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Statistics and analysis of enrollment and growth patterns.
First presented at the Annual Meetings of the Canadian Sociology and Anthropology Association, Laval University, Québec, June 1989.

Socio-demographic Characteristics of the Canadian Baha'i Community

by Will C. van den Hoonaard

Abstract:   The paper examines both historical (1901-1948) and contemporary (1980s) features of the Bahá'í Community in Canada. In comparing both periods, one finds that the geographical distribution of the Bahá'ís has shifted increasingly to the west, accounted for by the large number of natives in the Prairies and the Yukon. Enrollment patterns in both periods are marked by a higher proportion of women than men. The social composition in the pre-1944 period was initially indicated by adherents from upper-class backgrounds, the Bahá'í community gradually attracted people from the lower-middle class. Ethnicity and not class, however, marks the contemporary Bahá'í community. Whereas the pre-1944 period found Bahá'ís predominantly in cities, Bahá'í populations today are concentrated in towns and small cities where growth rates are the highest.

        Analytically, the development and composition of the Bahá'í community cannot be accounted for by increasing irreligion and apostasy which e.g. Stark and Bainbridge found in the west, but rather the significantly large enrollment of natives.

        The data presented in this paper suggest that the small cities and towns of Canada offer a viable and stable growth for Bahá'ís. The theoretical discussion of the growth of new religious movements should be cast, perhaps, in terms of community structure, rather than a matter of deviance from traditional religion. (updated June 5, 1991)

        This paper fills a vacuum in the scholarly field by setting out the main features of the Bahá'í presence in Canada and by presenting its socio-demographic characteristics.[1] The paper examines both historical (1901-1944) and contemporary (1980s) features of the Bahá'í Faith in Canada.

Historical Overview

        The Bahá'í Faith today is primarily a Third-World religious movement with over 80% of its adherents found in the Third World and over 1,480 social and economic development programs world-wide (in 1988). Yet, the origin of the Bahá'í Faith is the Middle East. In 1844, a young merchant in Persia, named the Báb (1819-50) declared himself as the spiritual reformer long-awaited by Muslims. His teachings challenged secular and clerical authorities which led to his execution in 1850. The Báb also proclaimed that he would be succeeded by one whose teachings would establish a world order.

        Bahá'u'lláh (1817-92) declared to be that one anticipated by the Báb. He first received intimation of this mission in 1853, but publicly proclaimed it in 1863, in Baghdad, in exile from Tehran. Through a succession of exiles, lasting 39 years, Bahá'u'lláh died in Akka, Palestine, in 1892. Teachings of Bahá'u'lláh stress the need for universal disarmament and peace, a world tribunal, universal education, the equality of men and women, the harmony of science and religion, the elimination of racism, and the abolition of the extremes of poverty and wealth. In 1892, Bahá'u'lláh's oldest son, `Abdu'l-Bahá (1844-1921) assumed leadership of the Bahá'í community upon his father's passing. The Bahá'í Faith had been spread to five countries in the Middle East and India. Under `Abdu'l-Bahá, the Bahá'í Faith spread to other lands and continents, including South America, South Africa, Burma, Australia, Japan, and Hawaii. After some 58 years of imprisonment and exile, political authorities released `Abdu'l-Bahá from very restricted personal circumstances in 1908, whereupon he travelled to Egypt, Europe, and North America, spreading the spiritual gospel of his father.

        The fourth leader in the Bahá'í Faith was `Abdu'l-Bahá's oldest grandson, Shoghi Effendi (1897-1957), who became "Guardian" of the Bahá'í Faith in 1921. Under Shoghi Effendi the Bahá'í community spread from 35 countries to 257. The nature of the Bahá'í administrative order, drawn from the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh, was clarified by Shoghi Effendi. He assisted Bahá'í communities in laying the foundation of such an order and undertook a massive amount of correspondence in which he explained these teachings. Upon his death in 1957, authority was for a time assumed by a group of women and men, known as the "Hands of the Cause," who prepared for the election of the "Universal House of Justice" in 1963. Elected by national Bahá'í bodies every five years, this body is the supreme administrative authority of the Bahá'í Faith with the right to legislate on matters not expressly revealed in Bahá'u'lláh's writings.

A Synopsis of Canadian Bahá'í History

        The Bahá'í Faith was introduced into Canada six years after its introduction into the United States in 1892. By the time the first nucleus of Bahá'ís was formed in London, Ontario, in 1898, there were already 1,500 Bahá'ís in the United States, half in the Chicago area (Stockman, 1988: 2). It was Montreal which, however, since 1902, made the most significant contribution to the early development of the Bahá'í Faith in Canada through the efforts of May Bolles Maxwell (1870-1940) who married William Sutherland Maxwell (1874-1952), a noted Canadian architect in 1902.

        In 1912 `Abdu'l-Bahá undertook a North American teaching tour, including a visit to Montreal where he gave talks to large audiences. During this visit, `Abdu'l-Bahá spoke of the need for economic justice, the elimination of racial prejudice, and the establishment of world peace.

        The latter part of the 1910s saw an increase in the Bahá'í teaching work across Canada, stimulated by letters from `Abdu'l-Bahá (1977 [1916-17]). During the 1920s the Bahá'í Faith experienced some growth in Montreal, Vancouver, and Toronto, often with the help of Bahá'í teachers from the United States. Shoghi Effendi used even this modest growth to lay, in March 1923, the groundwork for establishing the currently known style of local Spiritual Assemblies.[2] Vancouver formed its first Assembly in 1927, but Toronto formed its Assembly as late as 1938. Until this time there were only a handful of scattered Bahá'ís in Canada in about a dozen other areas.

        By 1937, however, Shoghi Effendi had considered that the Bahá'í administrative framework was well enough established in North America for the Bahá'ís to launch the first of a series of expansion plans. For Canada, it meant that a Spiritual Assembly had to be established in every province of the Dominion. By 1948, Spiritual Assemblies had been formed in 15 cities across Canada.

        In 1939 the Spiritual Assembly of Vancouver achieved incorporation--the Montreal Assembly was already incorporated in 1935. Further recognition came from the Department of National Defence which exempted Bahá'ís from combatant military duty, in 1940.[3] When the Bahá'í Community of Canada celebrated the hundredth anniversary of the founding of the Bahá'í Faith in 1944, there were 11 Assemblies and 212 adherents.

        Several events underscored the development of the Bahá'í Faith in Canada in the immediate post-War period (1944-1953). In April 1948, the Bahá'í Community of Canada was administratively separated from its parent community, the Bahá'í Community of the United States, and the National Spiritual Assembly of Canada was elected. Second, an Act of Parliament incorporated the National Spiritual Assembly, receiving Royal Assent on April 30, 1949 (Parliament, 1949). When Canada's first plan of expansion was completed in April 1953, there were 30 Assemblies and 554 Bahá'ís in all of Canada.

        Since 1953, Bahá'í activities in Canada included international expansion, the establishment of permanent Bahá'í facilities, such as Summer Schools (i.e. summer retreats), "Bahá'í Houses" in Frobisher Bay, Baker Lake, and Grand Manan, a Bahá'í educational and community center in the Yukon, the Maxwell International Bahá'í (Secondary) School which grants the International Baccalaureate, bookstores in various cities, the Association for Bahá'í Studies offices on the University of Ottawa campus, and centres on several native reservations.

        In addition to its material development, the Bahá'í community has of late gained legal recognition. Bahá'í marriage and Bahá'í Holy Days are legally recognized throughout Canada. About half of the 350 local Spiritual Assemblies are incorporated. The Canadian Bahá'í community obtained further recognition through its work with Bahá'í refugees from Iran in 1980. In 1986, there were 20,362 Bahá'ís and 338 local Spiritual Assemblies. It appears that despite its modest beginnings in Canada, the Bahá'í community has gained permanence in the Canadian religious landscape.

Social composition of early Bahá'í communities in Canada.

        Table 1 provides a demographic profile of the Canadian Bahá'í community between 1901 and 1948. The information has been organized around the number of adherents, percentage of women, mean Bahá'í age (or duration of membership in the Bahá'í Faith), civil status, and geographic distribution.

[Table 1 about here]

        From nine adherents in 1901 to 252 in 1948, the Bahá'í community has grown, on the average, by ....% per year. The period between 1911 and 1921 has seen the largest growth, namely ...% per year.

        The proportion of women in the Bahá'í community has remained fairly consistent, hovering around 70%. In 1901, 78% of the Bahá'ís were women, while in 1948, it had levelled at 72%.

        The mean Bahá'í age (duration of membership) should, theoretically, increase during the historical course of events, even allowing for natural death. However, the mean Bahá'í age falls between 3.2 and 9.6 years. While these figures suggest that there has been a winning of new recruits, a steady, although fewer, number have also withdrawn from the Bahá'í Faith. Moreover, the natural increase of mean Bahá'í age through children born in Bahá'í families is also absent. The author only knows of only two four-generation Canadian Bahá'í family in all of Canada.

        Information on civil status becomes more reliable with the more recent periods. If we take the two most recent years (1941 and 1948), about one-fourth to one-third of the Bahá'í community consists of never-marrieds. This proportion is unusually high in comparison to the population as a whole.

        The information on geographical distribution between 1901 and 1948 suggests ways by which the Bahá'í Faith has spread in Canada. Although the first core of adherents was found in Ontario, Québec (more specifically Montréal), assumes an important place. Between 1911 and 1931, more than half of the Bahá'ís resided in the Montréal area, gradually moving down to less than one-fifth. Ontario shows a variable pattern throughout all the years, so that eventually 29% of all Canadian Bahá'ís in 1948 could be found in this province. On the west coast, British Columbia has shown a considerable increase in the proportion of Bahá'ís living in that area (over one-fifth in 1948). New Brunswick's proportion has declined from 19% in 1911 to 4% in 1948. The remaining provinces (Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island) were "opened" to the Bahá'í Faith after 1937.

        Table 2 displays the class composition of the Canadian Bahá'í Community between 1911 and 1944. The (five) divisions of class have been adapted from Lloyd Warner (1949), whose main sociological work in the 1930s and 1940s, roughly coincides with the same period covered in our research. The author has used a large variety of sources in establishing the social-class background of the early Bahá'ís. The "Bahá'í Historical Records Cards" at the National Bahá'í Archives in Wilmette, Illinois, are an important source, as well as the incorporation papers of Canadian local Spiritual Assemblies, listing the occupations of all members of such Assemblies. The 40-or-so interviews which the author conducted with Canada's oldest believers proved to be another significant source. The author also used biographical accounts in Bahá'í publications and newspapers.

[Table 2 about here]

        Class composition of the Canadian Bahá'í community has become more diverse. In the very early years, membership was exclusively confined to persons of wealth and the upper class. The proportion of musicians and artists does not seem to have varied much after 1921, fluctuating between 7% and 11%. By 1921, we see two more categories: the middle class, and lower class. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, there was no significant change of this pattern, but by 1941, the Bahá'í community seems to have found in social basis in the middle class (66.9% of all Bahá'ís). The upper-lower class saw a significant reduction in the proportion of Bahá'ís who belong to this category; while in 1911 two-thirds of the Bahá'ís could be found in the upper class, by 1948 the proportion had declined to 12% As the Bahá'í Community of Canada entered its 50th year in 1948, we see that 12% represent the upper class, 9% musicians or artists, 67% middle class, and 12% lower class.

        If one could draw a profile of a Bahá'í in the 1940s, one would find an unmarried woman, living in a city, and being a telephone operator.[4]

The Contemporary Bahá'í Community: the 1980s

Population Distribution[5]

        Bahá'ís live in a variety of settlements. 39% of Bahá'ís live in urban settlements, 27% in small towns, 16% in rural communities, and 17% in native settlements or reserves. Table 4 gives a detailed breakdown of provincial and territorial distributions of the Bahá'í population (as of April 1982 and February 1988). (Comparative information for 1948 has been included)

[Table 4 about here]

On the whole, the geographical distribution of Bahá'ís is different than the Canadian norm. According to Kim Naqvi (1989) of the Department of Statistics and Records at the Bahá'í National Centre, the Bahá'ís "are more diffused and more highly represented in smaller cities, towns and rural areas, and [are] less centralized in Ontario and Québec."

        Since much of the recent material in the sociology of religion examines rates and growth per million of the general population, Table 5 looks at the Bahá'í community in these terms.

[Table 5 about here]

The two areas with the highest ratio of Bahá'ís per one million people are the Yukon (29,024 Bahá'ís/million) and the Northwest Territories (9,054). Saskatchewan (2,417) ranks third. Given the high proportion of Bahá'ís who are native people, it is not surprising that these three areas have the highest ratio of Bahá'ís. British Columbia has a rate of 1,691 Bahá'ís per million, which is due to high enrollments and migrants into the province. The fifth-highest concentration of Bahá'ís is found on Prince Edward Island (1,159). On the whole, the ratio of Bahá'ís to the general population increases as one travels west, except for unusually high ratios in Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia, and Québec's low ratio of 288/million. [6]

        In terms of class, the Bahá'ís of Canada do not constitute a wealthy group of individuals. Only 40% of the 10,000 adults Bahá'ís with known addresses are estimated to be wage earners,[7] contributing an average of $790 per year to the national Bahá'í fund. Two-and-a-half years later, it was estimated that 60% of the adult Bahá'ís are wage earners, contributing, on the average, $332 to the Bahá'í work at the national level (Bahá'í Canada, Apr. 1988: 3). A difference in data gathering techniques that are impressionistic and inconsistent accounts for the 20% difference in annual giving between 1985 and 1988. A "representative" sample of 3,400 individuals and/or families from all parts of Canada and "all economic levels" indicated an average income of $20,588 in 1986.[8] In Canada during the same year, the average family income was $40,356 and the average income of unattached individuals was estimated at $17,550 (Statistics Canada, 1987: 11-12). This income, however, is an overestimate, because of regional bias and underrepresentation of natives reserves in the sample. The annual budget of the national Bahá'í governing body is around $2 millions.

        The Bahá'ís of Canada reflect a more mobile population than Canadian society at large. The National Bahá'í Centre in Thornhill processes some 100-200 address changes per week, constituting almost 36% of the whole Bahá'í population each year. One administrative result of such mobility is the rate of addresses lost which sometimes outpaces the rate of addresses "found." In 1986, 12,174 adherents (60%) of the 20,362 had known addresses (Naqvi, 1989).


        The absence of precise information at the National Bahá'í Centre in Thornhill, Ontario, does not permit us to venture any estimations about age in Canada's Bahá'í population. The 1986 census referred to earlier still awaits analysis.


        In January 1989, it was reported (National Teaching Committee, 1989:1) that the monthly enrollment rate of was 53.7 new members. During the previous year, it had been 49.3 per month. The largest peaks of growth occurred in 1963, 1971, and 1979, when often 200 new members enrolled each month.

        What are the sources of the (net) growth of the Bahá'í community? The accretion of new adherents comes from three principal sources. Let us take the case of the period from April 1987 to April 1988 (see Table 6):

[Table 6 about here]

During this time, the Bahá'í community grew by 916 new adherents, or 4.6% of the total Bahá'í population of 20,079. During this year, the Bahá'í community of Canada fell below the net growth of the population as a whole, for another 4.6% (N=106) of the Bahá'ís either resigned, transferred out of the country, or died.

        A particularly striking aspect of the maintenance of Bahá'í membership lists at the national Bahá'í Office in Thornhill is the high percentage of net loss of addresses, namely 2.3% (N=472). This suggests considerable geographical mobility on the part of the Bahá'ís in Canada.

        The statistics of the total number of Bahá'ís represented in Table 7 should, perhaps, be reduced by 40% to come up with a more accurate picture of active adherent for 650 of the Bahá'ís had unknown addresses.

[Table 7 about here]

As one might expect, the number of Bahá'ís "without addresses" decreases as one goes back further in time when the Bahá'í community was indeed smaller. A position paper (Naqvi, 1988) developed by the National Bahá'í Centre of Canada, moreover, notes some underlying causes for the relatively high number of Bahá'ís whose addresses are unknown. Periods of rapid expansion (such as between 1968 and 1974), marked by poor consolidation, are one cause.

        In terms of the geographical distribution of enrollments, there are no particular areas of the country where enrollments are particularly high. The rate of enrollment, according to the Department of Statistics (1987) of the National Bahá'í Office, seems to depend to a large extent on the sense of community or unity, although this hypothesis remains to be tested (Naqvi, 1989). Such expressions of community unity appear to have the best possible chance in small cities and small towns. [9] Youth from Bahá'í families tend to come from major cities.


        The proportion of new Bahá'ís who are women is larger than that of men. Table 8 provides information for the period 15 Oct. 1986 to 24 Feb. 1989. There are only two instances where the proportion of new believers who are women drop below 50%. There are four cases where the proportion is 59% or higher. The total average for the whole period is 55%. Fifty-three percent of all Bahá'ís are female (Naqvi, 1989). The high percentage of women [Table 8 about here]

members is commonly found among other minority religious groups too (Stark and Bainbridge, 1985: 237-38, 413-17), not just among Bahá'ís. Stark and Bainbridge offer the view that "relative deprivation" (1985: 413), and the "opportunity to become leaders" (1985: 414) which mainstream, patriarchal religious organizations do not offer. The social isolation of women in traditional families appears to be a third factor which accounts for the overrecruitment of women to minority religious organizations (Stark and Bainbridge, 1985: 417). Stark and Bainbridge's final observation that "successful movements appear not to over-recruit females" (1985: 416), would lead one to think that the lack of vigorous growth of the Canadian Bahá'í Community might be related to the underrecruitment of men. It would be of considerable interest to pursue this dimension during the Bahá'í Faith's period of growth, both in Canada and elsewhere where growth has been substantial.

        The proportion of new believers who are women drops significantly in the case of native people where usually it is men who enroll in the Bahá'í community.

Ethnic Composition

        Table 9 indicates the enrollment of adherents according to ethnic category between 15 October 1986 and 20 December 1988. A total of 1,018 new adherents were recorded for this fifteen-month period.

[Table 9 about here]

More than half (56%) are unidentified. Should we presume that they consist primarily of those of who make no issue of ethnicity or who feel ethnically assimilated with Canadian society? This cannot be determined. It might simply be a matter of the manner in which new adherents are reported to the National Bahá'í Centre. Ethnicity is sometimes determined by indication of language preference, by surnames, or by cover letter. This leaves much room for undetermined ethnic affiliation.

        However, there is an accurate record of the number of native people and Inuit who become Bahá'ís. More than 29% of new adherents fall into this group. This high enrollment rate, however, is somewhat unusual because it covers a period with high native enrollments in the Fort Vermillion area (Alberta). The rate of enrollment from this group corresponds to the general demographic characteristics of the Canadian Bahá'í community noted above.

        Native Peoples

        By 1989, 4,305 natives formed one-fifth (20%) of the Bahá'í population in Canada (Naqvi, 1989). The overwhelming majority of Canadian native Bahá'is is found in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and the Yukon, and have entered the Bahá'í Faith in the sixties and late seventies.

        The importance of reaching the native population of Canada was repeatedly emphasized by `Abdu'l-Bahá in 1916 (1977 [1919]:32-3). It took another 32 years before the Bahá'í Community embarked on the work of teaching the Bahá'í Faith to the native people. When the Canadian Bahá'í Community formed its own administrative body in 1948 it was given a goal which called for "the participation of Eskimos and Red Indians in membership to share administrative privileges in local institutions of the Faith in Canada." (Shoghi Effendi, 1965:8) At that time there were only three native believers in Canada. [10]

        Very few Bahá'ís, however, thought of undertaking Bahá'í work among the Indians until 1953 (Irwin, 1983). Bahá'í efforts to be of service to native people, with the dual purpose of promoting the Bahá'í Faith through social action, were often undertaken through the establishment of organizations involving Bahá'ís and non-Bahá'ís alike: the Yukon Indian Advancement Association, and the Native Friendship Centers. Between 1960-63, the first surge of large-scale enrollments of native believers took place. The enrollment of native adherents is summarized in Table 10.

[Table 10 about here]

The statistics in Table 10 are not corrected for resignations, transfers out, etc.; the figures are high, but show general growth. Thus, 20% of all Canadian Assemblies, by April 1963, were native Assemblies.

        Between 1964-74 a considerable decrease in the rate of native enrollments occurred. The native teaching work lagged behind and the number of native believers and Spiritual Assemblies decreased. The native teaching work required effort and resources which Bahá'í communities were not able to produce. The Bahá'í work in Canada was being extended to other areas of immediate concern: the enrollment of francophone people, especially in Québec, the large-scale enrollment of youth in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and new international Bahá'í commitments.

        There are a number of elements in Bahá'í theology and administrative structure which may account for the attraction of natives to the Bahá'í Faith. The Bahá'í concept of one Creator and its central teaching of the oneness of humanity serve to incorporate native spirituality as a valid expression, according to the Bahá'ís. In this context, the Bahá'ís "do not try to wipe out native religion," according to CBC commentator, Dan David (1989). The Bahá'í prohibition on prosletyzing underscores this basic position to other religions as well.

        There is also a Bahá'í administrative principle which recognizes the position of minorities. In this case, the Bahá'í writings make a clear point of according elected office to a member of a minority group when there is a tie of votes between him or her and someone from the dominant group.

        The overall impact of Bahá'í theology and administration relates to "a sense of belonging" (David, 1989) which natives feel when becoming Bahá'ís, and a feeling that a native does not have to forego his or her native spirituality to accept the Bahá'í version of reality.

        The Bahá'í interest in native peoples also extends to Canada's North, where the work in the Arctic was stimulated by `Abdu'l-Bahá's own words ('Abdu'l-Bahá 1977 [1916-17]:28), that if "the fragrances of God be diffused amongst the Eskimos, its effect will be very great and far-reaching." The work here, however, has not progressed to the same degree. This work began in earnest in 1950, but in 1988, the number of Inuit Bahá'ís had grown to 30 (Muttart, 1986; Naqvi, 1989).

French Canadians

        The two next largest source groups are the French-Canadians and Middle-Easterners, each ca. 5.7% of all new Bahá'ís. French Canadians [11] also include those from Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick. The Bahá'í effort to recruit more French-Canadians to its ranks has been inconsistent and slow, although the French-Canadian contribution to the work of the Bahá'í Faith is beyond its numerical proportion.

        The remarkable design of the Bahá'í House of Worship in Wilmette, Illinois,--a unique architectural feat--was conceived by a French-Canadian, Louis Bourgeois. The first-ever Canadian to have become a Bahá'í was Aimée Montfort Jaxon, a Chicago schoolteacher and wife of Louis Riel's former secretary, Honoré Jaxon (Stanley, 1985, V. 5), also a Bahá'í. Montreal, as we have seen, had the major nucleus of Bahá'ís.

        No doubt, the subject of relatively low recruitment rates among French-Canadians requires a more detailed study. I can offer a few hypotheses. The Canadian Bahá'í community was principally an English-speaking phenomenon in Canada until the 1960s. By 1960, there had only been ten French-Canadians who have ever accepted the Bahá'í Faith. There has been no support from the French homeland for the Bahá'í teaching work in Canada among the French-Canadian population for the Bahá'í work in France has generally been slow.[[12] It appears that the 500 or so present-day French-Canadian Bahá'ís must be almost entirely self-reliant to carry out both national and international tasks. Finally, Roman Catholicism offered a firm shield against outside influences, although this is changing considerably.

Other Ethnic Groups

        The presence of a large number of Bahá'ís from Irán accounts for the relatively large number of Middle Easterners who become Bahá'ís. Although there is no active Bahá'í work in this area, Iranian Bahá'ís do have many cultural contacts with this group which leads to an interest in the Bahá'í Faith.

        The figures of the other nine ethnic categories are too small to warrant analysis. Disaggregating such admittedly amorphously termed categories as "Far East" renders the analysis even more ineffective. The "Chinese Teaching Committee" established in 1986 (Bahá'í Canada, Feb/March 1986:19) and the "Doukhobor Teaching Committee" both aim at promoting the work of the Bahá'ís among these respective groups.

Summary and Conclusion


        In comparing the 1901-1948 period and the 1980s, one finds a number of important changes (see Table 4). As far as the geographic distribution is concerned, it seems that the number of Bahá'ís in Canada becomes proportionally larger as one moves west. and north. The Atlantic Region's proportion decreased by 8%, and Québec by 7%. And while Ontario's share of the Bahá'í population remained stable around 29%, the Prairies evidenced the greatest proportional growth (about 10% increase). British Columbia stayed the same (about 23%), but the North saw a large increase. The influx of native adherents explains the western (and northern) growth of the Bahá'í community.

        For enrollment, it seems that the pre-1948 period evidenced a higher rate (.....%/year) than the 1980s (.....%/year). Naturally, the relatively small number of adherents in the earlier period makes such comparative statements tentative. However, the two periods do share a higher proportion of women than men. The pre-1948 period natural growth through recruitment seems to have occurred the most in the Prairies, especially in Winnipeg. During the 1980s, enrollment seems to be the highest in small cities and towns.

        Most of the 22,000 registered Bahá'ís entered the Bahá'í Faith in the latter half of the twentieth century. One third entered during a period of rapid growth between 1968 and 1974 when a large number of youth joined. A major source of growth since 1979 has been Persian refugees and immigrants. The Bahá'í community is in a period of "gestation," according to an informed source.

        Finally, the social composition of the Bahá'í community has been drastically altered during the two periods surveyed. Since 1948, we see that the Bahá'í community has gradually moved from a composition based almost entirely on upper-class (English-speaking) enrollment, to one based on the lower-middle class (i.e. "working" people), consisting of semi-professionals and natives. During the 1980s, it seems that the Bahá'í community has become diverse to the extent that class composition may have been overshadowed by ethnicity whereby native people have assumed a large proportion of the Canadian Bahá'í population. The role of ethnicity has also increased on account of the presence of 3,000 Bahá'ís (Naqvi, 1989) of Iranian background. Only 40-60% of the Bahá'í population can be said to be earning an income which has recently been assessed at $ 20,588 (mean).

        Change in the composition of the Bahá'í Community in Canada during the 90 years of its existence has probably been more drastic than that experiences by any other comparable or larger religious community in the country.


        There are only two works against which we can evaluate our findings. Stark and Bainbridge (1985) is the main analytical scheme, for which a study by David Nock (1987) is a Canadian replication. These authors have found that new religious movements are more likely to be found in areas where "irreligion and apostasy from the conventional religions" (Nock, 1987: 519) are the prevailing norms. In practical terms, it means that in Canada we would find more vital growth of new religious movements in British Columbia, and cities where membership in conventional churches is low.

        The data presented in this paper on the Canadian Bahá'í community suggest a more complex situation. It is true that the Bahá'í community of Canada has tended to grow more vigorously in the west, but this growth is related to the enrollment of native people, not on account of irreligion and apostasy (unless there is evidence that these elements exist in the native communities). Second, there are a few notable exceptions to the "western hypothesis," namely the evidence of growth on Prince Edward Island and in Nova Scotia, hardly places of religious radicalism. The data presented in this paper suggest that the small cities and towns of Canada offer a viable and stable growth for Bahá'ís. The theoretical discussion of the growth of new religious movements should be cast, perhaps, in terms of community structure, rather than a matter of deviance from traditional religion.


`Abdu'l-Bahá (1977 [1916-17] Tablets of the Divine Plan. Wilmette, Ill. Bahá'í Publishing Trust, rev. ed.

Bahá'í Canada. Thornhill, Ont. National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Canada. 1976 -

Bahá'í News. Wilmette, Ill. National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United States. Dec. 1924-

Bahá'í World, A Biennial International Record. Vol. 8 (1938-40). Comp. by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United States and Canada. Wilmette. Bahá'í Publishing Committee.

Bahá'í World, A Biennial International Record. Vol. 10 (1944-46). Comp. by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United States and Canada. Wilmette. Bahá'í Publishing Committee.

David (1989) Interview on "Main Street." CBC Fredericton. May.

Department of Statistics (1987) "Year End Report, Ridvan 143-144 [1986/1987]." Thornhill, Ont. National Bahá'í Office.

Estall, Rowland (1987) "Melodies of the Kingdom," Unpubl. memoirs, 85 pp.

Irwin, Arthur B. (1983) "Early Native Teaching in Canada," (July) Mimeo. 15 pp.

Muttart, Kay (1986) [Statistical Information]. Thornhill, Ont. National Bahá'í Office. (5 Dec.). Unpubl. 5 pp.

Naqvi, Kim (1988) "Address Unknowns in Canada." (16 June). Thornhill, Ont. National Bahá'í Office. Mimeo. 6 pp.

-----(1989) Letter from the Department of Statistics and Records, Thornhill, Ont. National Bahá'í Office to W.C. van den Hoonaard, 24 May.

Nock, A. David (1987) "Cult, sect, and church in Canada: a Re-Examination of Stark and Bainbridge." Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology. V. 24 (4): 514-25.

Parliament of Canada (1949) Acts of Parliament of the Dominion of Canada, 5th session of the 20th Parliament, 26 Jan. 1949-30 April 1949. Ottawa: Edmond Cloutier Law Printer to the King: 15-20.

Shoghi Effendi (1965) Messages to Canada. National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Canada, Toronto.

Stanley, George F.G., Gen. Ed. (1985) The Collected Writings of Louis Riel. Edmonton. University of Alberta Press. V. 5 e.v.

Stark, Rodney, and William Sims Bainbridge (1985) The Future of Religion: Secularization, Revival, and Cult Formation. Berkeley: U. of California Press.

Statistics Canada (1987) Income Distribution by Size in Canada: 1986. Ottawa. Canada Government Publishing Centre.

Stockman, Robert (1988) "Prospectus for a Dissertation Examining `The Bahá'í Faith and American Protestantism.'" Harvard Divinity School (19 Sept.) 12 pp.

Warner, W. Lloyd (1949) Social Class in America: The Evaluation of Status. New York: Science Research Associates.


Anon. (1962) 'Abdu'l-Bahá in Canada. Toronto: National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Canada.

Bahá'í World: An International Record (quadrennial). Bahá'í World Centre. Haifa, Israel.

Canadian Bahá'í News (1948-75) (renamed in 1976: Bahá'í Canada)

Léonard, Margot (1987) "French Canadians in the Bahá'í Faith." Unpubl. 6 pp.

Martin, Douglas, and William S. Hatcher (1984). The Bahá'í Faith: The Emerging Global Religion. San Francisco. Harper and Row.

O'Neil, Linda (1975) "A Short History of the Bahá'í Faith in Canada, 1898-1975," unpubl. 44 pp.

Star of the West: A Bahá'í Magazine. 1911-1924

van den Hoonaard, Will. C. (forthcoming) "The Development and Decline of an Early Canadian Bahá'í Community: The Story of Saint John, New Brunswick." in Richard Hollinger, ed. Bábí/Bahá'í Studies, Vol. 4. Los Angeles. Kalimát Press.

-----(1988) "List of Early Canadian Bahá'ís, 1898-1944." Computer Database, DBASEIIIPlus. Fredericton: University of New Brunswick. 444 records. Unpubl.

-----(1990) "Canada's Earliest Bahá'í History." World Order. 23.

-----(1991) "Black Roses in Canada's Mosaic: Three Decades of Canadian Black History." in Richard Thomas, ed. Black North American Bahá'ís: The First Generation, 1893-1950. Wilmette. Bahá'í Publishing Trust (with Lynn Echevarria-Howe) (forthcoming)

----- (in preparation) Pearls in the Sand, A Social Analysis of the Bahá'í Faith in Canada: The Origin and Development of a New Religious Movement, 1898-1948. Book ms in preparation under SSHRC Grant, 1990-1991.

Table 1

Demographic Profile of the Canadian Bahá'í Community 1901-1948, as of 21 April 1901 1911 1921 1931 1941 1948 Number of adherents 9 16 39 58 157 252 % Per annum growth - 7.8 13.8 4.9 17.1 6.1 % women 77.8 56.3 66.7 70.7 65.0 72.2 Mean Bahá'í age 3.2 7.8 7.5 9.6 6.7 8.5 Civil status: % - Never Marr. 33.3 12.5 28.2 22.4 33.8 26.6 % - Ever Marr. 44.4 75.0 64.1 74.1 59.2 65.9 % - ?? 22.3 12.5 7.7 3.5 7.0 7.6 Geogr. Distr.: - Ont 100.0 12.5 15.4 8.6 24.2 29.0 - Que 56.3 56.4 58.6 26.8 16.3 - NB 18.8 12.8 3.4 4.5 3.6 - BC 6.3 15.4 27.6 31.8 22.2 - Alta 1.7 1.9 6.0 - Sas. 0.6 4.0 - Man. 6.3* 4.5 8.7 - N.S. 5.7 6.7 - PEI 3.2 * A lone Winnipeg Bahá'í who donated to the Temple Fund, Wilmette, Ill. Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding. Source: van den Hoonaard (1988)

Table 2 Class composition of the Canadian Bahá'í Community, 1901-1948 (in %) 1901 1911 1921 1931 1941 1948 I. Persons of wealth, established families, upper-middle class, professionals, visible community leaders 100.0 66.7 41.9 28.3 15.3 12.3 II. Musicians, artists 33.3 6.5 10.9 8.5 8.7 III. Middle class, "Working" people, white-collar, technical 41.9 47.8 66.9 66.7 IV. Lower class, Factory workers, labourers 9.7 13.0 9.3 12.3 Totals in % 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 (Totals in numbers) (9) (12) (31) (46) (118) (195) Unknown status (N) 0 4 8 10 32 57 Sources: Categories adapted from Lloyd Warner, 1949:66-67); Statistical information derived from van den Hoonaard (1988).
Table 4 Geographical Distribution of the Canadian Bahá'í Community, by Region: 1948 and 1988 Atlantic Quebec Ont. Prairies B.C. North Totals 1944 No. % 13.5 16.3 29.0 18.7 22.2 0.00 100.0 1988 No. 1,362 1,860 6,090 6,041 4,819 1,149 21,321 % 6.4 8.7 28.6 28.3 22.6 5.4 100.0 ________________________________________________________________ Canada's Population* 9.0 25.8 36.0 17.5 11.4 0.3 100.0 ________________________________________________________________ Sources: Muttart (1986) *Nock (1987: 518)
Table 5
Bahá'í Population by Province Number with addresses per million people February 1988
Province Population Bahá'ís @ Million @ Million NF 564,000 116 205.7 70.9 NS 864,150 789 913.0 494.2 PEI 125,090 145 1,159.2 247.5 NB 701,860 312 444.5 145.1 QC 6,454,490 1,860 288.2 101.3 ON 9,001,170 6,090 676.6 380.8 MB 1,049,320 1,085 1,034.0 162.8 SK 996,695 2,409 2,417.0 480.9 AB 2,340,265 2,547 1,088.3 352.3 BC 2,849,585 4,819 1,691.1 668.8 YT 23,360 678 29,024.0 5,417.1* NT 52,020 471 9,054.2 3,074,2* CANADA 25,022,005 21,321 852.1 331.0 _____________________________________________________________ Indicates 1981 Canada Census data noted in Nock (1987:518) _____________________________________________________________ Source: Department of Statistics (1987, Oct.) Asterisked data were provided by Prof. D. Nock during the Annual Meetings of the Canadian Sociology and Anthropology Association, Laval University, Quebec, 3 June 1989.
Table 7
Size of the Canadian Bahá'í Community, 1898-1989 (@ 21 April)
Inc. Year Bahá'ís LSAs Groups Isol. Local. LSAs 1898 5 1 1 1902 9 2 2 1912 16 2 2 1921 39 7 7 1937 92 2 5 7 1944 212 11 6 27 44 1948 252 15 1953 554 30 102 1957 800? 19 1963 2,500? 68 115 107 290 19 1973 7,709 201 384 335 920 68 1979 12,591 315 622 613 1,550 168 1986# 20,362 338 602 414 1,354 156 1987 20,929 343 1,334 1989* 22,000 357 1,352 #@ 15 Sept. 1986 *@ Jan. 1989 Source: Department of Statistics, Bahá'í World Centre, Haifa, 19 Jan. 1987. Bahá'í News (June 1937:6) Bahá'í World V. 8 (1938-40): Map. Bahá'í World V. 10 (1944-46) van den Hoonaard (1988).


[1]. An earlier draft of this paper was presented at the Annual Meetings of the Canadian Sociology and Anthropology Association, Laval University, Québec, 3 June 1989. I am indebted to Professors D. Nock and M. Rochester for their valuable comments. A note of appreciation is also extended to Dr. H. Danesh and Miss K. Naqvi for their assistance. All errors of omission or commission are mine.

[2]. Local "Spiritual Assemblies" are the governing bodies of local Bahá'í communities. Membership of nine is elected each year on 21 April from the adult membership; the vote is by secret ballot; electioneering and platforming are not permitted.

[3]. Bahá'í News, No. 137, (July 1940):3.

[4]. Will. C. van den Hoonaard, Pearls in the Sand: The Bahá'í Faith in Canada, 1898-1948 (forthcoming) offers a full analysis of the times and lives of Bahá'ís which includes a profile of their occupations.

[5]. I am indebted to the Department of Statistics, National Bahá'í Office, Thornhill, for its assistance. One of its reports (Department of Statistics, 1987) was especially helpful.

[6]. Table 5 includes information derived from Statistics Canada. Divergent reporting protocols and a seven-year gap may explain the differences in the ratio of Bahá'ís to the total population. However, the relative ranking of the provinces and regions are very similar.

[7]. Bahá'í Canada, (Nov. 1985):8.

[8]. No information was provided on how the sample was taken from the 1985 census of over 10,000 adherents. The sample was neither random nor representative (Naqvi, 1989). Cf. Bahá'í Canada, (April 1986): 4.

[9]. "Small cities" are non-metropolitan, non-suburbs, non-capital cities; "small towns" are centres with fewer than 10,000 people.

[10]. See Watts (1978) for a description of two of these early Native adherents.

[11]. An historical account of French-Canadian Bahá'í history can be found in Margot Léonard's paper of 1987.

[12] The global "francophonie" has, in fact, been depending upon Canada for support in publications, translations, etc.

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