BC-born becoming rarer

April 30, 2016

By Douglas Todd, Vancouver Sun |

Gayle Swain often hears how “amazing” it is that not only she, but her parents, were born in the city of Vancouver.

Swain’s mother and father were born in East Vancouver during the First World War. Their house still stands on Keefer Street. Swain’s grandparents had arrived in B.C. from Russia and Lithuania, so were what Statistics Canada defines as “first generation.”

In most cities of the world, it would not be special to be a third generation resident. But some say Swain’s family, particularly her fourth-generation children, are as scarce as unicorns here.

Two out of three inhabitants of the city of Vancouver were either born in some other part of Canada or, even more likely, in a foreign country. Of major Canadian cities, Vancouver proper has the fewest residents born in the same province.

Montreal, Ottawa and Fredericton are among the many Canadian cities that have much stronger homegrown populations, with scholars maintaining such Eastern cities (in the U.S., too) enjoy a stronger sense of community because the residents are less mobile. Although Statistics Canada does not track the portion of residents born in the city in which they live, the 2011 General Social Survey shows only 35 per cent of the city of Vancouver’s residents were born in British Columbia.

For Metro Vancouver as a whole, the related figure is 42 per cent born in B.C. That’s much lower than the 63 per cent of Montreal residents born in Quebec; the 56 per cent of Ottawa residents born in Ontario and 73 per cent of Fredericton residents born in New Brunswick.

Metro Vancouver’s rate of multigenerational locals is even lower than New York City, a major international hub, where 50 per cent of residents were born in the state of New York.

Swain shared the story of her outof-the-ordinary Vancouver-born parents while sitting at a sidewalk table with four friends at Wicked Café, at Seventh and Hemlock. One of those friends was born in B.C., in Port Alberni, while two are immigrants, from Britain and the U.S. The foursome had mixed feelings about what is happening to this fast-changing city, where relatively few have deep roots. Even though they valued how the world’s cultures peacefully coexist in the city, they also regretted how in-migration has been a factor in the city’s fast-rising housing prices and in the way neighbourhoods are becoming “construction zones.”

When a flashy sports car interrupted their conversation by roaring down Hemlock, the friends also commented on how traffic in the city was becoming increasingly “aggressive” and “crazy.”

According to interactive online maps created by Vancouver statistician Jens von Bermann, the café at which Swain and her friends were sitting is in a neighbourhood of Fairview in which roughly one third of residents are B.C.-born, one-third were born in another province and one-third were born in a foreign country.

One of Swain’s friends, Barbara Jaquith, who came to Vancouver from Massachusetts in the 1970s, said her personal network generally echoes the demographic ratio of the neighbourhood. Jaquith believes the fact many Metro residents have arrived recently (the city takes in more than 30,000 newcomers a year) affects “community life, and the ability to help your family.”

Her friends agreed, saying it’s harder to support children and grandchildren when they’re being forced out of the city of 2.5 million by extreme housing prices. Said Jaquith: “This is an overwhelmed city.”

A few blocks away, the owner of Ararat Oriental Rugs on Granville Street said most of his Metro Vancouver friends “are from somewhere else.”

Jalal Etemad, who arrived here from Iran in 1986, said he values Metro’s cosmopolitan culture and safe streets. He mostly spends time with people from the Middle East, Asia and Europe. Only about 15 per cent of Etemad’s friends were born in B.C. He met them all through his children’s West Vancouver school.

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