The Great Indian Migration

So the big elephant in the room (pun totally intended) in Guelph is … why are so many Indian people choosing to migrate to our little city? 

A big question indeed, and one I think is best answered by someone with a foot in three different camps; I am a Guelphite, I am of Indian descent and I am of course, a proud Realtor here in Guelph. In my mind, that makes me a pretty good candidate to tell the story.

 I will throw out a small disclaimer first – this article is intended to be a source of information for those looking to understand what is actually happening here on the ground, not hear-say from your neighbour or coffee talk gossip. I in no way intend to offend anyone, so please keep in mind who I am, what my background is and that I am only trying to help explain the great Indian migration to Guelph.

 Growing up in Guelph and 110% engaged in the Indian culture, I can truthfully say I’ve seen the city grow and change in many ways from what it used to be more than 20 years ago. The movement of the Indian community out of the GTA and into the tri-cities is real. It’s happening, it’s going to continue to happen and it’s important that we from all cultures try to find a way to understand each other. After all, most of us in Canada are immigrants from many other countries across the globe.

 Let’s start at the very beginning…

 Looking back at Canadian history, the first groups of size to migrate began to head to British Columbia in the early 1900’s. Sizeable migration into Ontario didn’t start until around the 1960’s. Vancouver and Toronto both saw large influxes of families seeking a better life than they thought could exist back home. Why Canada? It was all about opportunity. We were considered a land of unlimited potential and if you worked hard, your efforts would be handsomely rewarded. The news of a new way of life here in Canada had freely travelled half way around the world, and without the use of the internet. It was word of mouth from family to family that brought my ancestors along with many more families to explore life in Canada.

 Just the thought of picking your family up and moving half way around the world into a completely new culture is mind-blowing to me. I have tremendous respect for the amount of courage that this must have taken.

 When the first handful of families started to trickle down to Guelph from Toronto, it was the start of the Indian community as we know it here today. I recently sat down with my aunt who was one of the first families to take the risk in settling here. She explained to me that there were only about five families that lived in Guelph and they all knew each other very well. They stuck together, worked in the same factories, lived close-by and helped one another when it was needed most. As years went by, the main motive of these initial families was to work for their children and raise enough money to bring their remaining family members here. As time went on, more and more families were sponsored and the Indian community began to really take shape in Guelph.

 In order to understand the movement properly it is important to understand how Indian people chose to live. The majority of families lived in villages or cities where high density living was the norm. In most cases neighbours were separated by walls where everyone knew one another (a stark contrast to the more open and separated living spaces here in Guelph). Indians tend to be very family oriented (similar to Italians), they love to entertain and visit family and friends at least 2-3 times a week. This certainly helps to explain why you see a lot of Indian families buying houses in the city and newly developed neighborhoods such as those found in the south, west and now east of Guelph. “New” is the key word there. Typically, an Indian family would rather buy brand new rather than a house that is 20+ years old. It’s true and the proof is in the fact that the second most dominant language in the south end of Guelph is Punjabi!

 As a realtor and an involved member of the local Indian community, I have recently witnessed, first-hand, a huge number of new families migrating to Guelph from the GTA. The word is out that Guelph is the next desired city and let me tell you why…

The biggest and number one factor would be investments. If there’s one common theme in the Indian way of life anywhere in the world, it’s that we like to be smart with our money. Over the past few decades Brampton became the Canadian home to thousands of Indian families. A little while later, those seeking better value outside of Brampton pushed further to Milton.

 The price of houses in Guelph compared to the GTA. An average freehold townhouse in Brampton/Mississauga is pushing close to $500,000-$550,000 and detached homes are an easy $700,000 starting price to get into the market. Commute times from Guelph to the GTA are an average of 45-60 minutes (not to mention Guelph also has a growing train schedule which will hopefully make it even easier to commute to and from the GTA). I’ve worked with many Indian clients who have no issue with the commute. It’s simple math that they cannot ignore. Selling their GTA home and buying a similar house for hundreds of thousands less is more than worth the drive in their mind.

 Indian families like to feel they have a piece of their home country in their new home. Temples (Gurdwaras) are a big attraction for the Indian population, especially for our elders. About 20 years ago the Guelph Indian community pooled together some hard-earned money and bought a small building on Stevenson Street. And so the official “Guelph Gurdwara”, legally known as The Guelph Sikh Society was born. After years of continued growth, we’ve begun to outgrow the quaint Stevenson location. Yet again today, with significant investment from our growing community we are building a new Gurdwara on Clair Road in Guelph’s south end with a completion forecasted for mid 2017.

 As you can imagine the word has quickly spread of this new development here in Guelph. With that comes many celebrations of life, marriage and holidays. Although it might seem like a different world sometimes, what the Indian community is doing is no different than what the Italians did decades ago here in Guelph. They were looking for a safe and prosperous place to raise their kids and a place to call home for their family. Perhaps the points above are not far from what caused your family to settle in Guelph from wherever you might be from. Canada is one of the most diverse countries in the world and Guelph is a city that certainly champions the Canadian way of life. Many people are moving to Guelph it’s not only the Indian community but also Middle Eastern, Asian and ethnicities from all corners of the globe. We all just want to find our little slice of heaven, a place where we can raise our families in peace and prosperity, a place where we can live with respect from our fellow citizens. And we all seem to have found it right here in Guelph.

Harry Kainth

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