Sri Lanka, formerly known as Ceylon, is a South Asian island country. Its population is 20 million, of which three-quarters are Sinhalese (“lion people”) who, according to Sinhalese chronicles, arrived in Sri Lanka from Bengal, Northeast India, in the 6th century BC. Sinhalese speak Sinhala, and most Sinhalese practice Theravada Buddhism.
Sinhalese Immigrants to Canada
Sinhalese immigration to Canada began in the mid 1950s, shortly after Sri Lanka gained its independence from Britain. In the 1980s, larger numbers of Sinhalese migrated to Canada seeking refugee status, in part due to political unrest in their home country.
Sinhalese Canadians Today
Many Sinhalese live in Ontario, mainly Toronto, and there are also large Sinhalese communities in Montréal, Vancouver, Halifax, Calgary and Edmonton. These communities share a vibrant social and cultural life that revolves around events including Buddhist religious celebrations, New Year festivals, sports events such as cricket matches, and theatre and musical productions.
Community organizations such as the Sri Lanka-Canada Association (formed in 1968) and Toronto’s Sinhalese Association of Canada, as well as Sinhalese Buddhist temples, host many of these events and are central to the Sinhalese community’s social, cultural and religious life. Several Sinhalese Buddhist temples in Ontario are notable for their Dhamma schools, which cultivate Buddhist values among Sinhalese Canadians. Sinhalese newspapers (in both Sinhala and English), as well as community television and radio programs in Toronto, also help keep the Sinhalese in Canada informed and connected.
Canada-Sri Lanka Relations
As members of the Commonwealth, Canada and Sri Lanka have a reciprocal economic relationship. Trade between the two countries accounts for roughly $450 million each year. Canadian exports include wheat, lentils and canola, while imports from Sri Lanka include clothing, tea, and rubber-based products. Canada also established an assistance partnership with Sri Lanka in the 1950s, which is managed mainly by the Canadian International Development Agenda (CIDA), to conduct development work and deliver humanitarian assistance in Sri Lanka.
Learn more: Sinhalese in The Canadian Encyclopedia