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500,000 Americans : Canada's Unseen Wave of Immigrants

September 06, 1986|KENNETH FREED | Times Staff Writer

TORONTO — For Margaret Genovese, Canada is a country where opportunity and a delightful life style mesh to create "a terribly wonderful place to live."

As planning director of the Canadian Opera Company, she is, she says, "very grateful to have been allowed to come here."

To John Maxwell, owner of two of Toronto's most successful restaurants, however, "Canada is a pleasant place to do business--but I hate pleasant. "

Genovese and Maxwell are opposite poles in the largest American community outside the United States, about 500,000 people. Americans here form one of the most significant and successful immigrant groups in Canada, one that makes a notable contribution to Canadian society.

Hidden Strength

Yet, in a country that promotes its multicultural makeup with a constant stream of national days, parades and money, the strength and size of the U.S. community here are largely unknown, even hidden.

"It's in my own interest to keep my identity secret," Maxwell said in an interview. "They (Canadians) don't like Americans."

Maxwell's severe assessment is not shared by everyone--Barton Myers, a world renowned architect who moved from Philadelphia to Toronto 19 years ago, says, for instance, that "I've never run into prejudice"--but it is evident that Canada and the Americans here generally want their presence played down.

There are no large American societies in Canada, as there is for almost every ethnic group, no community centers or organizations to promote the interests of Americans living here.

"We don't get together and sing songs from the old country," says Jeff Sallot, a native of Cleveland, Ohio, who is the Toronto Globe and Mail's bureau chief in Ottawa, the capital city.

Low-Key Celebrations

Even the Fourth of July celebrations at the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa and the various American consulates are low-key, nearly private affairs with more Canadians invited than Americans.

The Canadian government encourages ethnic and national groups to maintain their separate identities, giving them millions of dollars each year to promote their activities. But it officially ignores the Americans.

Rather than count immigrants from south of the border by nationality, the government's census office, Census Canada, lists them by their original ethnic or national background, usually on the basis of their family names. Thus, Massachusetts-born Genovese is officially listed as an Italian, even though her only connection with that group is through her paternal grandfather.

No government official would comment on this policy, but Canada has long been sensitive to what is seen here as a near-overwhelming cultural, social and economic influence from south of the border. Intensifying this attitude may be the reluctance of Americans to play a full part in the society.

According to government estimates, only about half of the immigrants from the south take up Canadian citizenship. The rest hold some sort of resident or working permit, and even those that do become Canadian citizens rarely give up their U.S. passports.

"It's the best of all possible worlds," architect Myers said in an interview. "I've got dual citizenship in the two best nations in the world."

Operates L.A. Firm

Myers operates a major firm in Los Angeles, where he lives part of the year. He, like many Americans living in Canada, sends his children to college in the United States.

It is not much acknowledged that, despite their reluctance to give up their connections back home, Americans play an important role within Canada's borders.

For example, besides Genovese, the Canadian Opera Company, one of the mainstays in the country's nationalistic artistic community, employs Americans in several key positions, including those of artistic director and business director.

The McDonald's fast-food chain here is owned by an American, 40,000 of Alberta's farmers are Americans and the nation's universities are full of professors hired from the United States. In addition, since more than half of major Canadian businesses are owned by Americans, many industrial managers are from the United States.

Successful Reporters

Like Sallot, who won the Pulitzer Prize when he worked for the Akron, Ohio, Beacon-Journal, many of the most successful Canadian newspaper reporters are American. They include Diane Francis, the Toronto Star's leading economic writer, and Alan Abel, a widely admired former Globe and Mail foreign correspondent and now a television commentator.

Americans are among the key managers even in the publishing industry, probably the most nationalistic of Canada's culture-related businesses.

And the Canadian Football League is so dominated by Americans that it set up a separate Most Valuable Player category for Canadian players because "imports" would otherwise always win.

It has always been this way. The first large wave of immigrants to Canada were the 40,000 Americans who crossed the border after the American Revolution because they opposed the new nation.

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