As per the Ministry of
External Affairs report (2018), there are 1,689,055 (16.89 Lakhs)
Indians residing in Canada in 2022. Indians make up around 4% of the
Persons of Indian Origin (PIOs) – 1,510,645
Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) in Canada – 178,410
The Indian Canadian community began to form around the late 19th
century, pioneered by men, the great majority of whom were Punjabi
Sikhs—primarily from farming backgrounds—with some Punjabi Hindus and
Punjabi Muslims, and many of whom were veterans of the British Army.
Canada was part of the British Empire, and since India was just as well
under British Crown rule, Indians were also British subjects. In 1858,
Queen Victoria had proclaimed that, throughout the Empire, the people of
India would enjoy "equal privileges with white people without
discrimination of colour, creed or race."
In 1897, a contingent of Sikh soldiers participated in the parade to
celebrate the Queen's Diamond Jubilee in London, England. On their
subsequent journey home, they visited the western coast of Canada,
primarily British Columbia, which—because of its very sparse population
at the time—the Canadian government wanted to settle in order to prevent
a takeover of the territory by the United States.
Upon retiring from the army, some soldiers found their pensions to be
inadequate, and some also found their land and estates back in India
were being utilized by money lenders. Deciding to try their fortunes in
the countries they had visited, these men joined an Indian diaspora,
which included people from Burma through Malaysia, the East Indies, the
Philippines, and China. The vanguard was able to find work within the
police force and some were employed as night-watchmen by British firms.
Others started small businesses of their own. Such work would provide
wages that were very high by Indian standards.
They were guaranteed jobs by agents of large Canadian companies such as
the Canadian Pacific Railway and the Hudson's Bay Company. Having seen
Canada for themselves, Punjabis sent home letters to their fellow
countrymen, recommending them to come to the 'New World'. Though
initially reluctant to go to these countries due to the treatment of
Asians by the white population, many young men chose to go upon the
assurance that they would not meet the same fate.
Government quotas were also established to cap the number of Indians
allowed to immigrate to Canada in the early 20th century. This was part
of a policy adopted by Canada to ensure that the country retained its
primarily European demographic, and was similar to American and
Australian immigration policies at the time. These quotas only allowed
fewer than 100 people from India a year until 1957, when it was
marginally increased (to 300 people a year). In comparison to the quotas
established for Indians, Christians from Europe immigrated freely
without quotas in large numbers during that time to Canada, numbering in
the tens of thousands yearly.
Attracted by high Canadian wages, early migrants temporarily left their
families in search of employment in Canada. In 1906 and 1907, a spike in
migration from the Indian sub-continent took place in British Columbia,
where an estimated 4,700 arrived, at around the same time as a rise in
Chinese and Japanese immigration. This rapid increase in immigration
totalled 5,209 by the end of 1908. With the federal government
curtailing the migration, fewer than 125 South Asians were permitted to
land in BC over the next several years. Those who had arrived were often
single men and many returned to South Asia. Others sought opportunities
south of the border in the United States.
In support of the vast white population who did not want Indians to
immigrate to Canada, the BC government quickly limited the rights and
privileges of South Asians. In 1907, provincial disenfranchisement hit
the South Asians, who were thus denied the federal vote and access to
political office, jury duty, professions, public-service jobs, and
labour on public works. The next year, the federal government put into
force an immigration regulation that specified that migrants must travel
to Canada through continuous journey from their country of origin. As
there were no such system between India and Canada—which the Canadian
government knew—the continuous-journey provision therefore prevented the
endurance of South Asian immigration. Separating Indian men from their
families, this ban would further stifle the growth of the Indo-Canadian
community. Another federal law required new Indian immigrants to carry
$200 in cash upon arrival in Canada, whereas European immigrants
required only $25 (this fee did not apply to Chinese and Japanese, who
were kept out by other measures).
In November 1913, a Canadian judge overruled an immigration department
order for the deportation of 38 Punjabis, who had come to Canada via
Japan on a regularly scheduled Japanese passenger liner, the Panama Maru.
They were ordered deported because they had not come by continuous
journey from India nor did they carry the requisite amount of money. The
judge found fault with the two regulations, ruling both of their wording
to be inconsistent with that of the Immigration Act and therefore
With the victory of the Panama Maru, whose passengers were allowed to
land, the sailing of the SS Komagata Maru—a freighter carrying 376
South-Asian passengers (all British subjects)—took place the following
year in April. On 23 May 1914, upon the eve of the First World War, the
Komagata Maru candidly challenged the 'continuous journey' regulation
when it arrived in Vancouver from Punjab. However, although invalidated
for a couple months, the 'continuous journey' and $200 requirement
provisions returned to force by January 1914, after the Canadian
government quickly rewrote its regulations to meet the objections it
encountered in court. The ship had not sailed directly from India;
rather, it came to Canada via Hong Kong, where it had picked up
passengers of Indian descent from Moji, Shanghai, and Yokohama. As
expected, most of the passengers were not allowed to enter Canada.
Immigration officials consequently isolated the ship in Vancouver
harbour for 2 months and was forced to return to Asia. Viewing this as
evidence that Indians were not treated as equals under the British
Empire, they staged a peaceful protest upon returning to India in
Calcutta (now Kolkata). British forces saw this as a threat to their
authority, and opened fire on the protestors, killing many. These events
would give further evidence to South Asians of their second-class status
within the Empire. By 1914, it is estimated that the number of South
Asians in British Columbia fell to less than 2,000.
Canada would eventually allow the wives and dependent children of
South-Asian Canadian residents to immigrate in 1919. Though a small flow
of wives and children would be established by the mid-1920s, this did
not offset the effect of migration by South-Asian Canadians to India and
the US, which saw the reduction of the South Asian population in Canada
to about 1,300 by the mid-1920s.
With the independence of India being an emanant concern, the federal
continuous-journey regulation was removed in 1947. Most of British
Columbia's anti-South Asian legislation would also be withdrawn in 1947,
and the Indian Canadian community would be returned the right to vote.
At that time, thousands of people were moved across the nascent borders
of the newly-established India and Pakistan. Research in Canada suggests
that many of the early Goans to emigrate to Canada were those who were
born and lived in Karachi, Mumbai (formerly Bombay), and Kolkata
(formerly Calcutta). Another group of people that arrived in Canada
during this period were the Anglo-Indians, people of mixed European and
In 1951, in place of the continuous-journey provision, the Canadian
government would enact an annual immigration quota for India (150 per
year), Pakistan (100), and Ceylon (50). At that time, there were only
2,148 South Asians in Canada. Moderate expansion of immigration
increased the Canadian total to 6,774 by 1961, then grew it to 67,925 by
1971. By 2011 the South Asian population in Canada was 1,567,400.
Policies changed rapidly during the second half of the 20th century.
Until the late 1950s, essentially all South Asians lived in British
Columbia. However, when professional immigrants came to Canada in larger
numbers, they began to settle across the country. South Asian politics
until 1967 were primarily concerned with changing immigration laws,
including the elimination of the legal restrictions enacted by the BC
In 1967, all immigration quotas in Canada based on specific ethnic
groups were scrapped. The social view in Canada towards people of other
ethnic backgrounds was more open, and Canada was facing declining
immigration from European countries, since these European countries had
booming postwar economies, and thus more people decided to remain in
their home countries.
In 1972, all South Asians were expelled from Uganda, including 80,000
individuals of Indian (mostly Gujarati) descent. Canada accepted 7,000
of them (many of whom were Ismailis) as political refugees. From
1977–85, a weaker Canadian economy significantly reduced South-Asian
immigration to about 15,000 a year. In 1978, Canada introduced the
Immigration Act, 1976, which included a point-based system, whereby each
applicant would be assessed on their trade skills and the need for these
skills in Canada. This allowed many more Indians to immigrate in large
numbers and a trickle of Goans (who were English-speaking and Catholic)
began to arrive after the African Great Lakes countries imposed
The 1970s also saw the beginning of the migration from Fiji, Guyana,
Trinidad and Tobago, and Mauritius. During this decade, thousands of
immigrants came yearly and mainly settled in Vancouver and Toronto.
Significant urbanization of the Indian Canadian community began during
the 1980s and early 1990s, when tens of thousands of immigrants moved
from India into Canada each year. Forming nearly 20% of the population,
Fort St. James had the highest proportion of Indo-Canadians of any
municipality in Canada during the 1990s. Prior to the large urban
concentrations that exist in the present day, statistically significant
populations existed across rural British Columbia; a legacy of previous
waves of immigration earlier in the 20th century. In 1994, approximately
80% of South-Asian Canadians were immigrants. The settlement pattern in
the most recent two decades is still mainly focused around Vancouver and
Toronto, but other cities such as Calgary, Edmonton, and Montreal have
also become desirable due to growing economic prospects in these cities.
During the late 20th and into the early 21st century, India was the
third highest source country of immigration to Canada, with roughly
25,000–30,000 Indians immigrating to Canada each year according to
Statistics Canada data. India became the highest source country of
immigration to Canada by 2017, with yearly permanent residents
increasing from 30,915 in 2012 to 85,585 in 2019, representing 25% of
total immigration to Canada. Additionally, India also became the top
source country for international students in Canada, rising from 48,765
in 2015 to 219,855 in 2019. Mirroring historical Indo-Canadian migration
patterns, the majority of new immigrants from India continue to hail
from Punjab, with an increasing proportion also hailing from Delhi,
Mumbai, Gujarat, and Southern India.
Toronto has the largest Indian Canadian population in Canada. Almost 51%
of the entire Indian Canadian community resides in the Greater Toronto
Area. Most Indian Canadians in the Toronto area live in Brampton,
Markham, Scarborough, Etobicoke, and Mississauga. Indian Canadians,
particularly, Punjabi Sikhs and Punjabi Hindus, have a particularly
strong presence in Brampton, where they represent about a third of the
population (Most live in the northeastern and eastern portion of the
city). The area is middle and upper middle class, home ownership is very
high. The Indian Canadians in this region are mostly of Punjabi, Telugu,
Tamil, Bengali, Gujarati, Marathi, Malayali and Goan origin. When
compared to the Indian Canadian community of Greater Vancouver, the
Greater Toronto Area is home to a much more diverse community of Indians
– both linguistically and religiously. Air India and Air Canada operates
flights from Toronto Pearson International Airport back to India.
Indian Canadians in the Greater Toronto Area have an average household
income of $86,425, which is higher than the Canadian average of $79,102
but lower than the Toronto Census Metropolitan Area's average of
$95,326. Indian Canadian students are also well-represented in
Toronto-area universities; despite Indo-Canadians making up 10% of the
Toronto area's population, students of Indian origin (domestic and
international combined) make up over 35% of Ryerson University, 30% of
York University, and 20% of the University of Toronto's student bodies,
Vancouver is home to the second largest Indian Canadian population in
Canada, with just over 20% of the entire Indian Canadian community
residing in the Lower Mainland. The highest density concentrations of
Indian Canadians are found in Vancouver, Surrey, Burnaby, Richmond,
Abbotsford and Delta. Recently, more Indians have been moving to other
areas outside of Greater Vancouver. The city of Surrey has nearly
170,000 South Asians, comprising 32% of the city's population. The
Punjabi Market neighbourhood of South Vancouver also has a particularly
high concentration of Indian residents, shops and restaurants.
Indian Canadians are from very diverse religious backgrounds compared to
many other ethnic groups, which is due in part to India's
multi-religious population. Amongst the Indian Canadian population
however, the religious views are more evenly divided. In 2001, Sikhs
represented 35%, Hindus 28%, Muslims 17%, and Christians 16% (7%
Protestant/Evangelical + 9% Catholic). Relatively few people of Indian
origin have no religious affiliation. In 2001, just 4% said they had no
religious affiliation, compared with 17% of the Canadian population.
Indo-Canadian culture is closely linked to each specific Indian group's
religious, regional, linguistic and ethnic backgrounds. For instance,
Northern Indian cultural practices and languages differ from those of
Southern Indians, and the Hindu community's cultural practices differ
from those of the Jain, Sikh, Muslim, Christian and Jewish communities
due to differences in ethnicity, regional affiliation, religion and/or
language. Such cultural aspects have been preserved fairly well due to
Canada's open policy of multiculturalism, as opposed to a policy of
assimilation practised by the United States.
The cultures and languages of various Indian communities have been able
to thrive in part due to the freedom of these communities to establish
structures and institutions for religious worship, social interaction,
and cultural practices. In particular, Punjabi culture and language have
been reinforced in Canada through radio and television.
Alternatively, Indo-Canadian culture has developed its own identity
compared to other non-resident Indians and from people in India. It is
not uncommon to find youth uninterested with traditional Indian cultural
elements and events, instead of identifying with mainstream North
American cultural mores. However such individuals exist in a minority
and there are many youth that maintain a balance between western and
eastern cultural values, and occasionally fusing the two to produce a
new product, such as the new generation of Bhangra incorporating hip-hop
based rhythm. For instance, Sikh youth often mix in traditional Bhangra,
which uses Punjabi instruments with hip hop beats as well as including
rap with Black music entertainers. Notable entertainers include Raghav
and Jazzy B.
There are numerous radio programs that represent Indo-Canadian culture.
One notable program is Geetmala Radio, hosted by Darshan and Arvinder
Sahota (also longtime television hosts of Indo-Canadian program, Eye on
A number of Canadian television networks broadcast programming that
features Indo-Canadian culture. One prominent multicultural/multireligious
channel, Vision TV, presents a nonstop marathon of Indo-Canadian shows
on Saturdays. These television shows often highlight Indo-Canadian
events in Canada, and also show events from India involving Indians who
reside there. In addition, other networks such as Omni Television,
CityTV, and local community access channels also present local
Indo-Canadian content, and Indian content from India.
In recent years,[when?] there has been an establishment of Indian
television networks from India on Canadian television. Shan
Chandrasehkhar, an established Indo-Canadian who pioneered one of the
first Indo-Canadian television shows in Canada, made a deal with the
Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to
allow Indian television networks based in India to send a direct feed to
Canada. In doing so, he branded these channels under his own company
known as the Asian Television Network. Since 1997, Indo-Canadians can
subscribe to channels from India via purchasing TV channel packages from
their local satellite/cable companies. Indo-Canadians view such networks
as Zee TV, B4U, Sony Entertainment Television, and Aaj Tak to name a
few. Goan communities are connected by a number of city-based websites
that inform the community of local activities such as dances, religious
services, and village feasts, that serve to connect the community to its
rural origins in Goa.
Radio stations in the Greater Toronto Area with Indo Canadian content
include CJSA-FM broadcasting on 101.3FM. Another station is CINA
broadcasting on AM 1650.
Major newspapers include Canindia News in Toronto & Montreal, The Asian
Star and The Punjabi Star in Vancouver.
As of 2012, there are many Punjabi newspapers, most of which are
published in Vancouver and Toronto. As of that year, 50 of them are
weekly, two are daily, and others are monthly.
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