ARCHIVED – Exploring minority enclave areas in Montréal, Toronto, and Vancouver

Daniel Hiebert
University of British Columbia
March 2009

This research was funded by the Research and Evaluation Branch of Citizenship and Immigration Canada. This document expresses the views and opinions of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official policy or opinion of Citizenship and Immigration Canada or the Government of Canada.

Copies of the full report are available upon request to

Executive summary

The population of immigrants and members of Visible minority groups in Canada is concentrated in the three largest metropolitan areas of Montréal, Toronto, and Vancouver. Further, there are pronounced variations within these cities, and researchers and policy analysts have become increasingly interested in the tendency of some groups to form ethno-specific enclaves in certain neighbourhoods. (Note that in this study, “Mixed Minority Enclaves” are those in which visible minorities constitute 70 or more percent of the population without a dominant group; “Minority Group Enclaves”, or “Polarized enclaves”, are those in which visible minorities constitute 70 or more percent of the population, but with a single group that is at least twice the size of any other.) In large measure, this interest reflects the assumption that residential segregation might challenge social cohesion. It is widely believed that people are more likely to interact across ethno-cultural or religious lines, for example, if they live in proximity rather than in separate areas of the city.

Surprisingly, given the long history of urban-based immigrant settlement in Canada, we know little about the socio-cultural dynamics of minority enclave areas. Are enclaves “parallel societies”, where residents adopt counter-mainstream attitudes? Within enclaves, is there cross-cultural communication, or are they places of relative ethno-cultural isolation? Are they socially stable, that is, places that help people maintain their way of life and identity for long periods of time, even permanently? Or are they or just weigh stations on a road to integration, with residents living in them briefly before dispersing to more diverse neighbourhoods? These are important questions but, given our research base, they are premature.

This study is designed to be a kind of preliminary step, laying down a set of basic points that are primarily factual in nature. The analysis is confined to the three metropolitan centres with the largest immigrant and visible minority populations, Montréal, Toronto, and Vancouver (MTV). A relatively new approach has been adopted, based on neighbourhood typology that was introduced by Poulson, Johnston and Forrest (2001) and adapted for Canada by Walks and Bourne (2006). Each Census Tract in these three urban regions is assigned one of five neighbourhood types, which range from areas that are mainly White to ethno-specific visible minority enclaves. There are two particularly useful elements of the neighbourhood typology system. First, it enables a quick identification of enclave areas using a common-sense definition. Secondly, a number of other researchers inspired by this method have documented the neighbourhood structure of large cities across several relevant countries, and Canadian statistics can be set in an international comparative framework. In general, the degree of ethno-cultural mixing in the residential spaces of Canadian cities is less than that found in Australia or New Zealand, approximately equivalent to that found in the UK, and more than that found in the United States.

The key questions animating this project, and summarized answers
to them, are:

How has the residential geography of visible minority groups changed between 1996 and 2006? With a relatively high rate of immigration, and a growing second-generation visible minority population, are enclaves becoming more prevalent in MTV?

The residential geography of Montréal has not changed very much over this period, but there has been a great deal of change in Toronto and Vancouver, so much so that we are beginning to see what one might call a new residential order in these metropolitan areas. One of the core elements of this new order is the growth of Mixed Minority and, especially, Minority Group Enclaves. At present, well over one-quarter of the Visible minority population of both Toronto and Vancouver lives in these settings. But the other element is dispersion, with all parts of the city (including enclaves) becoming highly diverse. Currently there are no adequate urban models to help explain the apparently contradictory simultaneous processes of concentration and dispersion.

What is the socio-economic profile of visible minority enclaves? Who lives in them? Who does not? Are there systematic differences between these two sub-populations?

Across the three metropolitan areas, recent immigrants (individuals who landed in Canada between 1996 and 2006) are more likely to live in enclaves, as well as individuals who are dedicated to the preservation of their culture (i.e., speak a non-official language in their home). In general, enclaves are associated with a higher level of unemployment than the rest of the city, and their residents are slightly more dependent on government transfers as a source of income; the incidence of low income is also higher in enclaves. However, there are important nuances to this rather negative list of characteristics. Actually, the level of education (university completion) is approximately the same in enclaves as in other neighbourhoods, as is the proportion of residents able to purchase a home. In other words, there are some systematic differences between residents of enclaves and other areas of the city, but these are not consistent and in many cases the differences are quite small.

Are enclaves ethno-culturally homogeneous or heterogeneous? That is, are they characterized by a number of immigrant / visible minority groups, or are they dominated by single groups?

The methodology used in this study classifies areas as Mixed Minority enclaves when at least 70 percent of the population belongs to a visible minority group and as Minority Group Enclaves when this is true, plus there is a high level of dominance by a single ethno-cultural group. Therefore we might expect relatively little diversity in these areas, especially the latter neighbourhood type. Nevertheless, enclaves are characterized by profound ethno-cultural diversity, particularly in Toronto. If anything, this study demonstrates that enclaves are not mono-cultural landscapes, barring a few exceptions (e.g., see Leloup, 2008).

How do enclaves intersect with religious diversity? As in the previous point, are they typically characterized by populations with a variety of religious affiliations, or monolithic in this respect?

Fewer than half of the residents of enclaves identify with Judeo-Christian religions, which means they are distinct relative to Canadian society as a whole. Nevertheless, enclaves are highly diverse in terms of the religious affiliation of their residents.

What is the relationship between enclaves and poverty? Are enclaves places of socio-economic marginalization and deprivation?

In Montréal, enclaves are part of a much larger landscape of marginalization, one that affects the dominant White population as well as visible minority groups. All of the Census Tracts defined as enclaves in Montréal are places of extreme poverty. On the positive side, relatively few members of visible minority groups live in enclaves in Montréal, and most reside in areas dominated by Whites. But on the negative side, those who do live in these neighbourhoods face significant socio-economic challenges. As noted earlier, given the view that equates enclaves with disadvantage, it is ironic to see that this is only the case in Montréal, the metropolitan area that has the lowest population of Visible Minorities and fewest living in enclaves. The socio-economic profile of enclaves in Toronto and Vancouver is far more complex. There are certainly areas in both cities that are associated with both visible minority populations and extreme poverty. At the same time, in both cities, a far larger number of poor members of visible minority groups live outside enclaves than inside them. In fact, the propensity for visible minority residents of enclaves to be poor in Vancouver is only marginally higher than for the visible minority population in the metropolitan area as a whole.

What is the profile of areas where we find overlapping social isolation (very high ethno-cultural concentration) and socio-economic marginalization (very high poverty rates)? Who inhabits them?

They tend to be in mid-town locations and not clustered. Visible minority residents of these areas tend to be first-generation immigrants and to have arrived relatively recently in Canada. They tend to speak a non-official language in their home. In Montréal, South Asian-Canadians are most likely to be found in these areas; this is the case for Black-Canadians in Toronto, and Chinese-Canadians in Vancouver. These place-specific patterns demonstrate that there is not a single visible minority group that faces the greatest degree of socio-economic exclusion across all parts of Canada.

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