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Regional immigration and dispersal: lessons from small- and medium-sized urban centres in British Columbia.


Government officials and academics have voiced concern over the sustainability of immigrant concentration in Canada's three largest cities. Although research on the effects of such concentrations suggests both negative and positive outcomes, geographic dispersal has been suggested as an alternative to metropolitan concentration. This paper presents findings from research on immigrant settlement in Kelowna, a second-tier city, and Squamish, a small urban, resource-based community, both in British Columbia. I examine the factors that contribute to immigrant settlement and integration in these regions, and evaluate the urban policies and practices employed by municipal governments in each region to attract, retain, and integrate immigrants. Findings suggest that the municipal governments interviewed do not actively attract immigrants, but they are involved in funding services that assist in immigrant settlement. The successful attraction and retention of immigrants is linked to the pre-existing social and economic context, but it is not necessarily determined by the size of the community. Research findings suggest that in order to succeed, any regional immigration policy must involve all levels of government in a commitment to address credential recognition problems and adequately fund settlement and language service provision.

Les representants gouvernementaux et les universitaires ont formule leurs inquietudes quant aux consequences de la concentration d'immigrants dans les trois plus grandes villes canadiennes. Bien que l'etude des effets de la concentration d'immigrants suggere des resultats a la fois negatifs et positifs, la dispersion geographique a ete proposee comme solution alternative a la concentration metropolitaine. Cet article presente les conclusions detudes portant sur l'etablissement des immigrants a Kelowna, une agglomeration urbaine secondaire, et a Squamish, une petite communaute urbaine dont l'industrie est axee sur les ressources, toutes deux en Colombie Britannique. L'auteur examine les facteurs qui contribuent a l'etablissement et a l'integration des immigrants dans ces regions et evalue les politiques et pratiques urbaines employees par les autorites municipales dans chaque region pour attirer, retenir et integrer les immigrants. Les resultats suggerent que les autorites municipales interrogees n'oeuvrent pas activement afin d'attirer les immigrants, mais elles participent au financement des services d'aide a leur implantation. Reussir a attirer et a retenir les immigrants est lie au contexte economique et social pre-existant, mais n'est pas necessairement determine par la taille de la communaute. Les resultats des etudes suggerent que pour reussir, une politique d'immigration regionale doit impliquer tous les niveaux de gouvernement afin de repondre aux problemes de reconnaissance des titres de competences et de financer de facon adequate les services axes sur l'etablissement et les services linguistiques.



The majority of Canadian immigrants settle in one of the country's three largest urban centres. According to 2002 Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) figures, approximately 49 percent of immigrants settled in Toronto, 13 percent in Vancouver, and 14 percent in Montreal. While these urban regions are increasingly seen as the engines of growth for the Canadian economy, some commentators have argued that such immigrant concentrations may lead to negative social and economic consequences. For example, Martin Collacott argues:
 Sheer numbers and their concentration in relatively few areas could
 ... lead to a reduction in the level of acceptance by Canadians
 that would affect, not only immigrants, but many of those who have
 already arrived. (2002, 42)

Stoffman (2003) echoes these concerns and highlights the potentially negative effects of geographical concentration on the urban environment. Concern over immigrant clustering has also been linked to negative economic consequences. Data from the United States indicates that extreme clustering may limit the ability of immigrants to acquire "official" language skills, severely limiting their potential earnings and leading to the formation of ethnic "ghettos" (Borjas 2000; Chiswick and Miller 2002). This concern with immigrant earnings is also evident in Canada, since despite an increase in the number of skilled immigrants entering Canada, immigrant earnings have been declining since the 1980s (Reitz 2001). It is important to note, however, that Canadian data does not exactly replicate the American experience when it comes to connections between segregation and poverty (Ley and Smith 2000; Hou and Picot 2004). Rather, Canadian research suggests that the relationship between residential segregation and the economic experiences of immigrants is heterogeneous (Preston, Lo, and Wang 2003). While ethnic enclaves exist, evidence of widespread ghettoization is not present (Hiebert 2003). In opposition to the negative debates surrounding immigrant/ethnic clustering, ethnic cohesiveness can provide important social resources; for example, extended families may pool incomes to achieve rapid home ownership (Hiebert and Ley 2003), and the presence of immigrant networks may provide significant social support (Ray 1999).

If immigrant concentration does not necessarily result in poor social and economic outcomes for immigrants, why is it construed as a problem? In the Canadian case, this problem is shaped by two factors. One is the perception that metropolitan areas cannot manage rapid population growth combined with extensive ethno-linguistic diversity, and the other is the perceived need for population growth and skilled workers in areas outside the larger metropolitan centres. Immigrant dispersal beyond the largest urban centres has been envisioned as a potential remedy for these dual challenges (CIC 2001).


Immigrant dispersal has not been a particularly active part of Ottawa's immigration policy, but various European countries have adopted policies to discourage concentration, and these have yielded varying results (Robinson et al. 2003). In Sweden, for example, an active immigrant dispersal policy based on local reception has been in place since 1985. Sweden's policy involves the municipality directly in planning for refugee settlement (Andersson 2003). Such planning for immigrant and refugee settlement occurred in Canada in the 1970s and 1980s with Vietnamese refugees, and in the 1990s with refugees from Kosovo. These cohorts lent themselves to regional dispersal with various results (DeVoretz 2003; Sherrell et al. this issue).

The Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) can also be seen as a type of regionalization policy. Provincial Nominee Program agreements allow provinces some flexibility in selecting immigrants according to their economic needs and interests (in Quebec's case, needs are also linguistic). These agreements currently exist with all provinces and territories except Nunavut and Ontario, and in the latter case, negotiations between the provincial and federal governments are currently underway. In addition to PNPs, some municipal governments have been actively promoting immigration and refugee settlement. For example, in September 2002, Winnipeg City Council introduced the Winnipeg Private Refugee Sponsorship Assistance Program (WRPSAP) to support the Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council in its private sponsorship of refugees. (1) This example is important, since it marks the first time all three levels of government have co-operated in the development of an immigration strategy. Former immigration minister Denis Coderre championed such initiatives because he believed immigration might boost the economic health of regions facing depopulation, especially in the Prairies and the Maritimes (McNulty 2002).

The idea of a regional immigration plan, however embryonic, elicited a range of responses. Some saw it as a promising idea (Regina Leader-Post 2002), while some equated it to forced relocation policies in China (Gazette 2002) or South Africa (Stoffman 2003). Despite these negative reactions, some provinces are developing projects that incorporate some form of geographical dispersal. For example, Ontario announced a pilot plan offering a fast track assessment program for international medical graduates willing to work in under-serviced areas in the province (Globe and Mail 2002).

While there is certainly a movement toward promoting immigrant dispersal to smaller urban areas, research on the issue has been limited. Interest in smaller urban centres in Canada has traditionally been neglected (Everitt and Gill 1993), and even less attention has been devoted to understanding recent immigrant and refugee settlement in these areas (exceptions include Abu-Laban et al. 1999; Henin 2002; Bezanson 2003; Cook and Pruegger 2003). In addition, little if any research has been directed either at examining the interest of municipal authorities in attracting immigrants, or in the efforts directed toward retaining immigrants in smaller urban centres and assisting them with their settlement needs.

In evaluating immigrant settlement in smaller urban areas, the importance of context is central, and the capacity of urban regions to provide for the successful settlement of diverse immigrant groups must not be abstractly assumed. It is essential to understand the role of the existing community with regard to promoting or resisting immigration, since effective settlement requires not only economic opportunity, but also a sense of social and cultural comfort for immigrant settlers. Governments have developed various social programs to assist immigrants in their settlement; for example, Charbonneau and Vatz-Laaroussi (2003) examined twinning projects between immigrant and Quebecois families and found they can play a limited role in assisting the social integration of immigrant families. Nonetheless, one of the most effective forms of settlement support for immigrants is the presence of family or friends. The Longitudinal Survey on Immigrants to Canada (LSIC), for example, clearly identifies it as the most important factor influencing immigrants in their choice of settlement location. In the case of the WRPSAP, the Memorandum of Understanding between Winnipeg and Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) clearly states that family or community-linked refugees exhibit a higher retention rate, making the recognition of social aspects of the settlement context a clear priority. Newcomer retention rates have also been encouraging in second- and third-tier cities in Alberta when effective social and employment opportunities were present (Krahn, Derwing, and Abu-Laban 2003). In this regard, the role of local government is crucial in providing services and information to newcomers, and in its attempts to build consensus among all residents with respect to such community issues as planning and social development (Preston and Lo 2000). This paper explores immigrant settlement in smaller urban areas in British Columbia in order to identify the role of local governments and service providers in attracting and retaining immigrants.


Research was conducted in two communities in British Columbia not typically considered major immigrant reception zones. Both research sites are outside of the Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD). Less than 20 percent of their populations are immigrants, and the top five foreign born in each community include English, German, and Indian immigrants. Table 1 shows the immigrant and visible minority composition of the study sites as compared to the Vancouver CMA, and as compared to British Columbia minus the Vancouver CMA (also known as the hinterland). When considering the size of the immigrant and visible minority population, Kelowna is more representative of the rates for the hinterland. Interestingly, Squamish is distinct because it falls between the Vancouver and hinterland profiles. This site selection therefore permits comparisons between two distinct urban areas in British Columbia outside of the GVRD which appear to represent different immigrant community profiles. Each exhibits a similar industrial sector profile, with services employing at least three-quarters of the labour force. Kelowna has a lower participation rate, reflecting the higher percentage of retired persons. Squamish's unemployment rate is lower than the provincial average, whereas Kelowna's is higher (see table 2). With regard to immigrant labour force integration (table 3), immigrants in Squamish exhibit higher participation rates and incomes than those in Kelowna, but again, this is partly a reflection of the age of immigrants, since the number of immigrants sixty-five years and older is 19 percent in Squamish, but 38 percent in Kelowna (British Columbia Ministry of Community, Aboriginal, and Women's Services [BCMCAWS], community profiles based on 2001 census data).


Squamish is located between Vancouver and Whistler. It comprises part of the "Sea to Sky" corridor, which includes Pemberton and Whistler, a year-round tourist resort. Squamish is a resource-based community struggling with economic restructuring and the transformation to a service-based economy. Economic diversification has not been easy, and the social heterogeneity of this relatively small community makes economic development planning a complex process (Reed and Gill 1997; Gill and Reed 1997). In the 2002 municipal elections, downtown redevelopment, diversification of the economy, and support for the development of a private university were key election issues.

Indians constitute the largest foreign-born group in Squamish, comprising 36.1 percent of immigrants (see table 4). The first Indian immigrants moved to Squamish in 1962 when the Canadian Colleries Sawmill (now Interfor) relocated from Vancouver Island, and some of ias immigrant employees followed. These were mostly Sikhs from the state of Punjab in Northwest India. In the 1970s most Indo-Canadian men in Squamish worked in the sawmill, but some began to work with B.C. Rail, and others moved into the retail and service sectors (Biln 2002). With the expansion of Whistler in the 1990s, many Indo-Canadians began to work in the hospitality sector. Today Whistler is a major employer of women and men from Squamish.


Kelowna is part of the Central Okanagan Regional District, which saw an 8.2 percent population increase between 1996-2001. It is the third largest urban region in British Columbia. Traditionally known for its agricultural base, the Okanagan boasts over forty vineyards and recently became home to a number of hi-tech companies, leading the local Economic Development Commission to promote the region as the "Silicon Vineyard." In 2004 an independent study conducted by KPMG on international comparative business costs ranked Kelowna the second most competitive city in the Pacific region of North America (KPMG 2004). Kelowna is also known as a retirement community, and the economy reflects this with a growing service sector and an economic participation rate lower than the provincial average. Of the foreign-born population in 2001, the largest groups are from Britain, followed by Germany, the United States, Poland, and India (Statistics Canada 2001 Census).

Immigrant Class Composition

Immigrant landing information from CIC's landed immigrant database (LIDS) suggests that Squamish's immigrant intake includes a greater percentage of family class immigrants. In Kelowna the family class still accounts for over 40 percent of all immigrants, but the independent/economic immigrant class accounts for a greater percentage than in Squamish. Immigrant social networks still appear to be important in Kelowna's immigrant intake, however, as suggested by the 8 percent of immigrants arriving as assisted relatives.

Closer examination of the immigrant breakdown of the family class indicates that Squamish receives a larger percentage of the parent and grandparent category than Kelowna. Three quarters of the parents/grandparents landing in Squamish between 1980-2000 were Punjabi mother-tongue speakers (LIDS), reinforcing the fact that Squamish's immigrant population includes a significant Sikh-Punjabi component.

With regard to measuring secondary migration, figures can be estimated by comparing the LIDS 1990-2000 data with the 2001 census figures for the number of residents listed as having immigrated since 1991. Although not a direct match, the figures suggest that both Squamish and Kelowna have more residents who recorded themselves as having immigrated since 1991 than the LIDS 1990-2000 landing data indicates. This implies that both communities are retaining their immigrant numbers (if not exactly the same individuals), as well as indicating that a similar rate of secondary in-migration of recent immigrants is occurring in both communities.


In both communities two sets of interviews were developed. Immigrant focus groups were conducted to examine what role linguistic and visible minority factors play in settlement experiences, targeting European, non-English mother-tongue speakers (mostly German/Swiss), and Non-European (Asian and South American) immigrants in each site. Eight focus groups were held with immigrants, four in each community, with approximately eight respondents in each. Four were with European (German/Swiss) immigrants, and four with non-European immigrants (two with Indian immigrants in Squamish and two with Asian, African, and South American immigrants in Kelowna). Six of the groups were gender specific. Questions encompassed four themes; settlement and employment, community relations, local government services, and wider concerns. Therefore, the research was developed to be both geographically and socially comparative between and within research sites.

Seventeen semi-structured key informant interviews were also conducted with local government officials, local immigrant community leaders, and immigrant service agencies. In each case, questions focused on histories of immigration to the region, reasons for settlement in the area, patterns of immigrant settlement, and the role of the particular groups/agencies in assisting or initiating immigration.


The Role of Municipal Governments in Attracting Immigrants

Interviews conducted with municipal officials in both Squamish (the Mayor, one councillor, and the economic planning officer) and Kelowna (the economic planning officer and the Okanagan regional economic development officer) indicated that municipal governments are not actively involved with attracting immigrants:

Q: Is the municipal government interested in seeing more immigration to the region; is it seen as something important to the economic growth of the region?

A: I couldn't honestly say that we gave it a second thought. One of the things that the municipal government is always wary of is becoming involved in areas of jurisdiction that are federal programmes that are downloaded. (Kelowna official, October 2002 [unless otherwise indicated, all interviews were conducted in October of 2002])

With regard to service provision, both municipalities used multilingual staff to provide informal translation services, but neither had developed a translation program for municipal documents. This contrasts with the Lower Mainland municipalities, where there appears to be a greater commitment to multicultural programming, including multilingual translation (Edgington et al. 2001; Lee 2002). Despite this apparent lack of interest in attracting immigrants, both municipalities were interested in seeking investment through immigration:
 [Squamish] is quite keen on investment so that they have ... placed
 ads in business magazines to get economic investment in the
 community, and I can see that as more of a prominent theme than, you
 know, we need more workers. (Squamish economic planning officer)

The Okanagan region's Economic Development Commission had developed a German language web site in order to target German business investors and translated business information brochures into German to attract investors they believed would benefit the regional economy:
 We don't have the skills base that we require here locally to
 make some of our longer-term strategic opportunities possible.
 There's a [hi-tech] company ... located from Germany here, and we
 deem them to be a very good fit here because the two individuals
 had an amazing range of programming skills, had ties to the travel
 industry, [and] wanted to host their services here in Kelowna and
 hire trained people. (Okanagan regional development officer,

Intergovernmental Relations, Service Provision, and Dealing with Downloading

With regard to intergovernmental relations, both municipalities stressed that general downloading had caused several difficulties in providing services, and the regionalized immigration debate merely added to pre-existing frustrations with senior government levels:
 There's a huge disjuncture between the federal government who
 oversee ... the immigration plan, and local municipalities which are
 the places where people settle and the places where people have to
 find their way in a new community. So there's this interesting kind
 of disjuncture between the two, and yet the federal government is
 now looking to the communities to solve what they deem to be a
 problem ... How do you expect communities to help you solve
 whatever problem you have if you don't give them resources to deal
 with everything? (Squamish mayor)

 The municipality ... we're not really equipped to deal with it
 [increased immigrant settlement]. I don't think we've given it a
 second thought. So we would not be equipped if, all of a sudden over
 the next five years, a growing number of a diverse cross section
 [immigrated] ... I don't believe that we would proactively be ready
 for it ... that's not an indictment of Kelowna, I don't think
 anybody would normally deal with it. (Kelowna planning officer)

In the British Columbia context, the provincial and federal governments have a funding agreement in place to deal with immigrant settlement, and municipal officials voiced specific concerns with regard to the impact of provincial funding decisions:
 The province has cut back on its services, and the community says
 we need them, so there are more requests to us to provide funding
 for these different organizations. We have provided funding for the
 women's centre in the past, the last year or two ... but we can't
 get into it on a broad scale because ... our mandate basically is
 water, sewer, roads, and recreation. That's what local government
 is created to provide. (Squamish mayor)

 Some of these groups [immigrant service providers] cannot get the
 provincial funding unless the municipalities kick in, which kind of
 puts the gun to our head. (Kelowna planning officer)

Two specific Squamish examples illustrate the local impact of provincial downloading and service cutbacks on immigrants, and particularly highlight their gendered impact. Firstly, after the British Columbia Liberal Party was elected in 2001, province-wide cutbacks to legal services resulted in the closure of Squamish's courthouse. This resulted in the local police detachment taking responsibility for extended prison guard duties, travel arrangements to reach the nearest courthouse in North Vancouver (a drive of forty-five minutes to an hour), and the extension of victim support services. Victim services were affected by the local court closure because witness and victim support had to be reduced.

The victim services co-ordinator in Squamish stressed that this was particularly deleterious in cases of domestic abuse, where women often needed support in the court from a councillor, and the relocation of cases to North Vancouver meant that Squamish victim services could not provide it. About one-quarter of victim support files for 200l in Squamish were linked to domestic disputes and spousal assault, and the director of the program suggested that about 20 to 30 percent of these cases involved immigrant women. Secondly, the gendered consequences of downloading were also evident in the challenges faced by the Howe Sound Women's Centre (HSWC) in Squamish, the only women's resource centre in the Sea to Sky corridor. The HSWC offers over thirty services throughout the Sea to Sky corridor. The organization assisted over 6,500 people in 2003 (French 2003) and is a vital service to the wider community.

When coupled with other financial cutbacks in the area of immigrant and social services, the municipal concern with provincial downloading becomes understandable. With decreased immigrant landings in British Columbia, settlement renewal transfers from the federal government were cut by $3.8 million in 2000-01, and in 2002-03 the funding was predicted to be cut by an additional $2.8 million. In addition, the provincial government has allocated almost half of the $43.1 million immigrant transfer away from the immigrant settlement sector and into general revenues for other settlement and integration services. These cuts follow a 15 percent across-the-board cut to British Columbia immigrant service agencies enacted in 2001 (United Way 2002).

In general, interviews with municipal officers revealed that they were wary of the immigrant dispersal debate. Their concerns rest, understandably, on the lack of resources that might accompany any federal policy initiatives (and in turn, how funds would work through provincial financial control). In regard to service providers, this concern over resources is exacerbated by their experiences with provincial service cutbacks and downloading that have negatively affected all members of the community (but especially immigrants, and particularly immigrant women). When combined, these concerns indicate that both communities do not feel they have adequate resources to service the needs of newcomers under the current fiscal and political environment, and they are unlikely to become enthusiastic partners in any dispersal schemes unless these resource concerns are addressed.

Immigrant Settlement and Employment: Squamish

This research echoes the Longitudinal Survey on Immigration to Canada (LSIC) findings that immigrant settlement decisions were mainly framed by the presence of work and/or family linkages. In both the non-European and European immigrant focus groups, family reunification was evident. In Squamish, the Indo-Canadian immigrants formed a fairly well-established community with political (mostly Sikh) representation on the local council. The Sikh community also exhibited strong social and cultural support systems centred on the religious temple, which was constructed in the Squamish downtown area in the 1980s. The early settlement of Indian immigrant families in the area arose because of a demand for unskilled and semi-skilled workers in the resource industry. Male employment in the local lumber mills and with British Columbia Rail still provides important support, though recent and ongoing restructuring of both sectors has severely limited employment options. Over the same period, other employment opportunities have emerged in the nearby tourist resort of Whistler, where there is considerable demand for male and female service workers for both seasonal and year-round employment. Indeed, members of the Sikh women's focus group discussion in Squamish highlighted the significant role Whistler played:

F4: And Whistler is a big part of it, too ... because so many jobs available ... you can always find a job. It might be something you don't want to do, at times, but there're always jobs available ...

F5: I would say most of the Indo community, most ladies anyways, are working in Whistler.

In contrast, the German/Swiss immigrants interviewed included a number of recent immigrants who had moved to the area primarily for lifestyle choices; to seek a wilderness experience and greater space than they had access to in Europe. As this male European immigrant put it,

M1: And so we came back to Squamish and after visiting ... we thought we might be good here because we like water and the mountains, and there's a great outdoor area. These are my interests.

In one case, a young couple with their own mountain-biking tour company moved to Squamish because of its proximity to both an international airport and spectacular mountain settings, as well as to Whistler, which offered temporary work in the winter months. In general, then, the immigrants interviewed saw the benefit of being close to a large, all-season tourist resort for both the recreational amenity value and for job opportunities.

Immigrant Settlement and Employment: Kelowna

The movement of Europeans has historically shaped immigrant settlement to Kelowna. Very early French settlement (Wilson 2000) gave way in the late nineteenth century to immigration from the British Isles spurred on by land developers (Koroscil 1986). Small Chinese and Japanese communities formed in the region in the early twentieth century, and European immigration occurred throughout the period, but especially in the post-World War Two period (Wilson 2000).

With regard to German immigrant community formation, focus group discussions indicated the existence of a sharp class distinction between immigrant cohorts of the 1950s and the 1990s. German immigrant respondents who had arrived in the area in the 1950s and 1960s often worked in agriculture with relatives who had previously settled in the area. These immigrants described themselves as impoverished people leaving a decimated, post-World War Two Germany to start a new life in Canada. The differences between the two cohorts of German settlers were expressed by one male respondent, who came to Canada as a young boy in the late 1950s, as "suitcase" Germans versus "container" Germans:

M4: I look back and say, Ok, those are suitcase Germans. And some of the wealthy Germans who came over in the last ten years, I call them container Germans ... They brought their entire life possessions in huge, pre-packaged containers, and Canada accepted them because they were wealthy Germans, whereas in those days, they accepted us because we were poor, but willing to work. (European male, Kelowna)

One female German immigrant who moved to Kelowna in the 1990s also drew attention to this difference when she referred to the actions of one member of the Kelowna German club who she approached for advice after first arriving in the area.

F2: When I came to Kelowna, some people say, "Oh, you go to the German Club." ... I can tell you that they don't really help you when you come here ... one guy told me, "Why should I help you? We had a hard rime when we came to Canada, why should I help you? You don't have the same hard time that we had twenty--thirty years ago!"

Her arrival in Canada as an independent, business-class immigrant in the 1990s was obviously received by this particular older, established German immigrant as reason enough to expect her and her family to make their own way in the community as newcomers. In contrast to the Sikhs in Squamish, then, Germans in Kelowna seemed to exhibit less internal social cohesion.

With regard to settlement decisions, the same combination of work and family presence shaped the process for many immigrants. Several respondents also indicated that the choice to live in the Okanagan was shaped by the desire to escape the congestion of the larger cities:

F2: I like to live in a quiet place; I like to enjoy my life, and I go away from the pressure of all this noise and smoke from the bigger city ... I like ... a quiet area; I like more the forest. (German female)

M2: Well, I knew Kelowna before. My aunt lives here, and I came in January of 1999, and I liked the place. The surroundings are beautiful ... I wanted to stay. (Mexican male)

With regard to employment opportunities, the Kelowna focus group's comments suggested immigrants faced great difficulty finding work, since the absence of a significant industrial or manufacturing base translated to a tight labour market. As a result, immigrants faced enormous challenges finding any employment, much less jobs that utilized their skills:

F3: It's just hard to find a job here. A lot of big companies are closing down ... You look at the paper, and there are so many people applying for one job ... There are too many people in town for the little amount of work. (Non-European female)

The tight labour market fuelled a movement toward self-employment, but it was clear that small business options were also limited by constraints in the local economy:
 There's a lot of money here, but it tends to be that people are
 retiring here, so they're not necessarily feeding the economy,
 they're just maintaining their own lifestyle. We often have
 clients ... who come here and they can't find jobs, so they create
 one for themselves. So then we end up with a lot of people in small
 businesses that are growing; they're now competing against one
 another, so nobody really wins. [There's] not that much business,
 so everyone's just getting a smaller piece of the pie. (Private
 employment agency counsellor, Kelowna)

One German woman who came with her family under the business immigrant category to establish a photography studio found that it was only ten years after first arriving that their business secured a stable client base: "In Kelowna, it's a really tough city, I can tell you, for small business." These small business problems were also seen as related to a general sense of Kelowna as a "who-you-know" kind of town, an exclusive and tight knit community:

F10: I find in the small city here ... they have their own place, and I see their minds are still very, very, narrow-minded ... [it is] not as open as it should be. (Non-European female)

Government Service Access for Immigrants: Kelowna and Squamish

With regard to local government services, most immigrants voiced no specific concerns about community services. In fact, the general community concerns voiced were often the same as the wider population, such as housing and jobs in Kelowna or downtown redevelopment in Squamish. While some respondents expressed sentiments about feeling isolated or marginalized from the wider community, most noted the role immigrant and community groups played in directing people to necessary services. Several respondents commented on the level of comfort they felt using services in Squamish (such as the recreation centre or the library), but the extent of use was limited. Questions about local service use were carefully posed in order to encourage respondents to discuss any negative experiences connected to local service delivery. One immigrant service worker expressed her general feelings about Kelowna in response to this question:

F6: I have experienced a lot of racism in this town, and even though I did experience racism in Edmonton when I came to Canada, but not so much as I have in the last six years in this town.

Q: What kinds of things make you feel that way? ...

F6: I find that people are very paternalistic, condescending, and I think it's just the whole atmosphere. That's my personal opinion, I know some people think I'm crazy, and that I'm overreacting, but I find this city ... the people are very different. (Non-European female)

Overall, however, when the issue of racism or discrimination was raised in relation to living in the community or accessing community services, the majority of respondents expressed satisfaction:

M2: When I start this company a couple of months ago, my business partner asked me, "When you're selling, do you feel like some kind of racism, discrimination, things like that, because you're selling something, and you're Mexican or whatever?" You know what? Not so far; I think that everybody's been real nice, and everybody's open to what I say. (Non-European male, Kelowna)

F3: I feel like all of Squamish, totally at home ... I go to any place, it doesn't feel awkward, it doesn't feel like you're not in the right place ... If you go to the pool ... or in the library, there's always somebody that you know. (Non-European female, Squamish)

Despite the overall positive tone of focus group responses, municipal by-laws relating to secondary suites in both Squamish and Kelowna emerged as an issue, and in both cases they involved Indo-Canadian immigrants renting secondary suites, often to extended family members. In Kelowna, although densification and affordable housing were important issues supported by the council, the municipal planning officer expressed frustration that appropriate zoning by-laws were being broken, and by-law enforcement officers were unable to force compliance in situations involving certain ethnic communities:
 Probably the best example, sort of day-to-day, in this cross
 culture is ... by-law enforcement in the Sikh community ...
 secondary suites, multiple suites, and whatever, are real
 enforcement problems ... I don't think some of the people who
 in fact broke the law were immigrant class; they could be
 fourth-generation, Indo-Canadians ... interestingly enough, our
 by-law people, how they dealt with it is, they just said ... if
 they want to lie to us and say they're family, then
 we'll just tell whoever made the complaint that it's family.
 (Municipal officer, Kelowna)

In one of the Squamish focus groups, Sikh immigrants highlighted their particular experiences on the other side of this process, where municipal officers would send bills for extra rate payments to houses they assumed had a secondary suite:

Ml: But we felt they were picking on us ...

M2: Last year, I stand on the road. I was sitting there, and they [municipal officer] ask me, "Do you have a suite?" ... and he wrote back and sent me the bill ...

M3: I don't know if we got a reputation, like if you see an Indian making a big house, they're going to assume that he's got a couple basements. If he sees someone else of a different race with a big house, they won't even question it ... But if you see an Indian guy building, they'll say, "Oh, he's got two basements." (Non-European male, Squamish)

Both these quotes suggest that municipal officers may act on preconceived notions about the behaviour of certain ethnic groups with regard to building secondary suites. In Squamish, however, attempts by the council to introduce strict building regulations for secondary suites met with fierce local resistance comprised of an ethnically diverse cross-section of the whole community, not just members of the Sikh community. The Suite Neighbours organization lobbied the local council, who referred the issue to special committee, which eventually went on to implement flexible regulations regarding pre-existing secondary suites (Gallagher 2000).

Provincial Issues: Language Training and Accreditation

By far the most dissatisfaction expressed in focus groups regarding the role of government was related to language training and accreditation. Several people cited language training as an important need that should be addressed more effectively. In Squamish at the time this research was conducted, there were no immigrant service providers or language training venues, a distinct difference from the larger urban areas. Many respondents recalled the success of a conversational English course that had been offered free of charge by the local college. After the teacher retired, the course ended, leaving the immigrants no option other than driving all the way to North Vancouver for language training:

F5: [We need] some kind of community centre where the people that can't speak English can go and learn English, and/or they can train them to help them find jobs in that community... We obviously don't have that here.

F3: ... they have to go to Vancouver and they have to spend all day ... [and] get a ticket for parking if they want to go. (Non-European female, Squamish)

Frustration with the lack of English classes and the need to drive to Vancouver was not only expressed by Indo-Canadian immigrants, but also by European immigrants:

M3: English is definitely an issue; they have to learn it, but they don't want to drive to Vancouver, which is understandable, as well. And I round, I don't know, I made at least ten phone calls to find out if there's a possibility for an English course here ...

F4: Yeah, I went in 1996 to Capilano College, but I didn't do the conversation course, I did the writing one. And it was very good for me to get the writing ... there was a conversation course, I remember, but I also remember that it was a time when they were cutting down quite a bit from the funding. (Squamish)

In Kelowna, the Multicultural Society traditionally delivered English language classes and provided settlement programs, and though respondents found the centre offered a pleasant and supportive environment, there was some frustration expressed at the effectiveness of the language training.

F2: I go to school here at the Multicultural Society, and they have a nice group together, [but] it was not good; you have Unit 1 and Unit 2, and then a newcomer comes in from Lisbon or from Asia, and you have to start from the beginning for the newcomers, and that was the problem. (European female, Kelowna)

The Kelowna Multicultural Society closed in late 2002 owing to financial problems, and the provincial contract for the delivery of free English as a second language classes for adults (ESLA), levels 1-3, was awarded to the Ki-Low-Na Friendship Society, an organization with extensive experience serving Kelowna's First Nations community. From the provincial perspective, delivering immigrant services in lesser populated regions of the province poses a financial and logistical challenge:
 Giving two hundred dollars to the local multiple service agencies
 for an immigrant who might happen to come in, [if] they're not
 equipped to actually do anything for them, I don't know if that
 would be a solution. So we relied upon hubs of service, and so I
 suppose, if we're using that analogy, Squamish would be served by
 the Vancouver hub ... Although there's no agency that has Squamish
 identified, or Squamish through to Pemberton identified, as their
 geographic area of responsibility. (BCMCAWS official, May 2003)

In this response, the provincial government is seen as responsible for funding service delivery in regions outside of the Lower Mainland, but it is also understood to be the job of immigrant service agencies to create linkages and build satellite operations to enable the effective and appropriate delivery of services across a wider geographic area. In regard to Squamish, I raised the point that some basic settlement services were already being delivered by other community groups in the region, the support of which BCMCAWS did not necessarily see as their mandate. This raised the issue of who was responsible for promoting integration at the site of settlement:
 We do see our responsibilities as meeting some of those basic
 settlement, initial settlement, and secondary adaptation needs of
 immigrants, regardless of where; I mean, we see that as our mandate,
 right? Now, whether or not we deliver that mandate in these smaller
 communities, I guess we don't ... The observation is that there are
 probably not that many that would need the basic settlement ... as
 opposed to the integration, which is sort of the further-along
 continuum which we do see as the responsibility of the service
 agencies and its just the ...

Q: The municipality playing their role?

That's right. (BCMCAWS official, May 2003)

In this case, the needs of immigrants are seen as being served through a continuum of service provision, including service agencies and the local municipality. But as the situation of Squamish and Kelowna suggests, local governments are experiencing greater pressure to fund some of their community's social needs as downloading from senior levels of government bas proceeded. Certainly if immigrant dispersal is to be encouraged, better integrated service provision between local governments, service providers, and senior levels of government must be seriously addressed.

Accreditation issues also emerged as a major concern, as is the case across Canada. European and non-European immigrant groups alike indicated that they had experienced significant feelings of marginalization linked to the devaluation of their qualifications and credentials. In one case, an electrician who trained in Germany was incensed by the treatment he received when his training was assessed in British Columbia:

M3: Some things were silly. They didn't look at what you had learned, they had just looked at, "Oh, you had three to three-and-a-half years of training in Germany. Well, here we have four, so yours is no good." You just feel kind of stupid. (European male, Squamish)

In another case, a German immigrant women in Kelowna volunteered for four months in a seniors' home in order to improve her English and was eventually asked to apply for a job. However, when she revealed that she had been a qualified nurse in Germany, they told her she could not apply for the job, even though it was not a nursing job:

F2: She [the supervisor] said, "Would you like to get a job here?" I said, "Sure." She said, "Where do you like to work?" I say, "I go to the kitchen and the garden." And I try it, and after three weeks ... she said, "You can't work, it's a union here ..."

Q: Why?

F1: Because she was a really good nurse, and they looked at her records; if she, as a volunteer, sees something that one of the members or nurses are doing wrong, she can report it to the union. You know, there can be a big kafuffle out of it ...

Q: And so that was something that made you feel kind of excluded ...

F2: Yep. Then I thought, what am I doing here in Canada?

In this case, even though the woman was not actually looking to re-enter the nursing profession, the fact that she had professional qualifications in the field blocked her ability to volunteer in the facility, much less gain menial employment. These concerns reinforce the issue that regardless of where immigrants settle, if their qualifications are devalued, their route to integration, both economic and social, is delayed. These concerns echo the numerous arguments made by immigrant service agencies and others regarding the problems of non-recognition of foreign credentials, issues that have been most recently addressed in the Fifth Report of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration (2003). The concern raised by respondents in both the European and non-European focus groups regarding the barriers of credential non-recognition serves as a reminder that regardless of where the federal government would like immigrants to settle, these issues will continue to dominate the debate. In this regard, recent commitments from CIC to address this issue through the Forum of Labour Market Ministers and the Federal-Provincial-Territorial Working Group on Access to Professions and Trades, are promising.


This study highlights some interesting conclusions regarding immigrant settlement in small- and medium-sized urban regions in British Columbia. First, in both cases these municipal governments play little, if any, active role in immigrant recruitment. Moreover, they offer no specific services that might retain immigrants in the community, but they are increasingly responsible for funding mainstream social services that play a role in assisting immigrant newcomers. This was exemplified by the funding constraints faced by the Howe Sound Women's Centre in Squamish. The major issues immigrants raised that affected their settlement were language instruction (a provincial domain) and accreditation issues (a more complex, national problem). This point raises the importance of promoting integrative and co-operative plans across all levels of government in the development of any immigrant dispersal initiatives.

Secondly, the pre-existing social and economic context is a crucial determinant of the successful attraction and retention of immigrants to an area. This is an obvious statement and one made previously (Abu-Laban et al. 1999; CIC 2001), but social context and regional economic development must become important factors for consideration with reference to any policy designed to disperse immigrants. Part of the explanation for the successful integration of Sikh immigrants in the Squamish area was attributed to the fact that employment not only provided economic security, but social integration in the workplace also contributed to wider community acceptance. In Kelowna, agricultural employment was the traditional mainstay for immigrants, but as new immigrants move into an increasingly service-oriented economy, they face a tight labour market, especially if their qualifications are not recognized. This highlights an interesting point about settlement size; in Kelowna larger settlement size is not an indicator of more successful immigrant settlement, as has been suggested in previous studies (CIC 2001). Though Kelowna has a population of over 100,000, it is in the smaller community of Squamish that immigrants enjoyed better prospects for employment, due to the proximity of Whistler and its demands for service personnel. Coupled with greater employment options, the presence of extended family members to assist with childcare was also seen as important. This research therefore supports the arguments of Krahn et al. (2003) who maintain that with the right social and economic conditions, small communities can exhibit good immigrant retention rates.

Thirdly, demographic change has been a major justification for maintaining relatively high immigration numbers, but the demographic profile will also determine what kind of economic needs communities exhibit. Many smaller communities in the hinterland are moving away from resource dependence. As these communities age and their demographic profiles become more like retirement communities (as in Kelowna), the economy is increasingly orientated to personal services, particularly healthcare. This shapes the labour needs and opportunities in these locations, suggesting that there is potential for some kind of regional immigration system to be implemented in these occupational sectors. Nevertheless, in order to overcome charter issues regarding freedom of mobility, geographical restrictions applied to such immigrants will need to be linked directly to the employer or based on a system of temporary visas, as DeVoretz (2003) has suggested. This implies greater selection control at the level of the province, or even the municipality. For example, one clear labour shortage occurring in Kelowna is in the skilled trades, an occupational category independent immigration criteria has not traditionally encouraged. If the very nature of regional immigration is to fill labour shortages, coordination and co-operation between local and senior levels of government again needs to be a central component of any policy framework. In this respect, the enhancement of the PNP and other federal-provincial agreements should be encouraged.

Fourthly, regarding intergovernmental relations, findings suggest that in the case of British Columbia, there is a contradiction between the aspirations of the federal government to disperse immigrants to smaller communities, and the provincial government's current cut-backs in services to regions outside of the main urban centres. These general service cuts and immigrant settlement fund reductions result in diminished support for integrating immigrants, but have particular force in rural and northern British Columbia where, in the absence of adequate immigrant service agencies, the capacity of mainstream social service agencies to assist newcomers must be enhanced, not denuded. Any federal government plans to enhance immigrant dispersal cannot achieve success in a provincial political context of service retrenchment outside the metropolitan cores.

Finally, while rural depopulation and ethnic concentration in the largest cities are not necessarily two sides of the same coin, the conjoining of these processes has become a central motif in the regionalization debate. The solution to rural depopulation, however, is not to be round in immigration policy, but in regional economic development policy. This intersection between demographics and economics repeats itself in the metropolitan core in the relationship between immigrant earnings and ethnic clustering. The line of argument highlighted in the introduction of this paper--that immigrant clustering can lead to various socioeconomic problems--assumes that the immigrant is the problem, rather than the settlement context. We need to ask why immigrant earnings have been declining, and why official language acquisition has been limited? Perhaps the fact that immigrants have been earning less than those who arrived in earlier immigrant cohorts since the 1980s has more to do with general public spending cuts, economic restructuring, and the trend toward greater credentialism, all of which act to bar immigrant access to certain sectors of the labour market (Bauder 2003; Reitz 2005). Certainly those who argue that sheer numbers of immigrants make this problem more significant in the metropolitan centres might see immigrant dispersal as a possible solution, but evidence from Kelowna suggests that smaller immigrant cohorts still face the same restrictions in accessing the labour market. Labour market integration problems for skilled immigrants in Canada, therefore, are overwhelmingly structural as opposed to geographical, and merely redirecting immigration away from the cities will not solve this problem.


Funding for this research was provided by the Vancouver Centre of Excellence for Research on Immigration and Integration in the Metropolis.


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(1.) The fund is for $250,000 and is intended to underwrite mostly family- or community-linked refugees who may require financial support (CIC Canada news release 2002), 47.

(2.) See CIC responses to the Report of the Standing Committee on CIC recommendations 16 and 17, as well as:


Margaret Walton-Roberts is an assistant professor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies, Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario. Her research interests focus on immigration and cultural diversity with special reference to Indian immigration to Canada.

Table 1
Selected Population Characteristics, Squamish and Kelowna Census
Agglomerations, and Vancouver and British Columbia outside of the
Vancouver CMA

 Vancouver BC Squamish Kelowna
2001 CMA Hinterland CA CA

Population 1,986,965 1,920,773 14,435 147,739
Immigrants as % of total 37.5 14.0 19.2 13.6
immigrated since 1991 44.0 16.9 29.2 16.0
Visible minority as % of 36.8 5.7 16.8 3.8
 total pop.

Table 2
Selected Economic Data
Squamish, Kelowna, Vancouver, and British Columbia Hinterland

 Vancouver BC Squamish Kelowna
2001 CMA Hinterland CA CA

Average earnings $34,007 $31,544 $31,635 $28,570
Unemployment rate, % 7.2 8.5 7.3 8.8
Participation rate, % 66.2 65.2 72.7 62.0
Labour force employed in 2.0 5.2 4.7 5.3
 primary ind., %
Labour force employed in 14.5 15.5 17.8 17.0
 manufacturing, %
Labour force employed in 83.4 79.3 77.5 77.7
 services, %

Source: Census 2001 Data, Statistics Canada.

Table 3
Labour Force Integration for Immigrants in Squamish and Kelowna,
Profile of Immigrants in British Columbia Communities, 2001

 Squamish Squamish Kelowna Kelowna
2001 Male Female Male Female

Average employment income $40,851 $23,942 $36,592 $23,022
Number in the labour force 895 830 3,190 2,770
Number employed 840 750 2,925 2,570
Unemployment, % 6.0 10.0 8.0 7.0
Participation, % 71.0 61.0 55.0 42.0

Source: Community Profiles, Statistics Canada 2001.

Table 4
Squamish District Municipality Immigrant Population by Place of Birth

 Percentage of
Place of Birth Number Immigrant Total

India 990 36.1
U.K. 485 17.7
Germany 200 7.3
United States 175 6.4
Philippines 100 3.6
Netherlands 60 2.2
Others 730 26.7
Total 2,740 100.0

Source: Ministry of Community, Aboriginal, and Woinen's Services:
All groups listed comprise at least 2% of the total immigrant

Table 5
City of Kelowna Immigrant Population by Place of Birth

Place of Birth Number % of Immigrant Total

U.K. 2,735 21.2
Germany 1,730 13.4
United States 1,245 9.7
Poland 690 5.4
India 675 5.2
Netherlands 575 4.5
Italy 520 4.0
Ukraine 300 2.3
Hungary 285 2.2
Yugoslavia 265 2.1
Others 3,885 30.0

Total 12,905 100.0

Source: 2001 Census; All groups listed comprise at least 2% of the
total immigrant population.

Table 6
Immigrant Class and City of Destination,
Cross Tabulation for Immigrants, 1980-2000

Immigrant Class Kelowna Percent Squamish Percent

Family class 2,014 43.9 754 77.7
Convention refugee class 175 3.8 14 1.4
Designated class 431 9.4 14 1.4
Retired class 187 4.1 14 1.4
Assisted relative class 365 8.0 32 3.3
Entrepreneur class 339 7.4 53 5.5
Self-employed class 182 4.0 16 1.6
Other independent class 728 15.9 59 6.1
Investor class 34 0.7 1 0.1
Live-in caregiver class 98 2.1 6 0.6
Other (misc) 35 0.7 8 0.8

Total 4,588 971

Source: LIDS.

Table 7
Family Class Immigrant Composition,
Kelowna and Squamish, 1980-2000 Landings

 Percentage Percentage
 Kelowna of Immigrants Squamish of Immigrants

Spouse 1069 23.4 273 28.3
Fiance 136 3.0 38 3.9
Son or daughter 97 2.1 38 3.9
Parent or grandparent 644 14.1 393 40.7
 & accompanying
Other 69 1.5 12 1.2

Source: LIDS.

Table 8
Number of Immigrants Landing between 1991-2000 (LIDS)
Comnared to 2001 Census 1991-2001 Data for Kelowna and Squamish

 Kelowna Squamish

2001 Census, immigrated since 1991 3,215 800
LIDS landing 1991-2000 2,547 586
Percentage not recorded in LIDS 20.7 26.7
Number not recorded in LIDS (668) (214)
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Date:Sep 22, 2005
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