Immigrants have long hungered to own property

May 2, 2022

By Vancouver Sun |

In 1891 the government of Canada awarded the first Ukrainian immigrants to Canada, Ivan Pylypiw and Vasyl Eleniak, 160 acres of land to farm.

They were among millions of struggling newcomers from Ukraine, Scotland, Iceland, Russia, France, Italy and elsewhere who responded to young Canada’s offer in the 1800s and early 1900s to homestead so-called free land to log, ranch or cultivate. Many other newcomers snapped up better-quality land for $1 an acre.

Those original quarter-section grids of land are still in existence on land-title and zoning maps from Nova Scotia to Vancouver Island. They serve as a reminder of the way Canada used old-fashioned advertising to get out the word more than 200 million acres of land were available to willing homesteaders.

Those parcels of dirt, some of which had been processed through Indigenous treaties and others not, served as tantalizing beacons to many people who had never been allowed in their homelands — because of poverty or discrimination — to buy property.

That quest for land continues today, serving as one of the key drivers of the world’s property markets.

And Canada’s immigration story dovetails with global history, as outlined in Simon Winchester’s best-selling new book, Land: How the Hunger for Ownership Shaped the Modern World. It details how the lure of obtaining property — in Europe, Africa, North America and the South Pacific — has for millennia shaped societies.

While all kinds of people want to own dwellings and land, studies show immigrants are even more convinced their future lies in property. An Angus Reid Institute poll found 59 per cent of Canadians believe it is “important to own a home to feel like a real Canadian,” but the proportion jumps to 75 per cent for recent immigrants.

Several Canadian academic studies reveal the rapidity with which immigrants invest in the housing market, the majority doing so in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. Newcomers also spend considerably more, on average, on housing than Canadian-born.

A recent Vivintel consumer survey, for instance, found South Asians in Canada (nine out of 10 of whom are born outside the country) are four times more likely than the average Canadian to buy a home.

“Home ownership is very important to South Asians. There’s prestige with owning land, being a homeowner. A few years after you arrive in Canada, it’s also seen as a key way to grow income,” says Vivintel director Rahul Sethi, 38, who came to Canada with his family.

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