Search just our sites by using our customised site search engine

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Click here to learn more about MyHeritage and get free genealogy resources

Indians in Canada


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 Canadian population.

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 invalid.

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 Indian ancestry.

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 Legislature.

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 Africanization policies.

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.[28] 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, respectively.

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.[40] 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 Asia).

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.[citation needed]

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.

Indian Community in Canada

Traveling to India in Toronto, Canada?

Taste of India Festival in Canada 2022

India’s Extreme Summer
A YouTube video

India Country Study (pdf)

Building with India
By Daniel Johnson Fleming (1922) (pdf)

Canada and India
By Sir Firoz Khan Noon, K.C.I.E., High-Commissioner for India in the United Kingdom (1939) (pdf)

Forty Years Among the Telugus
A History of the Missions of the Baptists of Ontario and Quebec, Canada to the Telugus, South India 1867-1907 By the Rrv. John Craig, B.A. (1908) (pdf)

New Days in Old India
By Frank H. Russell (1926) (pdf)

In the Heart of India
The Work of the Canadian Presbyterian Mission by J. T. Taylor, B.A. (1916) (pdf)

Bonds of Empire
India and Canada share the marks of Europe’s colonial past Written by Madhuparna Gupta — Posted April 27, 2023 [external link]

Return to our History Page



This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.