Although it is not well known to Canadians, Canada and Korea have enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship since the late 19th century. Canadian involvement on the Korean Peninsula began in the late 19th century when Canadians were some of the first Westerners to arrive in Korea. Many arrived as missionaries, but soon branched out into various fields. Canadians were instrumental in bringing Western medicine and education to Korea. They created hospitals and schools, and trained the first Korean doctors in modern medicine, devoting themselves entirely to improving the lives of Koreans.
To name a few Canadians, the Rev. James S. Gale, created the Korean-English Dictionary which became the first and most essential tool for the scholarly study of Korea in the West; and whose translation of the Bible into the Korean language constituted the foundation of Korean Christianity. Dr. Oliver R. Avison, the personal physician to King Gojong, is considered the founder of modern medical knowledge in Korea. Dr. Schofield fought for Korean independence in the early twentieth century and is the only non-Korean buried in the Patriots’ Plot in the Seoul National Cemetery.
Official Canadian involvement began in 1947 when Canada participated in the United Nations Commission supervising free elections. Formal recognition of South Korea followed in 1949. Canada sent 26,971 military personnel to the Korean peninsula, the third largest contingent, as part of the United Nations force in the 1950-53 Korean War. 516 Canadians lost their lives in this “Forgotten War” and 378 Canadians lie buried in the United Nations Memorial Cemetery near Busan.
Although the war itself was tragic, it enabled Canada and Canadians to acknowledge the reality of Korea at a time when Canadians were more familiar with terms like “the Far East” and “East Asia” than individual countries in the Asia-Pacific region. The Korean War also marked Canada’s entry onto the international stage and Canada’s interest in the Asia-Pacific region increased over the next half of the century.
After the Korean War, Koreans again gained a good impression of Canada in the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal. At those games, Jung-mo Yang, a featherweight wrestler won Korea’s first gold medal in the Olympic Games since Korea first participated as an independent nation in the 1948 London Games. At that time, Korea was a developing nation that was striving to recover from Japanese colonization and the Korean War. The gold medal won by the Korean wrestler gave hope to Koreans and helped promote Korea’s national pride.
▪Note: Korean athletes had won gold medals before the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal. Korean marathoner Ki-Jung Son won the gold medal in the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. However, he entered the game as a Japanese athlete under Japanese colonization. Recently, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) have amended the nationality from Japanese to Koreans of Ki-Jung Son and other athletes who participated in the Olympic Games.
In the last few years, the relationship between Korea and Canada has expanded in many areas, including trade, tourism and education. Canada has surpassed the United States as the most-favored destination of Korean emigrants, and Canada and Korea rank among each others’ top ten trading partners.
Koreans began to immigrate to Canada in early 1960s. In 2001, an estimated 150,000 Koreans lived in Canada. Almost 90% of Koreans in Canada are in Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec. Recently, the number of Korean immigrants settling in Alberta and Manitoba has increased. Despite Korean immigrants being well-educated, skilled and diligent, they have difficulty finding a job or starting a new business in Canada due to linguistic and cultural differences. However, many Koreans have overcome these difficulties and successfully settled in Canada. Korean-Canadians are actively participating in local communities, Canadian society and in the bilateral relationship between Canada-Korea.
People-to-people contacts have grown rapidly. On average, 7,000 South Korean immigrants have been added on an annual basis between 1999 and 2008, bringing the number of Canadians of Korean origin to more than 200,000. There are more than 20,000 Canadians living in South Korea, including more than 5,000 English teachers. (2011)
In the past decade, South Korea has emerged as a significant country for outbound tourism, with Canada tapping into an increasing share of this thriving long-haul market. Following a 10% decline in outbound travel in 2008 and a further 21% drop in 2009 due to the global recession, South Korean travel to Canada rebounded in 2010, reaching 157,500 overnight travellers who spent $255 million, up 18% from 2009.
South Korea’s strong economic rebound in 2010 was largely responsible for the gains in visitors. However, amid prevailing global economic uncertainty, momentum slowed in the latter part of 2011, caused in part by the debt problem in the Euro zone and soaring domestic inflation. The good news: GDP growth is projected to settle at 3.8% for 2011 and regain moderate momentum in 2012.