Canada: No longer ‘sleepy little’ Bradford amid shifting demographics


By Jeffery Tram | Barrie Today | Canada |

It wasn’t easy in 1989 to be among the first people of colour to move to Bradford West Gwillimbury, a then-sleepy little farming town about 60 kilometres north of downtown Toronto.

Leaving Toronto’s Jane and Finch neighbourhood, the Sandhus were the first Sikhs to move to Bradford. Their children were the first to wear turbans in the local high school. A brother later became the first Sikh police officer with a local police force. And Raj Sandhu went on to become Bradford’s first person of colour to be elected to town council.

“I am proud of this accomplishment,” Sandhu says. “I hope to represent a new voice in the community.”

Sandhu has served as Ward 1 councillor for Bradford since 2010 and is currently running for deputy mayor.

The Sandhus were on the vanguard of a vast demographic shift in rural Ontario, a movement that would accelerate over the years, and then be driven even faster by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Immigration is vitally important to Ontario. In fact, provincial immigration ministers from Ontario, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba are meeting federal Immigration Minister Sean Fraser in Saint John, N.B., urging him to do more to attract immigrants, particularly in skilled trades, and to allow provinces to select newcomers in response to their own specific labour market needs.

Meanwhile, many immigrant families in Ontario are moving out of heavily populated urban areas for smaller cities and rural communities. One of those towns is Bradford. There are many reasons why people from urban areas like the GTA are moving to Bradford, but the biggest ones are affordability and its proximity to Toronto.

“Bradford went from a sleepy little town to a thriving commuter town,” says Mark Contois, a Bradford town councillor of First Nations descent.

As a councillor since 2006, Contois has seen tremendous change. The town had a population boom, growing to 42,880 residents in 2021, a 21.4 per cent increase in just five years.

“This was certainly planned growth,” says Bradford Mayor Rob Keffer, referring to a 2002 community plan that aimed to greatly increase residents while still retaining a ‘small-town’ character.

With easy access to Highway 400 and GO Transit, people can commute with relative ease to Toronto for work or play.

In fact, Ontario sees towns like Bradford as being instrumental to the overall growth of the province.

Sandhu witnessed first-hand the changing demographics of the town. Bradford was generally welcoming to Sandhu as he grew up in the area, but he did have his share of racist encounters.

“Some of it was casual racism, such as ignorance and stereotyping, but I also had my house egged at one point,” says Sandhu.

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Tasmania’s ‘first Sikh couple’ moved from Malaysia to Australia five decades ago. Here’s their story. (Asia Samachar, 31 Aug 2020)

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