Saunter through Italy inhaling the smell of fresh coffee, stop for a hearty pint of Guinness in a bustling Irish bar, scoff down some gyros in Greece and finish it all off with a delicate custard pastry in Portugal.
It’s all in a day’s work when you’re in Toronto, the most multicultural city in the world…
Toronto is one of the most multicultural cities in modern history – that’s according to a recent ranking from The Culture Trip, who ranked it as the most multicultural in the contemporary world, based upon data provided by the BBC – beating off other melting pots like London, NYC, Singapore and Sydney.
And looking at the demographics, you can see why. Over 51 percent of locals are foreign born; 10 percent are of Chinese origin; one in 50 locals are Korean.
But it’s not just demographic diversity that makes Toronto unique; it’s the way the city has embraced its multicultural nature. It’s arguably the model for the successful, modern, cosmopolitan city – a proud rebuttal to those who believe that multicultural communities are dysfunctional or undesirable.
Take a stroll through this city and you can experience a mesmerising mosaic of cultures in just one day. Through Little Portugal, Chinatown, Little India, Koreatown, Greektown and Little Italy you will find authentic cuisine, lifestyles and dialects – over 180 spoken in the city.
But Toronto wasn’t always such a medley of cultures and races; quite the opposite. So how did a dour industrial city that used to be known as ‘America’s Belfast’ become the world’s most dizzyingly diverse?
In the early 20th century, immigration in Toronto was dominated by working class Irish Catholics, who were relegated to substandard, often self-built homes.
Then came the seismic shift of the Second World War, and with it, droves of new cultures. First came Eastern European Jews, fleeing prejudice and unspeakable horrors. Then came the Italians, Greeks and Portuguese, left impoverished and seeking greener grass. Hungarian communities – looking for something to believe in after the failed uprising against Stalinist Russia – joined them. For these immigrant communities, left battered and and bruised by the events of the early 20th Century, this city represented a chance. What’s more, rapidly expanding Toronto universities game them opportunities that sadly aren’t common for many migrants. Soon enough they had the ability to move into the middle class.
While the civil rights movement raged in the States, there was a concerted effort from Toronto to embrace its new multi-faceted identity. Beginning in 1969, the city supported a week-long celebration of ethnic diversity known as Caravan. Visitors would be issued a ‘passport’ and enjoy traditional food, drink and entertainment from the culture that hosted that particular year.
And it’s clear looking at Canada today that attitudes adapted accordingly. In a 2015 Environics poll, 95 per cent of respondents said that immigrants are as likely to be good citizens as native-born Canadians. Today, almost half of newcomers to Canada have a college degree, compared with 29 per cent in the United States. Plus, the second generation is more likely to attend a university than those whose parents are native-born. Multiculturalism is now embedded in the local identity.
And this is what persists within Toronto – the notion of multiculturalism as a vital, positive force. The idea that no singular culture would define this sprawling land – in other words, that there would be no overbearing cultural identity to assimilate to – became the method of Canada’s domestic and global success.