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Winnipeg a diverse city of cultural change

One Summit to highlight successful programs that can be built on.

About 22 per cent of Winnipeggers were born in another country.

Dave Baxter/Metro

About 22 per cent of Winnipeggers were born in another country.

There’s a deep history behind every cultural group in Winnipeg that contributes to the city’s cultural diversity.

Twenty-two per cent of Winnipeg residents were born outside of Canada. It’s a number that’s hovering at the national average, says Lori Wilkinson, a professor in the department of sociology at the University of Manitoba, who specializes in immigration and race relations.

But for Winnipeg, that statistic indicates a rising trend that has put the city on par with Canada’s other major metropolises, she says. Winnipeg is the sixth most popular destination city for immigrants after Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, Mississauga, Edmonton — notably ahead of Vancouver and Ottawa.

For decades, the largest group of immigrants to the city has been from the Philippines, and that trend continues today, says Wilkinson. “There’s a long history of Filipino people in Winnipeg,” she says.

“There was a concerted effort in the ‘50s and ‘60s to recruit skilled people like nurses, and people who could do highly skilled manufacturing, like furniture making.”

As people started arriving from the Philippines, news spread in the Filipino community about the jobs and other benefits available in Winnipeg and the city became a popular destination. Word of mouth is a powerful thing, says Wilkinson.

“If you have friends there and jobs available, why wouldn’t you move?” she says. “If there are cultural, linguistic, or social ties, it makes sense to move to where those ties are stronger.”

This phenomenon manifested in a slightly different way with people from Winnipeg’s second-largest immigrant community, people of German origin.

The German-speaking Mennonite community has deep roots in Winnipeg, and is drawing German-speaking people into the province, partly through the province’s Provincial Nominee program, an initiative to recruit skilled workers to live and work in Manitoba that started in the late 1990s.

Winnipeg is also home to many Inuit, First Nations and Métis people — 13 per cent, a higher proportion than any major city in Canada. The city is the traditional territory of the Anishinaabe, Métis, Cree, Dakota and Oji-Cree Nations, and many other Indigenous ethnic groups live in the city.

Over the past 10 years, Western Canada has drawn immigrants faster than other provinces, much due to the job opportunities in the region. Manitoba and westward has seen a 62 per cent increase in immigrants over the last decade, says Wilkinson.

Nevertheless, cultural change is a process that happens slowly, with the percentage of Winnipeg residents who were not born in Canada increasing about one percentage point every five-to-seven years, says Wilkinson. It affects the city and its people in many different ways.

Because of its strong Filipino population, for example, Winnipeg was the first city to elect a Filipino-born MLA and MP. This unique mix of people from many different origins has made it the melting pot it is, and that’s a great thing, says Wilkinson.

“Our culture has become more diverse. As we get exposed to different ways of thinking, that really spurs on innovation,” she says. “The way we think is very culturally ingrained, so when you have people from different cultures and create a dialogue, you’re able to innovate in ways you haven’t thought of before.”

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