Ethnic and cultural origins of Canadians

November 1, 2017

Did you know?, International

Ethnic and cultural origins of Canadians
Release date: October 25, 2017


  • In 2016, over 250 ethnic origins or ancestries were reported by the Canadian population.
  • Four in 10 people reported more than one origin.
  • British Isles and French origins are still among the most common in 2016; however, their share in the population has decreased considerably since the 1871 Census.
  • In 2016, close to 20 million people reported European origins.
  • Chinese ancestry (1.8 million people), East Indian ancestry (approximately 1.4 million people) and Filipino ancestry (837,130 people) are among the 20 most common ancestries reported by the Canadian population.

Since the very first censuses, Statistics Canada has collected data on the origins of the population. In 1871, the year of the first Canadian census following Confederation, approximately 20 origins were enumerated in the Canadian population. At that time, 60.5% of the population reported origins from the British Isles, 31.1% reported French origins and less than 1% reported Aboriginal origins.

Census data on ethnic and cultural origins are used to draw a portrait of the richness, diversity and complexity of Canada’s cultural heritage today. In 2016, over 250 origins were reported and 41.1% of the Canadian population recorded more than one origin.

Since the 1981 Census, Canadians have been able to report all the ethnic and cultural origins of their ancestors themselves, both on their paternal and maternal sides. Up to six origins per person were retained in 2016.

French and British Isles origins are still among the most frequent
According to the 2016 Census, English (6.3 million), Scottish (4.8 million), French (4.7 million) and Irish (4.6 million) origins were still among the 20 most common ancestries reported by the Canadian population, either as a single response or in combination with other ancestries (multiple response). However, the proportions of French and British Isles origins were lower than in 1871.

In 2016, 32.5% of the Canadian population reported at least one origin from the British Isles, and 13.6% at least one French origin.

Canadian was the top origin, with 11.1 million people reporting this ancestry alone or in combination with other origins, representing approximately one‑third (32.3%) of the country’s population.

More than 2 million people report Aboriginal ancestry
Aboriginal people in Canada contribute to the richness and diversity of Canadian cultural heritage. In 2016, 2.1 million people, or 6.2% of the total Canadian population, reported Aboriginal ancestry (single or multiple response).

Of the three main Aboriginal groups, First Nations (North American Indians) was the largest, with 1.5 million people. Within this group, Cree (356,660), Mi’kmaq (168,480) and Ojibway (125,725) were the most common ancestries. Métis ancestry was reported by 600,000 people, and Inuit ancestry was reported by 79,125.

Close to 70% of individuals who reported Asian origins are foreign‑born, compared with 15% of individuals who reported European origins
Immigrants from each immigration wave in Canada, as well as their Canadian‑born descendants, have contributed to the ethnocultural diversity of the country’s population.

In 2016, close to 20 million people reported European origins. However, a minority (15.1%) were foreign‑born (first‑generation population). Conversely, nearly 70% of the approximately 6 million people who reported Asian origins (including the Middle East) were foreign‑born.

Among the population with European origins, 19.9% of people were born in Canada to at least one foreign‑born parent (second‑generation population) and 65.1% were born in Canada to two Canadian‑born parents (third‑generation population or more).

In addition to French and British Isles origins, German, Italian, Ukrainian, Dutch and Polish were among the most common ancestries reported by individuals from the second or third generation or more. These results reflect the heritage of the many Europeans who immigrated before the 1970s.

In the entire Canadian population, three Asian origins were among the 20 most commonly reported origins: Chinese (close to 1.8 million people), East Indian (approximately 1.4 million) and Filipino (837,130).

These three origins were among the most common Asian origins reported by first‑ and second‑generation individuals. Chinese, Lebanese and Japanese were the most common Asian origins reported by individuals in the third generation or more.

For the first time in the 2016 Census products, data for five additional Asian origins were published: Hazara, Kyrgyz, Turkmen, Bhutanese and Karen. In addition to these, five new African origins were also published: Edo, Ewe, Malinke, Wolof and Djiboutian. These new Asian and African origins were mainly reported by foreign‑born individuals, a reflection of the most recent immigration waves.

In 2016, just over 1 million people reported African origins, 749,155 reported Caribbean origins and 674,640 reported Latin, Central or South American origins.

The majority of people who reported African origins or Latin, Central or South American origins were part of the first generation to arrive in Canada. The most common ancestries among first‑generation individuals from these two regions are Mexican, Colombian, Egyptian and Moroccan.

Video: Welcome to Canada: 150 years of immigration


Jewish groups question census results showing dramatic population decline
The decline to 143,665 in 2016 from about 329,500 in 2011,a drop of almost 186,000 people. This is the largest drop for any Canadian ethnic (religious) group recorded in the census data released October 25, 2017.

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