Stepping stone: Why new immigrants settle in Scarborough

Scarborough has welcomed a wave of new immigrants for the past 25 years.

According to the 2006 census, 57 per cent of Scarborough’s population is made up of immigrants. For many, Scarborough has become a stepping stone for those who want to write a new chapter of their lives in Canada.

Roland Coloma is an immigration expert who teaches sociology and equity studies at the University of Toronto.  He said a combination of affordable housing, accessible transportation, and proximity to schools, stores and places of worship has made Scarborough the “ideal gateway community.”

“Historically, immigrants have found Scarborough to be a much more welcoming place for settlement primarily because it has an infrastructure built to support them,” he says.

Affordable housing

The area has a lot of rental accommodations that are within the price range of low-income Canadians.

— Sumit Sen

Sumit Sen, the owner of SEN Immigration agency and former United Nations aide, said the most attractive feature of Scarborough’s infrastructure is its low-cost housing.

“The abundance of apartment lots is a major reason why immigrants flock to Scarborough,” says Sen. “The area has a lot of rental accommodations that are within the price range of low-income Canadians.”

He explains that basement apartments that cost $700–800 monthly — compared to downtown’s $1,000 high rises — are a more realistic choice for newcomers who have yet to make a steady income. These rental accommodations make up a third of Scarborough’s housing, according to figures released from the 2006 census by Statistics Canada.

Accessible transportation

Long-time resident Maher Dadoush, 52, arrived in the city 21 years ago from Israel. He says another huge pull for new immigrants is transportation.

“Newcomers come because, unlike Etobicoke and Mississauga, the TTC services all of Scarborough,” he explains, mentioning that new immigrants who don’t buy cars right away depend on the TTC.

The TTC makes getting around a lot easier.

— Paula Dadoush

His wife, Jordanian native Paula Dadoush, who came to Canada 32 years ago with her mother and sisters, agrees.

“I remember Scarborough when there was still lots of farmlands,” she recalls. “Now that there are more buildings and streets … the TTC makes getting around a lot easier.”

Now living in Richmond Hill, it’s the one thing she misses the most.

“I like the TTC and depended on it a lot, as I’m sure many new immigrants did,” she says. “It was easier for me to go shopping, work, and even downtown.”

Proximity to amenities

The area’s accessibility to schools, shops, and hospitals among others — which the TTC greatly contributes to — is why 48-year-old Emil Sese brought his family to Scarborough in February 2006.

A travel agent and superintendent at York University’s Glendon campus, Sese originally lived in East York but Scarborough’s proximity to his family’s church, Jesus First Christian Ministry (JFCM), and schools convinced him to move.

His daughter MJ’s elementary school and JFCM, where she spends most of her time, are a stone’s throw away from their place at Midland and Eglinton Avenues.

“The accessibility of our home to my daughter’s school and church is my top priority,” Sese says. “By being here, I feel more comfortable knowing that’s she’s near … That’s the most important thing for me — looking after my child.”

Ethnic community

Born in the Philippines, Sese adds that the vibrant Filipino community in Scarborough is another reason why he chose to live there.

“If you’re Filipino, you’re surrounded by Filipino restaurants and stores,” he says. “East and west, all the corners, you have everything.”

According to him, having predominantly Filipino neighbours creates a really good sense of community, similar to being in his home country.

Similarly, Paula Dadoush immigrated to Scarborough to be closer to someone important — her brother.

“My dad passed away back home, my brother was in this country studying in U of T. My mother, sisters and brother decided to go to Scarborough so that the whole family could be together,” she says.

Roland Coloma, sociology and equity studies professor at the University of Toronto, discusses chain migration.

[audio:http://www.torontoobserver.ca/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Roland-Coloma_Interview_Observer.mp3]

Coloma describes the tendency of newcomers to move where their families and friends reside as “chain migration.”

“Immigrants tend to follow already longstanding communities that settled in particular places like Scarborough,” he says. “They follow those they have close ties with … and sometimes even sponsor other families and people from townships in their home countries.”

In the 2006 census, the largest ethnic groups in Scarborough were from China (19 per cent), India (9.5 per cent), Philippines (5.3 per cent), and Sri Lanka (4.5 per cent).

Maher Dadoush, who settled in Scarborough to be with his soon-to-be wife, says he’s witnessed the multiculturalism in Scarborough.

“When you go to a different country, the first thing you do is look for a place where you know someone because it’s foreign to you,” he explains. “You would go there because you assume that if your family or friends are living there and they’re happy, then it’s probably a good and safe place for you as well.”

Relocation

It’s now time for us to enjoy our adult lives in a quiet area that’s not as busy as Scarborough.

— Maher Dadoush

Once immigrants establish themselves they start deciding whether the residence really answers their needs, says Maher Dadoush, who, with his wife Paula, recently moved to Richmond Hill.

“We wanted to change our environment since our son Elias has grown up,” says Paula Dadoush. “It’s now time for us to enjoy our adult lives in a quiet area that’s not as busy as Scarborough.”

Maher Dadoush says another reason behind their move was the growing violence in the area.

“I have friends at work who would ask, ‘How come you’re living in Scarborough? Is it safe there? We don’t even pass through there,’” he says. “I didn’t think it was that bad but I noticed that the violence in some areas really did increase. Twenty years ago it was a lot safer.”

At the same time, he believes that the surge of crime is just a result of Scarborough’s growing population.

“In reality, when you have 50,000 people living in the city, having two crimes does not seem much. But when there are 500,000 people and you have 20 crimes, the rate seems much higher, when all the while the percentage remains the same,” he reasons.

Asked if he’ll consider relocating to a different city, Sese replies with a firm “no.”

“Scarborough has been a really lucky place for us,” he says. “If I was given another chance to move and buy a new place, I’d still choose one in Scarborough.”