Vietnamese have come to Canada since the early 1950s. The first
of these came to study in Quebec, an attractive destination as the
French colonial presence in Vietnam made the language and aspects
of the culture familiar.
Early Arrival in Canada
The significant presence of Vietnamese in Alberta begins in 1975,
at the end of the Vietnam War with the North Vietnamese army
moving towards the South Vietnamese
of Saigon. Fearing persecution at the hand of the North
Vietnamese, several thousand Vietnamese fled their homeland, many
of these employed or supporters of the United States Government.
With American assistance they reached holding camps in the United
States. The Canadian government admitted a total of 3,000
Vietnamese refugees in the crisis, with most settling in Quebec
and Ontario. Approximately 100 people came to Alberta, mostly from
the camps in the United States. Few had heard of Alberta but
through immigration officials had heard that employment prospects
in Western Canada were very good.
Most of those who came settled in Edmonton and Calgary, usually
living in the same neighbourhoods or apartment buildings to help
each other find work and adapt to the dramatic change in culture
and climate. For example, thirty Vietnamese arrived in Calgary in
June through December in 1975, several of these former naval and
air force officers. Many of the new arrivals took residence in the
area of 15th Avenue and 11th Street South West. Few found work
which met their level of skill and education. A teacher became a
seamstress, university educated engineers studied at technical
schools to obtain certification. From 1975-78, Canada admitted
just over 9000 immigrants from Vietnam, as well as neighbouring
Kampuchea and Cambodia.
Although some degree of economic stability would be reached
quickly, separation from families in Vietnam and lack of
communications was not so easily overcome. As well, many of those
newly arrived worked more than one job and were able to relay
money to family in Vietname to alleviate the difficult
circumstances of day to day life.
The Boat People
The exodus from Vietnam grew as political and economic conditions
deteriorated, although international attention was minimal. This
changed with the plight of the Hai Hong in 1978. Carrying some
2500 South Vietnamese refugees, the ship was refused permission to
dock in Indonesia and Singapore. In Malaysia, the ship docked but
its passengers could not disembark. This drama at sea brought
international attention concern to the difficult situation in
Vietnam. The Canadian government agreed to take 604 of the Hai
Hong refugees, of whom 50 came to Alberta.
More importantly, the federal government agreed to take 8000
government-sponsored refugees and another 4000 privately sponsored
individuals. The response to this private sponsorship is one of
the remarkable stories of Canadian life. Led by church
organizations, groups willing to sponsor blossomed and this
momentum resulted in an increase of the number of privately
-sponsored immigrants from Vietnam (as well as from other
Indochina regions) to 21,000. Many of these people settled in
Alberta, because of the strong economy at the time, compared to
other provinces. By the end of 1984, there were approximately
22,000 Indochinese immigrants in Alberta alone, with most of these
Vietnamese or ethnic Chinese who had been living in Vietnam.
Establishing Life in Alberta
This dramatic arrival was a challenge for both immigrants and the
receiving and sponsoring organizations. On one hand, the provision
of clothing, food and shelter and the basics required to
re-establish life could be achieved, even with large numbers of
those arriving. However, given the circumstances of the Vietnamese
departure from their homeland, the cultural and social aspects of
the settlement process were staggering. Griesbach Barracks, part
of Edmonton's Canadian Armed Forces garrison, was a key reception
centre for those coming to Alberta, along with the sponsorships
provided by many local organizations. Initially, 30 % of the
refugees settled outside of Edmonton or Calgary.
Cultural societies were informally established by those who
arrived in the mid-1970s and by 1978, both Edmonton and Calgary
Vietnamese associations were formally registered. The most important
celebrations are associated with Tet, the lunar New Year. For
children, the Mid-Autumn Festival is an important celebration.
Religious life in the community is diverse. Vietnamese Buddhist
associations have formed. Many Vietnamese are Roman Catholic and
others are connected to missionary churches such as the Alliance.
In several instances, Vietnamese congregations have been
established. The Buddhist associations have also reestablished
monastic communities, represented by monks who serve the
This digital collection was
produced with financial assistance from Canada's Digital
Collections initiative, Industry Canada.