Laotian Canadians

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Laotian Canadians
Total population
24,580 (2016)[1]
Lao, Tai-Kadai, Hmong, Canadian French, Canadian English[2]
Theravada Buddhism,[3] Mahayana Buddhism, Laotian folk religion, Christianity and Islam
Related ethnic groups
Lao people, Isan people, Shan people, Thai people, Ahom people and Asian Canadians

Laotian Canadians are Canadian citizens of Laotian origin or descent. In the 2016 Census, 24,580 people indicated Laotian ancestry.[1] Bilateral relations between Canada and Lao People's Democratic Republic (PDR), or Laos, were established in 1954 with the formalization of the independence of the Kingdom of Laos from France. In August 2015, Canada's first resident diplomat opened the Office of the Embassy of Canada in Vientiane, Lao PDR.

The term Laotian is wide, as it either refers to the people born in Laos and its many ethnicities [49 recognized by Laos] (the Hmong people per example) or, the real term for the majority Lao Loum (constituting 69% of the country) that is simply Lao. The “S” in Laos is actually silent, it was added as the plural of Lao during the French unification of the many Lao states in 1947 to form the Kingdom of Laos (unified from the Kingdom of Luang Phrabang, the Kingdom of Vientiane, the Kingdom of Champassak and the principality of Muan Phuang. All were previously ruled by Siam, and before that were part of the first Lao Kingdom of Lan Xang.)

Today, many Lao Canadians (like Lao Americans and Laotians in France) claim royal ancestry of the main dynasty of Khun Lo such as the House of Champassak in these former states.

Lao people have similar food, culture and language to the Thai’s of Thailand. Across Canada, restaurants serving Thai food are usually owned by Lao people or the ethnic Isan people. (See the famous Green papaya salad)

Most Lao still refer to themselves as Tai (not to be confused with Thai from Thailand), but from the large sub-group of the Tai people. The Lao identity first appeared during the Lao rebellion (1826–1828) against Siamese rule, but not until it was officially proclaimed during French colonial rule when all states where unified in 1904, thus distinguishing them from Thais of Thailand.


Most Lao speak French because they were once under the French protectorate of Laos. But many also English as well as Spanish (often recent immigrants from Posadas in Misiones, Argentina. See Asian Argentines)

Many Lao can also speak and understand Thai, Northern Thai language, Phuan language and Isan. Other dialects related to the Kra-dai languages are also understood, such as Tai Dam language in Viet Nam, Shan in Myanmar, Ahom in Assam, India, Meitei in Manipur, India, and Chittagong, Bangladesh as well as Dai of the Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture in China.

Migration to Canada[edit]

The Laotian Civil War, also infamously known as the Secret War by the CIA, sparked the emigration of thousands of Lao. It was a brutal war between the Communist Pathet Lao and the Royal Lao Army. From 1964 to 1973, the U.S. dropped more than two million tons of ordnance on Laos during 580,000 bombing missions—equal to a planeload of bombs every eight minutes, 24-hours a day, for nine years – making Laos the most heavily bombed country per capita in history.

Mass migration from Laos to Cambodia peaked in the late 1970s and early 1980s, consisting of both government-sponsored and privately sponsored refugees from camps in Thailand, where they had fled to due to the Laotian Civil War and the final victory of the Pathet Lao.[4] Between 1970s and early 1980s many Canadian families, especially in Quebec, sponsored many Lao. But by the 1990s, most refugees in the camps were instead repatriated to Laos. Canada took in 12,793 Laotian refugees.[5]

The Lao community is well assimilated to Canadian culture especially in the province of Quebec. This resulted in many babies with mixed Lao and Canadian and/or Latin American ancestry.


Most migrants consisted of young families; there were few elderly among them. A significant proportion were drawn from among the community of ethnic Chinese in Laos.[2]

Most of the communities are settled in and more often outside of big Canadians cities such as Burnaby and Surrey in British Columbia, Kitchener, Ontario, where 995 Laotian Canadians live (0.004% of its population),[6] Markham and Calgary. In Quebec, most live in the North Shore (Montreal).



Laotian migrants in Canada mostly follow Theravada Buddhism with a mixture of animism also known as Tai folk religion, though Mahayana Buddhists are also found among those of Laotian Chinese ethnicity.[3]

In 1990, British Columbia had no Laotian Buddhist temple; the nearest was a Laotian American temple in Seattle.[3] Within Canada, Laotian Buddhist temples have been opened in Sainte-Julienne, Montreal, Quebec, Toronto, Ontario, and Winnipeg, Manitoba.[7]


There are perhaps 500 Christians, most of whom converted while living in refugee camps. Christianity is spreading within the community.[7]


There is a handful of Lao newly converted to Sunni Islam and Ibadi Islam, mostly in the Montreal area. New immigrants from Laos claiming Islam as their religion are mostly from the Katang people, a southern ethnic group part of the Lao Theung.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b [1] Canada Census, 2016
  2. ^ a b Richardson 1990, p. 16
  3. ^ a b c Richardson 1990, p. 17
  4. ^ Van Esterik 1999, pp. 902–903
  5. ^ Van Esterik 1999, p. 903
  6. ^ Kitchener, City [Census subdivision, Ontario and Ontario [Province]], Statistics Canada
  7. ^ a b Van Esterik 1999

Further reading[edit]

  • Lerthirungwong-Diong, Mulai (1989), Problems of adjustment and attitudes of Indochinese refugees towards their language maintenance: a case study of the Lao community in Toronto, Ph.D. dissertation, University of Toronto, OCLC 224288222
  • Dorais, Louis-Jacques (2000), The Cambodians, Laotians and Vietnamese in Canada, Canada's ethnic groups, 28, Canadian Historical Association, ISBN 978-0-88798-226-2
  • Nontapattamadul, Kitipat (2000), The integration of Laotian refugees in Calgary, Ph.D. dissertation, Department of Social Work, University of Calgary, retrieved 2009-09-01