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Canada - Defining Families, Trends In Marriage, Cohabitation Versus Marriage, Divorce, Variations On The Dominant Pattern

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Families in Canada—more so than in Britain, France, or even the Americas—are characterized by enormous diversity, especially regional and ethnic diversity. Canada has historically been a society of immigrants and of regions. First, the Aboriginal, or native people, arrived from Asia about ten thousand years ago. They organized into complex national groups with their own distinct cultures, economic bases, and languages. Norsemen explored but did not settle Canada in the years before 1500. French explorers and colonists arrived in the early seventeenth century and continued to settle throughout the first half of the next. The British began arriving in the early eighteenth century. After skirmishes and a decisive battle between the French and British armies in 1763, the British came to dominate the part of North America that is today Canada. In 1867 Confederation—Canada's founding event—set the groundwork for provincial differentiation (Quebec versus the rest), two official languages (French and English), two privileged religions (Protestantism and Catholicism), and what became known in the late twentieth century as "multiculturalism."

Varied timetables of immigration, economic opportunities, and demographic mixes caused Canada's regions to develop differently from one another. Their lack of similarity was largely due to Canada's enormous size, disparate economic development, and the distances between communities. Unequal educational opportunities and social mobility maintained the ethnic and class distinctions that made Canada what the sociologist John Porter came to call a "vertical mosaic."

Today, with more postsecondary education, travel, and mass communication, these ethnic and regional variations have begun to shrink. In this entry we will emphasize similarities and general tendencies. The theme of diversity remains important, though, as it is essential to understanding Canadian family life.


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