‘Parallel lives’ or ‘super-diversity’? An exploration of ethno-cultural enclaves in Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver, in 2011

Copies of the full report are available upon request to Research-Recherche@cic.gc.ca


Data from the 2011 National Household Survey, and the Immigrant Landing File, are brought together to explore the characteristics of enclave (and other) neighbourhoods in Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver. This study finds that the rate of growth of enclaves in Montreal has been modest compared with the cases of Toronto and Vancouver. There is a great deal of variation in the tendency for specific groups to live in enclave areas and, very generally, these parts of the city are most closely associated with individuals of South Asian and Chinese ethnicity, with relatively lower propensities for other groups to reside in enclaves. The relationship between immigrant admission class and enclaves is more muted, with a somewhat higher tendency to live in these areas among Family Class immigrants, and a lower one among refugees. In general, residents of enclaves are culturally distinct, with a much higher likelihood of using a non-official language in the home. In Montreal, residents of enclaves also tend to be struggling economically. The socio-economic characteristics of residents of enclaves in Toronto and Vancouver are more mixed, with relatively higher rates of unemployment than their counterparts in other areas, but similar levels of education and, surprisingly, higher rates of home ownership. In all three cities, enclaves are landscapes of complex ethno-cultural diversity. The data investigated for this study suggest that enclaves do not inhibit socio-economic integration and, to some degree, may actually foster it through the provision of employment opportunities in ‘ethnic economies’ and by facilitating the development of dense social networks that generate social capital for their residents.

Executive Summary

Two patterns of enclave development are introduced at the outset of the report: enclaves as relatively monolithic social spaces where minority groups live in isolation from mainstream culture and each other (‘parallel lives’), versus enclaves as ‘super-diverse’ spaces that contain highly variegated populations. One of the important themes of this study is to determine which of these patterns better describes the social geography of Canada’s three largest immigrant reception cities, Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver.

The study should be seen as the latest installment in a series of reports that are all part of a larger program of research, where I am attempting to understand what I call the new residential order of Canadian metropolitan areas. The first report documented and analyzed the development of enclave landscapes in Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver between 1996 (the first census that employed the concept of Visible Minority groups) and 2006. The second report compared the settlement patterns of selected White and Visible Minority groups (showing that Visible Minority groups are not more likely to settle in co-ethnic patterns than the minority White groups chosen for comparison), and contrasted the residential geographies of first-, second-, and third-generation Canadians. The third report was based on a forecasting exercise, which projected the trajectory of change in the social geographies of Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver between 1991 and 2006 into the near future, to 2031.

This report adds an important increment to our knowledge of the social geography of immigrant and Visible Minority groups in several ways:

  • Data from the 2011 National Household Survey (NHS) are used to see whether the scale and nature of enclave development seen up to 2006 has continued in more recent years;
  • Data from Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s Immigrant Landing File (ILF) have been merged with information in the NHS to provide, for the first time, an indication of the residential dynamics of different admission classes of immigrants;
  • Changes in the residential patterns of immigrants and members of Visible Minority groups between 2006 and 2011 are used to evaluate the utility of the 2031 projections provided in a previous report.

Another important feature of this report (in common with the three that have preceded it) is that residential landscapes, including enclaves, are examined using statistical data of the highest quality available. This enables us to evaluate many of the assumptions and stereotypes that are frequently circulated about these parts of Canadian cities.

The study is conducted using a neighbouhood typology framework that classifies each Census Tract (CT), in Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver into one of five categories based upon: the proportion of Visible Minorities in the population of the CT; and the presence or absence of a dominant Visible Minority group in the CT. In broad terms the five types are:

  • The first two types have White-majority populations (80 percent or more in the first case and 50-80 percent in the second);
  • Visible Minority residents constitute the majority of the population (i.e., there are ‘minority-majority’ areas) in the other three types, where areas with 50-70 percent Visible Minorities are classified as the third type;
  • Enclaves are defined as places where at least 70 percent of the population belongs to a Visible Minority group;
  • There are two types of enclaves, those that are highly mixed in ethno-cultural terms, and those that are associated with a dominant group.

The research for this project was motivated by the following specific questions:

  1. Are enclaves becoming more prominent features of these metropolitan areas (that is, did the trajectory of change between 1996 and 2006 continue for the next half-decade)?
  2. To what extent do immigrants and members of specific Visible Minority groups live in enclaves? How are these patterns related to immigrant admission classes, and religious groups?
  3. What are the socio-economic profiles of the different neighbourhood types?
  4. What is the degree of ethno-cultural diversity in enclaves compared with other parts of the city?
  5. Are there systematic differences between those members of Visible Minority groups that live in, vs. outside, enclaves?
  6. What is the relationship between enclaves and poverty?

There are important differences in the contexts of Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver. The scale of the three cities differs substantially. The ratio of immigrants and members of Visible Minority groups is similarly varied across the cities. They have also attracted somewhat different types of immigrants. And, finally, there are profound differences in the housing markets of the three cities. The degree of enclave development between 1996 and 2006 was modest in Montreal, but quite rapid in Toronto and Vancouver.

The new residential order is particularly apparent in Toronto and Vancouver, and is characterized by two simultaneous trajectories of change: the formation of more enclaves and, at the same time, a diffusion of greater ethno-cultural diversity in all parts of the city. At first blush these appear to be contradictory developments. How can we see more extensive landscapes of ethno-cultural dominance on the one hand, and ethno-cultural diversity on the other? This is possible because enclaves can—and very often do—contain both dominant groups and highly diverse populations.

Results of the new study

The 2011 data reveal a great deal of continuity in the patterns of change in Canadian cities. That is, patterns seen in 2011 are very much in keeping with the types of change that were evident between 1996 and 2006. This also means that the social geography of the three cities in 2011 conforms quite closely to the first five years of the projections that were made for the social landscapes of Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver in 2031.

Turning to the major questions itemized earlier, we see that:

  1. The pace of growth of enclave areas in Montreal between 2006 and 2011 continued to be slow relative to Toronto and Vancouver. This may indicate something of a cumulative effect; that is, once the scale of enclave development is relatively large, more individuals gravitate to these areas.
  2. There is a great deal of variability in the propensity for members of particular Visible Minority groups to reside in enclaves. Recent immigrants are disproportionately drawn to these areas, and individuals admitted to Canada through family sponsorship. Refugees, however, are not especially associated with enclave environments. The propensity for those entering Canada as Live-in Caregivers, living in Montreal, to locate in an enclave area is particularly high, but this pattern is completely absent in Toronto and Vancouver. When exploring the relationship between enclaves and religious affiliation, we find that individuals who identify with non-Christian religions are more prone to be located in enclaves (with one exception; the opposite is true of those who follow the tenets of Judaism). Generally, Muslims and Buddhists (religions that attract believers from many cultures) are much more dispersed across the city than Hindus and Sikhs (religions that are more ethno-culturally specific).
  3. The socio-economic characteristics of enclaves are fairly distinct from other parts of the city, although there are some important exceptions to this outcome. In Montreal, we see the clearest pattern, with individuals in better socio-economic circumstances generally not living in enclaves, and residents of enclaves characterized by: lower educational attainment; greater use of non-official languages in the home; higher unemployment; lower incomes; lower home ownership; more crowded housing; and a higher likelihood of experiencing poverty. It is well worth remembering, though, that the population living in enclaves in Montreal is low. In contrast, the population of enclave neighbourhoods in Toronto and Vancouver is far higher, but the degree of socio-economic marginalization in these areas is low. While enclaves in Toronto and Vancouver share the cultural distinctiveness, and some of the socio-economic features of their counterparts in Montreal, in Toronto and Vancouver, the level of educational attainment of enclave residents is quite high and home ownership rates are very high. Enclaves in these cities appear to be associated with middle class aspiration.
  4. The level of ethno-cultural diversity in enclaves is just as high as in other parts of the city, especially in Montreal and Toronto (and slightly less so in Vancouver). Enclaves are, generally speaking, ‘super-diverse’ residential settings, in common with other parts of the city, though the nature of diversity in enclaves is mainly associated with a variety of Visible Minority groups. Enclaves, by definition, have relatively few White residents.
  5. Enclaves are closely associated with poverty in Montreal, where virtually all enclave neighbourhoods are component parts of the very large landscape of poor households in that metropolitan area. In Montreal, poverty among immigrants and members of Visible Minority groups seems to be the driving factor in enclave development. The dynamics driving enclave development in Toronto and Vancouver are much more complex. There are a few enclaves in Toronto that match the characteristics described for Montreal (typically in large social housing complexes in the inner city or middle-range suburbs of Toronto), but for the most part, in both Toronto and Vancouver, enclaves appear to be associated with the attainment of home ownership. That is, enclaves form when members of minority groups are attracted to areas where housing can be purchased at the most affordable prices (though there are exceptions to this rule).
  6. When we compare the characteristics of Visible Minority individuals that are classified as experiencing low income, inside and outside enclaves, we find that—especially in Toronto and Vancouver—these sub-groups are not particularly different. More importantly, in all three metropolitan areas, there are more members of Visible Minority groups who are poor living outside enclaves than there are inside them. This suggests that enclaves do not play a determining role in the systemic poverty of certain members of Visible Minority groups in Canadian cities. That is enclaves are not the problem causing certain people to be poor. It is also interesting, and significant, to note that individuals living in enclaves that are dominated by particular groups are actually less likely to be experiencing poverty than residents of enclaves that are more ethno-culturally varied. It seems that large groups may offer socio-economic advantages to their members, perhaps in the formation of in-group economies or, more generally, in fostering social capital.

The larger implications of this study are:

  • The social landscapes of the largest Canadian cities are more consistent with the ‘super-diversity’ model of enclaves than one emphasizing ‘parallel lives’.
  • We appear to be witnessing a general reconfiguration of the social geography of these places, particularly Toronto and Vancouver, toward a new residential order that is comprised of more enclaves and also more micro-level diversity in residential neighbourhoods.
  • Enclaves do not appear to contribute to the challenge of socio-economic integration for newcomers or members of Visible Minority groups in Canadian cities. In fact it may be possible that they foster socio-economic integration.
  • At the same time we should resist over-generalizing the very complex social environments of enclaves. We can find examples of enclaves that are highly deprived socio-economic environments, though this is mostly not the case.

These results are, of course, the products of available data. Several issues could be more deeply understood if additional information would be made available. Three especially promising areas for further research would be:

One of the surprises of this study (and the earlier phases of the larger research program) has been that enclaves seem to be associated with socio-economic marginalization in Montreal—where enclaves are least developed—and less in Toronto and Vancouver—where they are much more prominent elements of the urban social fabric. This has led me to tentatively suggest that enclaves, particularly single-group dominated enclaves, may facilitate socio-economic integration. It would be valuable to test this conjecture by applying the same analytical lens to Ottawa-Gatineau, Calgary, and Edmonton, metropolitan areas, which (like Montreal) have not seen the same growth of enclave landscapes as Toronto and Vancouver.

It would be very useful to verify whether enclaves really are ‘places of middle class aspiration’, as I have suggested given the data examined for this study. This could be done by commissioning special tabulations of the General Social Survey for populations inside/outside enclaves, which could also add much greater depth to our understanding of attitudes and social identities in these different social landscapes.

The conjecture that enclaves might facilitate socio-economic integration could be tested using longitudinal data, which would, say, for a 10-year period, compare the socio-economic trajectories of individuals who: stayed in enclave areas; moved from other areas into enclaves; never lived in enclaves; and moved from enclaves to other parts of the city (contrasting the first and fourth of these sub-groups would be particularly instructive).

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