People of Asian Ethnic Origin Living in Canadian Metropolitan Centers, 1991
People of Asian origin comprise a small but notable and increasingly important segment of the population in the three Canadian Prairie Provinces. Before 1951 the Canadian government sought to restrict Asian immigrants. The first Chinese and Japanese immigrants to Canada were almost all laborers building the railways or working in the mines. Many returned home after the transcontinental railways were built, but others stayed. The majority tried to establish themselves in British Columbia or Ontario. Some, however, remained in the cities, towns, and villages on the prairies. Most Chinese and Japanese in the Prairie Provinces before World War II established or worked in laundries, restaurants, market gardens, and confectioneries. They faced systemic and persistent discrimination and kept to themselves as much as possible, living mainly in segregated areas of the larger urban centers or in their places of business in the smaller rural towns and villages.World War II marked a decisive turning point for Japanese Canadians. In 1941 the Canadian government decided to remove all those of Japanese origin from a socalled security zone in western British Columbia. These people were first placed in internment camps in the British Columbia interior and in other camps established during the 1930s for single, unemployed men. Labor shortages, particularly in the labor-intensive sugar beet industry on irrigated land in southern Alberta, resulted in a relocation of many Japanese internees to assist in farmwork. Several Japanese Canadian authors, most notably historians Ken Adachi and Ann Gover Sunahara and novelist Joy Kogowa, have documented that sad chapter in the history of their people. A few Japanese farmers began cultivating sugar beets in southern Alberta even before the war, and others found opportunities to enter that branch of farming as a result of their wartime experience as farm laborers.
The reluctance of the federal government to allow the Japanese to return to their prewar homes in British Columbia persuaded many to remain in Alberta, where they established a good reputation and achieved moderate success as farmers. Others entered the professions. A strong Japanese community remained, particularly in the Lethbridge area. After the war the Japanese Canadians expressed their appreciation for the opportunities afforded them in southern Alberta by creating and opening to the public a beautiful Japanese garden and park in the city of Lethbridge.
The postwar economic boom, chronic labor and capital shortages, and changing attitudes resulted in dramatic changes in Canadian immigration policy after 1951. Specifically, immigration restrictions against immigrants from Asian countries were eased. The majority of these new immigrants established themselves in Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal, but some also found their way to cities on the Prairies. There the new Chinese and Japanese immigrants revitalized, not always without conflict, old, established ethnic communities while East Indian and Vietnamese immigrants created new ones.
The more recent immigrants have found integration into Canadian society easier than did their predecessors, but in all the Prairie cities, and in many of the towns and villages, distinctive Asian restaurants as well as cultural, social, and religious organizations enhance the richness and diversity of prairie society.
Ted D. Reghr University of Saskatchewan and University of Calgary
Adachi, Ken. The Enemy That Never Was: A History of the Japanese Canadians. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1976.
Buchignani, Norman, and Doreen M. Indra. Continuous Journey: A Social History of South Asians in Canada>. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1985.
Li, Peter. The Chinese in Canada. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1988.