The View From Here: Making Sense of the Census


Volodymyr Kish.

Several weeks ago, the Canadian government released the results of the comprehensive nation-wide census that was conducted in 2016. Among the many interesting statistics produced were those related to Canada’s ethnic diversity. Ukrainians being one of the largest ethnic groups in Canada, I was particularly interested in seeing if there were any significant changes from the previous census conducted in 2011.

Most surprisingly, I learned that the number of Canadians reporting their ethnic origin as being Ukrainian rose from 1.25 million to 1.36 million, or by 108,485 to be more exact. You may well ask what is so surprising about this increase? Well, to begin with, the same census revealed that between the two censuses, the number of immigrants to Canada from Ukraine totaled only some 13,425. Where did the other 95,060 Ukrainians come from?

One would think that he most obvious answer would appear to be Ukrainians born in Canada between the two censuses. However, when we look up the current average birth rate of Canadians during that period, we get a number of about 11 per 1,000 of population. Assuming that Ukrainians in Canada have a similar birth rate, this gives us an estimate of about 13,761 new Ukrainian Canadians coming on board between the two censuses through natural procreation. Immigration plus new births gives us a total of 27,186. So how can we explain the remaining 81,299 increase of Ukrainians?

The answer to this conundrum lies in the fact that the census questionnaire asks the person filling it out to identify their ethnic origin voluntarily. We can safely assume that in the previous 2011 census, there were many Ukrainian Canadians that did not identify themselves as such, but simply chose to identify themselves as “Canadian”. For some reason, in the 2016 census, some of these people for the first time were willing to claim Ukrainian ancestry.

This of course leads to the obvious follow-on question of why these 81,299 Canadians were now more willing to self-identify as Ukrainians, when they were reluctant to do so in the past? This phenomenon is worthy of more formal and serious social research, but I will take a stab at identifying some of the possible reasons.

First of all, I am sure that the Revolution of Dignity that transpired in Ukraine between the two censuses had a big impact. Ukraine finally took a real step forward towards overturning the corrupt oligarchies that had been running Ukraine since the breakup of the Soviet Union. The revolution and its consequences were well covered in the global media, and by and large, people have come to perceive that Ukraine is finally taking the necessary steps towards overcoming its third world image, and becoming a “western” European state. The Canadian government has played a major role in helping Ukraine shed it Soviet legacy, and there has been much favourable coverage about Ukraine in the Canadian media. The revival of hope that Ukraine can become a successful democracy and a major player in the international political arena, has no doubt had a positive impact on many assimilated or near-assimilated Ukrainian Canadians, to the point where they are no longer reluctant or ashamed to be labeled as Ukrainians. Some have taken a step further and become actively involved in Ukrainian organizational efforts involved in raising humanitarian and other aid for Ukraine as it faces renewed aggression from its historical Russian foe.

The second major factor to my mind, is the fact that the Ukrainian Canadian Congress and its various agencies such as the Canada Ukraine Foundation, the Holodomor Committee, and others have become much more proficient at getting their message out beyond the Ukrainian community, raising the general level of knowledge and awareness of all Canadians about important Ukrainian issues. They have been very successful in lobbying politicians at all levels and getting much needed media exposure. As a result, many formerly ambivalent Ukrainian Canadians have begun taking more of an interest in Ukrainian affairs, and becoming more involved in the Ukrainian community. This no doubt, has also played a role in affecting the latest census results.

The bottom line is that these latest census numbers seem to strongly indicate that there has been a positive upsurge in the way many Ukrainian Canadians perceive and value their Ukrainian heritage. For many, it is no longer a facet of their identity to be hidden or relegated to the past, but one that they can identify with and be proud of.