Mon, Sep 10, 2018 - Page 7 News List

Canadian cities boast minorities as majority

In cities such as Markham and Brampton, the combined number of people in cultural minorities exceeds those with French or English roots

By Sadiya Ansari  /  The Guardian, MARKHAM, Ontario

Illustration: Yusha

The Foody Mart in Markham, a sprawling city near Toronto, is found in a typical North American suburban plaza, sprinkled with fast-food chains, nail salons and a small legal firm. However, look closely and you will notice the mall’s parking signs are in Chinese and the bank serves customers in Cantonese and Mandarin.

Inside the Foody Mart, there are shelves of salted duck eggs, air-shipped mangosteen and durian. Staff hand out samples of fish balls and regulars drink bubble tea alongside young families enjoying hot meals from the takeaway counter as Shanghai pop plays over the speakers.

This is just one of many large grocers that serve the Chinese population in Canada’s most diverse city. With a population of 330,000, Markham is one of a handful of “majority-minority” cities, where visible minorities — the official term used in Canada for anyone who is not white or indigenous — make up 78 percent of the city’s population, according to the 2016 census.

Stores such as the Foody Mart did not exist when Jennifer Chin first moved to Markham in 1991. Born in Jamaica, Chin, 53, is ethnically Chinese, as is her husband. They raised three children while running a business manufacturing Jamaican patties, often described as a quintessentially Torontonian snack.

When she arrived, the city’s population was less than half what it is today, and just 14 percent was Chinese. She witnessed the city transform with waves of immigrants: Cantonese-speaking Chinese from Hong Kong, Indians, Sri Lankans, then Mandarin speakers from mainland China. Today, just 22 percent of the city’s residents are of European origin; 46 percent are Chinese, 18 percent are south Asian and the rest are from a variety of other backgrounds such as Iranian, Italian and Filipino.

One of the most notable characteristics of Markham’s rise has been thriving pockets of businesses — groceries, clothing stores, spas, tea shops — to serve those groups, particularly in Chinese and south Asian malls.

“It’s good and bad,” Chin says. “I love the diversity. I love that we have different kinds of foods: Sri Lankan, Indian-Chinese, even different types of Chinese food. However, sometimes you feel people aren’t encouraged as much to adapt.”

Along with several other majority-minority cities on the outskirts of Toronto, Markham represents a remarkable outcome of Canada’s official policy of multiculturalism, enacted in the 1970s under then-Canadian prime minister Pierre Trudeau. It states that other cultures are valuable as long as newcomers are willing to integrate into “mainstream” Canadian culture — typically understood as the nation’s English and French colonial roots.

However, what does mainstream look like in cities where the primary culture is neither English nor French? Furthermore, as Canada’s population is projected to be nearly 30 percent foreign-born by 2036, what does integration in these cities mean?

Ethnic ties have long attracted newcomers to the suburbs of Toronto, transforming what were once bedroom — or commuter — communities into thriving cities in their own right. Markham’s biggest mall now features high-end shops that rival the shopping centers in Toronto. The city has its own Whole Foods store, as well as chic mid-rise condos to complement the earlier sprawling developments of large single-family homes.

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