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Migration, Arrival, and Settlement

From: The Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples/Parsis/Jamshed Mavalwala

The separation of a religious minority that had begun in Persia as long ago as the seventh century C.E. seems to be coming to an end in modern Canada. Zoroastrian immigrants from Iran and Parsi immigrants from India are forging a new community in Canada. The first immigrants from British India included Sikhs, Hindus, and some Parsis. Because of Canadian immigration laws at the time, only a very small number of immigrants from the Indian subcontinent entered Canada during the first half of the twentieth century. The few Parsis among them settled in British Columbia. In 1945, when changes in Canadian immigration policy made it easier for people of Asian origins to enter Canada, the migration of Parsis to Canada began, but there was no significant influx until the 1960s, when sponsored Parsi immigrants began to arrive.

The first pre-1947 and post-1960 groups of Zoroastrian immigrants to Canada were primarily Parsis with roots in India and Pakistan, although they may have come via Shanghai, Hong Kong, East and South Africa, or Britain. These Parsis tended to settle overwhelmingly in Ontario, and in Toronto in particular. The third wave of Zoroastrian immigrants came to Canada from Iran following the end of the shah’s regime in 1979. There are an estimated 3,000 Zoroastrians now living in Ontario, with about half of them from Iran. They form the largest group of Zoroastrians outside India and Iran. The Zoroastrian community in Quebec estimates its numbers at about 200–250, and the Vancouver community claims about 150. A few families are clustered in urban centres across the rest of Canada.

Parsis from the Indian subcontinent and Zoroastrians from Iran differ both in language and in culture. The Parsis speak Gujarati or other Indian languages, but they also speak English as a result of their exposure to the British educational system. The Zoroastrians from Iran, however, speak Farsi, and have had to learn English as a foreign language. Yet these Zoroastrians from various homelands, who emigrated at different times, are all members of a unified community in Canada. The core element that binds them together is not a common country of origin, or a common language, or even a common ethnic identity, but their unique religious tradition.