East Vancouver, long-hailed as a multicultural working class area, is becoming less diverse, newly released census figures show.

Conversely, the historically white and wealthy west side of the city is now home to an increasing number of visible minorities. Statistics Canada defines a visible minority as anyone who is not white or Indigenous.

The most significant drops in visible minority populations between 2011 and 2016 were in the Mount Pleasant and Commercial Drive neighbourhoods. In parts of Mount Pleasant, the visible minority population shrunk between 15 and 20 per cent.

The following map shows changes in the visible minority population in B.C.'s Lower Mainland. Areas that have become more diverse are in orange and areas that have become less diverse are in green.

 

The demographics of Vancouver's neighbourhoods have had a racial component to them from the time white settlers arrived and took land from the Indigenous people that lived here, says University of British Columbia history professor Henry Yu.

Yu, who studies the history of migration and race in Vancouver, says historically the city has had two geographic "sides": east and west divided by Main Street.

"The west side was associated with two things: places reserved for those with more money and who were white," he said.

Canada's early 20th century immigration policies favoured immigrants from European countries and imposed racially-based restrictions on who could own real estate title in those areas, Yu explained. This kept those west-side neighbourhoods majority white for a long time.

In contrast, east Vancouver was home to Vancouver's working class. It was traditionally the home of many new immigrants, especially in the 1960s, when Canada removed racial restrictions from its immigration policy.

"New people from India, Pakistan, China, Hong Kong, and Southeast Asia who are non-white … tended to cluster in the east and south of Vancouver," Yu said.  

"Neighbourhoods like Strathcona, Commercial and East Van became predominantly non-white."

Over the last few years, however, east Vancouver has become less diverse.

The data shows the area mainly lost people who identified as black or South Asian, and to a lesser extent, Filipino and Chinese, the census data reveals. It gained people who did not identify as part of a visible minority, which includes people who identify as white or First Nations.

The non-visible-minority population grew by as much as 30 per cent in parts of the Mount Pleasant area and between five and 20 per cent around Commercial Drive.

Hastings-Sunrise in east Vancouver, meanwhile, lost people of mainly Southeast Asian descent.  Here, too, the non-visible-minority population grew by close to 20 per cent.

East Vancouver

Looking eastward onto East Vancouver from Vancouver's downtown. (Shutterstock)

Economic factors

It's hard to fully explain what is causing this drop in diversity in east Vancouver, but one possible explanation is the concurrent rise in income level.

Some of the same Mount Pleasant neighbourhoods also saw a surge in household income over the last decade, previously released census data shows. Incomes in the area increased 25 to 55 per cent between 2005 and 2015. 

East Vancouver has become an increasingly desirable area for established professionals and families eager to get a piece of Vancouver real estate. Traditionally, real estate was less expensive on the east side of the city.

"You're going to see a younger and a more white demographic," Yu said.

In turn, the character of the neighbourhood also changes.

"It also changes the business mix. It's the hip bars, restaurants, that basically appeal to the new demographics," he said.

But Yu cautioned that the loss of visible minorities in east Vancouver may not be a straightforward case of economic gentrification.

"People in perhaps in the lower income scale in east Vancouver have struggled to find new places to live but ... if you were a homeowner in those areas, you're actually coming out fairly well because that rise in [real estate] value," Yu said.

West side, downtown becoming more diverse

And on the flip side, the west side of Vancouver has seen increases in the visible minority population.

Shaughnessy Vancouver

An aerial view of Vancouver's Shaughnessy neighbourhood reveals lush trees and large, detached houses bordered by much denser homes. (Google Maps)

Dunbar and Point Grey saw some of Vancouver's most significant growth in those populations.

In these areas, the growth was driven by people of Chinese and South Asian descent, with the latter group growing faster in many neighbourhoods.

The downtown core, particularly the area between the West End and Yaletown, saw a marked rise in people of West Asian (Iranian or Afghan) backgrounds as well as those who identified as black.

"What happened to the west side is really unfathomable in that longer, broader history," Yu said, pointing out that the influx of global capital and foreign investors is often cited as the reason the neighbourhoods have changed.

But Yu said Vancouver has traditionally been divided along racial lines, which makes these kinds of real estate transactions so visible and evident in the census data.

"It's real estate speculation and development playing out in a racialized way."