All are increasingly diverse racially and have what Dr. Keil calls “a completely understated economy” – they are often dismissed as mere bedroom communities, but are necessary to the functioning of the big cities next door.
“I think that, given the particular mix of immigration and ethnicity and economic specialization, Brampton is at the forefront of something that hasn’t existed before in Canada,” he contends.
Living near an airport is usually something to avoid, and yet Pearson International, which introduces most immigrants to Canada, is right next door to burgeoning Brampton.
For decades, newcomers landed and promptly headed east to the big city. But then a shift in the economy drove the manufacturing and service jobs they need out of the inner city. “Since the eighties and early nineties, immigrants settle directly in the suburban areas,” says Sandeep Agrawal, a specialist in ethnicity and multiculturalism at Ryerson University’s school of urban and regional planning.
As a result, quips Harpal Singh, his face perfectly deadpan, new Canadians “like to live close to the airport – no need to call the taxi.”
In reality, its proximity to Pearson, along with a connection to several major highways and large expanses of undeveloped land, make Brampton highly attractive to major corporations looking to build warehouses, some of them incredibly large. (Driving past Canadian Tire’s gigantic distribution centre, my tiny white sedan walled in by transport trucks, is a claustrophobic experience.)
For many new arrivals, warehouse work is a survival gig, a paycheque until they can practise their preferred trade, and attractive because it rarely requires Canadian job experience.
Lack of experience is also why many immigrants have drifted toward taxi driving and, in Mr. Singh’s case, long-haul trucking.
He was a banker in 1987 when he got married in Punjab and moved to Winnipeg, where his new wife’s family had emigrated. But after six months, he grew frustrated with Manitoba’s weak job market and what he considered the casually racist attitudes of people he encountered.
He then spent a decade in Toronto and by then it was clear he would never go back to banking. “The wages were so low so that you cannot afford the rent,” he explains over baked samosas (diabetes has forced him to give up the deep-fried variety).
On the other hand, he adds, “you see a couple of friends already driving a truck and they say, ‘You can get quick money, good money.’ Especially when you sponsor your family, you need extra money.”
Now, at 56, he brings in $5,000 to $6,000 a month.
The ex-banker didn’t even need a financial institution’s help when he decided to get into trucking: Friends in the Sikh community pooled their resources to raise the $4,000 he needed to be licensed.
“When you’re a newcomer, you don’t have credit, so how are you going to get ... your loan?” he asks. “You need a down payment too, right? If I’m buying a truck, they say, ‘Okay, you need $20,000 plus guarantor.’ Who’s it going to be? My friends. They sign it. They know: ‘He’s going to be hard-working and he’s going to be no problem.’ ”
Sukhi Vaid, a trucking-company manager also born in India, says even immigrants without relatives can find this kind of support. “It’s a closely knit community. Friends or even community leadership, you can always ask for support or go to a temple for support,” he says.
For decades, an abundance of affordable land has fuelled development – but is Brampton well planned?
“I’d probably say that it would’ve been more responsible to go with higher densities,” Mr. Sprovieri says of the upscale north end. “But that’s not what people want. That’s not what the market wants.”
Soon, the market may have to adjust because Brampton has another growth spurt on the way. In less than 20 years, it is expected to jump from a half-million to nearly three-quarters of a million people – and finding room for them is on city hall’s mind right now. Councillors are reviewing the official plan, and this week held a special meeting for public input.