Latin American Canadians

Latin America refers to a group of republics including Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

Latin American Canadians

Latin America refers to a group of republics including Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela. Puerto Rico, the French West Indies, and other islands of the West Indies may also be considered part of "Latin America." The broader use of the term can also refer to counties where romance languages such as Spanish or Portuguese prevail.

Most historians and sociologists studying Latin America have generally done so from a colonial Spanish and Portuguese perspective; as a result, Latin Americans see themselves as a product of the Spanish conquest in the 16th century, and as a consequence the history of the region is wrongly considered to have begun with the Spanish arrival in the New World. The Inca, Aztec and Maya civilizations are merely looked upon as "prehistory." The region's culture, however, is a mixture of European elements (primarily Spanish and Portuguese, but also Italian, German and Dutch) and native elements.


The first wave of Latin American immigrants to Canada arrived between 1970 and 1973. (Official figures show that Canada's total Latin American population was less than 3000 before 1970.) The influx of Latin Americans (some 68 000) in the early 1970s can be partly attributed to Canada's "open door"IMMIGRATION POLICY. From 1969 to 1972 it was possible to arrive in Canada as a tourist without a visa and later apply for landed immigrant status from within the country. At the same time, due to a growing demand for labourers (seeIMMIGRANT LABOUR), Canada relaxed its immigration requirements. Argentinean immigrants, who before 1970 had arrived at a rate of 200 yearly, numbered 948 in 1973, 1088 in 1974 and 674 in 1975. The vast majority of Chilean political REFUGEES immigrated to Canada by way of Argentina after the overthrow of the Allende regime. From 1963 to 1973, only 2135 persons were recorded as emigrants from Chile; by 1976, there were 4600 people who had immigrated to Canada as part of the Special Chilean Movement initiated by the Canadian government. During the early 1970s about 20 000 Ecuadorians in search of a better life immigrated to Canada, primarily to Montréal and Toronto. By the late 1980s several hundred Central Americans had arrived as refugees.

Latin Americans are some of the most recent cultural groups to arrive in Canada however the number of people reporting Latin American origins has grown quickly. Between 1996 and 2001 the number of Latin Americans in Canada increased 32%, while the overall population grew by 4% during the same period. According to Statistics Canada there were almost 250 000 Latin Americans in Canada in 2001, and by 2006 their numbers had grown to over 527 000. The growth of this segment of the population is due to immigration; the majority of people of Latin American origins report being born outside Canada.

Settlement Pattern

Most Latin Americans originally settled in the urban centers. The demand for workers in industry and light manufacturing required semiskilled workers and this work was generally located in the suburbs of large cities like Toronto and Montréal. The need to live near their work encouraged many Latin Americans to move to some of the more isolated neighbourhoods in major cities. Latin American families have also migrated west, mostly to Alberta, in search of work.

Economic Life

The service industry, light industry manufacturing and the garment industry have traditionally been the areas of employment to which Latin Americans gravitated. Workers of Latin American origin have also been more likely to be employed in sales and service. There has been a perceptible shift, over time, from lower skilled jobs obtained upon arrival in Canada to positions requiring greater skills. With the growth and stabilization of the Latin American community in the mid-to-late 1980s, many of its members entered occupations such as insurance, real estate, restaurants and travel agencies. Also, a growing number of professionals and academics revalidated their qualifications in Canada and entered their professional fields of expertise.

Social Life and Community

The social life of Latin Americans often focuses on community activities and family gatherings. Clubs and community groups regularly hold dances and sporting events and mutual-aid clubs serve to maintain group ties and keep cultural heritage alive. Latin American associations such as the Centre for Spanish-Speaking Peoples in Toronto have provided a wide variety of services to the members of the Latin American communities including language classes, immigration assistance, health clinics, and legal services.

The community is not divided by class or income but rather by nationality. Chileans have formed organizations such as the Winnipeg Chilean Association which has committees for education and culture, finance, women's issues and social welfare.

Latin Americans, even those who, as political refugees, may have hoped to return to their countries of origin, have become increasingly involved in Canadian life. In 2002, a survey found that approximately 40% of people of Latin American origin participated in sports teams or attended church in the 12 months preceding the survey.

Religion and Cultural Life

The majority of Latin Americans in Canada are Catholics. Roughly 64% of the Latin American community report being Catholic, 16% described themselves as Protestant, and 12% said they had no religious affiliation.

Several Spanish-language newspapers, magazines and newsletters are published in Canada and are available online such as El Popular which is based in Toronto. Theatre presentations, poetry recitals and art exhibits are common in larger communities and many dance and music and cultural groups are very active throughout Canada. Several Latin American writers, poets, painters and journalists have become well known in Canada.

Fully 87% of Latin Americans reported Spanish as their mother tongue (first language learned) and spoke at least one of Canada's official languages. Also, 44% of people of Latin American in Canada reported speaking a non-official language at home.


In 1970, in the combined school systems of Toronto and Montréal, there were 342 students from Latin America. By the 1980s their number had climbed to 9738. In 2001, 67% of people aged 15 to 24 of Latin American origin were enrolled in full-time educational programs in Canada.

The number of students in Canadian universities and technical colleges who report Spanish as their mother tongue increased from 67 to 583 by the 1980s. In 2001, approximately 17% of Canadians of Latin American origin were university graduates, compared with 15% in the overall adult population.

Further Reading

  • Wilson Ruiz, The Latin American Community Survey (1982).

External Links