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Migration and Settlement

From: The Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples/Koreans/Young-Sik Yoo

Koreans first began to emigrate abroad in 1863, when thirteen farming households settled in the Posyeta region of what was then imperial Russia. Around the same time, Koreans also penetrated Kando in Manchuria. The emigrants of this period were looking for better farm land rather than improved political conditions. After 1905, however, the motivation changed from farming to patriotism in response to Japanese interference in Korea’s internal affairs. Because of Japanese pressure, emigration to Hawaii, which had started in 1903, was ended two years later. When Japan annexed Korea in 1910, a large number of its citizens became refugees and were forced to flee to Russia or Manchuria. Under Japanese rule, Korean farmers were subsequently compelled to work as labourers in Japan, and during World War II many more individuals were conscripted for that country’s mines and war industries. It was also during the Japanese era that the first Koreans came to Canada as students (mid-1910s) supported by Christian missionary scholarships. Most returned home after completing their studies.

Massive migration took place during the Korean War, when two million people migrated from North to South Korea. Since then, emigration to such countries as Canada and the United States has been possible for South Koreans since the war, but the north maintains no official diplomatic relationships with these countries so that movement from that region is still not possible. In the 1950s Koreans were looking for political stability at home, and those who left sought primarily to escape the terror-filled atmosphere that characterized the peninsula during the Cold War. The circumstances triggering migration underwent a significant change in the 1960s, when the government of South Korea officially encouraged an exodus to Canada, the United States, Brazil, and other countries. Several hundred young men and women went to West Germany as miners and nurses in 1962. The following year the first group of ninety-one immigrants arrived in São Paulo, Brazil, and the movement to the United States began in 1965. During this decade, Koreans also began to settle in Canada, largely because information about the country had been disseminated by Canadian missionaries working in Korea. In fact, missionaries had begun helping individuals to come to this country as students even before the 1960s.

Koreans have always emigrated in the hope of achieving a better life. Individuals intending to establish permanent residence in Canada had arrived before the 1960s, and two such persons were particularly prominent in the history of Korean immigration to this country. The first was Tae-ygŏn Hwang, a medical doctor who arrived in Canada in 1948 and worked first as an intern at Lamont Hospital in Alberta. After his internship, he settled in Blind River, Ontario, where he practised medicine from 1958 to 1978. Early in the 1960s, he bought an eighty-hectare piece of land near Sault Ste Marie and established a poultry ranch called the Parkinson Farm Co-op. Eventually, Hwang’s farm was able to sponsor individual Korean immigrants, such as Yun-gŏ Ro, who arrived in 1962.

The second prominent figure was Taek-bo Chŏn, the president of Seoul’s Chŏnusa Company, who also encouraged Koreans to emigrate to Canada. In 1964 he met with C.M. Isbister, then the deputy minister of Citizenship and Immigration, and Isbister sent him a letter endorsing Korean immigration to Canada, thus formally opening the country to regular settlers. The fact that it had begun so late was a result of policy introduced by the Liberal government of Prime Minister Mackenzie King in 1947 that was used to exclude Asian immigrants until the early 1960s. Under the administration of Lester Pearson in 1966, Canada’s immigration policy was changed from one that emphasized racial criteria to one that focused on the country’s economic needs. A result was that more non-Europeans were able to settle in Canada.

Until investment immigrants were allowed to enter in the 1980s, Koreans either came independently or were assisted by relatives who had already established themselves in this country. These newcomers sought to adapt rapidly to the new society. The fact that Koreans for the most part have always been voluntary emigrants helps to explain why they have been so willing to assimilate to the culture of the host country. Despite such good intentions, however, many Koreans have had difficulties in adapting because of their lack of knowledge of either of the official languages.

According to Statistics Canada, 93 Koreans immigrated to this country in 1965, 138 and 620 in the following two years, and 1,119 and 6,347 in 1971 and 1972 respectively. Three years later some 12,686 Koreans (or 4,075 households) were living in Canada; 8,560 had settled in Ontario, 620 in Quebec, 88 in New Brunswick, 91 in Nova Scotia, 41 in Newfoundland, 1,670 in British Columbia, 80 in Saskatchewan, 1,190 in Alberta, and 346 in Manitoba. In addition to those who came directly from Korea, immigrants also arrived from other countries such as West Germany, from South America starting in the 1960s, and from Vietnam after the war in that country. Because such newcomers were the result of a second-stage migration, it has been difficult to gather verifiable data on them.

The 1991 census reported that 45,890 Koreans (single and multiple responses combined) lived in Canada, as opposed to the 29,705 individuals counted five years earlier, indicating that the population had grown by 54 percent in that period. In the case of Ontario, the census recorded 18,425 residents with some Korean ancestry in 1986 and 27,550 five years later, an increase of approximately 50 percent. Admittedly, these counts are only a rough estimate. The difference between the census figures and the actual number of Canadians of Korean origin is significant because of several factors. These include a lack of participation in the census by new immigrants, a mistrust of government bureaucracy in general, and the large number of transients forced to wander from place to place in search of work. A more realistic estimate of the number of Koreans in Canada in the mid-1990s would be 70,000, a figure calculated from a variety of community sources. Over half the population (or 40,000 individuals) reside in Ontario, followed by 20,000 in British Columbia; the remainder are scattered throughout the other provinces. More than half those in Ontario are to be found in metropolitan Toronto. The principal reasons are the city’s multilingual and multicultural society and the possibility of finding a job in the large Korean community.

A survey of the group in Toronto in 1990 showed that 27 percent of the respondents had lived in Canada for more than sixteen years and 27 percent for between thirteen and fifteen years. Most (75 percent) were from Seoul, with only 11 percent having come from small towns or the countryside. Some 81 percent had relatives in Canada and 58 percent had received help from their kin, an indication that most Korean immigrants to Canada still fell within the family-related category and that traditional ties have been maintained in the new homeland. A large number (42 percent) of the survey’s respondents had come to Canada between the ages of twenty-six and thirty-five, with sixteen- to twenty-six-year-olds being the next largest group (26 percent).

In Quebec regular immigration started only in the early 1970s. The province’s Korean population by the mid-1990s numbered about four thousand individuals, and 40 percent of these had arrived since 1986. These data reflect the fact that many Korean entrepreneurs were lured to Quebec after the provincial government began encouraging the immigration of investors in that year. More than half the Koreans in the province were economic immigrants, and only 20 percent were family-class arrivals. Koreans appear to have had greater difficulty achieving socio-cultural integration in Quebec than in English-speaking Canada. Some 80 percent of those surveyed in 1990 acknowledged that they had trouble conducting their businesses because of their lack of facility in the French language, and 88 percent of the province’s Korean high school students favoured English-language institutions of higher education as compared with only 12 percent for French-language institutions. The political instability caused by the Parti Québécois’s campaign for independence, coupled with language difficulties, caused a sizable number of Korean immigrants to leave the province in the early 1990s and migrate elsewhere, primarily to Vancouver or Toronto.