In the 1960s, a group of Filipino healthcare workers immigrated to Toronto in search of employment. Nearly 60 years later, Toronto’s Filipino community makes up 62% of Canada’s total Filipino population.
Read the story of how the Filipino community came together to aid those around them.
Explore the making of an ethnic community in St. James Town.
Listen to the experiences of a community centre president and a live in caregiver.
The Philippines is a nation of islands in Southeast Asia that is home to a diverse range of cultures and dialects. The country has a long colonial history. It was part of the Spanish empire for 300 years and later a United States territory from 1898 to 1946, when it became an independent republic.
The political and economic instability that followed the decade after they gained independence forced many Filipinos to leave the country, creating large expatriate communities in the United States and Canada.
English, an official language of the Philippines, was taught in schools and became widely used in state affairs and business, making Filipinos well equipped to work in North America. American-Philippine exchange programs gave many women with specialized training in healthcare the ability to get US work visas.
Some came with family and others alone, St. James Town, an affordable high-rise community at Bloor and Parliament Streets, was a popular destination for Filipino newcomers. Many of the Filipinos who arrived in Toronto were practicing Catholics. The Our Lady of Lourdes church on Parliament Street in St. James Town became an important part of the budding community.
The church was home to the Filipino Christian Workers group, which helped newcomers transition to life in Toronto. In 1971, the group became the Silayan Community Centre, an apolitical, not-for-profit organization separate from the church.
Listen to hear more about the Silaylan Community Centres impact on the Filipino population in Toronto from their president, Leonora Taculad:
Silayan is a word in the Filipino language Tagalog that means “new dawn” or “new day.” The community centre needed to become religiously and politically neutral because of the volatile political climate in the Philippines. As well as helping newcomers transition, the organization connected newcomers to social networks and helped them file taxes, understand legal issues, and navigate government and social services.
In addition to regular community services, the community centre helped issue and renew Filipino passports before a local embassy was established. It also offered crisis services and had a social worker for parents and children.
In the 1990s, the centre built three co-operative housing developments in the Greater Toronto Area that provided vital accommodation for those struggling financially. The Silayan Centre also played a key role in organizing cultural events and festivities, giving the Filipino community an opportunity to celebrate their heritage.
President of the Silayan Community Centre
Becoming a caregiver provides a path to Canadian citizenship and an opportunity to bring family later. Caregivers play an important role in Canadian families. Those who care for kids can become a major influence on the child’s development and socialization.
Filipino workers have been pioneers of social pluralism, bringing different perspectives to culturally-isolated homes.
Listen to Carl Francis discuss his experiences as a live-in caregiver:
Many lived with their employers and in the event of a conflict found their contracts could be suddenly terminated, affecting their ability to apply for permanent residency. In the 1980s, the Coalition of Visible Minority Women advocated for the right of caregivers to stay in Canada after their contracts ended.
Coalition of Visible Minority Women's motto
Maintaining close ties with distant family is important to Filipinos living in Canada and they often ship home large cardboard boxes stuffed with gifts and sundries, known as Balikbayans. Often the boxes contain canned food, clothes, toys, and other surprises.
The Filipinos who chose to become caregivers in this country displayed courage on their journey and they have contributed to the health, stability, and development of many Toronto families.
Listen to Carl Francis discuss how his work affects him:
Prior to the 1960s, Toronto’s population was mostly of British and Irish descent and discrimination against non-white people was common. When Canada’s immigration policies changed, Toronto transformed, becoming a city world famous for its cultural and ethnic diversity. Since launching in 2012, this youth-led project has collected and told the stories of nine Toronto’s immigrant communities.The above story of the Filipino community was written by Tyson Brown and Ysabel Espina and edited for length by Heritage Toronto staff.
Read the unabridged story in Tagalog here.
Interview with Carl Francis Diaz
Interview with Leonora Taculad
Anita Beltra Chen, From Sunbelt to Snowbelt: Filipinos in Canada, (Canadian Ethnic Studies Association, 1998)
Art Valladolid, ‘Even Among Filipinos; Poverty in Toronto is not an Urban Legend’, Retrieved from: http://www.philippinereporter.com/2007/04/16/even-among-filipinos-poverty-in-toronto-is-not-an-urban-legend/
Phillip Kelly, ‘Filipinos in Canada: Economic Dimensions of Immigration and Settlement’, Retrieved from: http://www.ceris.metropolis.net/wp-content/uploads/pdf/research_publication/working_papers/wp48.pdf
Ruben Cusipag, Portrait of Filipino Canadians in Ontario: 1960-1990, (Kalayan Media, 1993).
Rosalina Bustamante, ‘A Growing Community in Fast Growing City’ Polyphony: Toronto’s People, Vol. 6, (Multicultural History Society of Ontario, 1984), pg. 168-171.
Rosalina Bustamante, ‘Filipino Ethnic Newspapers in Metropolitan Toronto’, Polyphony: Press, Vol. 4, No. 1, (Spring/Summer, 1982), pg. 74-76.
Rosalina Bustamante, ‘Filipino Women and Equality’, Polyphony: Women and Ethnicity, Vol. 8, No. 1, (Multicultural History Society of Ontario, 1986), pg. 77-79.
Silayan Community Center Brochure
Heritage Toronto is pleased to acknowledge the support of the Government of Ontario, through the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, for this project.