Urban Ethnic Diversity

Saskatchewan’s immigration record provides a key to understanding the ethnic diversity of its urban areas. In the late 19th century most migrants originated from Central Canada, the United States and the British Isles. These were joined by groups from Central and Eastern Europe in the boom years between the mid-1890s and World War I. However, until after World War II most of the population resided in rural areas. Although some distinctive ethnic neighbourhoods emerged in urban areas, such as Germantown in Regina, ethnic diversity was more closely associated with the geography of ethnic bloc settlements in rural Saskatchewan. This situation has changed in the last fifty years. Liberalization of Canada’s Immigration Act in the 1960s has resulted in greater immigration from non-traditional sources such as East and South Asia. Most such immigrants have settled in urban areas, and particularly in Regina and Saskatoon. In addition, substantial rural-urban migration has led to increase in the number and mixing of ethnic groups in urban areas. Again, Regina and Saskatoon have been the major beneficiaries of this process. Consequently, although both cities lack the extremely diverse ethnic structures of Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, their populations are more cosmopolitan than those of other cities in Saskatchewan. In 2001, the census identified 93 ethnic groups in Canada with populations exceeding 15,000. All but three of these groups were identified in Regina and Saskatoon; many smaller ethnic groups were recorded in Saskatchewan’s other cities.

Despite the above, most post-1960s immigration has bypassed Saskatchewan. Consequently, its cities have relatively few immigrants compared with Canada as a whole, and in most cases recent immigrants (1991–2001) account for less than 1% of their populations. Low levels of immigration largely explain the small size of visible minority populations. Only in Regina and Saskatoon do visible minorities exceed 5% of the population. Because of this, ethnic diversity is more associated with the presence of large Aboriginal-identity and multiple-ethnic populations. Among provinces and territories Saskatchewan has the fifth largest Aboriginal-identity population, and approximately half resides in urban areas. This is a lower rate of urbanization than in the population as a whole (64%), but one that is slowly increasing. The size and concentration of the Aboriginal population varies considerably between cities. Largest totals are found in Saskatoon and Regina, where Aboriginal peoples account for 9.8% and 8.7% of the respective populations. Proportionately larger Aboriginal populations are found in Prince Albert, North Battleford, Lloydminster, and Yorkton. These concentrations reflect proximity to and migration from First Nations reserves in central and northern Saskatchewan. In contrast, the small sizes of Aboriginal populations in cities in southern Saskatchewan reflect the comparative absence of nearby reserves.

In 2001, half of Saskatchewan’s population reported multiple-ethnic origins; this proportion exceeded levels in all other provinces and territories. Rates in excess of 50% were recorded in most cities, those of Saskatoon (53.7%) and Regina (53.5%) being virtually identical. High rates of multiple ethnicity reflect inter-ethnic marriage and other forms of social union among descendents of former immigrant populations. The vast majority of ethnic mixing involves European ethnic origin groups. In Regina and Saskatoon the most common multiple-ethnic associations involve British, German, French, and Ukrainian ethnic groups. Other prominent associations involve Aboriginal groups. The relative absence of multiple ethnic origins involving visible minority groups reflects the dominance of non-immigrants and long-established immigrants in the populations of both cities, and the tendency of new immigrants to report single rather than multiple ethnic origins. Over time, immigration and rural-urban migration have interacted with intra-urban mobility to produce distinctive ethnic geographies in Saskatchewan’s cities. These are best observed in Regina and Saskatoon. Whereas immigrant “reception areas” are not readily identified in either city, data for 2001 show limited localization of recent immigrants, seldom exceeding 5–10%. In both cities a strong association exists between the distribution of recent immigrants and areas with low to middle incomes and high densities of rental housing.

Visible minorities are found in all neighbourhoods in both cities. Their distributions correspond closely to those of recent immigrants, but show evidence of greater concentration. Again, concentration is more pronounced in Saskatoon, where visible minorities form 28% of Greystone Heights and 15% of Riversdale. In Regina, greatest concentrations are found in Gladmer Park (14%), Core (12%) and Downtown (11%). These distributions reflect relative ease of entry into neighbourhood housing markets, plus access to services in downtown areas and along high-access corridors such as 8th Street in Saskatoon. The Aboriginal identity populations in both cities exhibit pronounced concentration. In Saskatoon, most (74.1%) of the Aboriginal population resides west of the South Saskatchewan River, with concentrations exceeding 30% in the inner-city neighbourhoods of Riversdale and Pleasant Hill. To the east of the river, most neighbourhoods have Aboriginal concentrations of less than 7.5%. A similar contrast is observed in Regina. Almost two-thirds (64.4%) of the Aboriginal population reside north of the CPR mainline. Concentrations exceeding 30% are found in Washington Park, to the northwest of the city centre, and in Core, immediately to the east. Most suburban neighbourhoods, and all those in the city’s southern suburbs, have Aboriginal concentrations of less than 5%. In both cities the concentration of Aboriginal peoples is closely associated with the distribution of low-income households and with areas of significant social and economic disadvantage.

Generally, highest multiple-ethnic concentrations are found in suburban neighbourhoods such as Westhill Park in Regina and Silverwood Heights in Saskatoon. Concentrations also tend to be higher south of the CPR mainline in Regina and east of the South Saskatchewan River in Saskatoon. The high concentrations in suburban neighbourhoods reflect upward social mobility and greater integration of Canadian-born and long-established immigrant communities. Inner-city neighbourhoods in both cities display relatively low multiple-ethnic concentrations.

Bernard D. Thraves