Chapter 1: The History of Settlement Services in Canada

Settlement and Integration

Specific Learning Outcomes

By the end of this section, you will be able to

  1. Identify the factors that have influenced settlement practices in Canada
  2. Interpret influences on settlement practices throughout the history of immigration related to the three (3) milestones identified in the previous sections
  3. Debate the value of these varying influences through discussions and in writing activities

History of Settlement Services in Canada Glossary Terms Flashcards

Let’s review the glossary terms that were introduced in this chapter’s introduction. Use the flashcards to practise learning these words and acronyms.

Essential Steps Upon Arrival to Canada

There are fourteen (14) essential steps that immigrants face during the first few weeks of arrival. These steps are not easy to navigate without the support of family, friends, or community settlement services.

Upon entry into Canada (Mishra, 2020), immigrants must present their passport and ID. They must also complete the following 14 steps:
  1. Prepare for questions about their purpose for entry
  2. Check their visa or residency status – Provincial nominee
    • Skilled immigrants (express entry)
    • Quebec selected workers
    • Startup visa program
    • Sponsored spouse, partner, or children
    • Sponsored relative
  3. Get a social insurance number from Service Canada
    • Get this at the Service Canada counter at the airport
  4. Look for permanent accommodation or move into prearranged accommodation
  5. Open a bank account
  6. Apply for a library card
  7. Apply for a driver’s licence
  8. Get a public transit card
  9. Get a local mobile phone number
  10. Register for a provincial healthcare card
  11. Sign up for a family doctor
  12. Register their children for school
  13. Become familiar with the city and the community where they are living
  14. Look for employment

Pre-arrival services are offered online by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) to immigrants and refugees. The purpose of pre-arrival services is to help immigrants with some of the initial settlement steps before they arrive in Canada. These services are available online through the Government of Canada portal here.

This free online service helps immigrants and refugees to do the following:

  • Prepare for their move to Canada
  • Have their education, work experience, and other credentials recognized in Canada
  • Connect with employers to find a job
  • Connect with free services after arriving in Canada (IRCC, 2021)

Did You Know?

“It is expected that by 2036, half of all Canadians will be either immigrants or children of immigrants. In terms of immigration patterns, the proportion of European newcomers is expected to decrease, while more than half of all immigrants are anticipated to be of Asian origin. As a result, Canada’s linguistic fabric is expected to change. By 2036, more than 25% of the Canadian population is expected to have a mother tongue other than English or French.”

(Saint-jacques et al., 2019, para. 8).

Where Can Newcomers Get Help with These Steps After Arrival?

In the early days of immigration, policies did not legislate a system of organized settlement services. Settlement support was provided by friends, family, and community members who spoke a common language and had compatible cultural or religious practices.

In today’s Canadian society, there are a wide variety of immigrant service agencies to help immigrants with short term and long-term settlement integration challenges. While there is no shortage of these organizations in urban areas, services in smaller communities are less accessible. Services are concentrated in large cities where most immigrants settle. Large cities  offer more options for employment, housing as well as government services that are offered in a number of  languages.

Unfortunately, not all languages are represented in settlement organizations. For refugees from countries such as South Sudan and western Ethiopia, there are fewer first-language service options in languages such as Nuer and Dinka. Consequently, individuals from these language groups usually reach out to family, friends, and members from their ethnic communities. For an immigrant or refugee to go to an organization where they may not be able to communicate because they have limited or no English-language skills and where services are offered by settlement practitioners who may not understand their culture can be an intimidating experience. From the time that Canada opened immigration in the 1970s, immigrant settlement services have made strides in increasing the range of languages in which services are offered. The following are examples of settlement and integration organizations that offer settlement services in multiple first languages:

Immigrant Services Calgary Over 70 languages
Calgary Immigrant Women’s Association 135 languages
Calgary Catholic Immigration Over 60 languages
Edmonton Immigrant Services Association 28 languages

The Role of Immigrant Settlement Services

Settlement and integration services can either be found in one location through a “wraparound” delivery model or spread throughout different agencies and organizations that are service specific. Wraparound service delivery is the ideal model for settlement and integration services.

The wraparound model approach develops one case management plan for a client that covers all their needs in one organization. Typically, a centralized database is used to track a case management plan to coordinate the different services and workers who contribute to the plan. This coordination eliminates duplication of services but supports team collaboration to ensure a positive, wholistic outcome for the client. This approach leads to outcomes that are coordinated and meet the unique needs of each individual.

Here are two examples of how this model works:

Example 1

Immigrant Services Calgary offers childcare, language assessment, counselling, employment support, and family services to all classes of immigrants and refugees—all genders and both adults and children.

Example 2

Calgary Immigrant Women’s Association offers childcare, language training, counselling, legal services, employment training, and youth programs that are specific to immigrant women and their families.

Each organization has its unique mandate and may not have the capacity or financial resources to offer a broad range of services. An organization that primarily offers language or health services would refer a client to other agencies to get support for needs that can’t be served within their organization. However, the trend in settlement service models is moving towards a wraparound service delivery model that responds to the wholistic needs of immigrants in one organization rather than multiple organizations.

The range of services offered by settlement agencies (Khan, 2020) in Canada are the following:

1. Orientation Gives an introduction to Canada to help manage the culture shock of arriving in a new country
2. Needs assessment Determines what kind of services an individual or family needs
3. Job search Provides support to identify and connect with employment opportunities
4. Employment services Delivers workplace preparation programs to help with workplace communication and culture
5. Language training Assesses language skills and places individuals in the appropriate level and type of language training courses (settlement language, conversation groups, job-specific language training, academic and professional bridging programs)
6. Community connections Provides social, professional (for example, IQUAS), and educational connections

Learning Activity 2: Research Newcomer Services

Go to the following websites and conduct a search according to your location:

  1. Research five (5) organizations in the province or community where you live.
  2. Summarize the services that each organization offers and compare them to the “range of services” checklist above.

Evolution of Settlement Support Services

Just as newcomers today reach out to family or friends as their first point of contact, newcomers did the same in the early 1900s. For newcomers arriving without family, reaching out to people who were from their own ethnic background provided a safe option for support and helped them to navigate the everyday life challenges for basic survival. Connecting with people from the same ethnic community afforded opportunities to communicate in a familiar language, practise their religion, and take part in cultural celebrations that helped ease the loneliness and isolation. Consequently, although this community support created familiarity, it also created isolation from the world outside their communities. Employment opportunities were primarily unskilled labour jobs in companies where people from their own ethnic communities worked.

Newcomers gravitated to housing locations where members from their ethnic communities lived. Although this created a safe and familiar environment, it insulated and isolated them from mainstream society. The term “enclave” (Hopper, 2012) is a term that best describes a community within a community where people from the same language, cultural, and religious background live and work within the broader mainstream community. English is typically learned on the job and not in a classroom. It is not unusual for people living in these communities to live in Canada for 20 to 30 years and not be able to communicate in English when venturing outside the home. In any major city in Canada, there are parts of the city that are referred to as Little Italy, Chinatown, the Jewish district, and so on. These terms reflect the legacy of early settlement patterns of immigration.

The following is an excerpt from a booklet called a History of Ethnic Enclaves in Canada (Zucchi, 2007) that gives a broader sense of the  uniqueness of minority communities within communities from different periods in Canada’s immigration history.

“When we walk through Canadian cities nowadays, it is clear that ethnicity and multiculturalism are alive and well in many neighbourhoods from coast to coast. One need only amble through the gates on Fisgard Street in Victoria or in Gastown in Vancouver to encounter vibrant Chinatowns, or through small roadways just off Dundas Street in Toronto to happen upon enclaves of Portuguese from the Azores; if you wander through the Côte-des-Neiges district in Montreal, you will discover a polyethnic world—Kazakhis, Russian Jews, Vietnamese, Sri Lankans, or Haitians among many other groups—while parts of Dartmouth are home to an old African Canadian community. These neighbourhoods conjure up images of what an ethnic enclave might be, and our images have been led by personal glimpses of the neighbourhoods that all of us have known (if, indeed, we have not grown up in them). However, our notions of ethnic neighbourhoods have also been influenced (and some would say constructed) over the years by American perceptions of their own ethnic neighbourhoods and by governments, agencies, media reports, opinion leaders, and legislation regarding ethnic enclaves. In the late nineteenth century, for example, Canadian politicians and journalists worried about an immigrant tide that might gravitate to the cities and reproduce the tenements and slums of cities to the south.

Geographers have taught us that there is a strong connection between race and place and that the two help to define each other. Thus, when we discuss ethnic neighbourhoods or enclaves, it is important that we have some sense of what we mean by ethnicity. For our purposes, we will not restrict ourselves to the national connotations of the term, but to the sense of a common ‘background’ or history or sense of peoplehood, whether the common factor be nationality, Old World region or continent, race, religion, or any combination thereof. Sociologists have often alluded to the relationship between the persistence of ethnicity and the phenomenon of ethnic enclaves, and they have also examined the thorny questions regarding assimilation, integration, and acculturation since the pioneering work of the Chicago School of Sociology in the 1920s. One of the classic arguments has been that there is a link to residential segregation. With economic and social mobility, immigrants tend to leave enclaves and integrate with broader society, and within a couple of generations, we have full assimilation. Many other factors are of course involved, including the political context, intermarriage, networking, city size, and other local issues. In the last 30 years, there has been much debate among Canadian social scientists about the relevance of such terms as ‘assimilation’ in Canadian society. With the advent of multiculturalism in which there is no national identity to assimilate to, some sociologists argue that the term has limited meaning.”

(Zucchi, 2007, p. 1)

Learning Activity 3: Ethnic Enclaves in Canada

In Zucchi’s 2007 booklet History of Ethnic Enclaves in Canada, there are case studies of different minority communities in major cities in Canada:

Click to access the booklet

On page 5, paragraph 2, there are some questions posed by the author that are presented for you to answer after reading this booklet:

  • “How were these neighbourhoods formed? Why should they have emerged in the first place?”

Read the booklet and write a three- to five-paragraph response to these questions. Think in terms of how immigrants in these neighbourhoods benefited from living in these minority communities and how living in these communities benefited their settlement and integration into Canada.


Discussion Forum: Ethnic Enclaves in Canada

Consider the difference between the terms “ghetto” and “enclave”; Zucchi (2007) favours “enclave.”

  1. What is the difference between the two terms?
  2. Why is one term preferred over the other?

Post your response and start a dialogue with your peers.

Additional Resources

In Canada. (2019, September 19). Challenges for new immigrants in Canada [Video]. YouTube.

Walker, B. (Ed.). (2008). The history of immigration and racism in Canada: Essential readings. Canadian Scholars Press.

Zucchi, J. (2007). Canada’s ethnic group series: Booklet no. 31. A history of ethnic enclaves in Canada. Canadian Historical Association.


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