Multiculturalism In Toronto As I Wrote About It In 1974
Before leaving Toronto for good in 1974, I somehow got the idea to write about multiculturalism in my hometown. I have no idea where it came from, but this self-imposed project did afford me the opportunity to meet with interesting people. I wrote up a summary of my interviews, a report that was never published. By chance I found my handwritten version a few days ago, and just for the fun of it I decided to type it up and publish it here on my own website. What would make it even more interesting would be if someone were to compare what I found in 1974 with the contemporary situation.
Long histories of antagonism with neighbouring nations in the Old Country, and even among internal factions of the same country, have tempered relationships among immigrants in Canada. Emotional defences erected when self-preservation was threatened are not easily discarded upon arrival in the adopted land.
For some, Canada provided respite from persecution; for others, it was a place to increase financial status. With diverse backgrounds and concerns, then, what interest did these groups have in relating to the other ethnic minorities in their city? In attempting to answer this question, I conducted interviews with some prominent members of the various adult and student ethnic communities in Toronto. The inquiry focused on activities involving communication and cooperation among the groups since World War II. This paper intends to present a general overview serving to elucidate a trend in inter-ethnic relationships rather than dealing in detail with the particulars of these activities.
Employment and Housing
In the 1940s and 1950s, political lobbying groups arose concerning legislation related to two issues – the guarantee of fair employment practices and fair housing. The campaign for the former, organized by the Jewish community, found support among the trade unions (which always wanted such legislation) and other groups encountering discrimination in the job market, according to Sidney Harris, President of the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC).
The pressure group had to work to overcome employers’ fears regarding hiring people of diverse ethnic backgrounds to positions of authority. Unfortunately, although this legislation (forerunner of the Human Rights Code in Ontario) was passed, employers can easily circumvent the law with the phrase “Canadian experience”, which effectively excludes newcomers from the choicer jobs for which they are often qualified.
Alan Borovoy, of the Civil Liberties Association, said that fair housing legislation was supported by Jews, Japanese, Blacks, the labour unions, the YWCA, Canadian Legion and the various churches. It is unclear in what form the lobbying group existed but a joint complaint was published and, in 1961, housing was included in the Fair Legislation Act.
Various religious groups – Jewish, Unitarian, Anglican, United Church, Seventh Day Adventist – and civil libertarians set up the Ethical Education Association in 1960. The purpose of this coalition was to lobby against religious education in public schools. Ben Kayfetz, Executive Director of the CJC, explained how a presentation made to the press and the government in 1961 resulted in the establishment of a Royal Commission to study the situation. This joint effort, which did not include mainstream churches, succeeded in having religious materials removed from the curricula of public schools.
In the early 1950s, members of the Jewish community submitted to government the first bill asking for anti-hate legislation; Sidney Midanic, Secretary of the CJC claimed that this effort produced no results. It was not until the uproar caused by the hate-filled writings and speeches of Dave Stanley and John Brady in the mid 1960s that a real campaign was coordinated.
Fewer allies were found to join in this project than in the others discussed above. Among the groups that were definitely not supportive were the United, Anglican and Catholic Churches and the Blacks; the Germans had at one time expressed a desire to participate, but Kayfetz said nothing came of their initial interest. Latent anti-Semitism may explain why some groups refused to support the campaign for anti-hate legislation, but Midanik explained that many felt this project just was not relevant to their own situations. The bill that was finally passed was, according to Midanik, more suppressive that that submitted by the lobby group.
The Ukrainians, Poles, Italians, Portuguese, Greeks, in particular, have been interested in community projects to ensure that their languages will be spoken by their children. Channel 79 (cable) presents hour-long programmes on Sundays in various languages and the Ukraininas produce a children’s show on Community Cable using the Sesame Street format. The half-hour show seen in Calgary, Winnipeg and thirteen Ontario communities is prepared from script to screen wholly by Ukrainian women in Toronto, according to Robert Onyschuk of the Ontario Provincial Council of Ukrainian-Canadian Committee. In a pleasant manner, young children get a firm grasp of their language.
But this is not sufficient, according to members of various ethnic backgrounds, since these television programmes are available only on private cable stations. Rather than representing the multicultural nature of Canadian society, the public stations are showing viewers only bi-culturalism in English and French. Members of other ethnic groups having also contributed to building the nation – for example, a Pole built the Grand Trunk Railway, says Onyschuk – and they feel there should be consideration of this fact in public station programming and other publicly owned media.
In this regard, the Italians, Ukrainians and Poles presented a brief at the hearings on television programming in the past few years. It was rejected twice. The Germans and Jews each filed separate briefs. The reason for the Germans doing so is unclear; the Jews did not want to cosign with the Ukrainians and Poles due to grievances held from the European experience.
Special Needs of Immigrant Children
The Toronto Board of Education has long been concerned with the learning and behavioural problems of immigrant children. In 1966, the Board established the Social Work Service for New Canadians to make available multilingual social services and counseling (Novica Bojovic of the Intercultural Council). The staff, many of whom have had European teaching experience, provide services in thirteen European languages and Chinese. Acting as liaison among school, parents, and the ethnic organizations, the Social Work Service responds to, and seeks to prevent, problems involving immigrant children.
Bojovic decried the lack of coordination among the diverse groups interested in solving immigrant difficulties: ethnic groups and the ethnic press, and organizations concerned with health and welfare, education, and immigration. Unification was sought and in 1971, at a meeting of the Board of Education, the Intercultural Council was established. The members drawn from government agencies, English-Canadians and about twenty ethnic groups work for the Council on a part-time basis only. Educational problems of the immigrant child are one of their prime concerns.
In 1973, the Board of Education invited members of different ethnic communities to discuss together the priorities of public education, attempting to satisfactorily deal with the problems confronting immigrant children. The issues covered by the several groups represented included biased treatment of foreign pupils and lack of parental involvement with their children’s progress.
John Medeires, of the Portuguese community, claimed that immigrants are not respected by teachers and their problems are not understood. He suggested that teachers need to be sensitized by various means to the cultural backgrounds of their pupils in order to be able to relate to them and their parents to a greater extent. For example, streaming creates difficulties for more intelligent children who are, nonetheless, held back due to language barriers.
From the Board of Education meeting, arose the Harbord Intercultural Committee – a committee of Canadian, Italian, Portuguese and Greek parents of pupils at Harbord High School interested in maintaining a continuous liaison between teachers and immigrant parents so the latter can get more involved in their children’s progress and problems at school.
In March 1973, the Harbord Intercultural Committee presented a brief to the Toronto Board of Education. Alberto di Giovanni of the National Congress for Italian Canadians said the Committee requested use of the public school facilities after regular classroom hours for special language classes. In this way, children of Greek, Portuguese and Italian immigrants can be taught their own history and language by teachers from their respective communities while remaining in the public school system. In three Toronto high schools, according to Medeires, the Portuguese language has been added to the list of credit courses available.
The Grande Project, originating in Boston, has been instituted at one Toronto public elementary school, according to di Giovanni. In this programme, new immigrant children are instructed in their native languages. English is taught as part of the curriculum and when pupils attain proficiency, they are then placed in regular classes.
Multiculturalism as a Government Goal
Government interest in the preservation of the multicultural nature of Canadian society is shown both at the federal and provincial levels by the establishment of departments concerned with ethnic diversity: the Multicultural Programme in the Department of the Secretary of State in February 1972, and the Ontario Advisory Council on Multiculturalism in October 1973. The former is greatly concerned with youth.
In February 1973, a conference was held, attended by 29 members of various ethnic youth groups. The participants were urged to initiate programmes among themselves and to work together to develop strong inter-ethnic ties. But recommendations devised by participants were neither innovative nor original and attempts by the government agency to bring the youth together at another meeting did not bring the expected response, a fact lamented by Sheine Goldstein of the Department of Secretary of State’s Multicultural Programme. Government employees were compelled to adopt a different attitude – since attempts to bring the youth together produced few results, they decided to wait for the youth to approach them with project ideas. [Editorial note: For all I know, they may still be waiting.]
The Ontario Advisory Council on Multiculturalism, with 23 members drawn from various ethnic groups including English, French, and Canadian Indians [editorial note: I decided to leave this term in since that is how First Nations peoples were referred to in 1974], meets monthly. According to Julius Hayman of the Advisory Council, most discussions revolve around anti-defamation issues. The Jews and Blacks are recognized as having special problems in this regard and members of both groups are currently fighting anti-Semitic and anti-Black activities of The Western Guard. Canadian Indians and French Canadians are also recognized as having special problems, the former with respect to their state of poverty and illiteracy and the latter concerning their desire for government support in preserving their language and culture.
Bojovic claims that the Intercultural Council mentioned above has support from the Citizenship Branch of the Federal Department of the Secretary of State. Project requests to the government are endorsed by the Council and the Council speaks to government agencies on behalf of ethnic groups in order to present a united front. The Council prefers not to send representatives to the government but, rather, to invite government people to their meetings. In this way, the group can work with the government and at the same time remain autonomous.
A government-funded agency, the Coalition of Immigrant and Migrant Services (CIMS, formerly the Inter-Agency Council), formed three years ago and has 27 members, including ethnic and Metro Toronto service organizations. Kay Brown of CIMS said that it is not at all involved with ethnicity or cultural activities, but, rather, deals solely with immigrant aid and provides a means for communications between government and private services and among ethnic groups themselves, something that was previously sorely lacking.
A major obstacle for CIMS to overcome was the attitude that problems are related to ethnicity. Members of the various ethnic groups found it hard to accept the fact that other ethnic communities may have the same concerns; in fact, immigration problems are not related to ethnicity but to the receiving society, according to Brown. In spite of recognition of this fact, some members of CIMS fear for their particular identity.
The original focus of CIMS was to fill in the gaps in government services regarding interpreters, orientation programmes, and information services. Recently, the groups are becoming less secretive about their own financing and staff recruitment so that a major project that can now be seriously developed is cooperative in-service training for staff members.
One problem being tackled by CIMS is the insensitivity of schools, hospitals and civil services to this multicultural society; for example, there is a need for interpreters in hospitals but the Ministry of Health, claiming this is not a health matter, will not deal with it. Nurses and social service staff of four downtown hospitals have been encouraged by CIMS to pressure the administration and boards of their respective hospitals to recognize the need for interpreter services. Money is hard to find, but a brief has been submitted to the Ministry of Health for funding a two-year pilot project.
Non-political activities are also being pursued by the ethnic communities of Toronto. In 1969, a city-wide programme called Caravan took place for the first time; it grows in strength and influence each year. When Caravan is in progress, the city is host to pavilions set up by the various ethnic groups who wish to share with others their history, geography, food, song, art, dance and costumes from their native lands. The brilliance of Caravan is that these events take place across the city, in actual centers used by the different groups, and not in an artificial grounds-type environment.
Leon Kossar, of the Canadian Folk Arts Council for Metro Toronto, who, with his wife established Caravan, told me that Toronto had seen other joint cultural programmes before Caravan: for nine years, a cast of 2000 presented the Nation Builders’ Festival on Labour Day night at the Canadian National Exhibition grounds. Unfortunately, costs became prohibitive. In 1967 and 1968, the ethnic groups worked together to present Canadiana Week in Civic Square.
The participants in Caravan jointly set policies for its operation. Together they decided on the non-commercial and non-political nature of the project and on the ratio of historical display to food. Most ethnic groups participate – some countries have more than one pavilion; for example Greece, because Macedonia comprises a separate entity – but the Canadian Indians have not been involved for financial reasons, and this past year there was no Israeli pavilion since the application date coincided with the Yom Kippur War. [Editorial note: One might think that with multicultural sensitivities, the application date could have been extended for the Jewish community in order to let them finalize their application materials after having coped with the traumatic war situation in Israel.]
In 1971, five theatre groups got together to promote, on stage, the diversity of Canadian society. The founding groups were: La Compagnia dei GIovani (Italian), Estonian National Theatre, Hungarian Ault Theatre, Latvian D.V. Theatre, and Theatre Bahne (German). The interest and enthusiasm of these groups led to the founding of the Multicultural Theatre Association which, in the past two years, has put on two International Theatre Festivals running for one month at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Performing Arts. Last year, in addition to the original members, participation was extended to include Czechoslovakian, English, Japanese, Finnish, Ukrainian, Armenian, Lithuanian, Polish and Bulgarian performances.
In addition to these formal cultural exhibits, some of the groups get together spontaneously to share their cultural heritages with each other. Steve Tchilingirian, of the Armenian Holy Trinity Church told me that in April of the past three years, the Church has invited the general community to attend programmes which expose them to Armenian culture. Having been active in the B’nai Brith Youth Organization, I can testify to the fact that Jewish youth often instigate evening cultural exchange programmes with other youth groups in the city. Other ethnic communities sponsor similar programmes as well.
Multiculturalism at the Universities
University students have been making attempts at organizing interactions among the various ethnic groups on campus. The Ukrainian-Canadian University Students’ Union has had full-time staff and field workers since 1967. Myrin Spolsky, of the Union, told me that government grants provide the funds needed to run projects to reach out to Ukrainian students, work with Ukrainian children, run conferences, and examine the government’s multicultural programme as it pertains to them.
The Canadian Union of Jewish Students (CUJS) receives financial support from the CJC. The Bnai Brith Foundation also has a Jewish students group on campus and there is an overlap in Jewish student volunteers working with both organizations. A third organization, Hillel, provides social, cultural and religious activities while CUJS serves more as a communication base and policy maker for Jewish students’ groups across the country.
Four years ago, Chinese students got together to try to unite Chinese students from all parts of the city and all social backgrounds under the auspices of a Chinese Youth Conference (CYC). Shirley Hong of the CYC told me that they are supported by the adult Chinese community and the government as they explore their identity as Chinese Canadians and seek to develop greater pride in their heritage. Last year’s conference was expanded to include all East Asian students.
The Canadian-Hungarian Youth Federation was established in February of this year. They are supported by the adult Hungarian community and the government. Les Bonnay is grateful to the Ukrainian students organization that provided them with much needed encouragement and assistance in setting up their own Federation.
There are also university groups for Black, Polish, Arab and Israeli students but in the time I had remaining in Toronto, I was unable to meet with their representatives.
It is interesting to note that conferences held last year by the Ukrainians, Jewish and Chinese students focused on the same topics: identity within a pluralist society and government multicultural policies. There was little communication among these groups and each was unaware of the conference of the other. The Chinese group, being new and reaching out only to other Asians, can easily go un-noticed, but the Ukrainian and Jewish organizations are large and have been in existence for some time and therefore it is surprising that in attempts to reach out to other ethnic groups they remained unaware of each other’s activities. Long-standing conflict between Ukrainians and Jews, however, are a likely reason for this, although neither group spoke of this.
Just as the Multiculturalism Branch of the Department of the Secretary of State has been disappointed by the somewhat paltry enthusiasm of the youth of the city, some adult ethnic groups have likewise been disappointed with their student counterparts.
Bromley Armstrong, Black civil rights leader and publisher of The Islander, a magazine for West Indians, met with me. He noted that the Black Student’s Movement has been criticized for not trying to reach out to other student groups and for being unconcerned with issues with which the adult are contending, such as police brutality and elementary school education.
It appears that Jewish adults look to their youth for fresh ideas and have been disappointed in the lack of radicalism among the Jewish students. Dave Sudowsky of the CJC suggested that a lack of strong leadership in CUJS until this year was a major reason for the lack of coordination and innovativeness among student members. Current leadership is an improvement.
In other communities, such as the Greeks, according to Barry Iconomides of the Pan-Hellenic Liberation Movement and the Greek Community of Metropolitan Toronto Inc., students were born in Canada and have assimilated to a large extent. They seem uninterested in formal ethnic associations.
On the other hand, the Chinese and Hungarian adult groups seem quite pleased with the newly developing student organizations. Concern over intermarriage – possibly an index of ethnic identification – is still strong among them (although quickly declining in the Hungarian community). The strengthening of student movements reassures parents that their children will perpetuate their heritage.
Many of the youth criticize their corresponding adult organizations for being overly preoccupied with the past (eg., the Ukrainians, says Spolsky) or with appearances (eg., the Italians, according to di Giovanni). The adult ethnics perhaps maintain cohesiveness and avoid assimilation because of emotional ties to the native language and the native soil. Generations born in Canada do not have the same emotional bonds and preserve ethnic distinctiveness for other reasons, explanations for which are beyond the scope of this paper.
The manifestations of ethnic identification distinguishing between youth and adults affect the ways in which each interacts with other ethnic communities in the City of Toronto. Students appear to want to relate to others within a purely Canadian context; what happened in Europe, according to the students, should not affect how they relate here in Canada. Andy Semotiuk, of the Ukrainian-Canadian University Students’ Union, said no side was free of guilt and many students feel grudges held by the previous generation should not be perpetuated by the youth.
Adult Ethnic Groups Working Together
The adults’ groups generally get together when there are issues of concern to all of them. Having to cope with internal community problems, such as immigration aid, care for the aged, and education drains their finances and energy, making it difficult for them to simultaneously carry out programmes involving other ethnic groups. The smaller, more recently established organizations (Canadian Indians – Robert DeBosky of the Native Peoples of Canada, East Indian — Rattan Panda of the Indian Immigrant Aid Society, Arab – Amal Umar of the Arab Community Center of Toronto) have few resources for communicating with other groups.
When an issue does arise, such as sociopolitical or education concerns discussed above, all groups seem to respond enthusiastically. They have mostly been eager to work together and the few instances in which a group is reluctant to join in, the decision was usually based upon the issue itself rather than an unwillingness to support a particular ethnic group.
Recently, ethnic groups have begun to recognize that their internal community problems are common to all of them. Working together in organizations such as CIMS and the Intercultural Council allows them to pool resources and experiences so they need not face these problems in isolation. Furthermore, this provides a solid foundation upon which to develop coordinated activities in the political realm when necessary.
The British are often not recognized as an ethnic group. Kay Brown explained that their attitude is that, in coming to Canada, they are coming out to “the colonies”. In addition, due to preferential government treatment, they do not feel they have any particular immigration problems. This certainly affects their relationship to other ethnic groups. Tony O’Donohue of the Irish Community told me that the Irish, deeply concerned with their identity and distinctness from the English, do not have representation in CIMS or any other immigrant agencies. Speaking the language of the country (well, one of them, in any case), perhaps gives the English-speaking immigrants the sense that they have more in common with the English-Canadian majority than with the diversity of foreign-born immigrants who speak different languages. Brown suggests that when British immigrants will no longer have the automatic right to vote in Canadian elections, there may be a change in attitude among themselves, among English-Canadians and among other ethnic groups.
DeBosky told me that Canadian Indians initiated a conference held in Ghana in 1974. Native peoples of Canada, Africa, New Zealand and Australia met to discuss the problems of poverty-stricken minorities. Indians of Canada gave higher priority to meeting with native peoples from other countries than in meeting with other ethnic associations in the city. They intend to approach other ethnic groups in Toronto at a later time. Their situation is quite different from that of minority immigrants to Canada and meeting with peoples whose experiences more closely match their own is likely more fruitful at the early stages of mobilizing.
The Jewish Community
The situation of the Jewish community differs from that of other ethnic groups. Having come to Canada from many different parts of the world, largely to escape persecution, Jews are not dependent on language for cohesiveness. There being so many different types of Jews, from atheist to Zionist to religious, from the outside, it may be an enigma why they hold together as a community. A long history of adaptability and self-reliance has allowed them to take an active part in Canadian society with relatively minimal assimilation.
Largely looking for solutions to its problems, the Jewish community has had little reason to relate to other ethnic groups in the city. Immigration and education problems have been dealt with effectively long ago and within the community, so recent collaborations among other groups to contend with such issues are of minor relevance to Jews. Understanding this, the Intercultural Council did not approach the Jewish community.
Jewish presence at meetings of some of the other organizations has been more in a morally supportive rather than actively participatory role. It is difficult for Jews to reach out to other groups, or to put much faith in cooperative efforts, due to World War II experiences and recent developments in the Middle East. Their fear has been interpreted as snobbishness by some smaller groups which, as a result, hesitate to approach Jews for assistance for fear of rejection.
Israel’s stand against Arab states, in addition to Jewish energy and effectiveness in Toronto, has engendered respect from gentiles and a desire on the part of some to work with Jews. The Poles and the Ukrainians have often approached the CJC with appeals to coordinate efforts in protesting against the Soviet Union. Two possible factors prevent a positive response to such advances: (1) too many Jews in Toronto vividly remember the horrors of Europe and would react violently to any motions toward working with their former persecutors; and (2) there is the feeling of being “used” – for example, Midanik related how one invitation by the Ukrainians to join a memorial to Babi Yar last year was seen by Jewish leaders as being less a commemoration of Babi Yar and more a protest against Russia. Relations with the Soviet Union are too fragile for Jews to be willing to risk damaging them while Jews in Russia still need help getting out.
The Jews find themselves pulled in opposite directions: they are afraid to trust relationship with other ethnic groups (the recent Israeli war once again emphasized that Jews can rely only on themselves), yet they are also apprehensive about appearing aloof and unconcerned with the affairs of their fellow Torontonians. Once they are labeled “snob”, they set themselves up for resentment and hatred on the part of others. Conversely, if they join multi-ethnic projects too eagerly they again open themselves to disappointment and mistreatment.
The Canadian Mosaic
In contrast to the “melting pot” of the United States, Canadians like to regard their society as a “mosaic”, as “unity in diversity”. This is not the true situation, evident if one examines the economic, social and political hierarchies of the nation. Aware of this, many groups are fighting inequality of ethnic representation in public office.
With ethnic groups collaborating efficiently in agencies such as CIMS, and with parental anxiety over intermarriage declining to a large extent in many groups, perhaps there are grounds for the fears expressed by some regarding the future of ethnic identities. When fraternization among the young becomes more frequent than the odd evening cultural exchange, there is reason to be concerned about the perpetuation of one’s own community into the future.
Perhaps it is the fate of pluralist societies where persecution is lacking for ethnicity to be identified with displays of dance, food and art rather than a way of life. Yet, in Toronto, this may not occur for these organizations are being formed at the instigation of the ethnic groups themselves as opposed to governmental programmed joined by individuals. The multicultural programme of the government was not initiated by the bicultural government but by the population, and many would like to see a multicultural portfolio in the cabinet.
Perhaps the recently developing communications among Toronto’s ethnic groups will lead to greater rather than lesser ethnic identification – more people will become aware that they can reaffirm ties to their past within a contemporary atmosphere conducive to ethnic pride.
 I did not indicate in my original piece anything about who David Stanley and John Brady were, nor what they said or wrote. Having access now to the Internet, I was unable to find any mention of Brady, but found that Stanley set up the movement “Natural Order” with equally racist John Ross Taylor, who agreed with the Nazis that the Jews should be shipped off the Madegascar. The CBC reported on their hate speech in 1965. You can watch it here, beginning at just after 31 minutes.
 That is unfortunate for me now that I did not see fit to go into it at the time, because now my thoughts from that time are forever lost.