Chinese Immigration in Canada

Chinese immigration to Canada began around 1858 in response to the gold rush in British Columbia. When the Canadian Pacific Railway was constructed between 1881 and 1885, however, Chinese were brought in from China to help build the railway. Between 1881 and 1884, over 15,000 Chinese came to Canada. About 6,500 of these were employed directly by the CPR.

The Chinese Head Tax and Exclusion Act

As soon as the CPR was completed, the Federal Government moved to restrict the immigration of Chinese to Canada. The first federal anti-Chinese bill was passed in 1885. It took the form of a Head tax of $50 imposed, with few exceptions, upon every person of Chinese origin entering the country. No other group was targeted in this way.

The Head Tax was increased to $100 in 1900 and to $500 in 1903. $500 was equivalent to two years wages of a Chinese labour at the time. Meanwhile, Chinese were denied Canadian citizenship. In all, the Federal Government collected $23 million from the Chinese through the Head Tax.

Despite the Head Tax, Chinese immigrants continued to come to Canada. In 1923, the Canadian Parliament passed the Chinese Immigration Act excluding all but a few Chinese immigrants from entering Canada. Between 1923 and 1947 when the Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed, less than 50 Chinese were allowed to come to Canada. Passed on July 1, 1923, Dominion Day, this law was perceived by the Chinese Canadian community as the ultimate form of humiliation. The Chinese Canadian community called this "Humiliation Day" and refused to celebrate Dominion Day for years to come.

The Impact of the Head Tax and Exclusion Act

In addition to the Head Tax and Exclusion Act, Chinese immigrants faced other forms of discrimination in their social, economic and political lives. The most devastating impact of the Head Tax and the Exclusion Act, however, was found in the development of Chinese Canadian family. During the exclusion era, early Chinese pioneers were not allowed to bring their family, including their wives, to Canada. As a result, the Chinese Canadian community became a "bachelor society". The Head Tax and Exclusion Act resulted in long period of separation of families. Many Chinese families did not reunite until years after the initial marriage, and in some cases they were never reunited.

While their husbands were struggling abroad, many Chinese wives in China were left to raise their children by themselves. They experienced starvation and other extreme economic hardships.

Because of years of racist, anti-Chinese immigration legislation, today the Chinese Canadian community exhibits many characteristics of first-generation immigrants despite its history of close to 150 years in Canada.

Head tax certificate imposed to deter Chinese immirgration to Canada.

Many white Canaidan families depended upon Chinese workers.

Chinese workers on their way to railroad camps on the West Coast.

The Creation of seperate schools for Chinese students and white Canadians.