Immigration essential to progress

Posted on January 12, 2018
Filed Under Commentary, Economic & Political Philosophy, History & Culture | Leave a Comment

As a kid, just after WW II and the Korean Conflict, as it was called, I saw Toronto dragged kicking and screaming into being one of the greatest cities of the world. Wave after wave of immigrants shocked and angered the waspish southwestern Ontario populace.
First came people from countries occupied by the Axis during the war. Many of them were Dutch. They had an official label, displaced persons. That was abbreviated to DPs and was a somewhat pejorative term. They were poor and so desperate, they would work until they could afford to buy a bit of land, generally cheap because it was the worst. Just north of Toronto, that was a swamp called The Holland Marsh. Around Durham, 100 miles north, where I grew up, it was essentially gravel covered with a bit of stingy topsoil.
The DPs turned the swamp into the most fertile land anywhere near the city and started getting more than one crop of wonderful vegetables per year from it. Around Durham, they dug out the basements of old farm houses, covered the dirt floors with crushed stone, whitewashed that and put boards on top it it to get to their shelves of preserves and central heating they installed when they could afford that.
The whole family got up early every morning to do chores before school. As time went by, the farms and the families became prosperous. Ontarians’ opinions of them changed to respect and admiration.
The next big wave was Italians. They took the most menial jobs as labourers in construction and factory workers. They ate garlicy lunches and were often dirty riding the Toronto transit home from work. They made wine and drank it in their yards after work. They went out at night. They were labeled Wops. The school yard joke was, “Why do they call Italians Wops? Because God took a handful of sugar in one hand and a handful of shit in the other and went WOP!”. It actually came from a term they used for each other which came from wine gone flat.
Within a few years, every young husband in Ontario had his own spaghetti sauce recipe that involved simmering it on the stove for days or weeks. People went out and ate pizza and Joe Piccinini was on Toronto City Council and became an icon of the city.
Next came Hungarians, after the failed anti-communist revolution there in 1956. They cooked odiferous food and sat on their front steps drinking which brought police who arrested them. They were similarly disliked and labeled Honkies.
Within a few years, every young housewife in Ontario had to have her own personal cabbage roll recipe.
Subsequent waves from Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Africa arrived. Doctors drove cabs while their wives were hotel maids. It became almost a rule that convenience stores were run by families of Vietnamese.
The process has continued all my life. As it did, Toronto became one of the strongest cities and most successful cities anywhere.
Through all of that and before, Chinese immigrants arrived and fanned out all over the country running laundries and restaurants which included Chinese as well as Canadian cuisine on their menus.
This was not a new phenomenon in my lifetime. The Irish arriving in the mid 1800s were treated as badly and worse than the others.
The one thing all these waves of immigrants shared was they were poor and desperate and determined to find a better and safer life not so much for themselves but for their children.
They did and do far more for our country than well to do immigrants do although we got some fine citizens who came to avoid the Vietnamese war.
Immigrants and refugees from developed countries like Holland, Italy and Hungary, made the transition more quickly and easily than those from undeveloped and more disorganized countries but most of them, within a generation or two, become proud, dedicated Canadians.
The only ethnic group that has consistently been shoved aside is the original occupants, our First Nations.
We may even be making some progress there.
The most powerful nation on earth, the U.S. could never have become so without continuous, huge waves of immigration from all over the world.
In the Pierre Elliott Trudeau era, the McDonald Commission concluded that, to be globally competitive, it was essential that Canada reach a population of 100,000,000 as quickly as possible. Since then, birth rates among native born Canadians have fallen making immigration even more essential to that objective.
I have never feared, as some do, that immigration would dilute and destroy our Canadian values. Those values have evolved steadily over my lifetime almost all for the better. First generation immigrants may dislike some of them but the second and third generations are enthusiastic supporters of our rights, freedoms and governance. They often appreciate our values more than some of us who have come to take them for granted.
Canada is on the right track with immigration. DAC


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