Community Life

From: The Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples/Spaniards/

Spaniards do not have a great tradition of creating community organizations. However, like all people from largely agrarian societies, they were very attached to the practices and loyalties of their home villages, things such as games and athletic activities, the local festival, religious processions, and brotherhoods. (These last are at least as much connected to local identity as to religious belief, strictly speaking.) The Franco regime, which sought to control many aspects of public life, made the emergence of vigorous and autonomous organizations very difficult. The regime persecuted many organizations, and not just political ones, which it felt were too liberal, and punished their members. As participation in public life was not encouraged, and could even be dangerous, Spaniards were increasingly loath to move beyond circles of family or friends and when they did they tended not to participate very actively.

In spite of this background, Spaniards in Canada have created and maintained some community life. And they have done so even though their small numbers and residential dispersal have prevented the development of Spanish neighbourhoods in Canadian cities. In Toronto and Montreal, which have the largest Spanish populations in the country, Spaniards tend to live in neighbourhoods with a large number of people from other Latin countries, such as Portuguese, Italians, and Latin Americans, with whom they share services and even festivals. For example, Spaniards are found in all areas of the city of Montreal as well as in suburbs such as Greenfield Park, Laval, Brossard, and Dollard-des-Ormeaux. There is no Spanish quartier, but Montreal’s Rue Saint-Laurent, which is home to a number of Spanish associations, as well as to the Librería Espa ñola (just as much a food store as a bookstore) does provide something of a focal point. Toronto, whose Spanish population in 1991 was almost twice that of Montreal, does not even have an equivalent to the Rue Saint-Laurent, although a couple of Spanish stores and a medical centre run by Spanish-Canadian doctors can be found in the largely Portuguese area along College Street.

Spaniards have also established a reasonably large set of associations dedicated to educational, cultural, leisure, and welfare activities. Most of them were created in the 1960s or early 1970s, following the increase in immigration, but some date from earlier. Perhaps the first was the Association Cervantes-Camoens of Quebec City, which was started in 1945. Other early organizations include the Círculo Hispánico of Toronto, which had been founded by Professor Juan Cano and was in existence by 1951, and the Centre Espagnol of Quebec City, founded in 1957.

The Club Hispano of Toronto is a good representative of these newer organizations. The catalyst for the club was the serious illness of one immigrant and the response of other Spaniards in Toronto to raise money and arrange to send him back to Spain. The club was founded shortly afterwards, in late 1964. Its mandate is “to bring together Spaniards, Spanish-speaking people and all residents of Canada interested in Hispanic culture to ... create educational and recreational programs, promote Hispanic culture and provide social assistance to members and beneficiaries.” The club has a wide range of activities: sports such as soccer and bowling, cultural activities such as music and art classes, recitals, lectures, dance groups and theatre, a library, and social activities such as dinners and the celebration of Spanish holidays, among them “Hispanic Day” (October 12). The Club Hispano has also supported a number of Spanish film festivals held in Toronto and for almost every year since 1972 it has sponsored the Seville pavilion in the city’s multi-cultural Caravan.

Not all Spanish organizations were devoted solely or primarily to social and recreational activities. The Centre d’Information pour Espagnols (CIPE) was founded in Montreal in 1974 to provide services to immigrants from Spain and other Spanish-speaking countries and to otherwise help them adapt to life in Canada. The centre provides information, translation, counselling, and assistance in finding work. It also offers courses in French and English for all.

Perhaps the most striking initiative undertaken by any Spanish organization in the country was the decision in 1982 of the Hispano-Canadian Association of Kitchener-Waterloo (Ontario) to create HISLACAN HOMES to build two housing developments. The first, named “Príncipe de Asturias” (the title of the heir to the Spanish throne), was inaugurated in 1983. The fifty townhouses in the development were open to lower-income Spaniards and to non-Spaniards.

In 1993 there were nineteen social and recreational centres, eleven cultural associations, including three theatre groups and one dance troupe, and five schools across the country. Ontario and Quebec had the largest number, with fifteen and twelve respectively, but there were also three organizations in British Columbia, one in Alberta, one in Saskatchewan, two in Manitoba, and one in Nova Scotia. The range of activities carried on in each organization can be quite varied, although in general they try to serve as a point of contact for the community and as a centre of diffusion of Spanish language and culture. The Spanish embassy and the consulates in Toronto and Montreal maintain contact with these organizations and provide them with information and materials, such as films.

Most of these organizations include people from all parts of Spain but some have a marked regional character, appealing to immigrants from one specific area of the country, usually Galicia, Asturias, the Basque provinces, or Catalonia. The Centro Asturiano of Toronto, which was created in 1985, is mostly devoted to social activities such as dinners, dances, picnics and soccer games. The Centre Gallego de Montreal, which was founded in 1969 and which had 300 members in 1985, engaged in similar activities. The Catalonian centres in Montreal and Toronto receive financial support from the autonomous regional government of Catalonia, the Generalitat and the Spanish government. Some immigrants from Catalonia and the Basque Provinces refuse to call themselves Spaniards or to associate with people from outside their region.

The number of people who participate in the activities of the organizations is usually much smaller than the nominal membership. Outside of special events such as festivals, concerts, or plays, relatively few members spend much time there. There is also a striking class difference: Spaniards of more modest social standing are most likely to belong to and participate in these organizations while professionals tend to distance themselves from the community and have more extensive contacts with the rest of Canadian society.

This latter group is more fully integrated and has less need of community ties and cultural reinforcement that the associations provide. In addition, they share few values and interests with their country people. This pattern was clear among Spaniards in Toronto in the mid1980s in a study which revealed that 42 percent had social relations with both Spaniards and Canadians, 23 percent with Canadians only, and 35 percent with Spaniards only. Those in the first two groups had higher levels of education and were often married to non-Spaniards.