Kevin Flatt is associate professor of history
and director of research at Redeemer
University College in Ancaster, Ont.
On the Halifax waterfront, just down the street from the farmers’ market, sits Pier 21. Over the decades,
this former stop for ocean liners
has been a bridge to a new life in
the New World for hundreds of
thousands of new Canadians.
Through several great immigration booms – including the mass influx of European immigrants leaving
behind the ruins of the Second
World War and the more recent arrival of people from Asia and Africa
– Pier 21 was Canada’s front door.
This past summer the Canadian
Museum of Immigration at Pier 21
celebrated its grand reopening after
a $30 million expansion.
Immigration and Christian faith
are closely tied in Canadian history.
Long before there was a Pier 21, the
first Christians to stand on our
shores were foreign explorers and
settlers sent by France and England.
They brought their particular forms
of Christianity with them, as subsequent immigrants have done for the
past 400 years. To be sure, many of
Canada’s indigenous peoples (
themselves descended from much earlier
immigrants) also embraced Jesus
Christ and became His followers.
But since those early years of first
contact, most Christians in this part
of the world have been either newcomers or their descendants.
Just as Canada is a country built
on immigration, so too Canada’s
evangelical churches were built on
immigration from other lands. In
the 19th century the churches that
benefitted the most from immigration were the Anglicans, Presbyterians, Methodists and Baptists.
Many English immigrants were
Anglicans or Methodists already
when they arrived. Scottish and
Irish immigrants to Canada tended
to be staunch Presbyterians. The
large numbers of American immigrants who came to Canada in
those years were most often
snatched up by entrepreneurial
Methodist and Baptist churches
which sent evangelists on horseback to far-flung farms and villages.
Already in those years we see that
the churches that benefitted from
immigration were either churches
with which the immigrants already
identified or those that took bold
steps to share the Good News with
This pattern repeated itself in the
20th century. In the wake of the First
World War the Salvation Army
helped settle more than 200,000
British immigrants in Canada. After
the Second World War the Lutheran
and Christian Reformed churches
grew through immigration from
particular countries (Germany and
the Netherlands respectively).
Other churches, such as the Christian & Missionary Alliance and the
Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada,
grew by reaching out to immigrants
from a wide variety of backgrounds.
Immigration continues to be a
major source of growth and vitality
for Canadian Christianity. Between
2006 and 2011 (the latest Statistics
Canada data) 48 per cent – nearly
half – of immigrants to Canada
identified as Christians. The next
biggest group was those claiming
“no religion,” at 20 per cent. Only
17 per cent of immigrants in this
period were Muslims, 7 per cent
Hindu and 5 per cent Sikh. There
were nearly three Christian immigrants to Canada for every one
During those five years more than
half a million people identifying as
Christians came to Canada. Close to
half are Protestants, including, for
example, 21,250 Baptists and 25,555
Pentecostals. Many of them join
small but rapidly growing denominations that are not well known. Rick
Hiemstra, director of research at
The Evangelical Fellowship of
Canada, has found that at least one
African-based evangelical denomination, the Redeemed Christian
Church of God, has over 50 congregations in Canada.
Today’s immigration is potentially
an enormous boost to Canadian
Christianity. Most newcomers are
much more religious than the
Canadian born. In 2011, 43 per cent
of foreign-born Canadians attended
religious services once a month,
compared to just 22 per cent of those
born in Canada. Due to immigration, over the 1990s religious attendance rates increased in some of
Canada’s largest cities, such as
Toronto and Vancouver, while it
fell in the rest of the country.
Immigration also brings the unreached world to our doorstep.
More than half of recent immigrants
come from the “ 10-40 window,” a
region of Africa and Asia with relatively few believers. This is a tremendous gospel opportunity. Will
today’s Evangelicals, like those of
previous eras, answer the call? /FT
that benefitted from
is an immigrant faith
At the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 in Halifax,
people can trace the journeys of immigrants to Canada.
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