It’s been almost nine months since we pulled up stakes and moved across the country from Toronto to the Okanagan Valley in beautiful British Columbia. Naturally, there are a lot of things I miss about TO. First and foremost, I miss my family and friends. Although I still partake in regular FaceTime calls with them, as I did throughout the pandemic, it’s sinking in how much of an effort is required for me to visit them or vice versa.
There are lots of other things I miss too, though. I miss being able to walk to our corner store or to anything else I used to take for granted that I could easily walk to. I miss the density of Toronto’s downtown. You can be all by yourself and still feel you are part of something bigger. Because you are. I’ve had conversations with folks since moving out here where they express their most dreaded concern about growth and change in this region and the possible increase in noise pollution. I agree much of the noise you experience in an urban core could be considered pollution but I don’t believe I’m the only person who views it as the heartbeat of the city. You can hear the city waking up as the drone of traffic, sirens, and honking start revving up every morning. I enjoyed that and do miss it. Granted, I’ve exchanged that wake-up call for the birds who act as my alarm clock now so, agreed. Not so bad.
But next to family and friends, the thing I miss most is diversity. Diversity of race, culture, food, ethnicity. Any measure of diversity.
It’s really white here.
It’s something that went unnoticed when we came to view our house before we bought it. Our movements were very limited because of Covid restrictions and so we were never truly out-and-about in the community. Regardless of our restricted movement, I do believe that not noticing the lack of diversity during that visit says something unsettling about who I am and how I view the world. I’m ashamed that I didn’t notice the extreme whiteness of this area when we visited and that has me examining my lens of the world in many respects. As always, there is more work to do on ‘self’.
Now that we’ve been here for a while, there’s no denying how homogenous the population is here. Day after day, place after place, the population, regardless of age demographic, is white. My observations were reinforced when the most recent census numbers were released.
The difference is stark
It feels as if we’ve moved from one of the most diverse cities in the country to one of its least. The numbers paint a stark reality. Toronto proudly boasts just under half of its population is immigrants; furthermore, 52% of the population identifies as a visible minority. Compare that to Kelowna’s 14% immigrant population and a grim 11% of the population that identifies as a visible minority. It’s staggering to me.
All of this begs the question; why? Since BC saw the largest population growth of all provinces in 2021, and Kelowna was Canada’s highest growth city why are so few people of colour coming to the Okanagan Valley?
Is this just further evidence of wealth imbalance between POC and white people? I’ve often heard people joke that BC stands for ‘Bring Cash’ and I can attest, this is an expensive province to live in. As an example, the price of gas today here in the Okanagan is $1.79/litre whereas it’s just $1.64/litre in Toronto; that’s almost 10% more. Food, services, fuel; so much seems to have the BC ‘it’s really beautiful here’ tax on it. Although there is little Canadian data specific to wealth and race or ethnicity, Stats Canada did include a bit of detail in the 2016 Census. Specifically, the report indicates a discrepancy between POC and white Canadians when it comes to income from investments and sources other than employment. So, if your only source of income is your job, and you are a person of colour who, we know, earns less than a non-POC (according to the Conference Board of Canada), of course moving to an expensive area of the country is out of reach.
What to do?
So, what is to be done? Increased focus on affordable housing, wage gaps, and recognizing foreign qualifications would be a good start. How about additional services for migrant workers, providing them options and support should they want to move to the community in which they work? And maybe a focus on diversity on our municipal boards and committees. But that’s just this writer’s opinion. And it’s what I’ll be lobbying for through our municipal, provincial, and federal representatives and candidates. Luckily, we’re coming into municipal election season here so opportunities to raise and re-raise these issues will abound.