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
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Between 1923 and 1947 when the Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed,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
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.