More than half of Toronto was born outside of Canada: Vital Signs study

Matt Coutts
Daily Brew
More than half of Toronto was born outside of Canada: Vital Signs study

A report released on Tuesday detailing the strengths and weaknesses of Toronto lists the city’s increasingly immigrant population among the former, giving credence to the city’s motto, “Diversity our Strength.”

The Toronto Foundation’s annual report, titled Vital Signs, offers an in-depth view of how Toronto is comprised, not the least of which noting that for the first time more than half of the city’s population was born outside of Canada.

The report is an interesting look at what makes the city great, and what weighs it down. It considers the way Toronto has excelled, and where it has lagged. Where it has grown and where it should focus.

Toronto’s official population, for instance, has reached 2,771,770, 14.5 per cent of whom were ages 65 and over. By 2031, 17 per cent of Toronto will be seniors – which makes it a good thing Toronto has already embarked on a “Seniors Strategy” to make the city more age-friendly.

When it comes to transit, the city’s 158,000 daily cyclists are credited for keeping congestion down, at least comparatively. Toronto was found to be the third-most walkable city in Canada (behind Vancouver and Victoria). But when it came to public transit, the 66-minute round-trip commute was found to be the worst of any North American city except New York.

Among the most interesting point raised in the report, however, was of Toronto’s population demographic. For the first time, Toronto comprises more people who were born outside of Canada than inside.

According to the report, 51 per cent of Toronto’s residents were born elsewhere before moving to Canada. What does this mean for how the city should grow?

"Toronto excels at attracting highly skilled people from around the world," reads a statement from John Barford and Rahul Bhardwaj, the board chair and president of the Toronto Foundation. “In 2011, we reached an important milestone: 51 per cent of our residents are foreign-born. As we embrace Toronto’s international reputation, it’s about time we also grappled with the issues that come with being a rapidly growing and increasingly dense metropolis.”

According to Statistics Canada, Canada had a foreign population of about 6.7 million people, the vast majority of whom had settled in large urban centres specifically in Ontario, British Columbia, Alberta and Quebec.

Cities such as Vancouver and Montreal also have specifically large populations of residents born outside of Canada, but neither seemed to have yet crossed that 50 per cent threshold.

According to the latest Vancouver Vital Signs report, 47 per cent of that city’s residents are first generation Canadians.

Toronto’s 51 per cent foreign-born figure was credited back to the 2011 National Housing Survey – the replacement for Canada’s census released last year.

Toronto’s rate of residents born outside the country is notably concentrated. When you expand the view to the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, the number decreases to 39 per cent. When you consider the issue nationwide, just 22 per cent of those living in Canada were born outside of Canada.

According to the Vital Signs report, one in 12 of those new Torontonians had arrived in the previous five years, and one-third had arrived within the past decade.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Toronto is already adapting to the needs of a strongly-immigrant population. The Toronto Board of Trade, for instance, says the region is costing itself as much as $2.25 billion per year by not recognizing and taking advantage of the qualifications and experiences of immigrant workers. In response, the Mowat Centre has prepared a strategy on how to better engage those groups.

Foreign-born residents and recent immigrants are also more likely than others to life in overcrowded housing, making the province’s Housing First plan - which requires that new developments include affordable housing options - all that more important.

The Vital Signs report digs into the figure a little deeper, and links Toronto’s unique demographic to some points of international pride.

A report released earlier this year by the global business consultant firm Mercer, for example, named Toronto the third-best North American city. Another international survey named Toronto the most “resilient” city - defined by the city’s ability to adapt to changes.

The difficulties facing a largely-immigrant population are well  covered territory in Toronto, but so are the benefits. The city’s motto, Diversity Our Strength, exists for a reason.