Now and Then explores the stories behind Toronto’s historical plaques and monuments.
Latin American Heritage Month is in October, but learning about the Latin American experience in Toronto can happen all year.
Latin American immigrants began arriving in large numbers in Toronto in the late 1970s. Latin America is generally defined as the countries south of the United States where people speak Romance languages (such as Spanish, Portuguese, and French). Today, some of the people from these countries might identify as Latino, Latina, Latinx, or Hispanic.
Before 1970, there were only around 3,000 people who identified as Latin American in Canada. In the early part of that decade, around 68,000 Latin Americans started arriving, some on tourist visas. Canada then had a policy that allowed people to arrive as visitors and then apply for landed immigrant status, although this led to a backlog of thousands of applications from 1970 to 1973.
At this point, most Latin American immigrants were from the Andean region, where economic prospects were shrinking. In the 1970s, political unrest in Central and South America led people to flee their homes and countries, with thousands choosing to move to Canada.
After Augusto Pinochet seized control of Chile in a 1973 coup, the Canadian government created the Special Chilean Movement program, which helped Chilean refugees escape to Canada through Argentina.
Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s government adopted multiculturalism as official policy in 1971 and the Liberal government of Lester B. Pearson had adopted the points system for evaluating immigrants. This policy followed looser immigration laws, including the 1962 regulations that banned racial discrimination, although still restricted family sponsorship to certain countries.
In 1979, the government created new classes of refugees, including the Latin American Political Prisoners and Oppressed Persons classification, which was more restrictive in its requirements than other classes, including the Eastern European Self-Exiled Persons.
Many Latin American immigrants to Toronto settled in Kensington Market, which has long been a neighbourhood of newcomers. Today, St. Clair is a hub for many Latin American organizations and activities, and the TTC has a plaque recognizing the heritage of the area at the Arlington streetcar stop on St. Clair West.
In the 1990s, more Latin American immigrants arrived to study and work, with the intention of becoming Canadian citizens. Many of the earlier waves of refugees had hoped to be able to return to their home countries one day.
The Hispanic Canadian Heritage Council mentioned the 2015 Pan American Games, held in Toronto, as a moment when interest in Latin American people grew as Torontonians were exposed to countries in South and Central America. Other community organizations include the Centre for Spanish Speaking Peoples, an important community hub in Toronto. Every year, Toronto hosts the Hispanic Fiesta, a celebration of Latin American culture.
Did you like this article? Do you love Torontoist? Support articles like this by becoming one of the first Torontoist subscribers. Get great perks and fund local journalism that makes a difference—join Raccoon Nation now.