will require careful policy management with respect to the city's ever-increasing immigrant population.


21st Century Toronto: The World in a City

While Toronto clearly faces substantial challenges in managing the ever-increasing numbers of immigrants from ever more diverse source countries who seek to settle in the city and its suburbs, most observers believe that the future of Multicultural Toronto is bright. In large measure, this is a result of the general recognition – by all levels of government in Canada – that Toronto is a primary engine of the country's overall economic growth, and that immigration is a major contributing factor to this progress. Toronto's history has been shaped profoundly and positively by immigration, and the city enjoys a well-deserved reputation as one of the most welcoming and inclusive multicultural metropolises on the planet. Through wise policy development and implementation, it is likely that 21st century Toronto will be – more than ever – “the World in a City”


* José Carlos Teixeira

Mestre em Geografia pela Universidade do Québec, Montréal. Doutorado em Geografia pela Universidade de York. Professor Associado na University of British Columbia Okanagan. Agraciado com a ‘Ordem do Infante D. Henrique', 2005. Autor de diversos livros e artigos.


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Link em nova janela Segregation indexes for selected ethnic group in Toronto, 2001

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