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 Korea is located on a rugged and mountainous peninsula that lies between China to the north and Japan to the southeast. The three countries share a long history and many cultural traditions based in Buddhism and Confucianism. However, throughout their 4,000-year history, Koreans have suffered invasions by their neighbours and fought wars to maintain their national independence. In 1910, Korea was annexed to the Japanese empire, which would maintain political control until the end of the Second World War. Liberation came at a cost, however-at the Potsdam conference in 1946, the country was divided along the 38th parallel with the United States occupying the south and the Russians the north. The subsequent onset of the Cold War and ideological differences widened the gulf between North and South Korea, and in 1950 the Korean War erupted. By the time the war ended in 1953, two million people had died, and the now separate nations embarked down very different paths of social and political development.

Korean settlement in Canada began in the early 1960s with most new arrivals emigrating from South Korea. Large urban centres like Toronto, Ontario initially attracted the majority of Koreans, due to an increased number of job opportunities. In 1973 Canada drew the third largest number of Korean immigrants in the world, following Japan and the United States. Many of the first Koreans to emigrate to Alberta were doctors, professors and engineers, many of whom moved to Edmonton to practice their respective professions.

A second, more pronounced wave of Korean immigration occurred in 1968. Arriving from Seoul (the capital of South Korea), Vietnam and other parts of the world, they engaged in a variety of occupations in their new Canadian world. Some set up restaurants, grocery stores, travel agencies and real estate firms, while others entered the labour force as skilled and semi-skilled workers. By 1972, there were approximately 7,000 Koreans living in Canada, many arriving by way of Europe, Vietnam, South America and the United States. Statistics Canada suggests there are now over 140,000 people of Korean descent in Canada today, with over 8,000 residing in Alberta.

Within the province of Alberta, six cultural organizations have taken on the task of preserving Korean culture and identity. They run a variety of cultural, educational, religious, sports and social programs. Five of these associations are located in Calgary and one, the Edmonton Korean Association, in Edmonton. The Calgary Korean Association emerged in the early 1970s, and continues to provide new immigrants with assistance in finding employment and learning English. The Calgary and Edmonton Korean Schools teach the Korean language and provide programs that highlight the traditions and customs of Korea. Many organizations come under the umbrella of the Canadian Korean Association.

While Buddhism remains the dominant religion in Korea, Christianity has been adopted by many urbanites. Most Koreans in Alberta are Christians belonging to the Catholic, Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist or the United Church. At many churches throughout the province, services are offered in Korean as well as English. 

Many enterprising Korean Canadians in Alberta share their culture through commercial and cultural enterprises. Korean restaurateurs, for instance, are able to share with their communities the unique flavours of Korean cuisine. Identified by its spiciness, Korean recipes include items such as pulgogi or "fire beef"; pibimbap which is cooked rice with vegetables, meat and eggs; and Naengmyon a type of noodle served cold. Kimchi, a spicy dish made from fermented cabbage, is a staple of the Korean diet, and almost always accompanies any traditional meal.

Another example of cultural crossover can be found in the Korean custom of addressing others by their title and family name. In Korea the use of first names is restricted to family members and close personal friends. Korean Canadians have moved away from this practice, and adopted the Western practice of using first names. Of the 272 family names in Korea, the three most common are Kim, Lee and Park. 

Koreans have made significant contributions to Canadian culture, sharing their native dance and music and the ancient Korean art of Tae Kwon Do. National celebrations include Samil Independence Movement Day on March 1st, and Liberation Day and Independence Day on August 15th. Koreans have also established a media presence in the country, with weekly publications that disseminate information on events and activities with relevance to the Korean community. Hanka Jubo (Korean Canada Times) was the first publication aimed at Korean Canadians. Launched in 1971, it would only last one year, but it created awareness about the need for Korean media outlets. Today, The Korean Press, The Korean Journal, and the New Korea Times are weekly publications containing both news from Korea and features on the Canadian Korean community. The Korean Canadian Times is currently published every two weeks in Edmonton, and Korean language broadcasting can also be found in the larger urban centres.

Koreans lay claim to an invaluable place in Canadian history. Their efforts to preserve and promote their language and traditions continue to add vibrancy to Canada's cultural mosaic.

 

Profile provided courtesy of the 1984 Alberta People Kit
 
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