We continue our week examining cultural changes in Canada over the last 150 years with today’s discussion on Canadian demographics. Although the British North America Act does not directly relate to how diverse our population is, Canadian citizens elect politicians and leaders who influence our laws and political climate. As our social makeup changes, so do our values and, in turn, our laws. Today we focus on the people living in the country to understand how Confederation and today’s political climate evolved.
When we look back to 1867, Canada’s population looks strikingly different than it does today. Today, Canada prides itself on its multiculturalism and welcoming of immigrants. A flashback to the people of 1867 paints a much different picture. At the time of Confederation, 79% of the Canadian population were born in Canada.1 The majority of the country’s population grew up with similar cultural and religious values, with Roman Catholicism and Protestants dominating all other religious beliefs.2 These religions were so dominant early on in Canada’s formation that our own national anthem even features a reference to “God.” This has created some controversy recently as to whether our national anthem should be modified to reflect our changing social landscape with respect to individual religious views.
The immigrant population in 1867 was also widely different than current trends. The biggest immigrant group consisted of French settlers, with English, Welsh, Irish, and Scottish people also making their way to Canada.3 The immigration population at the time consisted of mainly Caucasian Europeans. The majority of these newcomers settled into Upper Canada at the time, with the rest mainly finding a home in Lower Canada.4 European immigrants certainly influenced Confederation in 1867, however Indigenous populations inhabited this land long before. By the year of Confederation, historians estimate that 100,000 to 125,000 Indigenous people were living in Canada.5
When we fast-forward to life in 2017, a much different picture of Canadian people exists. By 2006, Canada had reached an immigrant population of 6.2 million people, which equates to 19.8% of the entire population.6 If current trends continue, the immigrant population by the end of 2017 is expected to reach nearly 22% of the population.7 Although the percentage of immigrants has remained relatively stable around 20% since Confederation, their origins have become more diverse. Today, immigrants come from every continent in the world, the majority of which are of Asian descent, not European.8 With the increase in immigrants, the country has seen a surge in the number of unique languages, cultures, and religions. Specifically, Chinese immigrants have become the leading visible minority group, accounting for roughly 1 million people throughout the country.9 Indigenous populations have also substantially grown since Canada’s creation. The 2011 national census reports, that 1,400,685 people (4.3% of the population), consider themselves Aboriginal and over 60 Indigenous languages exist.10
Religion has also changed within the last 150 years. Roman Catholicism is still the most widely practiced religion throughout Canada, representing 38.7% of the entire population.11 While Roman Catholicism continues to have a widespread following, it is not as dominant as it was during Confederation. Further, a variety of new religions are currently practiced throughout the country. Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, and Buddhism are now common throughout Canada, with 7.2% of Canada's population reporting practicing one of these.12 The increase in religious diversity is likely the reason some Canadians believe the inclusion of word “God” in our national anthem is no longer appropriate as it tends to connote a Christian reference.
Canada is becoming a more diverse place. In 2017, it is hard to pinpoint whom a Canadian is or what they might look or sound like.
1 Statistics Canada, “Canadian Statistics in 1867”, (Ottawa: Statistics Canada, 2009), online: </www65.statcan.gc.ca/acyb07/acyb07_0002-eng.htm>.
5 Laura Aylsworth & Frank Trovato, “Demography of Indigenous People” (1 February 2012), The Canadian Encyclopedia, online <www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/aboriginal-people-demography/>.
6 Statistics Canada, “Some facts about the demographic and ethnocultural composition of the population”, (Ottawa, Statistics Canada, 2008), online: <www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/91-003-x/2007001/4129904-eng.htm#2>.
10 Aylsworth & Trovato, supra note 5.
11 Statistics Canada, “2011 National Household Survey: Immigration, place of birth, citizenship, ethnic origin, visible minorities, language and religion”, (Ottawa: Statistics Canada, 2011), online: <www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/130508/dq130508b-eng.htm>.