Provinces and territories


Proportion of foreign-born highest in Ontario, B.C.
Highest proportion of visible minorities in British Columbia
Diversity varied across the nation

Proportion of foreign-born highest in Ontario, B.C.

The two provinces with the highest proportions of people born outside the country in 2001 were Ontario and British Columbia, according to the census.

There were over 3 million individuals in Ontario born outside the country, accounting for 27% of its total population in 2001, while in British Columbia there were 1 million individuals who were foreign-born, representing 26% of its total.

Both proportions were up from 1991 when the census showed 24% of Ontario’s population and 22% of British Columbia’s populations were foreign-born.

About 15% of Alberta’s population was foreign-born in 2001, the third highest concentration. It was followed by Manitoba (12%), the Yukon (11%) and Quebec (10%). For Quebec, this was the highest proportion of foreign-born recorded in the past 100 years.

The remaining provinces and territories had less than 7% of their populations born outside the country.

Because of the historical settlement patterns of the foreign-born population, their impact on the provincial population varied over time. In the early part of the century, the relatively high number of immigrants settling in the Prairie provinces and the small overall populations in these provinces resulted in higher proportions of foreign-born.

However, these proportions have declined over time, especially in the three Prairie provinces. In contrast, as immigrants have settled increasingly in Ontario and Quebec, the proportions of foreign-born in these provinces have steadily increased over the past 100 years.

The proportion of foreign-born in British Columbia has been relatively stable over time at over 20%, except between 1921 and 1941 when fewer immigrants entered Canada and settled in British Columbia.

Proportion of foreign-born, Canada, provinces and territories, 1991, 1996 and 2001

Newest immigrants settled in three provinces: Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec

Almost nine in 10 immigrants who arrived in Canada during the past 10 years lived in just three provinces in 2001: Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec.

Ontario took in the largest share of these newcomers. Slightly more than 1 million immigrants, or 56% of those who arrived in the 1990s, were living in Ontario in 2001. Another 20%, or 370,600, settled in British Columbia and 13%, or 244,900, in Quebec.

In fact, the share of new immigrants living in each of Ontario and British Columbia was one and a half times greater than the share of the total population living in these two provinces.

This tendency of Canada’s new immigrants to live in these three provinces has increased over time. According to previous censuses, 85% of the immigrants who arrived during the 1980s lived in these three provinces, as did 81% of those who came during the 1970s.

Among the other provinces, Alberta had 129,900 immigrants who arrived in the 1990s, or 7%, the fourth highest share. It was followed by Manitoba, which had 2% or 32,300 of the newcomers. The remaining provinces and territories each had less than 1%.

Despite recent high population growth, Alberta has experienced the largest decline in its share of immigrants. In 1981, 11% of the immigrants who arrived in the 1970s settled there. This fell to 9% of those who arrived in the 1980s, and to 7% of those who arrived in the 1990s.

The share of immigrants settling in the other two Prairie provinces has also declined. Close to 4% of immigrants arriving in the 1970s lived in Manitoba in 1981, as did about 1% in Saskatchewan.

Due to the increasing attraction of new arrivals to Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec, newcomers made up an increasing proportion of the populations of these three provinces over time.

In 2001, about one-tenth of the population of each of Ontario and British Columbia were immigrants who came in the 1990s. In comparison, immigrants of the 1980s represented 6% of their total population, while immigrants of the 1970s accounted for 7%.

In Quebec, 3.4% of its population in 2001 consisted of immigrants who came to Canada in the 1990s, up from 2.6% in 1991 for immigrants of the 1980s.

Distribution of 1990s immigrants compared with the distribution of total population, Canada, provinces and territories, 2001

Proportion of immigrants 10 years or less in Canada, Canada, provinces and territories, 1991 and 2001

Immigrants 10 years or less in Canada as a proportion of provincial/territorial population, 1991 and 2001






Highest proportion of visible minorities in British Columbia

The majority of the nearly 4 million visible minorities in Canada in 2001 lived in either Ontario or British Columbia, reflecting the overall settlement pattern of immigrants to Canada.

While Ontario and British Columbia contained one-half of Canada's total population, they accounted for three-quarters of the visible minority population.

In 2001, the 836,400 visible minorities in British Columbia accounted for 22% of its total population, the highest proportion of any province. This was well above the national average of 13%.

British Columbia had also ranked first in terms of the proportion of its population who belonged to a visible minority group in 1996 (18%) and in 1991 (14%).

In terms of actual numbers, however, British Columbia was second to Ontario, which had 2.2 million visible minorities in 2001, the largest number of any province. Visible minorities accounted for 19% of Ontario’s population in 2001, up from 16% in 1996 and 13% in 1991.

In 1991, the largest visible minority groups in Ontario were Blacks (311,000 or 3.1% of the provincial population), Chinese (290,400 or 2.9%), and South Asians (285,600 or 2.9%). By 2001, these were still the largest groups, but their order had shifted: South Asians (554,900 or 4.9% of Ontario’s population), Chinese (481,500 or 4.3%) and Blacks (411,100 or 3.6%).

In 1991, the predominant visible minority group in British Columbia was Chinese (192,300 or 5.9% of the provincial population), followed by South Asians (118,200 or 3.6%) and Filipinos (31,100 or 1.0%). In 2001, this pattern was still evident: Chinese (9.4% of the provincial population), followed by South Asians (5.4%) and Filipinos (1.7%).

Most of the visible minorities in Ontario and British Columbia lived in the census metropolitan areas of Toronto and Vancouver. There were over 1.7 million in Toronto and 725,700 in Vancouver, representing nearly 37% of the total population in each.

Quebec had 498,000 visible minorities, the third highest, but they accounted for only 7% of its total population. Blacks were the most common group (152,200 or 2.1% of the total population in Quebec), followed by Arabs and West Asians (85,800 or 1.2%), Latin Americans (59,500 or 0.8%), South Asians (59,500 or 0.8%) and Chinese (56,800 or 0.8%). More than nine in 10 visible minorities in Quebec lived in the census metropolitan area of Montréal.

Alberta had 329,900 visible minorities, but they comprised a greater share of its population (11%). The visible minority groups with the highest proportions in Alberta were Chinese (3.4% of the provincial population), South Asians (2.4%) and Filipinos (1.2%).

The vast majority (91%) of visible minorities in Alberta lived in the census metropolitan areas of Calgary and Edmonton. They accounted for 17% of Calgary’s population and 15% of Edmonton’s.

The proportion of visible minority groups in the remaining provinces and territories was much lower than the national average. Concentrations ranged from 0.8% in both Newfoundland and Labrador and Nunavut, to 7.9% in Manitoba.

Proportion of visible minorities, provinces and territories, 1991 and 2001

Proportion of visible minority, Canada, provinces and territories, 1991, 1996 and 2001






Diversity varied across the nation

The ethnic composition of each province and territory varied in 2001, as shown in the most frequently reported ethnic origins, whether they were reported alone or in combination with other origins.

The ethnic profile of the provinces and territories reflects in part the waves of immigrants who have settled in different regions of the country over time, as well as the presence of Canada’s aboriginal groups and those of British Isles and French ancestries.

The most frequent ethnic origins reported in the four Atlantic provinces reflect the long history of people of British Isles and French heritage living in these provinces. In addition to Canadian, which was the most frequently reported origin reported in these provinces, English, Irish, Scottish were also among the top groups reported in 2001.

French was the second most frequent ancestry reported in New Brunswick and fifth in each of Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia. In addition, Acadian was among the top 10 ethnic origins reported in New Brunswick and in Prince Edward Island.

In Quebec, Canadian and French were the two most frequently reported ancestries, followed by Irish, Italian, English, Scottish, North American Indian, Québecois, German and Jewish.

European groups such as German, Italian and Dutch appeared on the top 10 list for Ontario, in addition to Chinese and East Indian, reflecting more recent waves of immigration to this province. Ontario’s ethnic profile was similar to the Atlantic provinces in that Canadian was the most frequent origin reported in 2001, followed by British Isles origins (English, Scottish and Irish) and French.

Because of early settlement of European groups in the West, groups such as German, Ukrainian, Polish, and Dutch were among the more frequent groups for the Prairie provinces. In the Prairies, the most frequently reported origins again included Canadian as well as English, Scottish, Irish and French.


In Saskatchewan, German was the most frequent ethnic ancestry in 2001, as it was in 1996. Aboriginal origins also appeared among the more frequent ancestries in the Prairie provinces, North American Indian and Métis in Manitoba, and North American Indian in Saskatchewan and Alberta.

English was the most frequently reported origin in British Columbia in 2001, followed by Canadian, Scottish, Irish and German. Chinese was the sixth most frequent origin, then French and East Indian.

In the Yukon, English, Canadian and North American Indian were the top three ancestries. In the Northwest Territories, North American Indian was the most frequent ancestry, while Inuit was the most frequent origin in Nunavut.