Posted on April 3, 2008

White Is Minority in This City

Peter Kuitenbrouwer, National Post (Don Mills, Ontario), April 03, 2008

BRAMPTON—In a joke making the rounds of this city northwest of Toronto, a man wearing a turban arrives in India. At customs, the officer asks the man, “Where are you from?” “Canada.”

“Where is that?” asks the customs official.

“It’s in Brampton.”

Statistics Canada yesterday reported that the South Asian population of Brampton has more than doubled—from 63,205 South Asians in 2001 to 136,750 in 2006. Brampton, which grew by 33% during the period, now counts 57% “visible minorities,” including 8,000 Chinese, 53,000 Blacks, 12,000 Filipinos and 9,000 Latin Americans.

Today Brampton is the third most diverse city in Canada, behind Markham, and Richmond, B.C. The biggest visible minority in Brampton is white people.

In addition to the numbers, the rate of growth has been significant: The visible minority population grew by 89% here between 2001 and 2006, and that is on top of the 63% growth in the previous census period—an incredibly rapid pace of demographic change.

“Basically we’ve been pushed out by the minorities,” Rob Moodie said yesterday, stopping by the Flour of Scotland bakery on Queen Street in Brampton for a fern tart.

Mr. Moodie’s family owned this bakery for 50 years through to 1999. By the cash register, the bakery offers the free newspaper of one of Brampton’s dwindling ethnic groups: The British Canadian, “Ontario’s only newspaper for the 1.2 million British community.”

Brampton today is changing so fast that its institutions cannot keep pace. There was just one turban evident yesterday when Brampton city council sat for its weekly meeting. Every other councillor is white.

Three of Brampton’s four Members of Parliament are South Asians, as are all three of its members in the provincial legislature, but without a party ticket on which to run, South Asians have had less luck locally.

The lone Sikh councillor, Vicky Dhillon, won election here in 2006 after driving a limousine at Pearson International Airport. Today he has a mission: to integrate the South Asian population.

“We are trying to build a bridge between the minorities and the city of Brampton,” Mr. Dhillon said. He and fellow councillor John Sanderson, who call themselves brothers, a few weeks ago got 200 tickets to the Brampton Battalions Ontario Hockey League game—worth $12 each—to bring South Asians out to the game.

“South Asians don’t want to bring their kids out, they don’t know what ice hockey is,” Mr. Dhillon said of the effort. “We have to start from scratch.”

He said many South Asians keep their kids out of hockey, fearing the boys’ and girls’ long hair won’t fit under a helmet. “They can wear a pony tail,” he said.

Mr. Sanderson was born in Brampton, one of 13 kids who grew up on a farm that is now Shoppers World. He remembers the Brampton of his youth, with two downtown dairies that took in farmers’ milk and sold ice cream, and a German place that smoked sausage. Even 10 years ago when he moved into his downtown Brampton condo, he could see eight corn silos from his window; now he can see just one. The rest is housing.

He said the ethnic mix is working quite well overall. “Our kids and their kids are going to the schools together,” he said. “The younger generation seems to mix more quickly than ours do.”

When South Asians went to the hockey game, “the—I don’t know what you want to call them, I don’t want to say ‘White Folks’—the mainstream, really appreciated it.”

Jane Badets, a director at Statistics Canada in Ottawa, said South Asians have clustered together in Brampton for three reasons: jobs, community and family.

But Mr. Dhillon and Mr. Sanderson worry that such concentration is unhealthy.

“We need to teach our kids what is Canada, because they are not going to go back,” Mr. Dhillon said. “If you want to think about the future of Canada, long term, then all the South Asians clustering together is not a good sign.

“The feds should do something. If new immigrants come, there should be restrictions for a few years. They should move to Saskatchewan or Manitoba. Those are provinces that need manpower.”

Back at the Flour of Scotland, baker Hazel Angus, herself an immigrant from Scotland in 1968, returned to her ovens. She was preparing a wholesale shipment to Orangeville, a town north of here to which many Scots have moved.

“As long as they leave me alone and don’t bother me, I don’t mind,” she said of Brampton’s more recent arrivals.