Armenians began immigrating to Canada from the Ottoman Empire in the 1880s as, initially, a trickle of students and entrepreneurs. About two thousand Armenians settled in Canada before 1914 in southern Ontario; around thirteen hundred survivors of the Genocide arrived as refugees during the 1920s and settled mainly in the Georgetown area. Thousands of Armenians emigrated from the Middle East in the 1950s, and thousands more found refuge from the Soviet Union in the 1980s. 10 years ago a new type of immigrant was attracted to the Canadian Arctic. The cold capital of the Northwest Territories, Yellowknife, promised ready employment for the over fifty Armenian master diamond cutters; though, unfortunately, none of those tradesmen are currently employed in that sector.
Before 1914, Armenians who had migrated to Canada in search of employment and fresh opportunities clustered within the St. Catherine’s, Hamilton and Brantford areas, turning single family dwellings into collective boarding houses. Changes in employment meant a shift in the population, dispersing the large settlement of Hamilton and making St. Catherine’s the largest Armenian populated city by the early 1920s, with over five hundred residents. Vernon’s City Directory for St Catherine’s in 1930 documents that, of the fifty-eight men mentioned in the Armenian quarter, forty-two owned homes, four owned farms, and only twelve, mainly newcomers, rented accommodations. These individuals were known as hardworking exemplary Canadian citizens.
According to Canadian government records, “most Armenians in Toronto settled in three areas. The business elite – a small group of well-off, well-educated, and cosmopolitan families, including the Babayans, Courians, and Utujians, and, after the war, the Papazians – originally from Constantinople and its environs, resided in elegant homes in Toronto’s north end. Another group, mainly farm workers from Anatolia, worked in west-end factories and occupied humble homes in the Junction area of west Toronto. The third group – mainly refugees, who formed a budding entrepreneurial class – resided in downtown central and eastern Toronto.” Montreal followed a similar pattern of Armenian settlement. Before 1914, there were few in the area, working in the Locomotive and Steel Company of Canada. However, as refugees from the genocide made it over to the city, Park Avenue became the center of Armenian development.
In the 1981 Canadian census, “the largest single group among those giving Armenian as their ethnic origin was born in Canada (19.7 percent); of the remainder, 19.3 percent were born in Turkey (including past and recent immigration), 16.8 percent in Lebanon, and 15.3 percent in Egypt.” Armenians now consisted of a large immigrant community that could offer services, networks and employment to newcomers. The 1991 Canadian census showed a tilt in favour of Quebec for Armenian settlement, increasing the numbers especially in the city of Montreal. Post World War II saw Calgary, Cambridge, Edmonton, Hamilton, Montreal, Ottawa, St Catherine’s, Toronto, Windsor, and Vancouver settled by Armenian immigrants.
Canada has been a safe haven, an avenue for opportunity, and a second homeland for many. From “Canada’s Noble Project” that saved the lives of 110 Armenian orphans in 1923, presented to the public in The Toronto Globe with emotionally charged headlines such as “Shall We Let Them Die?” and such others, to recognition of the genocide, the country has a history of supporting this particular minority, winning the hearts of its community.