How Koreans came
to call Toronto home*
By: Jung-Gun Kim
From: Polyphony Vol.6, 1984 pp. 176-180
© 1984 Multicultural History Society of Ontario
*This article is based on the last chapter of the author's thesis, " 'To God's Country': Canadian Missionaries in Korea and the Beginnings of Korean Migration to Canada," Ed.D., University of Toronto, 1983.
The Canadian mission movement in South Korea had as its essence pastoral, medical and educational work in the mission field; it was not simply impersonal financial aid from abroad. Contact between Canadian missionaries and their Korean faithful was personal, and it extended over a period of time and in a variety of capacities. What is more, until the establishment of bilateral government relations between Korea and Canada, this contact between the Canadian missionaries and Korean Christians was the major point of encounter between the peoples of Korea and Canada. Only in 1963, when Korea opened a mission in Ottawa, were formal diplomatic relations between Korea and Canada begun. Only in the fall of 1973, as a result of Canada's desire to intensify relations in the Pacific Rim countries, was a Canadian Embassy opened in Seoul.
Not surprisingly, the result of the intense personal contacts between Canadian missionaries and their Korean flock was an increasing flow of Korean Christian immigrants to Canada. In very important ways this refugee group, so deeply influenced by Canadian missionaries, pioneered Korean immigration to Canada. In the 1940s a mission-sponsored student became the first permanent Korean settler in Canada. Many other students followed him in later years. In addition to the students who became immigrants, a limited number of independent immigrants from Korea made their way to Toronto by the 1960s. They too were, directly or indirectly, missionary connected people; and they were most often people of northern Korean origin. Finally, it was from among this refugee group, known as "the Canadian Christians,'' that the initiative and encouragement of the mass Korean immigration to Canada of the late 1960s and early 1970s came. That mass migration includes Koreans of every denomination and most political persuasions, but the earlier community had a more precise origin in the missionary experience. It is that earlier community which is described here.
To identify the roots of Korean settlement in Canada, one must focus on one man, Tae-yon Whang of Toronto. Whang came to Canada in 1948 as a mission-sponsored medical intern. He opted to remain in Canada after his training. Whang became the first recorded Korean to settle permanently in Canada; many other mission-sponsored students had tried earlier, but to no avail. They had either to return to Korea under pressure from the missionaries or cross the border to avoid that pressure. Whang, who still resides and practises medicine in the Rosedale area of Toronto, is regarded in the Toronto Korean community as ''the first immigrant" and the pioneer of the present-day Korean community in Canada. (1)
In becoming the first mission-sponsored student turned immigrant, Whang set a precedent that many Korean students in Canada would follow. Some Korean students stayed on as Whang did, changing their status from visa student to immigrant, with or without the missionaries' consent. Others returned to Korea upon completion of their studies in Canadian institutes then; some time later, re-entered Canada, this time as immigrants. In the history of the Korean community in Canada, these students turned immigrants formed a unique group of settlers. As an elite Canadian-educated group, they provided institutional leadership in the community. They also became the backbone of intellectual life in the community, especially during its formative stage.
Just as Tae-yon Whang set the stage for those students who tried and succeeded in "staying on" after their studies, David Chong's case exemplifies the story of those who went back to Korea and "re-entered" Canada in later years. David Chong was born in Kando in 1917. His father, a Christian, was a teacher in a Canadian mission school and later an ordained minister. In 1947 Chong was selected by the missionaries and recommended for a scholarship to study in Canada. One missionary explained: "His father has been closely related with members of our Mission for over thirty years, both as teacher and as minister, and has served successfully in several pastorates. (2) The reward for the father's service was the education of his son.
He was sent by the Canadian missionaries to Emmanuel College in Toronto to begin two years of theological training. But, as soon as he settled in Emmanuel, Chong declared that he would rather pursue a Doctor of Theology degree which would require more than two years study to complete. The field missionaries disapproved of Chong's decision: "What we want to train is young men who will come back in a short time to do some active work.''
Chong was sent back to Korea in September 1949. (3) He had been in Canada exactly two years. After receiving a Ph.D. from Yale University in 1958, he served in various academic and pastoral positions, including the presidency of the Kon'guk University in Seoul. In January 1968, Chong accepted a post as visiting professor at Hamburg University, West Germany. In April of the same year, he came to the Department of East Asian Studies, University of Toronto, again as a visiting professor. What is more, in July of that same year Chong accepted the position of minister of the then fledgling Toronto Korean United Church. He decided not to go back to Korea and has lived in Canada ever since. Chong stayed on as pastor of the church for one year, but then he moved to Ottawa where, in July 1969, he became professor of religious studies at Carleton University, a position he still holds. He remains one of the rare academicians within the Korean Canadian community.
Expatriate students were not the only Koreans residing in Toronto in the early 1960s. Other Koreans, intent on building new lives, trickled into Canada as visitors, obtained work permits and eventually became immigrants. The transformation from visitor to temporary worker to immigrant was the common route taken by this second stream of Koreans in Canada. Ch'ung-lim Chon and his ''trade company" were at the centre of this group. Chon initiated a small-scale migration among his Christian friends and relatives.
Ch'ung-lim Chon grew up in the original Canadian mission field in Kando, Manchuria and spent his early years in close association with missionaries. His father was once assistant to missionary E.M. Palethorpe and also managed the Christian Book Room in Yongjong city, Kando under the direction of Canadian missionaries. Chon's father eventually became a minister himself. Chon believes that his strong early association with Canadian missionaries became the determining factor in his immigration to Canada. In 1962 Chon and his family of four were among the first non-student Korean immigrants to Canada. Entering Canada on a visitor's visa, Chon set out to establish a new life. His pockets were filled with names and addresses of former missionaries to Korea.
The aid and welcome offered by these Canadians eased the Toronto settlement process for Chon and his family. In September 1962, he obtained a work permit from Canadian immigration authorities. Rev. David Proctor of the Cliffcrest United Church in Scarborough and son of a former missionary to Korea, accompanied him for the interview with officials. Two years later Chon's whole family was granted permanent visas. This was just the beginning. Chon's letters back to Korea encouraged others to follow his lead. Soon a chain of migration among Chon's friends and relatives in Seoul developed.
By using the same entrance mechanism and the support available from former Korea missionaries and their descendants, Chon's friends from Seoul entered Canada one after another. Chon instructed each would-be immigrant in turn on how the immigration process worked and to whom one could turn for help. Ch'ang-wu Kim arrived in 1963; Ch'ang'gun Yun followed in 1964 and Sun-ch'ang Kim in 1965. Chon later set up "a trade company'' in Toronto and, using the seal of the company, imported "a huge cargo of human goods and a little of corduroy textile'' from Korea. Rev. David Proctor and his Cliffcrest United Church made themselves available as a reliable and efficient stepping-stone in the settlement process for these ''imported human goods." Wherever there was need, Rev. Proctor and his church members were ready to help; they accompanied confused immigrants to immigration offices, social workers' offices, employment offices and health insurance offices. Once settled and granted permanent visas, these new immigrants, like Chon, set about opening the immigration door to their own relatives and friends. Thus they added new links in the chain of migration.
By 1965 there were approximately seventy Korean immigrants in Canada; the community was centred in Toronto. The mission sponsored students, students who became immigrants, mission connected independent immigrants who had ventured to Canada on visitor's visas and succeeded in settling, and a handful of other individuals, largely friends and families of the pioneers, constituted the population of this tiny Korean enclave at the time.
Important though it was, however, the missionary connection was not the only factor attracting Koreans to Canada. The 1960s saw Canadian immigration regulations altered from a regional quota system, which had restricted immigration from Asia, to an individual merit system. The doors were now open for qualified Koreans to enter Canada on immigrant visas.
In 1966 about one hundred Koreans had settled in the Toronto area, but a year later the community had more than doubled in size. This group comprised the single major settlement of Koreans in Canada at the time. (4) Once the new immigrants succeeded in locating themselves in Toronto, their first collective move was to organise a church. Until that time, many Koreans attended Sunday services in Canadian churches. Korean churches served a dual purpose. They became both a place for worship and the centre of social and ethnocultural life.
While the early settlers laid plans for their church, a former Canadian missionary to Korea was actively pursuing plans to bring these new immigrants into the United Church fold. Rev. W.A. Burbidge harboured "a secret desire to see their numbers increase and be prosperous in Canada.'' He encouraged the Board of Home Missions of the United Church of Canada to take an interest in these Koreans. "The numbers of Koreans coming to this country," he explained, "make us think we should take a positive interest in them.... We should do all we can to steer them to the United Church. It is we who have spent time and effort on behalf of the Presbyterian Church in Korea and would hope this will mean something to the folk who come here." (5)
Koreans in Toronto soon began to gather at the home of former missionary Mary Grierson where they were led in worship by a Korean student studying at Emmanuel College. A week after Easter 1967, Rev. David Proctor's Cliffcrest United Church sponsored a Korea Night for this group, and the first Sunday in May of the same year Koreans were invited to the Manor Road United Church for communion and a service in Korean. Rev. E.A. Nichol, a former missionary to Korea, was minister at this church. (6)
This interaction among the Korean Christians and former missionaries, stimulated by the support of the Home Missions Board of the United Church of Canada, led to the organisation of the "Ad Hoc Committee to Consider Ministry to Korean Christians in Toronto-Hamilton Area" in March 1967. This committee was made up of three groups: Korean Christians, former Korea missionaries and representatives from the Home Missions Board. At its first meeting, Ch'ung-lim Chon and Chae-pong Pak represented the Korean Christians, W.A. Burbidge, E.A. Nichol and G.F. Bruce attended for the missionaries, and the Home Missions Board was represented by J.M. Boyd, E.M. Highfield, O. Howard and A.E. Mackenzie. The planning of this committee resulted in the formation of the first Korean congregation in the community. Its first Sunday service was held on April 23, 1967, ministered by W. A. Burbidge at St. Luke's United Church on Sherbourne Street. Sixty organising members attended. The congregation, which started as the Toronto Korean Church, was named the Toronto Korean United Church and became a part of the United Church of Canada within two months of its inception. Thus began the institutional life of the Korean Canadian community. A year later, W.A. Burbidge, its first minister, could report:The first anniversary of the Toronto Korean United Church was celebrated on April 21st, with Dr. William Scott as preacher and an attendance at church worship of 109. The previous evening an anniversary party was held in St. Luke's church gymnasium with Dr. David Chung [Chong]- young man who grew up in United Church Mission in Korea and a distinguished scholar and leader-as speaker and an attendance of 125 persons.... There is no immigrant group I am sure that has as high an average educational standing as the Korean immigrants at this time. Recently I had baptisms, six families were involved. Every one of the fathers and mothers were graduates of some institution of higher learning above high school. We have doctors and dentists and Ph.D. in this congregation with scores of B.A. and B.Sc. Many are pursuing their studies or are planning to do so for higher degrees. We are dealing here with a very high calibre people -the cream of Korea. Our United Church of Canada is honoured to have a part in getting them settled and well settled in Canada. (7)
In recognition and appreciation of the former missionaries' help in their initial settlement process, in the development of their church and the community at large, members of the Toronto Korean United Church sponsored a Korea Missionaries' Night in December 1967. A variety of entertainment was provided and citations presented. Participating missionaries included: Rev. and Mrs. W.A. Burbidge, Rev. and Mrs. D.J. Proctor, Rev. Proctor's mother, Rev. and Mrs. E.A. Nichol, Mrs. Mary Grierson, Rev. and Mrs. William Scott, Mr. and Mrs. G.F. Bruce, Rev. Elda Daniels Struthers, Miss Ann Davison and Miss Frances Bonwick. On another occasion in 1979, Mrs. Mary Grierson was cited by the same church. Affection for the missionaries ran deep. When Rev. W.A. Burbidge died in Toronto in 1978 and Rev. William Scott in Brantford, Ontario in 1979, Korean Christians mourned their passing. They had lost their "fathers in faith."
The Toronto Korean United Church has since emerged as the centre of the institutional life of the community. It continues both as a community centre and as a church. It has sponsored an annual public lecture series, Korean Caravan "Seoul House," and a Korean language school. It established a Korean-language weekly newspaper, the New Korea Times, which was in turn taken over by one of its members, Ch'ung-lim Chon. This congregation also published a monthly cultural and literary journal, Pioneer, produced a weekly half-hour radio program of religion, news and culture, called "Voice of Hope" and a television program, "Korean Celebration." The church's fifty-member choir, directed by Dr. Chae-hun Pak, matured into the Toronto Korean-Canadian Choir, which has performed in various halls and auditoriums, including Toronto's Massey Hall in 1982.
Many former and present members of this congregation-pioneers in the community and with deep links to both former missionaries and the United Church of Canada-advanced into prominent positions in the intellectual, political, cultural and social life of the community. As noted, former minister of the church David Chong, a graduate of Emmanuel College, has been a professor at Ottawa' s Carleton University since 1969 . The present minister, Sang-ch'ol Yi, a graduate of Union College of Vancouver, has been a board member of the Korean Canadian Association of Metropolitan Toronto, editorial member of the weekly New Korea Times, chairman of the Korean Human Rights Council of Ontario and vice president of the Korean Christian Scholars Association in North America. Yi has also distinguished himself in the hierarchy of the United Church of Canada, where he has served as member of the executive of the Division of World Outreach, member of the executive of the General Council and chairman of the Task Force for Minority Ministry. The present assistant minister, Ik-son Kim, a graduate of Pine Hill Divinity College, Dalhousie University, is considered the foremost Korean spokesman on matters of second-generation education. Chae-jun Kim, former president of the United Church-supported Hankuk Seminary and former moderator of the Presbyterian Church in the Republic of Korea, with which Canadian missionaries are associated, has also been a prominent member of the community. He has been the editor and publisher of the monthly, theThird Day, a Korean religious and cultural journal. Chae-rin Mun, an Emmanuel College graduate, was the leader of the Thursday Evening Prayer Meeting, a human rights group, and founder and first general secretary of the Korean Senior Citizens' Association in Toronto. Taek-kyun Chon was the president of the Korean Canadian Association of Metropolitan Toronto and remains a community elder. Ch'ang-yol Kim, formerly a mission sponsored student at McGill University, founded and has been the long-time executive director of the Korean YMCA of Toronto. Ch'ung-lim Chon, who graduated from Yongsaeng Academy in Hamhung, has been the editor and publisher of the weekly community newspaper, the New Korea Times. Ha-kyu Pak and Hi-sop Kim, awarded Doctor of Theology degrees by Emmanuel College and Knox College respectively, were prominent ministers in the United Church's work in Canada. It would not be an exaggeration to say that these and many other Korean community leaders, all belonging to the same congregation, set the structure and tone of Korean communal life in Canada. As of 1982, a dozen Korean United Church congregations are operating in different regions of Canada; half of them are located in the Toronto area. Each performs a similar leadership role in its respective town or city. (8)
In recognition and support of the leadership role of this particular Christian Korean group, Canadian religious educational institutions, through the intervention of Korea missionaries and the United Church of Canada, have so far granted four honorary doctorates in divinity to group members. Granting honorary degrees is a time-honoured tradition of the United Church of Canada, rewarding those loyal to the church. It is also a means of keeping its influence alive in the Korean community. In 1958 Chae-jun Kim was honoured by the Union Theological College in Vancouver, British Columbia. Chae-rin Mun's and Sang-ch'ol Yi's degrees were granted by Emmanuel College, Toronto in 1973 and 1979 respectively. All of these men have played a prominent role in the Korean community in Canada. Kwan-sik Kim, a mission-sponsored student at Knox College from 1922-24, was also honoured by Emmanuel College in 1947. One cannot underestimate the importance of these degrees. Within the Korean community they are not only prized as a sign of recognition by the non-Korean community, but are coveted for the prestige and influence they invest in the award holder. In many respects they bestow a greater status than those degrees earned through study. (9)
An image of Canada as "God's Country" remained a dominant theme in the minds of the Korean Christians who chose to emigrate to Canada. Through their experiences with Canadians, especially Canadian missionaries, they developed a perception of the missionaries' country, Canada, as "God's Country." Once uprooted and alienated in their own land as refugees in South Korea, they were prime candidates for emigration. When conditions allowed, particularly with alterations in the power structure of South Korean society and changes in Canadian immigration regulations, they were already prepared to cross the Pacific and become immigrants in Canada.
1. Interview with Tae-yon Whang, Toronto, November 8, 1977.
2. E.J.O. Fraser to A.E. Armstrong, February 18, 1947, Korea Mission Correspondence, UCC BOM Box 6 File 146, UCCA.
3. D.H. Gallagher to E.J.O. Fraser and William Scott, February 23, 1949, Korea Mission Correspondence, UCC COM Box 6 File 156, UCCA.
4. "Minutes of the Ad Hoc Committee to Consider Ministry to Korean Christians in Toronto-Hamilton Area, April 24, 1967," W.A. Burbidge Papers, Box 3 file 41, UCCA.
5. W.A. Burbidge to J.M. Boyd, January 30, 1967, W.A. Burbidge Papers, Box 2 File 23, UCCA; W.A. Burbidge to A.E. Mackenzie, February 8, 1967, W.A. Burbidge Papers, Box 3 File 41, UCCA.
6. E.A. Nichol to W.A. Burbidge, February 22, 1967, W.A. Burbidge Papers, Box 2 File 23, UCCA.
7. W.A. Burbidge, "Report to the Board of Home Missions and Toronto East Presbytery After One Year of Work Among the Korean People in Toronto, May 1, 1968," W.A. Burbidge Papers, Box 2 File 23, UCCA.
8. Interview with Sang-ch'ol Yi, Toronto, February 3, 8, 1972; April 7, 13, 1979.
9. A.E. Armstrong to E.J.O. Fraser, April 19, 1947, Korea Mission Correspondence, UCC BOM Box 6 File 146, UCCA.
Return to home page
Website design: TG Magazine, 1996