Over 200 years ago, the first Chinese landed on the western coast of Canada. Initially Chinese immigrants were segregated physically, socially and culturally from Canadian society. Through time, they have integrated into society and made significant contributions to the growth and prosperity of a multicultural Canada. They have formed a partnership with other ethnic groups to build a better future for our beloved country. This Chronological Chart of 222 years of Chinese in Canada serves to briefly review the history of Chinese migration, segregation, integration and contributions in Canada.
We wish to express most sincere thanks to Dr. David Chuenyan Lai, Professor Emeritus of Geography at the University of Victoria and Adjunct Professor with the David Lam Centre at Simon Fraser University, for his research and writing of the English text for the chart. Thanks are extended to Ms. Liang Xiaomei for translating the English text to Chinese and Mr. Martin Tzou to French. Thanks are also extended to Dr. Jan Walls, SFU Professor Emeritus and Founding Director of the David Lam Centre for his invaluable assistance in editing the text and assistance with organizing the project. Further, thanks are owed to David Choi, Adjunct Professor with the David Lam Centre for his enthusiastic and tireless support of this project. I would like to recognize Mrs. Edith Lo for her administrative and organizational support and Mr. Nelson Leung and Ms. Winnie Leung for their professional advice on the layout and production of the chart. Finally, our appreciation goes out to our sponsors. Without their support the project would have been impossible.
Director, David Lam Centre
In the spring of 1788 Captain John Meares, a British fur trader, recruited 50 Chinese smiths and carpenters from Macao and Guangzhou (Canton), and set sail for Canada. On 13 May, the Chinese arrived at Nootka Sound on Vancouver Island, and in the following year another 70 Chinese workers were brought in by Captain Meares. They helped him build a fortress and a 40-tonne schooner. Their craftsmanship, obedience and diligence impressed him so much that he wrote in his memoirs: “if hereafter trading posts should be established on the American coast, a colony of these men should be a very important acquisition.” His remarks were prophetic. The supply of cheap Chinese labour was nearly indispensable in opening the virgin land of British Columbia. In the summer of 1789, the Spaniards arrived at Nootka Sound and fought with the British. What happened to the Chinese is still a mystery as some were imprisoned by the Spaniards, some escaped and some might have been killed. For 69 years after 1789 there was no written evidence of further Chinese arrivals on the western coast of Canada.
Gold was discovered in the lower Fraser Valley in 1857. In the following year, thousands of miners joined the gold rush in B.C. (British Columbia). The first group of Chinese immigrants from San Francisco arrived in Victoria by boat in June 1858. Soon after, more Chinese labourers came directly from Hong Kong to seek a better livelihood in Gum Shan (the “Gold Mountain”). During the pioneer days, shortage of labour forced the colonial government to rely on Chinese contractors for recruitment of Chinese labourers to build trails and wagon roads, drain swamps, dig ditches and engage in other sorts of backbreaking tasks. The prosperous period of the gold rush was basically over by 1865 and B.C. faced adverse economic conditions. A growing number of unemployed White workers began to blame the Chinese for taking away their jobs because of their willingness to work longer hours for lower wages. Hostility directed against Chinese immigrants emerged in B.C. in the late 1860s and burgeoned in the early 1870s.
Most Westerners despised the Chinese and wanted to segregate them from the host society. In Victoria, Nanaimo, and Kamloops, for example, the city government forced them to confine themselves to a niche on the fringe of the city centre and called it “Chinatown.” It was conceived by Westerners as a place of Chinese evils where no decent people would enter. However, the Chinese did not mind being segregated because they liked living together on one or two streets which they called “Tong Yan Gai” (Tang People's Street) where they could follow their customs and also feel safe and secure from abuse. Even after death, the Chinese were segregated from Westerners. Ross Bay Cemetery in Victoria, for example, was divided into 21 blocks of which Block L was set apart for the burials of “Aborigines and Mongolians.” The Burial Records reveal that the first Chinese person interred there on 18 March 1873 was listed as “Chinaman No.1” and subsequent Chinese burial plots designated as “Chinaman No.2,” “Chinaman No.3” and so on. The Chinese responded by establishing a traditional altar in Block L and Chinese characters were used to inscribe Chinese names on the tombs; Block L was referred to as the Chinese Cemetery.
B.C. entered Confederation in 1871. In the following year, the first Legislative Assembly passed an act to disenfranchise Native Indians and Chinese. Cities and municipalities in B.C. followed suit to disenfranchise the Chinese from elections. From the 1870s onward, discrimination against the Chinese became a hallmark of the White citizens of B.C. The 1881 Census of Canada listed 4,383 Chinese in Canada of which 4,350 resided in B.C., 22 in Ontario, 7 in Quebec, and 4 in Manitoba. Before the 1900s, virtually all Chinese in Canada were concentrated in B.C. Hence, the province had the strongest anti-Chinese movement.
In 1879, Noah Shakespeare, President of the Workingmen's Protection Association (later known as the Anti-Chinese Association) organized a petition to the Federal Government, requesting that “Mongolian labour” should not be used on the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway in B.C. Andrew Onderdonk got the contracts to build the line and would need at least 10,000 workers. In 1880, the White population of B.C. was estimated at about 35,000, and most of them were engaged in gold mining, coal mining, fish canning or commerce. It was estimated that no more than 400 White men were available for employment on the railway. Hence, in May 1882 Prime Minister John A. Macdonald told the people in B.C. that “If you wish to have the railway finished within any reasonable time, there must be no such step against Chinese labour. At present, it is simply a question of alternative – either you must have this labour or you cannot have the railway.” Although many White Canadians deeply resented the Chinese labourers, failure to complete the railway was unthinkable. As a result, they had to choose the lesser of the two “evils,” and tolerate the employment of the Chinese. By the end of 1882, of the 9,000 railway workers, 6,500 were Chinese. Hundreds of Chinese railway workers died due to accidents, winter cold, illness and malnutrition.
In 1885, the Federal Government, under pressure from the B.C. Government, imposed a head tax of $50 on every Chinese immigrant. Only six classes of person were exempt: diplomats, clergymen, merchants, students, tourists and men of science. In those days, the average Chinese labourer could earn only $225 a year. After deducting food, clothing, rent, medicine and other expenses, he could save only $43 a year. The intention of the head tax was to discourage Chinese labourers from coming to Canada by imposing a heavy financial burden on them. The tax was increased to $100 in 1901 and again to $500 in 1903. Despite the heavy tax, Chinese labourers continued to come as they were unemployed or could earn only $2 a month in China whereas they could earn from 10 to 20 times more in Canada. In those days, there was no immigration office in Hong Kong where nearly all Chinese came from. When a ship, usually carrying a hundred or more Chinese passengers, arrived in Victoria, they were lined up on the wharf and escorted to the prison-like immigration office. They were subjected to medical examination and then checked to determine whether they could pay the head tax, and if not they had to wait for relatives or friends to come to pay their taxes. This process could take several days or even weeks, and during this time, the Chinese immigrants were confined to rooms where all openings were covered with iron screens and bars to prevent their escape. They carved or wrote Chinese verses on the walls to express their anger and bitter feelings. One poem reads “Having amassed several hundred dollars, I left my native home for a foreign land. To my surprise, I was kept inside a prison cell! I can see neither the world outside nor my dear parents. When I think of them, tears begin to stream down. To whom can I confide my mournful sorrow.”
Chinese were segregated socially, economically and politically. For example, they were not permitted to sit on the lower floor of the Victoria Opera House but had to sit in the upper gallery. Chinese people were not permitted to swim in the City's Crystal Swimming Pool. A store manager in Victoria prohibited Chinese customers from entering the store every Saturday night from 7 to 10 p.m., claiming that many White women patronized the store at this time and did not like to see too many Chinamen around staring at them. A permit from the sheriff was required for intermarriage. When White girls married Chinese boys, the marriage always ended mysteriously. For example, Amanda Clapton married Lee Land, a Chinese store owner in Victoria, in September 1908. After spending their honeymoon in Vancouver, they were seen on the ferry returning to Victoria. The couple disappeared before the ferry reached Victoria. In the same year, Amy Morris of San Francisco, intended to marry Lee Barker, a Chinese merchant in Victoria, but was soon deported by the police as “undesirable.” By 1912, the Legislature of Saskatchewan, passed an Act to prohibit Chinese restaurants, and other small businesses, from employing White women. Similar acts were later passed in British Columbia, Manitoba and Ontario. The regulation led to protests not only from Chinese merchants but also from White women. Eventually this discriminatory regulation was replaced by an Act requiring merchants to apply for a special permit to employ White women. This employment issue was soon followed by Chinese student strikes over educational segregation. In 1921, 90 Chinese children under Grade 4 in Victoria had been placed in a segregated school and only about 150 Chinese students in senior grades were mixed with about 6,000 White children in public school. In September 1922, the Victoria School Board lined up all the non-segregated Chinese students and took them to a segregated school. Parents told their children to return home and began a strike. The year-long strike ended after the School Board, under pressure from Ottawa, churches and public opinion, backed down from its complete segregation policy. In 1920, the Federal Government passed a bill to disqualify persons from voting federally if they were not permitted to vote provincially. As a result, professional societies could exclude anyone whose name was not on the voting list, without specifying race. Hence, Chinese people could not become lawyers, pharmacists, or doctors in British Columbia and some other provinces.
As head taxes failed to curb Chinese immigration, the federal government passed an Act in 1923, by which no person of Chinese origin was permitted to enter Canada. During the period of exclusion from 1923 to 1947, many Chinese in Canada had to endure the hardship of separation from their family members in China. The 1941 Census reported that about 47% of Canada's 35,000 Chinese lived in 5 metropolitan cities: Vancouver (7,880), Victoria (3,435), Toronto (2,559), Montreal (1,865), and Winnipeg (762). Over 90% of the metropolitan Chinese population resided in and near Chinatowns. Chinese immigrants had come mainly from 8 counties on the western side of the Pearl River Delta in Guangdong Province: 66% from Siyi (Four Counties), 16% from Sanyi (Three Counties), 9% from Zhongshan County, and the remaining 9% from various other counties.
In 1916, Chinese labourers in the lumber industry organized themselves into a union known as the Chinese Labour Association and used strikes as a means to bargain for treatment similar to that of White workers. White labour, which led the anti-Chinese movement began to recognize the power of Chinese unions. Some White unions discussed Chinese membership and saw advantages to forming an alliance with Chinese labourers. In the 1920s, the Chinese Workers' Protective Association, a left-wing organization, had some fraternal affiliations with the Communist Party of Canada. During the Depression of the 1930s, left-wing White labour expressed solidarity with the Chinese, seeing workers of all races as victims of the capitalist system. In March 1935, the Chinese Workers' Protective Association and the Unemployed Workers Association held a joint meeting and called for equal treatment in the employment and welfare of Chinese workers. Established in 1932, the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (predecessor of today's New Democratic Party), worked on a platform that included support for Oriental rights. During the late 1930s, a popular political slogan was,“A vote for the CCF is a vote to give the Chinaman and the Japanese the same voting rights as you have.”
After the outbreak of the European War in September 1939, the governments of British Columbia and Saskatchewan strongly opposed enlisting Asians in the armed forces, fearing that they would demand to be enfranchised after the war. Despite opposition, many native-born Chinese youths volunteered for military service to prove their loyalty to Canada although they were not treated as Canadian soldiers. It was only after Japan entered the war that the British started recruiting Chinese Canadians to infiltrate and fight behind Japanese lines in China, Sarawak and Malaya. After they were finally granted entry into the Canadian armed forces, over 600 Chinese Canadians served in World War II. On 14 May 1947, the federal government repealed the Exclusion Act and subsequently other discriminatory laws against the Chinese. The 1962 immigration policy opened the door to Chinese immigration. As a result, new Chinese immigrants rose from 876 in 1962 to 5,178 in 1966.
Having obtained the franchise, the Chinese began to participate in politics. Chinese war veterans succeeded in becoming elected officials. These included Douglas Jung who was elected MP for Vancouver Centre in 1957 and George Ho Lem who became a Calgary City Councillor in 1959 and, subsequently, MLA for Calgary in 1975. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, many Chinese Canadians were elected as MPs, MLAs, Mayors and City Councillors. Dr. Vivienne Poy (1998-) and Dr. Lillian E. Dyck (2005-) are two Chinese Canadian senators, and Governor General Adrienne Clarkson (1999-2005), Dr. David Lam, Lieutenant-Governor of British Columbia (1988-1995), Norman Kwong, L-G of Alberta (2005-2010), and Philip Lee, L-G of Manitoba (2009-) are all of Chinese ethnic origin. The three Chinese Canadian MPs are Michael Chong (2004-), Olivia Chow (2006-) and Alice Wong (2008-).
The Federal Government introduced a liberalized immigration policy on 1 October 1967. It gave people around the world an equal opportunity for admission to Canada according to their education, occupational skills, and other criteria. Immigrants were identified by their country of last permanent residence and not by ethnic origin. After 1967, Chinese professional and skilled workers from many lands and cultures entered Canada. In 1986, the Investment Canada Act induced many Hong Kong and Taiwan investors and entrepreneurs to bring substantial capital to Canada. During the early 1990s, most Hong Kong immigrants to Canada were motivated by political uncertainty due to the transition back to Chinese rule. With Hong Kong's 1997 designation as a Special Administrative Region of China, fewer people left partly because they perceived the future as more certain. For example, 44,169 landed immigrants from Hong Kong and 7,411 from Taiwan in 1994 dropped to 2,857 and 3,511 respectively by the year 2000. On the other hand, landed immigrants from China increased from 12,486 in 1994 to 36,718 in 2000. The number continued to rise throughout the 2000s. For example, within 5 years from 2001 to 2006, 190,000 immigrants came from China whereas only 103,000 immigrants came from Hong Kong. The 2006 inter-census reported that nearly 86% of 1,346,510 Chinese in Canada lived in 5 Metropolitan Cities: Toronto (537,060), Vancouver (402,000), Montreal (82,665), Calgary (75,410), and Edmonton (53,670). Today less than 40% of Chinese in Canada have come from the traditional counties on the Pearl River Delta while over 60% have come from other provinces of China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Vietnam and other parts of the world.
In the 1960s, Chinatown was no longer considered by the city government as a godforsaken Chinese ghetto. It was regarded as an aging residential and commercial inner city neighbourhood. After the 1970s, city governments across Canada started to preserve the heritage of Chinatowns and invested in beautification projects. Chinese arches have been built as landmarks in many Chinatowns. Furthermore, new investments from Hong Kong entrepreneurs have helped redeveloping Chinatowns such as those in Vancouver and Calgary. Chinatowns today are completely integrated into the urban landscape of Canada. Similarly, Chinese residents are mixed with residents of other ethnic groups in residential areas, and there are no segregated Chinese sections in government cemeteries.
The federal government has promoted tolerance and respect for ethnic diversity by enacting the Bill of Rights, the Official Languages Act, the Multiculturalism Act, and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Most of the post-1967 Chinese immigrants have easily adapted to a Canadian way of life and are fully integrated into the host society. In Victoria, for example, Western associations such as Kiwanis and the Freemason Grand Lodge include Chinese members whereas Chinese organizations such as Victoria (Chinatown) Lions Club, Lioness Club, and Chinese Commerce Association have many active Western members. Chinese and Western entrepreneurs and developers are partners in housing, commercial and industrial ventures. Intermarriage is very common, especially among younger generations. Chinese Canadians are chosen to serve as Honorary Colonel or Captain in Military Reserve Forces. Six Chinese Canadians have been elected as university chancellors: Dr. Robert Lee of the University of British Columbia (1993-1996); Dr. Milton Wong (1999-2002) and Dr. Brandt Louie (2005-2011) of Simon Fraser University; Dr. Ron Lou-Poy of the University of Victoria (2002-2008); Dr. Vivienne Poy of the University of Toronto (2003- 2006); and Dr. Raymond Chang of Ryerson University (2006-).
On 16 June 1980, Parliament passed a motion recognizing “the contribution made to the Canadian mosaic and culture by the people of Chinese background.” This was the first official recognition of Chinese railway workers. In September 1982, the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada installed a bronze plaque at Yale Museum, British Columbia, in honour of Chinese railway workers. In June 1986, four Canadian labour unions erected a cairn in the Chinese and Japanese Cemetery in Cumberland and dedicated it to Chinese and Japanese miners killed in coalmines. In 1987, all three political parties supported the introduction of an all-party parliamentary resolution to recognize the injustice and discrimination of the head tax and the Chinese Exclusion Act. On 22 June 2006, the Parliament of Canada issued an official apology for the historical mistreatment of Chinese in Canada.
Chinese Canadians have travelled a long and difficult road from ostracism to acceptance by White society. They have made contributions in science, art, music, academia, sports, and community services. Their outstanding contributions are now recognized and many Chinese have been appointed to the Order of Canada, the highest honour in Canada.
|Year||Name||Place of Residence|
|C.M. (Member of the Order of Canada)|
|1976||Peter Wing 吳榮添||Kamloops|
||Jean B. Lumb 林黃彩珍||Toronto|
|1977||Peter Bowah Wong 黃保華||Victoria|
|1979||Clara Yee Lim 林黃瑞儀||Richmond|
||Shiu Loon Kong 江紹倫||Toronto|
|1982||Harry Con 簡建平||Vancouver|
|1983||David Chuenyan Lai 黎全恩||Victoria|
|1984||Ernest C.F. Chan 陳籍扶||Saskatoon|
|1985||Joseph N.H. Du 余嶽興||Winnipeg|
||Lori Fung 馮麗明||Vancouver|
|1986||David T.W.Lin 林建威||Montréal|
|1987||William P.Wen 溫維泮||Toronto|
|1988||See-Chai Lam 林思齊||Vancouver|
|1989||Jack Wai Yen Lee 李惠賢||Victoria|
|1989||Louie Tong 雷鈺堂||Vancouver|
||Henry Gan Wah Woo 胡建華||Edmonton|
|1990||Douglas Jung 鄭天華||Vancouver|
||Jack W.Lee 李植榮||Montréal|
|1992||Joseph Y.K. Wong 王裕佳||Toronto|
|1994||Wah Jun Tze 謝華真||Vancouver|
||Sophia Ming Ren Leung 梁陳明任||Vancouver|
|1995||Bing Wing Thom 譚秉榮||Vancouver|
|1997||Milton K.Wong 黃光遠||Vancouver|
|1998||Norman Kwong 林佐民||Calgary|
||Paul Ta Kuang Lin 林達光||Vancouver|
|1999||Robert H.Lee 李亮漢||Vancouver|
||Philip S.Lee 李紹麟||Winnipeg|
||David Y.H.Lui 雷元熙||Vancouver|
|2000||Paul Wong 黃銳光||Vancouver|
||Julia Chia-Yi Ching 秦家懿||Toronto|
||Arthur Chiu Fu Lau 劉聚福||Point-Claire|
|Year||Name||Place of Residence|
|C.M. (Member of the Order of Canada)|
|2000||Henry Fook Yuen Mah 馬福炘||Edmonton|
|2001||Yvonne Chiu 趙鄧人翹||Toronto|
||Chit Chan Gunn 顏質燦||Vancouver|
|2002||Cynthia Lam 藍何梅嘉||Brossard, Ontario|
|2003||Ronald Lou-Poy 雷亮明||Victoria|
|2004||Frank Ling 吳仲貺||Rockcliffe Park|
||Robert G.H.Lee 李甘棠||Calgary|
|2005||Steven K.H.Aung 王超群||Edmonton|
||Wayson Choy 崔維新||Toronto|
||Wallace B.Chung 蔣北扶||Vancouver|
|2006||Jack Chiang 蔣任棠||Kingston|
|2008||Simon Chang 陳石浣||Montréal|
|2010||Alice Chan Yip 葉陳敏娜||Montréal|
O.C. (Officer of the Order of Canada)
|1987||Wah Leung 梁甦華||Vancouver|
|1991||Lap Chee Tsu 徐立之||Toronto|
||Thomas Ming Sui Chang 張明瑞||Toronto|
|1992||Adrienne Clarkson 伍冰枝||Toronto|
|1995||David See-Chai Lam 林思齊||Vancouver|
|1998||Neville Poy 伍衛權||Toronto|
|2000||Tak Wah Mak 麥德華||Toronto|
|2005||Alexina Louie 雷德媛||Toronto|
|2008||Victor Ling 林重慶||Vancouver|
C.C. (Commander of the Order of Canada)
|1999||Adrienne Clarkson 伍冰枝||Ottawa|