Richmond—once a semi-rural municipality—has now become a city of over 200,000
with a global demographic unlike any other place in the world. More than 62% of
permanent residents are born outside the country, drawing documentary film crews
from Asia and Europe to uncover this unprecedented phenomenon. Geographers
call Richmond one of the most “hyper-diverse” cities on the planet, measured by
proportion of immigrants.
The 2.4 million population of Metro Vancouver has been growing by more than
30,000 each year, and 9/10 of those are immigrants. Demographers consider
Richmond an “ethnoburb” of Metro Vancouver. This is compared to 44% in
Vancouver proper, and other ethnoburbs like Burnaby (50%), Coquitlam (42%),
Surrey (41%), West Vancouver (41%), and North Vancouver (37%).
In the rest of Canada, Ontario cities come close to Richmond’s levels of foreign
residents—Toronto (46%), Markham (58%) and Richmond Hill (55%).
Compare this to other global cities with a reputation of being flooded with
foreigners, like London in the United Kingdom, which has a foreign demographic of
about 37%. Canada’s population has the second highest proportion of immigrants at
21%, after Australia’s 26%.
Based on ethnicity, Richmond’s demographics are 47% Chinese, 29% white, 8%
South Asian, 7% Filipino, 2% Japanese, and 7% other, according to the 2011 General
Attractive features of Richmond
Richmond residents enjoy a more relaxed city feel than Vancouver and other cities
with less diversified demographics in Asia. Different ethnic groups coexist
harmoniously in the city’s parks, waterfronts, public schools and shopping malls.
Vancouver International Airport has become a hub within Richmond. Number 5
Road leading up to the airport is nicknamed the “Highway to Heaven” because it is
lined with enormous Christian churches, and colossal Sikh, Muslim, Hindu, and
However, some tensions exist over language differences and skyrocketing housing
prices. Giant “McMansions” are popping up where previously smaller bungalows
took place. This is a result of the rapidly growing ethic population, and areas like the
intersection at Number 3 Road and Westminister highway form what is now called
the “Golden Triangle”. Urban geographer David Chenyuan Lai has counted more
than 50 bustling Asian-themed malls and outlets in this centre.
Richmond’s popularity among Chinese
Many factors have drawn Chinese immigrants to Richmond. Chinese-language
media have reported Richmond as having auspicious “feng-shui” energy. The
Vancouver International Airport is said to appear like a pearl in the mouth of a
dragon. Even the name “Rich-mond” has an attractive homonymic power associated
with financial success.
The airport location is convenient for the many wealthy immigrants who need to
travel regularly. As more Chinese flock to these areas, newcomers follow the
communities with similar ethno-cultural identities. Cultural geographers describe
the three diaspora communities of Chinese, south Asian and Filipino as having
reached a critical mass in Richmond.
Living in Richmond
Young residents of the ethnoburb are caught in a balancing act between protecting
their cultural identity and sharing with the mainstream culture. While the city’s
ethnic groups are expanding, some residents feel that there is very little helping
them to interconnect.
There are also concerns about the big, empty houses owned by people who spend
little time in Canada. They view Canadian real estate as a good investment due to the
low mortgage rates, but return to their homelands for work. This causes Richmond’s
sense of community to feel fractured. However, Richmond is still known as a
friendly city with some of the best restaurants in Metro Vancouver.
Greg Halsey-Brandt, who represented Richmond as mayor, councillor or BC Liberal
cabinet minister for 23 years, thinks the demographic changes over the past three
decades have been fascinating, but “not particularly good”. “The volume of
immigration was too large over too short a time period. The host community of
Richmond and Metro Vancouver in many instances did not have time to adjust, nor
did many of the immigrants have time to adjust to us.”
Halsey-Brandt believes this influx has caused stress on the city’s cultural
relationships, jobs, traffic, education, health care and communication amongst
citizens. Nonetheless, integration is a two-way street and requires residents to
continue to work with immigrants to reshape library collection with more foreign-
language content, balance hospital staff, firehouses and police forces to reflect the
city’s ethnic makeup and engage as many residents as possible democratically.