Asian Heritage Month: Influential Canadians of Asian Origin

Written by Kaileen Valencia

To commemorate Asian Heritage Month, we are recognizing Canadians of Asian descent for their exceptional achievements. This is a list of five individuals from across Canada who have made significant contributions. With perseverance and optimism, these Canadians overcame sacrifice, suffering, and inequality to establish an indelible imprint in Canada. Let us all remember these influential Canadians while continuing to learn about the many others that have impacted our world.

  1.  Adrienne Clarkson

Adrienne Clarkson, who is of Chinese origin, served as Canada’s 26th Governor General from 1999 to 2005. She was the first member of a minority group to host a national television show. She constituted the Governor General’s Northern Medal to recognise individuals who have made significant contributions to recognizing the North. Her engagement in Aboriginal cultures was noteworthy, and she brought the issue of indigenous communities to the forefront of national conversation. The Blood Tribe of Alberta valued her talent and declared her an honorary chief. She is honoured to be known as the “Grandmother of Many Nations.”

  1. Payam Akhaven

Payam Akhavan left Iran as a child to avoid government persecution. He became the United Nations’ youngest war crimes prosecutor in history at 26 years old,  and founded the Iran Human Rights Documentation Centre as well. He currently teaches international law and human rights at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. He earned his Doctor of Juridical Science (S.J.D.) from Harvard Law School and was a senior researcher at Yale Law School. He is a representative of the UK Child Sexual Abuse People’s Tribunal and has attributed to the efforts of various non-governmental associations and grassroots survivors’ movements.

  1. Shyam Selvadurai

Shyam Selvadurai, a novelist, was born in Sri Lanka and is of Tamil and Sinhala descent. He immigrated to Canada with his family when he was 19 years old, after the Colombo riots of 1983. He has an extraordinary capacity to depict a world ravaged by prejudice while also retaining charm, humour, and empathy. He earned a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts in creative and technical writing from York University. “Swimming in the Monsoon Sea,” a book for young adults released in 2005, won a Lambda Literary Award. 

  1. Senator Vivienne Poy

Vivienne Poy is Canada’s first Asian-born senator. She played a key role in establishing Asian Heritage Month in Canada in May. Poy received her formal education in Hong Kong, England, and Canada. From 2003 to 2006, she served as the University of Toronto’s Chancellor. She is the author of five books and a co-editor of one. She is involved with a number of civic and cultural organisations. Many community organisations have honoured Vivienne for her commitments to intercultural understanding.

  1. Rupi Kaur 

Rupi Kaur’s simple and profound poetry addresses the immigrant perspective as well as sexual trauma. She was born in Punjab, India, and raised in Brampton, Ontario. She developed a huge following on Instagram after uploading animated visuals of her personal poetry. 


‘What can I do?’ Payam Akhavan on making the world better in CBC Massey Lectures | CBC Radio. (2017, November 10). Retrieved from

*, N. (2021, April 02). Adrienne Clarkson Net Worth, Career, Married, Husband, Kids, Divorce! Retrieved from

7th, :. D., 7th, :. D., & 7th, :. C. (n.d.). 15 Inspirational Asian Canadians to Know. Retrieved from

HCDSB Recognizes Asian Heritage Month. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Heritage, C. (2021, February 26). Government of Canada. Retrieved from

Thomson, KarrieAsian Heritage Month: Influential Canadians of Asian Origin