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Chilean Profile provided courtesy of the 1984 Alberta People Kit

  Chile is a long, narrow country which extends for approximately 2,600 miles along the western coast of South America. Most of its population is of European descent, but there is also a large metizo, or Indian-European population and a small number of South American Indians. The official language of Chile is Spanish.

The majority of Chileans in Canada today arrived in the country as political refugees after the Allende government was overthrown in 1973. Records indicate that only 2,135 Chileans immigrated to Canada in the 10 years prior to the coup. Most of these people were of the Jewish faith and settled in Toronto.

In order to provide assistance for Chilean refugees arriving in Canada, the Canadian government implemented the Special Chilean Movement Program. By November of 1976, this program brought 4,600 Chileans to Canada. One hundred of these people were part of the One Hundred Prisoner list, a program established by the Inter-Church Committee on Chile. These refugees came directly from internment camps where they were being held as political prisoners.

In the seventies, Chileans were one of Alberta's newest ethnic groups. Since so few Chileans had emigrated to Canada before then, population figures for Chileans in the province before 1973 do not exist. According to statistics compiled in 2001, there are approximately 34,000 Chileans living in Canada, over 5,500 of whom live in Alberta.

Since their arrival, similar to many ethnic groups, Chileans have demonstrated a high level of community organization, forming associations to maintain and promote their culture. The Chilean Canadian Community of Edmonton and the Chilean Canadian Community Association of Calgary are the main organizational bodies for the community in Alberta. These two organizations have committees to deal with schools, culture, sports, women's groups and activities for children. While they are not formally associated with groups in other provinces, they do communicate with them in planning events.

There are more than a dozen Chilean organizations and clubs in Alberta. The majority of these are performing arts associations who perform at fiestas or festivals. Dancing groups who perform regularly include the Victor Jara group and the Riviera Spanish Dancers. An active Edmonton musical group is Raimyhuara Music of the Andes. 

Given that religion is an important part of their culture, many Chileans meet with their community while at church. Chilean Canadians are mostly Catholic and attend masses held in Spanish when possible. A smaller number attend Lutheran and Baptist churches.

Since 1987, the Chilean community in Edmonton has offered Spanish language classes for both children and adults at the Gabriela Mistral Latin American School. Spanish classes are offered in Calgary through the Salvador Allende School. Enrollment in both institutions is high. As English and French are compulsory in the Chilean school system, Chileans have not had serious difficulties adjusting to the use of both languages in Canada. 

Another aspect of Chilean culture that has been transferred to Alberta is the sport of soccer. Calgary has a Chilean soccer team, Star Latino Soccer Club, as does Edmonton.

Some Chilean community organizations in Alberta publish bulletins and newsletters in both English and Spanish. Many members of the Edmonton Chilean community listen to Spanish radio programs produced by the local Spanish community on CKER. Some Chileans in Edmonton take part in the production of a radio program broadcast Monday afternoons on CJSR, the University of Alberta radio station. In Calgary, Chilean Canadians tune into Sin Fronteras, a weekly show broadcast from CJSW, the University of Calgary radio station.

The Chilean community in Alberta recognizes two important national holidays-September 11, which is the date of the 1973 coup in Chile, and September 18, which is Chile's Independence Day.

Although they have been in Canada only a short while, Chileans have already been confronted with the issue of cultural assimilation. Chilean children in Alberta converse in English on a daily basis and have many non-Chilean friends. However, many Chilean Canadian parents attempt to preserve the use of their language by speaking it in the home.

 

 


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