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Syrian Canadians

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Title: Syrian Canadians  
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Subject: Syrian diaspora, Asian Canadian, Palestinian Canadian, Algerian Canadian, Tatars in Canada
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Syrian Canadians

Syrian Canadians

Total population
40,840 (by ancestry, 2011 Census) [1]
Regions with significant populations
Montreal, Greater Toronto Area
Canadian English, Canadian French, Arabic (Syrian Arabic), Armenian, Kurdish.
Islam and Christianity

Syrian Canadians refers to Canadians who can trace their ancestry back to Syria. According to the 2011 Census there were 40,840 Canadians who claimed Syrian ancestry, having an increase compared to those in the 2006 Census.[2]


The immigration of Syrians to Canada began towards the end of the 19th century, with the first known Syrian immigrant, Ibrahim Abu Nadir, arriving in 1882. This immigration can be divided into two distinct phases, the first one ranging from 1885 to about 1908, when the Order-in-Council P.C. 926 was passed, which restricted the immigration of Asians, including Syrians, and imposed a $200 landing fee upon them. This, along with the First World War and later the Depression, significantly decreased the volume of Syrian immigration.[3][4]

Over ninety percent of the early newcomers were Christian. Classifying these immigrants was a cause of confusion for the Canadian authorities, as Syria at the time was part of the Ottoman Empire, and also because Lebanon was still part of Syria. Early on, all arrivals from the region were labeled as Turks, until in 1911 immigrants from the Ottoman province of Syria were classified as Syrians, and later in 1955, under separate categories for Lebanese and Syrian. These early immigrants were often illiterate or semi-literate, even in Arabic. However, the immigrants who arrived in the latter part of the twentieth century were generally well educated.[3]

Most of the immigrants arriving in the 19th century came not directly from Syria, but instead from the United States, and settled in Montreal, where the population had reached 200-300 by the mid 90's. In later years, some moved to Ontario and other cities in Quebec, where more newcomers were arriving.[3] At the beginning of the 20th century, the number of Syrians in Canada had reached 2,000, concentrated mainly in Montreal, Trois-Rivières, Ottawa, and Toronto. Between 1900 and 1912, there was an estimated 5,389 Syrian immigrants to Canada.[5]

The second phase of Syrian immigration began in 1945, and continues today. After a period of stagnancy in terms of immigration, the number of Syrian immigrants began to increase again following the Second World War. During this period, the newcomers were more or less evenly divided between Muslims and Christians. In contrast to immigrants from earlier times, these newcomers were educated, often able to speak French and English as well as Arabic, and had a pan-Arab ideology. Most have arrived in the last few decades: between 1981 and 1993, 8,348 Syrians arrived in Canada. This represents over %75 of the 11,005 persons recorded in the 1991 census as born in Syria.[4]

According to the 1991 census, just over 13,000 persons in Canada claim they are wholly or partially of Syrian ethnic origin. Over half (52 percent) reside in Quebec, with the next largest province being Ontario (28 percent). The 2001 census however, reports that 22,065 people have Syrian roots, with 10,445 (47 percent) residing in Quebec, and 7,730 (35 percent) in Ontario.[6]

In 1999, the National Historic Site of Canada, as the earliest-known, purpose-built church of the Syrian Orthodox community in Canada and an important symbol of the history and traditions of this community in Canada.[7][8]


The leading factor for the immigration of Syrians has been to find better jobs. The early immigrants found themselves engaging in basic commerce, with the term 'peddler' becoming almost synonymous with 'Syrian'.[9] Most of these peddlers were successful, and, with time, and after raising enough capital, some became importers and wholesalers, recruiting newcomers and supplying them with merchandise. Others opened small businesses in urban centres all over the country.[3] Later, these merchants would gravitate towards larger urban locations, where the economy was flourishing. Smaller numbers of Syrians worked as labourers in factories, miners, or as lumber workers. Also, some became pioneers in the southern prairie regions of western Canada, and worked in farming.[3] These workers settled in communities such as Swift Current, Saskatchewan, and Lac La Biche, Alberta. Few reached the Northwest Territories, the best known being Peter Baker, author of the book An Arctic Arab, and later elected as a member of the Legislative assembly of the Northwest Territories. By the 1930s, many towns in the Maritimes, Quebec, Ontario, and western Canada had one or more stores run by Syrian immigrants.[4]

Women also worked occasionally, in addition to household chores, and usually helped run the family store if they had one, and in the cities they would sell goods from door to door.[4]

Notable Syrian Canadians

  • Omar Alghabra a Canadian Member of Parliament from Mississauga—Erindale
  • René Angélil a Canadian singer and manager
  • Maher Arar, an engineer detained in the United States, then deported to Syria, where he was imprisoned and allegedly tortured. He later received an apology and compensation from the Canadian government.
  • Sam Hamad, a Member of the Quebec National Assembly (MNA) for the riding of Louis-Hebert and Quebec Minister of Employment and Social Solidarity
  • Jack Kachkar, Syrian Canadian businessman of Armenian descent
  • Wiz Kilo, Canadian hip hop and R&B artist
  • Ruba Nadda, a Canadian film director of mixed Syrian-Palestinian origin
  • Rami Sebei, a Canadian professional wrestler best known for his work under the ring name El Generico, currently signed to WWE under the ring name Sami Zayn.
  • Bashar Shbib, film director
  • Priya Thomas, a Canadian artist and musician

See also


  1. ^  
  2. ^  
  3. ^ a b c d e "The Syrians in Canada". Retrieved 2007-05-03. 
  4. ^ a b c d "Multicultural Canada". Archived from the original on 2007-09-28. Retrieved 2007-05-14. 
  5. ^ Abu-Laban, Baha (1985). An Olive Branch on the Family Tree: the Arabs in Canada.  
  6. ^ "Ethnocultural Portrait of Canada, 2001 census". Retrieved 2007-05-15. 
  7. ^ "St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church". Directory of Designations of National Historic Significance of Canada. Parks Canada. Retrieved August 21, 2011. 
  8. ^ St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church. Canadian Register of Historic Places. Retrieved August 21, 2011.
  9. ^ "The Syrian Peddlers". Retrieved 2007-05-06. 

External links

  • The Syrian Embassy in Ottawa
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