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Analysis series Ethnocultural portrait
Canada Provinces and territories Sub-provincial

Canada

Canada’s ethnocultural portrait: The changing mosaic

An ethnocultural profile of Canada at the outset of the 21st Century shows a nation that has become increasingly multi-ethnic and multi-cultural. This portrait is diverse and varies from province to territory, city to city, and community to community.

Immigration to Canada over the past 100 years has shaped Canada, with each new wave of immigrants adding to the nation’s ethnic and cultural composition. Half a century ago, most immigrants came from Europe. Now most newcomers are from Asia.

As a result, the number of visible minorities in Canada is growing. And, Canadians listed more than 200 ethnic groups in answering the 2001 Census question on ethnic ancestry, reflecting a varied, rich cultural mosaic as the nation started the new millennium.

Immigration

Visible minority population

Ethnic origins

 

Immigration

In 2001, proportion of foreign-born highest in 70 years

New data from the 2001 Census show that the proportion of Canada’s population who were born outside the country has reached its highest level in 70 years.

As of May 15, 2001, 5.4 million people, or 18.4% of the total population, were born outside the country. This was the highest proportion since 1931, when foreign-born people made up 22.2% of the population. In 1996, the proportion was 17.4%.

The lowest proportion of foreign-born individuals was 13%, recorded at the turn of the century in the 1901 Census. This almost doubled to around 22% between 1911 and 1931, when large numbers of immigrants entered the country to settle the western provinces, to meet growing labour demands and to help build the transcontinental railroad.

Due to the low immigration during the depression and war years, the proportion of foreign-born fell to 14.7% in 1951, but since then, it has been rising. The increase during the past 50 years is in part a result of a growing number of immigrants entering Canada, particularly since the late 1980s. It is also a reflection of the increasing importance of immigration to the growth of the overall population as fertility rates decline.

Chart: Proportion of foreign-born, 1901 to 2001 . Opens new browser window.

Proportion of foreign-born, 1901 to 2001

Second highest proportion of foreign-born, after Australia

Only in Australia is the proportion of population born outside the country higher than it is in Canada.

According to Australia’s 2001 Census, 22% of its population was foreign-born, compared with 18% for Canada. Australia has had a higher proportion of foreign-born than Canada since 1971, ranging between 20% and 22%.

In contrast, only 11% of the population of the United States was foreign-born in 2000. As in Canada, this proportion was the highest in 70 years.

Chart: Proportion foreign-born, selected countries. Opens new browser window.

Proportion foreign-born, selected countries

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100 years of immigration: highest intake in the 1990s

Canada has welcomed a total of 13.4 million immigrants since 1901. Between 1991 and 2000 alone, 2.2 million immigrants were admitted to Canada, the highest number for any decade in the past century. In contrast, 1.3 million immigrants came in the 1980s, and 1.4 million in each of the 1970s and 1960s. (This section uses administrative data collected by Citizenship and Immigration Canada on the number of immigrants admitted to Canada each year as permanent residents.)

Flows had not been this high since the beginning of the century. Between 1901 and 1910, Canada accepted 1.6 million immigrants. This rose to 1.7 million in the subsequent decade, 1911 to 1920. The lowest number arrived during the two decades of the Great Depression and the Second World War.

Historically, Canada’s annual intake of immigrants has rarely been higher than 1% of its total population. The major exception occurred in the early part of the century between 1911 and 1913, when the number of immigrants entering Canada represented about 5% of the population.

More recently, Canada’s annual intake of immigrants has represented less than 1% of the total population. During the 1990s, the proportion ranged between 0.6% and 0.9%.

Since the late 1980s, Canada has had a proportionally higher annual intake of immigrants than either the United States or Australia. Per capita, it receives more immigrants than these two major immigrant-receiving countries.

 

Chart: Annual number of immigrants admitted to Canada, 1901 to 2000. Opens new browser window.

Annual number of immigrants admitted to Canada, 1901 to 2000

Chart: Annual number of immigrants admitted as a proportion of total population, Canada, the U.S. and Australia, 1981 to 2000. Opens new browser window.

Annual number of immigrants admitted as a proportion of total population, Canada, the U.S. and Australia, 1981 to 2000

 

View One hundred years of immigration to Canada, an audio-visual presentation for which you need the free Macromedia Flash Player 6.

One hundred years of immigration to Canada:
Text version

Flash movie: One hundred years of immigration to Canada. Opens new browser window.

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Immigrants to Canada increasingly from Asia

For the first 60 years of the past century, European nations such as the United Kingdom, Italy, Germany and the Netherlands, as well as the United States, were the primary sources of immigrants to Canada. Today, immigrants are most likely to be from Asian countries.

The shift during the past 40 years has been due to a number of factors, including changes in Canada’s immigration policies and international events related to the movement of migrants and refugees.

In 2001, about 1.8 million people living in Canada were immigrants who arrived during the previous 10 years, between 1991 and May 15, 2001. These individuals accounted for 6.2% of the total population in 2001.

This was a substantial increase from 1991, when 1.2 million residents were immigrants who arrived during the 1980s. They accounted for only 4.3% of the total population in 1991.

Of the 1.8 million immigrants who arrived between 1991 and 2001, 58% came from Asia, including the Middle East; 20% from Europe; 11% from the Caribbean, Central and South America; 8% from Africa; and 3% from the United States.

In comparison, individuals born in Asia represented 47% of immigrants during the 1980s, and 33% of those who arrived during the 1970s. Just 3% of immigrants who came to Canada before 1961 were Asian-born.

Table: Place of birth by period of immigration, 2001. Opens new browser window.

Place of birth by period of immigration, 2001

Chart: Proportion of immigrants born in Europe and Asia by period of immigration, Canada,, 2001 . Opens new browser window.

Proportion of immigrants born in Europe and Asia by period of immigration, Canada, 2001

China leading country of birth among immigrants of the 1990s

The People’s Republic of China was the leading country of birth among individuals who immigrated to Canada in the 1990s. It was followed by India, the Philippines, the Special Administrative Region (SAR) of Hong Kong, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Taiwan. These seven Asian countries alone accounted for over 40% of all immigrants who came to Canada in the past decade.

Among the European immigrants who arrived during the 1990s, the most frequent countries of origin were Poland, the United Kingdom and Romania.

European immigrants accounted for the vast majority (90%) of the immigrants who came to Canada before 1961. Since then, the proportion of European-born has declined steadily with each subsequent wave of immigrants.

Of those immigrants who arrived during the 1990s, 11% were born in the Caribbean, Central or South America. This figure was down from 16.5% of those who came during the 1980s and 1970s, and were from these regions. Jamaica was the leading country of birth among those who arrived in the 1990s, followed by Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, and Mexico.

Immigration from Africa has increased slightly since the 1980s. People born in Africa made up 8% of immigrants who came in the 1990s, up from 6% of immigrants who arrived during the previous decade. The most frequent countries of birth of those coming from Africa in the 1990s were Somalia, Algeria and the Republic of South Africa.

The United States has remained a steady source of immigrants to Canada throughout the past 100 years. In the past 40 years, the largest inflow occurred in the 1960s and 1970s during the Viet Nam War. Americans made up nearly 7% of immigrants who came to Canada during each of the decades of the 1960s and 1970s.

In 2001, the United States was the eighth most frequent country of birth (3%) of immigrants who came in the 1990s. In some provinces, particularly in Atlantic Canada, the United States remains the most frequent country of origin among immigrants.

Table: Top 10 countries of birth, Canada, 2001. Opens new browser window.

Top 10 countries of birth, Canada, 2001

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Three largest urban centres attracted three-quarters of new immigrants

In 2001, 94% of immigrants who arrived during the 1990s were living in Canada’s census metropolitan areas, compared with 64% of the total population who lived in these areas.

Nearly three-quarters (73%) of the immigrants who came in the 1990s lived in just three census metropolitan areas: Toronto, Vancouver and Montréal. In contrast, just over one-third of Canada’s total population lived in these three areas. As a consequence, newcomers have increasingly represented a larger proportion of the population in these three census metropolitan areas.

The trend toward immigrant settlement in these three urban centres has been growing over time. Of all immigrants who arrived during the 1980s, 66% lived in Toronto, Vancouver or Montréal in 1991. This compares with 58% of immigrants who arrived in the 1970s and who were residing in these three areas in 1981.

The census metropolitan area of Toronto attracted the largest share of new immigrants, nearly 3 times greater than its share of the total population in Canada. A total of 792,000 people who arrived during the 1990s were living in Toronto in 2001, representing 43% of all newcomers during the decade. In comparison, Toronto had 40% of the immigrants who came in the 1980s.

Overall, immigrants who arrived between 1991 and 2001 made up 17% of Toronto’s total population in 2001. This was an increase from 1991 when 12% of the population were immigrants arriving during the previous decade.

The census metropolitan area of Vancouver took in the second largest share of the newcomers of the 1990s to Canada. In 2001, Vancouver had 324,800, or 18% of all immigrants who arrived during the 1990s. These newcomers represented 17% of Vancouver’s total population, an increase from 9% a decade ago.

The census metropolitan area of Montréal was home to 215,100, or almost 12% of immigrants who arrived during the 1990s. This was a slight decrease from 14% of those who arrived in the 1980s. Immigrants of the 1990s accounted for about 6% of Montréal’s population in 2001.

In sum, there is a difference between the level of immigration attracted by these three cities: whereas Toronto and Vancouver attract a disproportionate number of newcomers, Montréal’s share of immigration is in line with its population share within Canada.

Of the 1990s immigrants who settled in the other census metropolitan areas in 2001 (21%), close to 4% were living in each of Ottawa–Hull (now Ottawa–Gatineau) and Calgary in 2001. Another 2.5% resided in Edmonton, and nearly 2% resided in Hamilton.

Only 6% of the new immigrants settled in areas outside the census metropolitan areas.

Chart: Share of immigrants 10 years or less in Canada, Montréal, Toronto and Vancouver, 1981, 1991 and 2001. Opens new browser window.

Share of immigrants 10 years or less in Canada, Montréal, Toronto and Vancouver, 1981, 1991 and 2001

Table: Distribution of 1990s immigrants relative to total population, Canada and census metropolitan areas, 2001. Opens new browser window.

Distribution of 1990s immigrants relative to total population, Canada and census metropolitan areas, 2001

Table: Proportion of immigrants 10 years or less in Canada, for Canada and selected census metropolitan areas 2001 and 1991  . Opens new browser window.

Proportion of immigrants 10 years or less in Canada, for Canada and selected census metropolitan areas 2001 and 1991

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Majority of newest immigrants are working age

The majority of the immigrants who arrived in Canada during the 1990s were in the working ages of 25 to 64 years. They tended to fall into younger working age brackets than the total population because most people migrate when they are young.

In 2001, 46% of the immigrants who arrived in the 1990s were aged 25 to 44, compared with 31% of the total population. Older working-age immigrants, those between 45 and 64, made up 17% of those who came in the 1990s, compared with 24% of the total population.

Together, those who arrived between 1991 and 2001 added more than 1.1 million to Canada’s working-age population aged 25 to 64, accounting for 66% of its growth. They made up 7% of the population aged 25 to 64.

As in the case of all immigrants who arrived in the 1990s, those of working age settled in the three largest metropolitan areas.

The impact was heaviest on Toronto, Vancouver and Montréal where 848,300, or almost three-quarters (74%) of the new immigrants aged 25 to 64 were living in 2001. This proportion was up from the 67% of those immigrants who arrived during the 1980s.

Immigrants of the 1990s made up one-fifth of the working-age population in each of Toronto and Vancouver. In Montréal, these newest residents represented about 7% of the working-age population, on par with the national average.

Immigrants 10 years or less in Canada as a proportion of working-age population (aged 25 to 64), Canada and selected census metropolitan areas, 1991 and 2001. Opens new browser window.

Immigrants 10 years or less in Canada as a proportion of working-age population (aged 25 to 64), Canada and selected census metropolitan areas, 1991 and 2001

School-age children: Nearly one in five in Toronto and Vancouver are new arrivals

Of the 1.8 million immigrants who arrived during the 1990s, 309,700, or 17%, were school children aged between five and 16. Most of these immigrant children (69%) lived in Toronto, Vancouver and Montréal.

In fact, nearly one in five (17%) school-age children living in Toronto and Vancouver had immigrated within the past 10 years, as did about 7% of Montréal’s school-age children.

In Toronto, one-half of school-age children who came in the 1990s spoke a language other than English or French most often at home in 2001, compared with 61% in Vancouver, and only 43% in Montréal.

In the census metropolitan area of Toronto, the cities of Toronto, Markham, Richmond Hill and Mississauga had proportionally higher numbers of new immigrants in their school-age populations. About one in four of all children aged five to 16 in the city of Toronto were immigrants who arrived in the 1990s, and about one-fifth in the other three.

In the Vancouver census metropolitan area, the city of Richmond had the highest proportion of newcomers (32%) in their school-age population. Nearly three in 10 (29%) children in Burnaby in this age group were newcomers, as were 24% in Vancouver, 22% in Coquitlam and 11% in Surrey.

In the Montréal Urban Community (MUC), 28,800 or 12% of school-age children were immigrants who came in the 1990s. But within the MUC, Saint-Laurent had the highest proportion of newcomers (25%) in their school-age population.

The addition of immigrant children into the educational system is an important issue for educators. Concentrations of new immigrant children present challenges to local school boards, as many newcomers come from diverse cultural backgrounds. Hence, the need for instruction in English or French as a second language is an integral part of school programs.

A recent Statistics Canada study, based on information from the National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth, puts some concerns at ease. Overall, children from immigrant families started school with less developed skills in reading, writing and mathematics. With the passage of years, however, children with immigrant parents caught up to, and sometimes surpassed, the academic performance of their classmates with Canadian-born parents.

Table: Proportion of 1990s immigrant children in school-age population (5 to 16 years), municipalities of Montréal, Toronto and Vancouver census metropolitan areas, 2001. Opens new browser window.

Proportion of 1990s immigrant children in school-age population (5 to 16 years), municipalities of Montréal, Toronto and Vancouver census metropolitan areas, 2001

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Many immigrants speak a non-official language at home

A growing proportion of Canada’s newest immigrants reported speaking a language other than English or French most often at home. In 2001, 61% of the immigrants who came in the 1990s used a non-official language as their primary home language. In comparison, 56% of the immigrants who arrived in the 1980s spoke a non-official language at home in 1991.

Of the 1990s immigrants who spoke a non-official language, about one-third reported Chinese as the most common language spoken at home in 2001. Punjabi, 7% was the second, and Arabic, 5% was the third most common language spoken at home.

In terms of the major source countries of the 1990s immigrants, those born in the People’s Republic of China were the most likely to report speaking a non-official language at home (88%) as well as being unable to conduct a conversation in an official language (29%). Immigrants from India (15%) and Taiwan (13%) had the next highest proportions of those unable to converse in either official language.

New immigrants were more likely to speak a non-official language at home in Vancouver and Toronto than in Montréal. About 73% of 1990s immigrants reported speaking a language other than English or French at home in Vancouver, the highest proportion among metropolitan areas, as did 64% of newcomers in Toronto.

In the census metropolitan area of Montréal, however, about one-half of the new immigrants reported speaking a non-official language at home. One in three of the newest residents in Montréal used at least some French at home. This was due to the tendency of immigrants from French-speaking countries to settle in this metropolitan area.

Although the proportion of newcomers who reported speaking a non-official language at home was high, most of Canada’s newest residents reported they were able to have a conversation in one of the official languages.

In 2001, three-quarters of the immigrants who arrived in the last 10 years were able to speak English. An additional 4% reported abilities in French, while 11% were able to converse in both official languages. Overall, only about one in 10 of those who came in the 1990s reported no knowledge of either official language.

The proportion of newcomers who were able to speak French was higher in Quebec than the national level. In 2001, 31% of immigrants who came in the 1990s and were living in Quebec reported they were able to converse in French and an additional 43% said they were able to converse in both official languages.

Table: Top 10 non-official home languages of 1990s immigrants, Canada, Montréal, Toronto and Vancouvercensus metropolitan areas, 2001. Opens new browser window.

Top 10 non-official home languages of 1990s immigrants, Canada, Montréal, Toronto and Vancouver census metropolitan areas, 2001

Table: 1990s immigrants by source country and proportion speaking a non-official language, Canada, 2001. Opens new browser window.

1990s immigrants by source country and proportion speaking a non-official language, Canada, 2001

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Visible minority population

Three-fold increase since 1981

Canada was home to almost 4 million individuals who identified themselves as visible minorities in 2001, accounting for 13.4% of the total population. Visible minorities are defined by the Employment Equity Act as "persons, other than Aboriginal peoples, who are non-Caucasian in race or non-white in colour".

This proportion has increased steadily over the past 20 years. In 1981, 1.1 million visible minorities accounted for 4.7% of the total population; by 1996, 3.2 million accounted for 11.2%.

The visible minority population is growing much faster than the total population. Between 1996 and 2001, the total population increased 4%, while the visible minority population rose 25%, six times faster. Between 1991 and 1996, the total population increased 6%, while the visible minority population rose 27%.

The growth in the visible minority population during the last several decades was largely a result of immigration patterns. While earlier immigrants were mainly of European descent, new arrivals were more likely to have been born in countries outside of Europe. In addition, immigration levels have been increasing since the late 1980s, contributing to the growth of the visible minority population.

In 2001, three-quarters (73%) of immigrants who came in 1990s were members of visible minority groups. This was an increase from 1991 when 68% of those who came in the 1980s were visible minorities and in 1981, 52% of those arriving in the 1970s.

Three out of every 10 individuals who were visible minorities were born in Canada. Immigration has been the biggest contributor to the rapid growth of the visible minority population, but some visible minority groups such as Japanese and Blacks have long histories in this country, and are more likely to be Canadian-born.

Proportions of Canadian-born visible minorities varied widely from group to group, in large measure a reflection of historical immigration patterns. About 65% of the Japanese were born in Canada, the highest proportion of all visible minority groups, followed by 45% of Blacks, 29% of South Asians, 25% of Chinese, 21% of Arabs and West Asians, 20% of Latin Americans and 17% of Koreans.

In fact, only one in five Blacks and one in 10 Japanese is an immigrant who came to Canada in the last 10 years. Given that immigrants tend to be relatively younger, Japanese are more likely to be older than other visible minority groups.

If recent immigration trends continue, the visible minority population will continue to grow rapidly over the next couple of decades. Projections show that by 2016, visible minorities will account for one-fifth of Canada’s population.

Table: Proportion of visible minorities, Canada, Montréal, Toronto and Vancouver, 1981 to 2001. Opens new browser window.

Proportion of visible minorities, Canada, Montréal, Toronto and Vancouver, 1981 to 2001

Chart: Proportion of visible minorities, Canada, 1981 to 2001. Opens new browser window.

Proportion of visible minorities, Canada, 1981 to 2001

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Chinese largest visible minority group, surpassing 1 million

Combined, the three largest visible minority groups in 2001 – Chinese, South Asians and Blacks – accounted for two-thirds of the visible minority population. They were followed by Filipinos, Arabs and West Asians, Latin Americans, Southeast Asians, Koreans and Japanese.

Chinese was the largest visible minority group, surpassing one million for the first time. A total of 1,029,400 individuals identified themselves as Chinese, up from 860,100 in 1996. They accounted for 3.5% of the total national population and 26% of the visible minority population.

Chinese comprised the largest proportion of the visible minority population in British Columbia (44%), Alberta (30%) and Saskatchewan (29%). Ontario had the highest number of Chinese (481,500), but they comprised the second highest proportion (22%) of the visible minorities in that province, behind South Asians (26%).

The first major wave of Chinese immigration to Canada occurred during the late 1800s when Chinese labourers arrived in western Canada to build the Canadian Pacific Railway. For decades following its completion, Chinese immigration was discouraged. Until the 1960s, restrictions on immigration kept the Chinese population in Canada fairly small. Since then, however, waves of Chinese immigrants, largely from Hong Kong (SAR) and the People’s Republic of China, have made Chinese one of Canada’s fastest growing visible minority populations.

Between 1996 and 2001, the number of Chinese increased 20%. Even so, the number of South Asians, the second largest visible minority group, rose even faster (37%).

The 2001 Census enumerated 917,100 South Asians, up from 670,600 in 1996. South Asians represented 3.1% of Canada's population and 23% of the visible minority population. They accounted for at least one-quarter of the visible minority populations in Ontario, Newfoundland and Labrador and British Columbia.

The census enumerated 662,200 Blacks in 2001, up 15% from 573,900 in 1996. This third largest visible minority group represented 2.2% of the country’s total population and 17% of the visible minority population.

Many Blacks have a history in Canada dating back several centuries. In 2001, they were a proportionally large component of the visible minority population in all Atlantic provinces and in Quebec: Nova Scotia (57%), New Brunswick (41%), Prince Edward Island (31%), Quebec (31%) and Newfoundland and Labrador (22%).

Canada’s visible minority population was also comprised of Filipinos (8%), Arabs and West Asians (8%), Latin Americans (5%), Southeast Asians (5%), Koreans (3%), and Japanese (2%). Combined, their population of about 1.2 million represented one-third of the total visible minority population in 2001.

Chart: Visible minority groups, 1991 and 2001. Opens new browser window.

Visible minority groups, 1991 and 2001

 

Intermarriage of visible minorities increasing

In Canada, most people marry or live common-law with individuals from the same ethnic or cultural group. However, with the growing cultural diversity of Canada, an increased number of relationships involve individuals from different groups.

Overall, in 2001 there were 217,500 mixed unions (marriages and common-law unions) involving a visible minority person with a non-visible minority person or a person from a different visible minority group. This was an increase of 30% from 1991 compared with an increase of 10% for all couples. In 2001, these mixed unions represented 3.1% of all unions in Canada.

The most common type of mixed marriage or common-law union in Canada was between a visible minority person and someone who was not a visible minority. There were 189,500 such couples in 2001, an increase of 26% from 1991.

Some groups are more likely to intermarry or live common-law than others. The most common union was between Blacks and non-visible minorities. There were 44,200 such couples in 2001, up 5% from 1991.

The second most common pairing was between Chinese and non-visible minorities. There were 31,200 of these unions, up 52% from 1991.

Mixed couples are more likely to occur in certain census metropolitan areas. The 2001 Census showed that the proportion of such unions was higher than the national average in Vancouver, where they accounted for 7% of all couples, and Toronto, where they accounted for 6%.

Table: Couples (married and common-law) by visible minority status, Canada, Montréal, Toronto and Vancouver, 2001 and 1991. Opens new browser window.

Couples (married and common-law) by visible minority status, Canada, Montréal, Toronto and Vancouver, 2001 and 1991

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Ethnic origins

More than 200 ethnic origins

More than 200 different ethnic origins were reported in the 2001 Census question on ethnic ancestry. Ethnic origin, as defined in the census, refers to the ethnic or cultural group(s) to which an individual's ancestors belonged.

The list of origins reported includes cultural groups associated with Canada’s first peoples, North American Indian, Métis and Inuit, and groups associated with the founding of Canada, such as French, English, Scottish and Irish. It also reflects the history of immigration to Canada in the past 100 years, with groups such as German, Italian, Chinese, Ukrainian, Dutch, Polish and so on.

In addition, many people now report multiple ethnic ancestries as a result of increasing intermarriage among ethnic groups.

The changing sources of immigrants to Canada has resulted in emerging new ethnic origins from Eastern Europe, Central Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Central and South America.

This host of new groups includes: Kosovars from Yugoslavia; Azerbaijani and Georgians from Central Asia; Pashtun from Afghanistan; Yemeni and Saudi Arabians from the Middle East; Khmer from Southeast Asia; Nepali and Kashmiri from South Asia; Congolese, Yoruba and Ashanti from Africa; and Bolivians, Maya and Carib Indians from Central and South America.

Most frequent ethnic origins

One way of examining the ethnic origin or cultural composition of the population is to look at the list of most frequently reported ethnic origins, whether they were reported alone or in combination with other origins.

After Canadian (11.7 million), English (6 million) and French (4.7 million), the most frequent ethnic origins in 2001 were Scottish, with 4.2 million responses, and Irish, with 3.8 million. Next most common ancestries reported were German (2.7 million), Italian (1.3 million), Chinese (1.1 million), Ukrainian (1.1 million) and North American Indian (1 million).

This list of the top ethnicities reported in 2001 was virtually unchanged from the 1996 Census, with a few exceptions. Chinese moved up to eighth place as a result of increasing numbers of immigrants from countries in East Asia, such as the People’s Republic of China. The Ukrainians fell to ninth place in 2001 and North American Indians moved into tenth, while Dutch fell to eleventh.

Table: Top 10 ethnic origins, based on total responses, 2001 and 1996 censuses. Opens new browser window.

Top 10 ethnic origins, based on total responses, 2001 and 1996 censuses

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Rise in the reporting of "Canadian"

Changes to the ethnic origin question in the 1996 and 2001 censuses resulted in an increase in the number of people reporting Canadian or Canadien as part of their ethnic heritage in both 1996 and 2001. Specifically, “Canadian” was included as an example on the English questionnaire and “Canadien” as an example on the French questionnaire in both censuses.

In the 2001 Census, 11.7 million people, or 39% of the total population, reported Canadian as their ethnic origin, either alone or in combination with other origins. This was up from 1996 when 8.8 million, or 31% of the population, did so.

About 6.7 million people, accounting for 23% of the population, reported Canadian as their only ethnic origin in 2001. An additional 5 million (16%) reported Canadian along with other origins.

In contrast, in 1996 about 5.3 million people, or 19% of the total population, reported Canadian only, and 3.5 million or 12% reported Canadian along with other ethnic origins.

When Canadian was not listed as an example on the 1991 Census questionnaire, only 3% reported Canadian as a sole ethnic origin and just 1% reported Canadian in combination with one or more other origins.

Most individuals, who reported Canadian in 2001 had English or French as a mother tongue, were born in Canada and had both parents born inside Canada.

This suggests that many of these respondents were people whose families have been in this country for several generations. And, in fact, 55% of people with both parents born in Canada reported Canadian (alone or in combination with other origins). In contrast, only 4% of people with both parents born outside Canada reported Canadian.

Furthermore, a comparison of reporting patterns with the 1991 Census showed that much of the reporting of Canadian was done by individuals who had provided English or French origins in previous censuses. The decline in those reporting French or English in 2001 is probably a result of growing numbers of people with these ethnic backgrounds reporting Canadian in the case of English or Canadien in the case of French.

Regions of the country that were settled earliest, and that have experienced relatively little recent immigration, tended to have the highest proportion of people reporting their origins as Canadian. In Atlantic Canada, 32% of the population reported a single response of Canadian, as did 48% in Quebec. In the other provinces, the proportion ranged from 6% to 14%.

Canadian was the most frequently reported origin (alone or in combination with other origins) in almost all provinces in 2001. The two exceptions were Saskatchewan, where German was the most frequently reported origin, and British Columbia, where English was the most frequent origin.

In northern Canada, English was the most frequently reported ethnic origin in the Yukon; North American Indian in the Northwest Territories; and Inuit in Nunavut.

 

Table: Respondents 15 years and over reporting Canadian or other ethnic origins by birthplace of parents, Canada, 2001. Opens new browser window.

Respondents 15 years and over reporting Canadian or other ethnic origins by birthplace of parents, Canada, 2001

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Gains among multiple ethnic ancestries due to intermarriage

Intermarriage has most likely led to a growing number of people reporting multiple ethnic ancestries. The reporting of multiple ethnic origins was most common among groups who tended to be among the early immigrants to Canada and therefore have had more opportunity over time for marriage with people of different ethnic backgrounds. The growing number of people reporting Canadian with other origins in 1996 and 2001 has also been a factor in the increase.

In both 1996 and 2001, roughly the same number of people (18.3 million) reported only one ethnic origin as their ancestry. They accounted for 64% of the total population in 1996 and 62% in 2001.

What changed, however, was the number of people reporting more than one ethnic ancestry. In 2001, 11.3 million people, or 38% of the population, reported multiple ethnic origins, up from 10.2 million, or 36%, in 1996. In 1991, 7.8 million people reported multiple ancestries, as did 7.0 million in 1986.

People more likely to report multiple origins include those from European backgrounds whose ancestors have lived in Canada for several generations, especially groups such as the Irish, Scottish, English, French and Scandinavian. In addition, Polynesians, Indonesians, and Paraguayans tend to report more than one ethnicity. These groups have had more recent histories in Canada, but originated from countries that are multicultural.

In general, groups with a more recent history in Canada were more likely to report single responses. These groups include, for example, Koreans, Indo-Chinese, Afghans and Eritreans.

Increasing complexity of ethnic reporting

Information on the ethnic origins of the population has been collected in the census since 1901. The reporting of ethnic origin, and subsequent interpretation of the results, has become increasingly complex due to a number of factors.

The concept of ethnicity is fluid and is probably the most complex concept measured in the census. Respondents' understanding or views about ethnicity, awareness of their family background, number of generations in Canada, and the length of time since immigration can affect the reporting of ethnicity from one census to another. Increasing intermarriage among various groups has led to an increase in the reporting of multiple origins, which has added to the complexity of the ethnic data.

Furthermore, changes in the format of the question and the examples provided on the question affect reporting patterns. Examples of ethnic origins provided on a census questionnaire depend on the frequency of origins reported in the previous census.

For the first time in the 1996 Census, Canadian was included among the examples because it was the fifth most frequently reported origin in 1991. Canadian was the first example on the 2001 Census form because it was the most frequently reported origin in 1996. Because of these modifications, there was a substantial increase in the reporting of Canadian in these two censuses.

The increase in the reporting of Canadian has had an impact as well on the counts of particular groups, especially for French, English, Irish and Scottish. These groups have declined in absolute numbers since 1991, in large part because an increasing number of people who previously reported these origins on the census now report Canadian.

A follow-up survey to the 2001 Census, called the Ethnic Diversity Survey, will provide additional information to allow a better understanding of how Canadians of different ethnic background interpret and report their ethnicity. This post-censal survey will also provide information on how people’s backgrounds affect their participation in the social, economic and cultural life of Canada. Results will be available in late summer of 2003.

 

 

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