Assimilation has been a major concern of politicians, as well as sociologists and other social scientists, since the early 1900s. Woodsworth, for example, stated that 'we in Canada, have certain more or less clearly defined ideals of national well-being' and that 'these ideals must never be lost sight of. Non-ideal elements there must be, but they should be capable of assimilation' ( 1909:278). During the 1960s and 1970s, however, there seemed to be a greater awareness of, and a concern for, ethnic survival throughout the world. Americans referred to it as an 'ethnic revival,' but in Canada it was seen I primarily as a cultural movement' ( Reitz 1980:44). The government's policy of multiculturalism, 'which is regarded as an expression of a desire to respect and preserve ethnic heritage for its own sake' (ibid.), is a case in point. However, the programs announced had as much to do with removing barriers to full participation in Canadian society and with inter-cultural activity, and therefore with assimilation, as it did with the preservation of ethnic heritages. There is, it seems, a basic contradiction between the name given to the policy, that is, multiculturalism, and what in fact happens. As Burnet ( 1987) points out, the maintenance of the many cultures in Canada is not possible. Moreover, no ethnic or cultural group can maintain all that it brings to a new land, but 'it is ethnic identity that can and does persist, and selected cultural patterns as symbolic expression of that identity' (ibid.: 70).
This renewed interest in ethnicity has brought the inevitability and necessity for assimilation into question, especially by ethnic groups themselves, but the dominant fact of life remains one of social mobility and socio-economic assimilation into the large institutional structures of Canadian society. It is true that immigrants