Economic Life

From: The Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples/Romanians/G. James Patterson

Among the early immigrants on the prairies, unskilled work and lack of education initially would have put many among the working poor, or the upper lower class. But upward social mobility occurred within a few years, spurred by the immigrants’ perceptions of themselves as achievers. At present, except for a very few unemployed immigrant youths, almost all Romanian Canadians are in the middle class.

Early male immigrants on the prairies became homesteaders or unskilled labourers. In what became Saskatchewan, about 80 percent of the newcomers homesteaded, usually with their families, while 15 percent helped to build the sewer system and streets for Regina and 5 percent set up small businesses. In Alberta 90 percent homesteaded in the Boian District and about 10 percent worked as labourers in Edmonton and Calgary. A few started businesses.

Men and women on farms used many skills learned in the homeland, although the farms in Canada were much bigger and the potential for mechanization was greater. Most of the early women settlers in urban areas were homemakers, and about half earned extra money in cottage industries such as dressmaking. Entry into the workplace gradually brought about increasing equality, even if the woman made less money and still had to perform traditional female chores at home. In Ontario and Quebec, post-war and more recent immigrants left a relatively egalitarian, socialist society and started here in the lower middle class; many moved up quickly within the middle class, especially if they were or became professionals. The public sector, business, skilled labour, and the professions have been standard routes to success.

Entry employment for post-1945 immigrants in Ontario and Quebec was varied, depending on education and skills. Most of the Forty-Eighters started out in labouring jobs; about 90 percent eventually became skilled labourers or clerks, and the rest later moved into such professions as architecture, medicine, and engineering. About half the Noi Veniţi are also skilled labourers: 15 percent have clerical positions, some as civil servants; 15 percent own small businesses; 20 percent are professionals in such fields as pharmacy, medicine, chemistry, and engineering; and a few are teachers or university professors. Perhaps 5 percent of the working-class members under age thirty are unemployed and have had difficulty adjusting to Canadian life. Today professionals make up about 20 percent of the Romanian-Canadian population and include teachers, professors, civil servants, a member of provincial parliament (MPP), nutritionists, nurses, dentists, doctors, lawyers, and authors.

While most Romanian women in the first settlements in the west were farm wives, today at least two-thirds of Romanian-Canadian women in the region work outside the home in positions ranging from factory worker to lawyer and university professor. Women arriving in central Canada after 1945 had extensive education, were used to being employed as clerks, technicians, and professionals, and expected to find similar work in their new country, which many did. Today at least 80 percent work outside the home, and half of them in the professions.

The early communities in western Canada had some Romanian-owned businesses – grocery stores, bars, insurance companies, candy stores, barbershops, coffee shops, restaurants, and shoeshine parlours – developed between 1905 and 1920 by about 5 percent of the immigrants. In Quebec and Ontario today, approximately 10 percent of Romanians own businesses.

Romanians have experienced virtually no ethnic barriers to economic opportunity. In the post-World War II era, most immigrants had a modest to good background in English and a thorough preparation in French, the second language of educated Romanians.