Chinese History in Canada
by Vancouver Asian Heritage
1788 | The first recorded arrival
of the Chinese in Canada is when Captain John Meares arrives
along with Tianna (Ka-I-ana) and 50 to 70 Chinese artisans at
Nootka Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island, to set up
a fur trading post and establish British sovereignty. The following
year, 74 more Chinese workers are brought to the area. Using
hand-hewn wooden boards and handmade nails, they constructed
houses, a wharf and a small ship's dry dock, as well as a Chinese
version of an English fort. They also build the first ocean-going
schooner, the 40-ton Northwest America. On its maiden voyage
to the Queen Charlotte Islands, it is commanded by a crew of
English and Chinese seamen.
1858 | A gold rush draws thousands
of prospectors to the Fraser Valley. Chinese miners arrive from
San Francisco, following the gold rush north. Mrs. Kwong Lee,
the first Chinese woman in Canada, lands in Victoria, B.C. She
is the wife of the owner of the Kwong Lee Company.
1861 | Won Alexander Cumyow
becomes the first Chinese baby born in Canada, in Port Douglas,
B.C., at the head of Harrison Lake.
1877 | Chinese-owned laundries
are established in Toronto.
1881 | Over 17,000 Chinese
workers are brought to Canada to spend the next four years working
on the western section of the Canadian Pacific Railroad. Considered
the most dangerous and difficult section to build, at least 600
Chinese die in the process of laying track through the Rocky
Mountains, more than four for every mile of track. Some sources
reported as many as 4,000 Chinese railway workers' lives were
lost by the time construction was completed in 1885, well within
the expected timeframe of the railroad company.
1884 | Chinese Canadian merchants
establish the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association in
Victoria. It becomes the political center for the Chinese community,
and inspires similar associations in other Canadian cities.
1885 | The Canadian Pacific
Railway is completed. The federal government introduces the "Act
to Restrict and Regulate Chinese Immigration into Canada,"
which requires every Chinese person entering Canada to pay a
head tax of $50. In 1901, the tax is raised to $100. By 1903,
it was $500, making it impossible for the average Chinese to
bring wives and children to Canada. At the time, $500 could buy
an opulent three-story house in Vancouver's best neighborhoods.
The Chinese are the only ethnic group required to pay a head-tax
before being allowed entry into Canada.
1886 | Chinese labourers are
stranded in Canada following the completion of the railway. Many
migrate south, settling in Victoria, New Westminster and later
Vancouver. A number move east to cities such as Calgary, Toronto
and Montréal in search of job opportunities and less discrimination.
Vancouver's city charter excludes
Chinese and First Nations' residents from voting in municipal
1892 | The Calgary Smallpox
Riot begins in June when a Chinese worker at a laundry contracted
smallpox after a visit to Vancouver. Civic authorities burn the
building and all its contents, its occupants are quarantined.
Nine Chinese fall ill and three die. The town's citizens allege
the disease was spread by their unhygienic living conditions.
When the surviving four are released on 2 August, a mob of over
300 men smash the doors and windows of all the Chinese laundries,
ransack the Chinese district, destroying and looting property
and assaulting Chinese residents. The local police do not act
until the riot is effectively over. The Chinese community is
badly shaken by the violence and seeks refuge at the Mounted
Police barracks or at the homes of clergymen. The North West
Mounted Police patrol the town for the next three weeks to protect
Chinese Calgarians against further attacks.
1895 | Chinese Board of Trade
is formed in Vancouver. One of Halifax's first Chinese-owned
1897 | Dr. Sun Yat-sen, known
as the Father of the Chinese Republic, enters North America in
July after a dramatic rescue from the Chinese embassy in London.
He lands in Montréal and travels across Canada by train.
After spending ten days in Victoria, he leaves for Japan. He
returns to North America in February 1910, at which time he travels
to San Francisco and Hawaii to gather contributions following
the failure of the new Army Revolt in Canton. His third and final
trip is the most successful. Supported by the Chi Kung Tong (The
Chinese Freemasons), he is well received and spends his time
promoting the republican cause in Vancouver's Chinatown. Afterwards,
he heads a fundraising tour to all the Chinese communities in
B.C. before embarking on a U.S. tour.
1906 | Newfoundland passes
a law requiring all Chinese immigrants to pay a head tax of $300.
1907 | The B.C. legislature
passes an act preventing Asians from entering professions, and
buying property in parts of Vancouver.
On 9 September 1907, a protest
rally staged by Vancouver's Asiatic Exclusion League at Vancouver's
old city hall at Main and Hasting turns into a riot through Chinatown
and Japantown. The riot was immediately followed by a general
strike of Vancouver's Asian workers. The city's timber industry,
hotels and private homes suffer from the withdrawal of so many
of its workers. W.L. Mackenzie King, then Deputy Minister of
Labour, is appointed to head a Royal Commission to assess the
damages claimed by Chinese and Japanese merchants. The Chinese
are awarded $3,000 in property damage and over $20,000 for business
losses; $9,000 is awarded to the Japanese.
1914 | Isaac H. Hoahing, an
immigrant of Chinese descent from Guyana (formerly called British
Guiana), enlists in the Canadian Expeditionary Force and fights
in the First World War. Documentation from the time is incomplete
and Hoahing is one of the few Chinese soldiers for whom there
is a record. It is estimated that up to 300 Chinese Canadians
volunteered to serve in the First World War.
1918 | Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan
and British Columbia pass laws making it illegal to hire white
women in Chinese-owned restaurants and laundries. Chinese communities
challenge these laws in the courts.
1921 | The School Board of
Victoria creates a separate school for all Chinese students following
complaints of overcrowding. Chinese parents boycott the special
school until the School Board allows the Chinese students to
return to the public school system.
1923 | The Chinese Immigration
Act (Exclusion Act) prevents Chinese from immigrating to Canada.
Only diplomats, merchants, students and those who were born in
Canada were allowed to enter. During the 24 years that the Act
was enforced, only 44 Chinese arrived in Canada.
1933 | The Chinese Students'
Soccer Club wins the B.C. Mainland Cup. The day after victory,
Vancouver's Chinese community celebrates with a parade and declares
it a holiday. Originally formed in 1919, the club has previously
won the Iroquois Cup (1926) and the Wednesday League Cup (1931).
They go on to win the Spalding Cup in 1937.
1936 | The Vancouver Jubilee
celebrates the city's 50th Anniversary. The Chinese community
erects a Chinese Village as part of the celebrations. A replica,
seven-story pagoda and a traditional Chinese gate are imported
from China for the occasion. The Chinese village is one of the
Jubilee's most popular attractions. For most non-Chinese, it
is their first introduction to the Chinese community in their
1939 | Chinese Canadians volunteer
for military service in the Second World War. The Canadian government
refuses to consider them for active combat service. Chinese Canadians
are classified as 'allied aliens' and subject to investigation.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars
for both the Chinese and Canadian war effort are raised by Chinese
1942 | A small number of Chinese
Canadian volunteers with special skills were allowed into active
service. Most of these men served as pilots and in Special Operations
where their language skills allow them to work behind enemy lines
in Asia. Chinese Canadians are not generally called into the
draft until 1944.
1943 | Sub-Lieutenant William
K.L. Lore becomes the first Chinese Canadian in the Royal Canadian
Navy and the first officer of Chinese descent in all the navies
of the British Commonwealth. Because of his ability to speak
Cantonese, Sub Lieut. Lore becomes the first British officer
to land in Hong Kong at the end of the war. He not only accepts
official hand-over of the colony from the surrendering Japanese,
he is also the first to liberate the Prisoners of War held by
the Japanese at the Sham Shui Po prison camp.
1947 | William (Bill) Gun Chong
becomes the only Chinese Canadian to be awarded the British Empire
Medal, the highest military honour given by the British government
to non-British citizens. During the Second World War, Chong is
known as 'Agent 50.' Working behind enemy lines, Chong is captured
by the Japanese three times and escapes each time.
Following intense lobbying
by returning Chinese Canadian veterans, the Chinese Immigration
(Exclusion) Act is repealed.
1947-1948 | During this season,
Larry 'King' Kwong is the first Chinese Canadian to play the
National Hockey League, as a member of the New York Rangers.
Also known as the 'China Clipper,' Kwong goes on to become Assistant
Captain of the Valleyfield Braves in the Quebec Senior Hockey
League where he leads the team to a Canadian Senior Championship,
and receives the Byng of Vimy award for sportsmanship. Kwong
later accepts an offer to play hockey in England and coach in
Lausanne, Switzerland. He would spend the next 15 years in Europe
as a hockey and tennis coach. In 1972, Kwong returns to Canada
and is now the President of Food Vale in Calgary.
1948 | Jennie Wong is the first
Chinese Canadian female disc jockey in Vancouver. Winning a contest
judged by Freddie Robbins (a New York City disc jockey), Claude
Thornhill (an orchestra leader) and Frank Sinatra, she hosts
a half-hour Saturday afternoon program called Jennie's Juke Joint
on CKMO. Years later, she works for CBC Edmonton on the morning
1949 | Asian Canadians participate
in the B.C. provincial election and in the federal election.
Won Alexander Cumyow, who had
voted provincially as a young man before the franchise was taken
away from the Chinese, casts his ballot in a B.C. provincial
election, marking him as the only Asian Canadian to exercise
the franchise between the exclusion periods.
1954 | Margaret Jean Gee becomes
the first Chinese Canadian woman lawyer admitted to the bar in
Canada. She enrolled as a law student at the University of British
Columbia in 1950, only three years after the B.C. Law Society
lifted its restriction on bar membership to only those who were
eligible to vote. She was also the first Chinese Canadian woman
Pilot Officer (Reserves) in the Royal Canadian Air Force.
1955 | Norman Kwong is selected
as Canada's Athlete of the Year. Nicknamed 'the China Clipper,'
he spends 14 seasons with footballs teams in Calgary and Edmonton.
Kwong was in seven Grey Cup finals, including four winners, with
Calgary in 1948 and Edmonton in 1954, 1955 and 1956. He was twice
selected as the Most Outstanding Canadian athlete, being awarded
the $500 Schenley bonus in 1955 and 1956. He was awarded the
Eddie James Memorial Trophy as the Western Football Conference's
leading rusher three times and was a five-time All-Star. Kwong
scored a career 83 touchdowns and gained 9,022 yards rushing,
averaging 5.2 yards per carry (the third highest in league history).
He is a member of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.
1957 | Douglas Jung, representing
Vancouver Centre, becomes the first Chinese Canadian Member of
Parliament. Shortly after, he is appointed by Prime Minister
John Diefenbaker to be Canada's representative at the United
1967 | Canadian immigration
laws are changed to a points system and all restrictions specifically
directed against Asian immigration are lifted. The universal
points system was created to encourage professionals and skilled
workers from all over the world to immigrate to Canada. As a
result, a new, increasingly diverse immigrant population is created.
1971 | The Liberal Government
under Prime Minister Pierre Eliott Trudeau makes 'multiculturalism'
an official government policy. This recognizes the diversity
of the Canadian population and was designed to preserve and promote
The B.C. government designates
Vancouver's Chinatown as a protected historic area, the only
one of its kind in North America.
1973 | Vancouver's Chinese
Cultural Centre is established
1975 | From 1975-1980, Alannah
Ong worked for the Canadian Central Band as a pianist for the
Governor General of Canada. She was the first woman (and first
Chinese Canadian) musician for the Canadian Armed Forces. The
government had to design a special uniform for her.
1979 | CTV airs a W5 report
called "Campus Giveaway", portraying Chinese Canadian
citizens and immigrants as foreigners who take university seats
away from white Canadians. The ensuing national protest leads
to the creation of the Chinese Canadian National Council.
1984 | Vancouver-born Lori
Fung wins the first ever gold medal in rhythmic gymnastics at
the Los Angeles Olympic Games. Fung is later inducted into the
B.C. Sports Hall of Fame and the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame.
1986 | The Dr. Sun Yat-sen
Classical Chinese Garden opens in Vancouver, B.C. It is the first
traditional Chinese garden ever to be built outside of Asia.
1988 | Philanthropist David
C. Lam becomes the first Chinese Canadian to be appointed the
Lieutenant Governor of a Canadian province.
1990 | Evelyn Lau becomes the
youngest Canadian to be nominated for a Governor General's Award
for Poetry, at age 21.
1993 | Multimedia artist Paul
Wong is given a major solo retrospective exhibition at the National
1998 | Vivienne Poy entrepreneur
and philanthropist, is appointed to the Senate by Prime Minister
Jean Chretien. She is the first Chinese Canadian to serve in
Jenny Wai Chin Kwan becomes
the first Chinese Canadian appointed to the B.C. Cabinet when
she becomes Minister of Municipal Affairs. Since then, she has
served as Minister of Women's Equality and Minister of Community
Development, Cooperatives and Volunteers. Before being elected
to provincial office, Kwan was the youngest person elected to
Vancouver City Council.
1999 | Journalist and broadcaster
Adrienne Clarkson becomes the first Chinese Canadian Governor
The project was made
possible with the support of the
of Canadian Heritage through the Canadian Culture Online Strategy
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