National Research: Ethnocultural Minority Enclaves in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver
Friday, August 21, 2015

Canada has maintained a relatively high level of immigration for nearly 30 years, a process that is fundamentally changing the ethnocultural composition of the Canadian population. This change is registered profoundly in Canada’s major metropolitan areas, Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, where two-thirds of the 4.64 million immigrants arriving in Canada between 1980 and 2011 reside. It is no surprise that the social landscapes of these cities have undergone fundamental transformation. The most notable feature of this process has been the growth of enclave neighbourhoods, places that have become identified with particular ethnocultural groups and, especially, visible minority groups. Broadly, there are two interpretations of minority enclaves: some believe that they provide their residents with important tools to facilitate the integration of their residents into mainstream society, while others see them in more problematic terms, as places of socio-economic marginalization and cultural isolation.

In this study Daniel Hiebert has conducted a statistical analysis of enclaves in these three metropolitan areas in order to see which of these interpretations is more valid for Canada. His principal findings are these:

  • enclave landscapes are becoming prevalent in Toronto and Vancouver but less so in Montreal;
  • certain visible minority groups are more prone to reside in enclaves than others;
  • the socio-economic characteristics of enclaves vary significantly;
  • minority enclaves are places of cultural diversity rather than cultural isolation;
  • there are some systematic differences between the profiles of the socio-economic profiles of visible minority residents of enclaves and those living in other residential settings, but these populations do not appear to be fundamentally different; and
  • there are more members of visible minority groups experiencing poverty who live outside enclaves than there are inside them.

This study is an effort to provide evidence-based knowledge for better policy decisions in Canada. Hiebert’s findings suggest that the accelerated development of enclaves in Canadian metropolitan areas does not pose a threat but should instead be seen as an opportunity and a challenge. He recommends that we consider enclaves as places of opportunity for intercultural engagement, especially for newcomers to Canada. They offer their residents a chance to build bonding and bridging social capital, since there are significant numbers of co-ethnics as well as a diverse array of other groups in the relatively small scale of these neighbourhoods. The challenge is that we must reimagine our understanding of integration in Canada. More and more, this process is taking place in the setting of suburban enclave neighbourhoods. This is not simply the result of the preferences of immigrants and members of visible minority groups but is also related to the dynamics of housing markets and the behaviour of “mainstream” populations. The study concludes with a discussion of the policy implications of Canada’s changing urban social landscapes and a further recommendation that municipal governments be granted a larger voice in immigration and integration policies.

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