Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

A look at Manitoba's 55 ethnic groups

Nadya Kostyshyn Bailey speaks five languages (Ukrainian, Polish, German, French, as well as English) and understands several Slavic tongues (Russian, Czech, Croatian, and Serbian). She has to. Mrs. Bailey is manager of the ethno-cultural programs of Manitoba Culture, Heritage, and Recreation, a provincial department. She works with the more than 55 different ethnic groups in this prairie province. ``We probably have the largest mix in Canada,'' she says.

Mrs. Bailey is now learning Chinese. ``My father spoke 11 languages and thought I was a disgrace to the family,'' she recalls.

About these ads

Only 44 percent of the people of this province stem from English or French-speaking backgrounds, the two official languages of Canada.

Up to about 1950, most of the non-English speaking immigrants here came from different European countries, such as the Ukraine, Greece, Poland, Czechoslovakia, the Netherlands, and Germany. Since then, most newcomers have arrived from non-Western cultures.

There are, for instance, some 27,000 Filipinos, many of them employed in the garment industry and, at the opposite end of the pay scale, the medical community. There are also sizable numbers of ethnic Chinese from Vietnam, East Indians, and Pakistanis, people from the Caribbean islands, some black Africans, and Chileans.

``Winnipeg is a city built on immigration,'' says Mayor Bill Norrie, who grew up in an Icelandic neighborhood. ``By and large these people have got along together. But not without tensions.''

Also, some 15,000 native Indians or m'etis live in Winnipeg, some of them suffering from too much alcohol and too little education. ``They are probably the most difficult social problem we have,'' says the mayor. On a more hopeful note, he adds: ``They are developing now an indigenous leadership that may help.''

Canada, as a matter of government policy, does not follow the ``melting pot'' approach for dealing with immigrants practiced in the United States. It encourages the different immigrant groups to retain their language, traditions,and culture. In Winnipeg, the public schools offer more than a dozen languages. Some 110 cultural and ethnic organizations sponsor evening or weekend schools offering 26 languages. They often get some government financial help.

Such groups may also build various cultural centers or clubs -- such as the Ukrainian Cultural and Educational Association, the Indo-China Chinese Association, the Pakistani Association, the Italian Center, the German Club, the Indian and M'etis Friendship Center, and so on.

About these ads

Mayor Norrie has learned a little Ukrainian, helpful politically in this city. After one anti-Soviet rally, he was told by one of the audience: ``I understand your English better than your Ukrainian.'' And he admits to having gone to some meetings of ethnic groups without understanding much of what was said. ``They are a little tough to sit through,'' he says.

Nonetheless, he concludes: ``The salvation for any group is that its members maintain their roots in terms of culture and language -- as long as they don't `ghetto-ize' themselves. It has been proven you don't have to do that.''

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.