What does Multiculturalism in Canada Look Like?

There are probably two kinds of students who will go to study in Canada; those who can’t wait to leave home so they can adopt a new identity and assimilate into the Canadian milieu and then there are those who want to uphold their own identity, they want to remain who they are.  They are going there to study, not change their values, norms and customs.

Canada is a country that upholds multiculturalism as an official policy.  In 1971, the implementation of the Canadian Multiculturalism Act affirmed the value and dignity of all Canadian citizens and all people residing within the boundaries of Canada.  Regardless of one’s ethnic origins, language or religion you are free to maintain your own identities, take pride in your heritage and still have a sense of belonging to Canada.  Thus you will often hear people refer to themselves as a Scottish Canadian, a Pakistani Canadian, a French Canadian, etc.  This policy was not only to be applied to the social structure and milieu of Canada, but it was also to be extended to the workplace and places of study in Canada.

As a Canadian citizen who was born before 1971, I remember that historical event; not so much by the legalisation of the act, but by people’s reactions.  Prior to 1971, in Canada you very seldom saw an Indian or Pakistani lady wearing a shalvar or saree to work or to the university; rather she would be wearing Western attire.  Men in turbans at work, or turbaned boys studying at school or university were thought odd.  That soon changed as more and more men and women from different backgrounds started to wear their traditional attire.  Nowadays, it is common place to see an array of traditional attires and hear different languages in the workplace or the study halls of some school, university or college.  Students can even study as a second language their own mother tongue in grade school.  Punjabi, Spanish, Hindi, Ukrainian, German, Chinese and French are all a possibility for studying, depending on the dominant ethnic population of that district.

Religious freedom is encouraged and you can take time away from your studying in Canada to attend the religious place of your choice.  Every major city has at least one if not more mosques, mundars, gurdwaras and temples.  Most campuses where you will be studying will have an MSA (Muslim Student Association) along with other religious groups.  Halal shops abound in all major cities where you will most likely be studying in Canada.

This Canadian Mosaic has led to a specific holiday and heritage celebrations.  Some provinces even observe it as a day off work.  If you are studying in Alberta, you will want to take part in our Heritage Days celebration that occurs the first long weekend in August.  It is a 3-day event and about 50-60 nations set up a pavilion to display their culture, crafts, dance and customs and most importantly their food.  That is a celebration where you will want to set aside your work or your studying time, set aside at least one day to take part in the celebrations.  You might even want to volunteer yourself and work at the Pakistani pavilion.

So if you, or your parents, are worried about sending you off to Canada to study where you might be exposed to unfamiliar or undesirable ways of life, rest assured that you do not need to change if you don’t want to.  In Canada, when you come to study, you will be valued and respected just as you are.  We welcome diversity.

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