Chinese in Canada

Chinese immigration first became in demand after slavery was abolished in the United States. Wealthy farmers and business in the U.S. found that poor, landless Chinese men from Guangdong and Fujian provinces could be convinced to move to the U.S. to do the hard, back breaking work that used to be done by African slaves.

In 1788, the first reported Chinese arrived on the Pacific coast in two ships under renegade British naval officer, Captain John Meares. Fifty to seventy Chinese carpenters and craftsmen from Macao settled on Nootka Sound, Vancouver Island. This port was growing in importance as a trading post. The Chinese tradesmen built a fort and a schooner during their stay. Their arrival was shrouded in the mystery of what became of them. Records don’t exist to determine how long they stayed or whether they married.

By the 1860s, Chinese emigrated directly to B.C. from China. Two ports of entry were open to them, the ports of Vancouver and Victoria. Many Chinese came north from California to British Columbia in 1885 for the Gold Rush. They arrived to find that they could only mine gold after the Caucasian miners took as much gold as they wanted. In 1882-1885 the greatest influx of Chinese immigrated to build the Canadian Pacific Railroad. The Chinese Immigration Act of 1885 required a 'Head Tax' be paid and traveling eastward required documents with written permission from the Governor in Council. Many immigrants were single men and a 'bachelor culture' arose within Chinatowns. Countless other acts and by-laws were legislated to discourage the Chinese from leaving these towns.

In 1891, the Dominion of Canada gave permission to the Onderdonk Construction Company to sponsor 17,000 Chinese workers from Guongdong Province. Economic conditions were less than desirable in China and most immigrants were either farmers or unemployed. By this time Chinese immigration was stereotyped by Great Britain, Australia, Hawaii, and the United States of America. Canada was not alone in holding investigations and enacting restrictive legislation. These investigations weighed the moral and economic viability of Chinese immigration. In fact, the U.S. Congress and Senate formed an elaborate joint commission to investigate Chinese immigration in 1876; amending their Restriction Act in 1884. As early as 1878, the province of British Columbia passed the controversial Chinese Tax Bill. Its demise led to the lobbying efforts of British Columbia’s political leadership. This resulted in the Royal Commission on Chinese Immigration in 1884.

The outcome of this report was addressed in The Chinese Immigration Act of 1885. It could be argued that the introduction, implementation and repercussions of the 'Head Tax' were pivotal to the social development of Canada. This Act and its amendments prevented most Chinese men from re-uniting with their families in China, and more importantly, prevented their families from joining them here. The Act’s regulations gave the immigration Controller and his officers extraordinary powers to impose severe penalties, simply based on their perception of whether a violation occurred. The only recourse available to the sponsor or the Chinese immigrant was to appeal directly to the Minister of Immigration. Prejudice and resentment were not new to the Chinese. Caucasian Canadians had a sense of entitlement when it came to ‘their’ jobs. The low Chinese wage, the lack of job opportunities and a mild recession ignited the members of the Asiastic Exclusion League to start the Anti-Asian Riot of 1907. This was not the first assault on Chinese people, nor did it mark the end to racial prejudice. It was merely a prelude to the enactment of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1923. Despite their peaceful nature and loyalty the Chinese still hadn’t garnered the franchise rights to vote or seek citizenship. These rights soon followed the repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1947, along with a liberalized immigration policy. In 2006, the ‘Head Tax’ which affected generations of Chinese was redressed by the Government of Canada with a settlement.

Immigration to Windsor followed three waves distinguished by region and language. Most immigrants from the earliest wave entitled Opportunity & Perseverance began in 1885 and ended in 1960. Most immigrants came from southern China where Toison was spoken. The middle wave entitled Education & Enterprise began in 1961 and ended in 1990. The Immigration Act of 1967 finally gave people of Chinese descent an equal opportunity through the new ‘points system’. These new Canadians came from the Canton region and spoke Cantonese. The most recent wave entitled Professionalism & Renewal began in 1991 and has yet to end. Most of the immigrants came from China and speak Mandarin.

Now its time to embark on a remarkable journey where Chinese Canadians have enriched the lives of their neighbors and in so doing have contributed to Windsor truly being representative of the Canadian mosaic. The virtual museum Rising Dragon: Chinese Canadians in Windsor has set the scene for a Canadian tale unlike any other. Click on Local Chinese People and learn the history of your neighbors.