History, East Asian, Education
By the Vancouver Asian Heritage Month Society
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, BC. 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, BC, 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 railroad company’s expected timeframe.
1884 | Chinese Canadian merchants establish the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association in Victoria. It becomes the political centre 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 man to bring his wife or children to Canada. At the time, $500 could buy an opulent three-story house in Vancouver’s best neighbourhoods. 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 elections.
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 | The Chinese Board of Trade is formed in Vancouver. One of Halifax’s first Chinese-owned laundries opens.
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 Hawai’i 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 of the Chinese communities in BC before embarking on a US tour.
1906 | Newfoundland passes a law requiring all Chinese immigrants to pay a head tax of $300.
1907 | The BC 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 BC Mainland Cup. The day after its victory, Vancouver’s Chinese community celebrates with a parade and declares it a holiday. Originally formed in 1919, the club had 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 city.
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.
Chinese Canadian organizations raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for both the Chinese and Canadian war efforts.
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-Lieutenant 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.
1947–48 | 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 Québec 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 show.
1949 | Asian Canadians participate in the BC 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 BC 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 BC 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 L. Kwong is selected as Canada’s Athlete of the Year. He spends 14 seasons with footballs teams in Calgary and Edmonton. Kwong was in seven Grey Cup finals and a member of four winning teams, 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 Nations.
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 cultural pluralism.
The BC 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 1975–80, 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 BC Sports Hall of Fame and the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame.
1986 | The Dr. Sun Yat-sen Classical Chinese Garden opens in Vancouver, BC. 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 Gallery, Ottawa.
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 this capacity.
Jenny Wai Chin Kwan becomes the first Chinese Canadian appointed to the BC 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 General.