Dubai: The first Arab immigrant to Canada was 19-year-old Lebanese Abraham Bounader from Zahle, a small town in Lebanon (then part of Syria) overlooking the fertile Bekaa Valley, according to Dr Ebrahim Hayani writing for Global Research, a centre for research on globalisation. It was 1882, six years after Canada was born as a federal state.
According to figures mentioned in Dr Hayani’s article that was first published in 2014, there are an estimated 600,000 Canadians of Arab origin in the country. The period following World War II, particularly the last five decades, has witnessed growth in Arab immigration to Canada, as well as changes in the socioeconomic characteristics and national origins of Arab immigrants, wrote Dr Hayani.
According to Dr Hayani, Arab Canadians can be found in virtually all Canadian provinces and major urban centres. However, Ontario, and to a lesser extent Quebec, have always been the provinces of choice for immigrants from the Arab world since the 1950s, he wrote. “According to the most recent Census figures, Ontario is now home to more than 40 per cent of the total Arab population in Canada. The Greater Toronto Area (GTA) alone is home to almost half of Ontario Arabs and close to one-fifth of all Arab Canadians,” he wrote.
According to the Canadian Encyclopaedia on Arab Canadians: “At present about 49 per cent of the Arab ethnic group in Canada are of Lebanese origin; 13 per cent are of Egyptian origin; 6 per cent are of Maghrebi origin; 5 per cent are of Syrian origin; 5 per cent are of Somali origin; 3 per cent are of Palestinian origin; and 2 per cent are of Iraqi origin. The balance (about 17 per cent) are recorded in the Canadian census as “Arab”, with no specific reference to a country of origin.”
This demographic profile, wrote Dr Hayani, has resulted in the formation of Arab cultural niches. “In Toronto, for example, one can drive along a two-kilometre stretch of Lawrence Avenue and find Arab stores dotting both sides of the street; supermarkets whose shelves stock all kinds of Arabic (and Middle Eastern) food and other products, a bakery that produces and sells thousands of Pita bread daily and confectionery/sweet shops. There are also a number of restaurants, which in recent years have been responsible for introducing Canadians to such Arabic foods as Falafel, Hummus, Couscous, Tabouleh and so forth. The same developments have occurred elsewhere in Mississauga, Montreal, Ottawa, Edmonton, London, Windsor, Hamilton, Halifax and other major urban centres throughout Canada,” Dr Hayani wrote.