By Sue Lazaruk
ABBOTSFORD (British Columbia): The number of Sikhs in the Abbotsford area has almost doubled in the past 10 years, confirming its place as a major hub for citizens of Punjabi descent, according to 2011 Statistics Canada data released on Wednesday.
The figures are among the data released by the federal agency from the 2011 National Household Survey, the voluntary collection of statistics that replaced the mandatory census.
The survey also showed that almost 70 per cent of those who responded in Abbotsford-Mission reported a religious affiliation, much higher than B.C.’s provincial level of 56 per cent.
The percentage of the population of the census metropolitan area who ticked the box next to Sikh in 2011 was 28,235, or 16.9 per cent of the area’s population.
In 2001, the last year data were collected on religion, there were 16,780 Sikhs living in the Abbotsford CMA.
The settlement of immigrant Sikhs in Abbotsford, along with in Surrey and Brampton, Ont., and not in major larger cities, such as Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal, is unique among established Canadian immigration patterns, said Daniel Hiebert, a geography professor at UBC.
“Immigrants used to arrive and settle in the big cities and then move out to the suburbs,” he said. “Canadians haven’t seen a lot of this [settling in smaller cities] in the past.”
“The doubling of the Sikh population in Abbotsford is adding to the very fabric of what makes our community so unique in its diversity,” said Sharanjit Kaur Sandhra, co-ordinator of the Centre for Indo Canadian Studies at the University of the Fraser Valley.
Half of the 5,935 immigrants who settled in Abbotsford between 2006 and 2011 came from India, with the next largest number coming from the United Kingdom, at nine per cent, followed by Americans, at 4.4 per cent.
In the rest of B.C., the top three countries immigrants moved from were China, at 14 per cent, India, 12 per cent, and the U.K., 11 per cent.
A quarter of Abbotsford’s population belonged to a visible minority group, compared to 27 per cent of B.C. as a whole.
Visible minority residents of Abbotsford-Mission were also younger, at 31.6 years old, than the average age of the province’s visible minority population, with a median age of 35.7, the survey showed.
The proportion of the population of the province overall that were immigrants in 2011 was 27.6 per cent, while 70.9 per cent were born in Canada (and 1.5 per cent were non-permanent residents).
Abbotsford population in 2011 was reported at 166,680, half of whom are Christian. About 53 per cent claimed no religious affiliation.
Abbotsford’s growth in its immigrant population helped give Canada the highest proportion of foreign-born population (20.6 per cent), followed by Germany (13 per cent) and the United States (12.9 per cent), the survey showed.
In total, 1.2 million immigrants came to Canada between 2006 and 2011.
During the recent five-year period, the largest share of immigrants to Canada (56.9 per cent) came from Asia and the Middle East – compared to how just 8.5 per cent of immigrants to Canada before 1970 came from that region.
All the while, Canada is experiencing mixed changes on religion. Nearly one-quarter of Canadians (23.9 per cent) had no religious affiliation last year, up from 15 per cent a decade earlier.
That’s not to say that religion is dead in Canada. About 22.1 million Canadians (67.3 per cent of the population) are Christians. Roman Catholics are the largest of that group, with 12.7 million Canadians (38.7 per cent) saying they are Catholics.
However, because of immigration patterns, other religions are slowly taking root. Last year, 2.4 million Canadians (7.2 per cent) were either Muslim, Hindu, Sikh or Buddhist – up from 4.9 per cent a decade earlier.
(Courtesy Abbotsford Times)