Filipino-Canadian History

Filipino-Canadian History

Along the white boxed-edifice in Ayala Avenue which houses the Canadian Embassy, there is little or no activity. In fact, only a thin procession of people slithers through its gates. The secret is betrayed above ground, in boxes upon boxes of documents, and slim cheques with fat amounts on it as Filipinos scramble to immigrate to Canada.

“Gold mountain” is the mythical name given to North America by the Chinese to symbolize familial aspirations for wealth, freedom and happiness. For Filipinos seeking to be anywhere but home, the rubric “gold mountain” becomes what it is –a floating signifier, a charisma-laden manna, lulling the Filipinotraveler to wherever his imagination or ethos or adventurous utopian drive takes him.

The theories of labor migration have failed to explain why other countries with similar or worse economic conditions have failed to produce comparable migration levels to that of the Philippines. A combination of many influences uniquely obtaining in the country may be the reason. Aside from the political and economic problems of overpopulation, unemployment and poverty, Filipinos have relatives, consultants and lawyers engaging, enhancing, and embellishing when they describe the immigrants’ chances of succeeding in other countries. The Philippine media is equally guilty as it showcases success stories instead of the ghastly tales and extreme hardship experienced by immigrants. The “trigger factor”that holds truest, however, may be the wave of hopelessness that envelopes the country.

Late 1800’s. Canada’s earliest documented Filipinos were sailors who travelled to the west coast of Canada.
Many of them were living in New Westminster, then the capital of the new colony of British Columbia, engaged in fishing. A number who settled in Bowen Island intermarried with newcomers from other Pacific islands and local Indigenous women.

1900s-1930. Almost all immigrants were men. Many found jobs as labourers in lumber mills and mining. A small Filipino community was established in Vancouver. Ship manifests also showed Filipinos temporary workers, such as singers, dancers and musicians, who arrived at the Port of Victoria bound to the United States. A family was also recorded to have arrived in the Prairies, particularly in Melfort, Saskatchewan.

  • Macario Fat was a Chinese Filipino who served in the 47th infantry battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force during the World War I.

1931-1954. The wave of Filipino migration to Canada that began in the first decade of the twentieth century became a trickle in the 1930s. Previously considered American nationals, Filipinos were limited by stricter immigration laws. At the end of World War II, beginning in 1946 and lasting until 1964, there ensued a generation of “voluntary” immigration to Canada and elsewhere. Some immigrated to the U.S. as part of the U.S. military; others immigrated as nurses and doctors.

  • Second generation FIlipino Hawaiian, Peter Nahanee Garcia was a longshore worker and World War II Canadian Army veteran.

Late 1950’s. Filipinos started trickling into Canada during the late 1950’s despite the restrictive policies of the Immigration Act of 1952. The more welcoming provisions of the Immigration Act of 1976 and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act of 2002 encouraged even more Filipinos to come.

  • Some Filipino doctors on the U.S. Exchange Visitors Program came to Canada to renew their visas from outside the United States as required. Some decided to stay. Even more came to Canada the following year as the passage of the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 forced them to leave the U.S.

1970. The 1952 Immigration Act restricted immigration, but the points system favoured admission of professionals and workers to suit Canadian manpower needs. 16,913 Filipinos lived in Canada by 1970; 3,247 were admitted in 1971; 4,050 in 1972; Filipinos admitted to Canada jumped to 9,704 in 1974.

  • Filipinos who came in the early years experienced easy migration and easy and fast approval of their application for permanent residence. They had no trouble finding suitable jobs, and most were able to practice in professions in Canada for which they were trained in the Philippines (i.e., healthcare professionals). Renting or buying a house was affordable.

1981. The 1976 Immigration Act made immigration a part of manpower policy, and it favored educated and technically trained immigrants; Canada adopted humanitarian policies toward refugees and family reunification. Fewer Filipinos were admitted to Canada, however: 5,859 in 1981; 3,076 in 1985. The low numbers were due to foreign travel restrictions decreed by the Marcos government.

1986. The 1976 Act was still in effect, and the family reunification policy allowed more Filipinos to enter Canada. Numbers jumped to 7,343 in 1987 and then to 8,310 in 1988 and 11,393 in 1989.

  • In the 1980’s, the number of Filipino domestic workers/nannies increased. It has been theorized that although they had the education and training, since Filipinos were barred from practicing in the healthcare professions as nurses, midwives and teachers, they were channeled into the low-sector occupations of the Canadian economy.

1992. The Live-In Caregiver Program (“LCP”) replaced the Foreign Domestic Movement in 1992. More skilled workers and sponsored relatives were admitted in Canada: 12,042 in 1990, 12,335 in 1991; and 19,640 in 1993.

  • Immigrants who came later encountered many problems. Processing their papers took years and at considerable cost. Finding jobs suitable to their education or training was frustrating. Some encountered racial discrimination.

2006. It can be estimated that individuals of Filipino ancestry in Canada are close to 500,000. This does not include the Filipino contract workers who have been coming under Canada’s temporary foreign workers program since 1996. More Filipinos came as families and independents instead of being sponsored by family or being recruited as contract workers.

2016. As of the 2016 Canadian Census, there are 837,130 people of Filipino descent living in Canada, most living in urbanized areas. Filipino Canadians are the third-largest Asian Canadian group in the nation after the Indian and Chinese communities. They are also the largest Southeast Asian group in the country.

  • For the entire 2016, cash remittances from overseas Filipinos reached a record $26.9 billion, up 5 percent from $25.61 billion in 2015. More than $2 billion of the remittances, or about 10%, come from Canada.

Compiled by Melissa Briones with updates by Yshmael Cabana, BSc Arch.


  • Anywhere but home: Staggering numbers leave the Philippines, Remulla-Briones, 2006
  • Seeking a Better Life Abroad, del Rio-Laquian and Laquian,
  • 2008Filipinos in Canada: Disturbing Invisibility, edited by Coloma, et al., 2012