Chilean Immigration to Alberta
Until the 1970s, there were only 2,135 Chilean immigrants in Canada, most of whom settled in Toronto. In 1970, Salvador Allende’s Socialist-Communist government was democratically elected in Chile. Three years later, in 1973, it was overthrown by a brutal coup d’etat led by General Pinochet. Chile was turned into a military dictatorship where violence was the norm. People fled Chile to escape the violence, persecution, and economic chaos caused by Pinochet’s new policies. In 1973, the Canadian government set up the Special Chilean Movement Program which brought 4,600 Chilean refugees to Canada. One hundred of these were political prisoners held in internment camps. Between 1973 and 1978, at least 2,000 Chileans per year immigrated to Canada. Although the numbers decreased following 1978, Chileans continued to immigrate to Canada, most of them trying to escape the economic problems in Chile.
There have been Chilean immigrants from all levels of society; most have tended to have some education or work experience. A high percentage of Chilean immigrants are skilled in the sciences and engineering. However, because many have tended to have difficulty speaking English or French, they have been forced to take menial jobs not relevant to their area of expertise.
It is interesting that 15 percent of all Chilean immigrants in Canada have settled in Alberta. Because most Chilean immigrants came from urban centres in Chile, they have settled primarily in Calgary and Edmonton. Chilean immigrants have not had trouble with serious, systematic discrimination and most live dispersed throughout the cities rather thatn in concentrated areas.
Family life represents one of the main areas in which Chilean immigrants have had to adapt. Many Chilean women who did not work in Chile have entered the Canadian workforce. Chileans have also had to adjust their parenting because, typically, Canadians tend to be more permissive with their children. Chileans born in Canada began demanding treatment similar to that afforded their non-Chilean friends. Otherwise, Chileans have not had major problems in Canada. Most have retained their Catholic religion and make attempts to attend mass in Spanish whenever possible. They also speak to their children in Spanish. Chileans have formed the Chilean Canadian Community Associations of Calgary and Edmonton to preserve their culture and to stay in touch with other Chileans. They have also brought their love of soccer with them from Chile, forming teams in Calgary and Edmonton.
Knowles, Valerie. Strangers at Our Gates: Canadian Immigration and Immigration Policy, 1540-1990. Toronto: Dundurn Press, 1992.