HATIANS ROOTING FOR LES HABITANTS? HOW MONTREAL’S BECOME A HAVEN FOR HATIAN-CANADIANS
It’s hard to imagine two places more seemingly-different than Canada and Haiti. One is the hockey capital of the world, enjoying—or at the very least enduring—flurries of winter snow and a place in the prestigious G20 economic group. The other is a place bereft of hockey and snow alike, and in its place, a sun-drenched island which has faced environmental and political disasters in the past few decades, and while its people survive and its identity remains vibrant and distinct amidst the crowded cultural scene in the Caribbean, there’s no denying that economic opportunity can be hard to come by in Haiti. That’s just one of many reasons which has forced something of a Haitian diaspora, and surprisingly enough, many Haitians find their way to the Great White North.
Surprising, that is, until you begin to look deeper, and see the reasons Montreal has become a haven for Haitians looking to immigrate to Canada.
SHARED FRANCO-CATHOLIC ROOTS
While Haiti and Canada are separated by thousands of miles, the little island and the province of Quebec are united by at least two factors, namely, their strong ties to Francophone culture and, as a result, the Catholic Church. Neither tie should come as any real surprise, as both Quebec and Haiti once belonged to the French during their imperial period. Quebec has long had the reputation as being not just the most noticeable bastion of French culture in North America, but one of the most vibrant and popular centers of French culture outside France herself. Haiti, meanwhile, was at one point a colony overseen by the French, and even after its famed revolution, it retained much in the way of French culture, including the language and, yes, Catholic beliefs.
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These shared cultural touchstones can make the transition from Haiti to Quebec all the easier. Montreal, in particular, stands out in this regard.
As such, if you live in Port-au-Prince and are looking for another Francophone city to travel to, you may want to consider Montreal. It has some of the oldest and most prominent French and Catholic buildings and pieces of art in North America. In this way, it can the transition easier—you’ll still be able to speak French and have a degree of cultural familiarity while likewise becoming accustomed to all the accoutrements of Canadian culture.
To say Haiti has been struggling though some difficult economic times would be something of an understatement. The small Caribbean island has been ravaged in the past few decades by everything from dictatorships and war to natural disasters—none of which are good for economic prosperity. The Duvalier family ruled Haiti for decades following its independence, with disastrous results, and even with the coming of elections, coups and the nightmarish 2010 earthquake and tsunami which claimed the lives of anywhere from 100,000 to 316,000 lives.
All of this is to say that, sadly, Haiti isn’t necessarily the best place for Haitians looking to get ahead economically. It’s easy to construe economic advancement as greedy or a simple money grab, but currency is needed to buy food, to gain access to clean water, to send children to school and later college in a world where the wealth gap is increasing and the cost of education is already tragically prohibitive for many in even “comparatively-rich” countries, such as the US.
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As a result, immigration to Canada is on the rise, where college is less expensive and both Anglo and Francophone culture is preeminent. Immigrants from all over the world, from Northern Africa and the Middle East to Southeast Asia and Eastern Russia—and, yes, Haiti. Immigrating to Montreal and finding a job in its growing economy may be one of the best options out there for Haitians looking for more economic opportunity.
The overall population of Haitian-Canadians has been on the rise for years, as tracked by both the 2006 and 2011 Canadian censuses. What’s more, the overwhelming majority of Haitian Canadians live in Quebec—97%. Of those, yet another great majority live in the Montreal area.
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As such, if you want to be part of this trend and live in one of the burgeoning areas of the Haitian Diaspora, Montreal might be the perfect place to make a fresh start.
Immigration can be challenging, to say the least. After all, you’re leaving one home with the hope of finding another, and in cases such as this, you’re traveling thousands of miles to a new country, where the codes, customs, and—even with the Francophone similarities—culture may be different. As such, you’re going to want to immigrate to a place that’s immigrant-friendly and has a history of being welcoming and non-hostile. In this respect, Montreal is perfect. From Italian and Spanish immigrants to American draft dodgers during the Vietnam War, Montreal has risen to the status of world city and done so in large part by making itself a haven for immigrants. This, and the fact that 97% of Haitian-Canadians reside in Quebec, makes the greater Montreal area the perfect choice for Haitians immigrating to Canada.
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There are many reasons to consider immigration. It may be that you want to pursue greater economic opportunity, either for yourself or for your family. It may be that you want a fresh start in a new country. It may be that your own country has been hit by natural disasters or is in the middle of political unrest. Whatever the reason, immigration is one of the most powerful forces in this globalized world of ours. Haitians have been all too familiar with the processes of immigration and emigration for centuries, so now, with Port-au-Prince experiencing difficulties, it may be time to consider a new home—and to that end, Montreal, home to 97% of Canada’s Haitians, may well help you and your family feel 100%, and ready for the fresh start you deserve.
Riley Haas has been a leading expert since 2011 on immigration matters, with hundreds of publications online. Published author of three books about political philosophy, the Beatles and the Toronto Maple Leafs, respectively. BA from Bishop’s University, MA from McMaster University. You follow Riley on Substack https://rileyhaas.substack.com.