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 Alsakli.

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 in general.

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.