History of Recent
Arab Immigration to Canada
First Wave of Immigrants
The first Arab immigrant to Canada was Abraham Bounadere (Ibrahim Abu
Nadir) from Zahley in Lebanon. He arrived in Montreal in 1882. By 1890
there were about fifty immigrants in Quebec.
Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Palestine were ruled at that time by
the Ottoman Empire until the end of World War I. This is why during that
period Arab immigrants from these countries were called either Turks
or Syrians by Canadian authorities.
In the period from 1911 to 1961, Arabs were classified as Asians which
restricted the number of new immigrants until the classification was
changed in 1962 due to the efforts of Elias Ibrahim Karam and Elias
Between 1882 and 1961 a total of 215,331 Arabs immigrated to Canada.
Reasons for Immigration
Arabs immigration is no different from that of other groups. Arabs immigrated
to escape war, famine, religious persecution, political persecution,
family disagreements or the love of adventure. To reach their goal,
immigrants faced many trials and tribulations.
Oppression under Ottoman rule, poverty, and the war between the Lebanese
Maronites and the Lebanese Druze were the motivating factors for the
early Lebanese immigration. Montreal and Quebec was the destination of
first arrivals, but by time, in all the major cities, one could find
Arab speaking people.
Upon arrival, new Arab immigrants were processed by Canadian immigration
offices, and sometimes were given Canadian names in place of there difficult
to pronounce Arab names, i.e. Joseph Edwards was Abdul Karim El Kadrie.
The new immigrants were mostly men. The majority had little or no education
or skills. They understood trade based on their experience in the market
place back home. Although some worked on farms, most sold goods door
to door. Most did not speak English but communicated with their hands
and fingers. They were determined and within a short time learned enough
English to communicate. They did however mix their English with Arabic
and this new language was a source of the material used by Lebanese American
comedian Danny Thomas in his show “Make Room for Daddy” which
featured uncle Tannous.
The early immigrants succeeded because of hard work, good manners, generosity,
courage and honesty. They developed a supporting network among themselves.
Eventually some established wholesale businesses. Many stopped peddling
and started grocery and dry goods stores. Eventually, those married before
coming to Canada sent for their wives and children. Those not married
returned to their previous homes to find a wife or they sponsored a fiancée.
They established churches, mosques and clubs. Many of their children
became business and professional people of today.
Second Wave of Immigrants
The 1966 White Book Reforms which removed discrimination based on race,
colour, religion or ethnicity was a benefit to Arab immigration. The
number of Arabic speaking Canadians that arrived in Canada each year
from 1962 to 1992 averaged 6,694.
This second wave of immigrants starting in 1962 was educated. The majority
had managerial, professional or technical skills with only a few being
in the lower level of white collar occupations. In 1991 one of four Arab
Canadians had a university degree compared to 10% of the Canadian population
More than 31% of Arab Canadians occupy senior and middle managerial
or professional positions requiring the highest skill level according
to the Standard Occupational Classification System.
The next skill level includes 45% of the Arab Canadians. In 1990, the
census reported the individual income of Arabs had deteriorated markedly
from 1986 to 1991. The total family income average being $36,000.00 per
year compared with the average Canadian family with over $50,000.00 per
year. Statistics show 39.9% of Arab families below the poverty line in
comparison with all Canadian families at 12.1%. This financial disadvantage
is due to 52.2% participation in the labour force.
This high rate of unemployment and compensation is due to past training
and certification not being recognized by the Canadian job market. Many
of the professionals are performing menial jobs, i.e. doctors driving
taxis, teachers working as janitors. Many people after acquiring Canadian
citizenship have returned to Lebanon to make a living until they can
obtain Canadian credentials. Another reason for the low income among
the Arab population is that a large number of the immigrants and refugees
have not completely adapted to the new social and economic environment.