Thousands of Chinese arrived in Canada as sojourners at the ports of Vancouver and Victoria in the 1880s. Those that left China were either unemployed or farmers. They came to work as labourers on the Canadian Pacific Railroad. They often did work which was back breaking and dangerous. Despite their hard work resentment grew and social pressures were mounting prior to the railroads completion in 1886. This was attributed to the lower Chinese wage. The Dominion of Canada influenced by international trends and provincial concerns created a commission to investigate the desirability of Chinese immigration. The report was finalized in 1884. What followed was the Chinese Immigration Act of 1885, which implemented the $50 per person 'Head Tax'. Once the railroad was completed Chinese labourers were unemployed and unwanted. Work in the construction sector was all but impossible to find. Faced with prejudice, language, education, and financial barriers in western Canada, many traveled east in search of work and a new beginning. Finding their way to Ontario and later to Windsor, Chinese men could work in the service sector running households, hand laundries, and by cooking inexpensive meals. Restricted from working in other sectors, these jobs were no threat to mainstream male society because they were viewed by the same as “women’s work.”

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The majority of Chinese immigrants in 1891 came from the Guongdong Province. According to a 1901 census, Kee Chong Lee was among the first to arrive in Windsor to open a hand laundry in 1897. Western Canada was no longer the most desirable place to locate because discrimination was on-going. The lack of jobs and a mild recession ignited the members of the Asiastic Exclusion League to start the Vancouver Anti-Asian Riot of 1907. The Dominion of Canada tried to quell the unrest years before by amending the Chinese Immigration Act twice. The most significant change was increasing the ‘Head Tax’ to $500 per person; the equivalent of two years wages. In the early 1900s, it was not uncommon for Chinese men to travel back to China to marry and start a family only to return to Canada alone hoping one day to bring their families here. This practice would be significantly altered by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1923 which effectively estranged families for decades and made it all but impossible for single men to return to China to take a wife. Inter-racial relationships were taboo, so a 'bachelor culture' developed where single men living in major cities found fellowship and a sense of family in Chinatowns.

Windsor became an attractive location between 1911 and 1929 because its economy was rapidly expanding. Very few Windsor men managed to bring their families to Canada within the provisions Chinese Immigration Act of 1902. Mi Hong first arrived in Canada in 1903, he returned to China after the death of his first wife in 1913, remarried, fathered two sons, and returned to Canada in 1918 paying $1,500.00 in ‘head tax’. King Lee also paid the ‘head tax’ having arrived in Canada in 1894 with a C.I. 5 certificate. He visited China several times and on May 23rd, 1908 he became a naturalized British subject in Hamilton. With each visit he was issued a new certificate and once he became a merchant he was issued a C.I.30 certificate. In 1915 King Lee brought his wife and child to Canada. The merchant classification provided an exemption to the ‘head tax’ for each of them. Kipe Lee came to Canada in 1921 paying the ‘head tax’, he then sent for his wife and son after winning prize money. After waiting twenty-three years, due to the Sino-Japanese War and the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1923, they finally arrived in 1945.

Undeterred by these hardships Windsor’s Chinese population grew to over 700 people in 1926. During the Depression many moved away in search of work and by 1933 the Chinese population was approximately 200 people. In 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and Canada joined other countries and declared war on Japan. The Ontario Civil Defense Committee appealed to the citizens of the province and members of the Windsor Chinese community responded by forming a civil defense brigade. The Chinese community also supported the war effort by subscribing and selling the Canadian National War Bond door to door and organizing a parade. Five-hundred soldiers of Chinese descent served in World War II. Windsor was represented by five young men from the Lee and Hong families. Although all served honourably, the Hong brothers lives were lost in separate missions. As the war drew to a close people of Chinese ancestry were still denied citizenship and the right to vote. However, their peaceful nature and years of loyalty had gained them acceptance among mainstream Canadians.

Near the end of WWII human rights organizations and members of the Chinese community demanded that the unjust laws against the Chinese in Canada be done away with. At the end of the war Canada became a signatory to the United Nations Charter of Human Rights. Canada addressed the legitimate concerns of Chinese Canadians and met its human rights obligations by repealing the Chinese Exclusion Act on May 14th, 1947. This in turn led to a succession of human rights legislation to correct past injustices specific to people of Chinese descent. Canada liberalized the immigration act and accorded the franchise rights to vote and seek citizenship. The primary focus of the revised immigration act was to reunite estranged children and spouses of Canadian citizens. Children younger than 19 years of age and spouses represented the new influx of immigration. Many of these immigrants were from Macau China.

The significance of the franchise right of citizenship wasn’t lost on the Chinese community. The consequences of being denied citizenship barred people of Chinese descent and their children from joining professional associations and pursuing careers in medicine, law, pharmacy, politics, and teaching. With these new rights, professional organizations saw membership of Chinese Canadians grow and continue to rise through the 1950s. Post war Chinese Canadians overwhelmingly chose upwardly mobile career paths. This can be seen in a statistical comparison, where sixty-one percent of Chinese worked as servants, janitors, hand launderers, restaurant employees and unskilled labour in 1931; while in the 1980s, only 25 percent chose these occupations.

Historically bigotry and discrimination have shaped the treatment of Chinese Canadians. Even though immigration laws had changed and citizenship was granted, the Cold War of the 1950s continued to foster prejudice. The discrimination of the past now associated people of Chinese descent with communism. In the late 1950s, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) claimed that massive syndicates smuggled in 15,000 illegal Chinese for huge profits. They in exchange provided false documents or ‘coaching papers’, creating 'paper sons'. The RCMP conducted a massive investigation from 1959 through 1962. This involved twelve Canadian cities from Vancouver to Montreal. The mandate was to collect documents from Chinese homes and businesses. It was alleged, while living under the constant threat of being exposed to authorities, these illegal immigrants worked off their debt of passage within the Chinese community for lower wages; where some considered this a mutually desirable situation. The Canadian Chinese Benevolent Association vehemently countered the claims by drawing attention to how the investigation was conducted and how it placed the whole Chinese community in disrepute. Douglas Yung, the first Chinese Canadian MP, introduced the Chinese Adjustment Program as a private members bill in 1962. Amnesty was given to approximately 12,000 who legalized their immigration status through 1973.

The wave of immigration entitled Opportunity & Perseverance saw franchise rights accorded and the reunification of families estranged for decades. For many their stories did not begin nor end with the repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1923. In 2006, the Government of Canada officially apologized and compensated Chinese Canadians for the 'Head Tax'. Six surviving people and their families were affected by the redress in Windsor. The virtual museum Rising Dragon: Canadian Chinese in Windsor, documents each participating family’s story.