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The Hong Kong influx

They risked their lives to help build Canada's railroad in the 1880s. But as soon as the work was done, Canada just wanted them gone. It was the beginning of a difficult history for Chinese immigrants to Canada. They struggled through the head tax, personal attacks and job discrimination. But the Chinese in Canada persevered. And today, Chinese-Canadians are an integral part of Canada's multicultural society, forging their own cultural identities.

media clip
In 1997, Britain will be handing Hong Kong back to China. As the handover approaches, wealthy Hong Kong residents are immigrating to Canada in droves. In this 1990 Morningside clip, Peter Gzowski talks to Chinese-Canadian journalist Colleen Leung about the impact of this influx on Vancouver. Leung says the adverse reaction to this new group of rich immigrants is clearly racist - but also adds that the new immigrants aren't helping the matter by flaunting their wealth so much.
• In 1984, the British government agreed to hand the colony of Hong Kong back to the Chinese government after 150 years of British rule. Control was to be handed over July 1, 1997. Uncertainty over how this handover would affect them prompted many of the wealthy in Hong Kong to immigrate to Canada during the 1980s and '90s.

• Around the same time the handover date was announced, changes in Canada's immigration policy were occurring. By 1985, Canada's recently implemented policies to facilitate the immigration of "business immigrants" expanded to include not only entrepreneurs, but also the self-employed and investors. These investors, however, had to have a successful record in commercial undertakings; had to have a net worth of at least $500,000; and had to have invested at least $250,000 in Canadian ventures.

• In 1985, 43.5 per cent of the 6,481 "business immigrants" (now meaning entrepreneurs, the self-employed and investors as well as their dependents) to Canada were from Hong Kong, way up from 19 per cent in 1983. This percentage remained fairly high for the next five years. In 1990, 36.8 per cent of the total 18,445 business immigrants to the country were from Hong Kong.

• Vancouver became the prime Canadian destination for wealthy Hong Kong immigrants. There was immediately a hostile reaction to the influx, and it quickly fuelled racial tensions in the city. As Colleen Leung explained in this clip, this hostile reaction came not only from the non-Chinese community, but also from some existing Chinese Vancouverites who didn't like the way the new immigrants' lavish spending made all Chinese people appear.

• A great deal of media attention surrounded the affluent Vancouver neighbourhood of Kerrisdale. Many Hong Kong immigrants were moving into this neighbourhood, tearing down the existing houses they bought, and building what were referred to as "monster homes." Older Kerrisdale residents didn't like this, and brought the issue to the municipal government. As a result, changes were made to municipal zoning bylaws between 1986 and 1989, restricting the size of houses relative to the size of the lot.

• To help quell racial tensions related to the Hong Kong influx, British Columbia's Lieutenant Governor David Lam spoke out on the issue. He focused on the many benefits of this immigration influx, and called it "one of the best things that will ever happen to Canada.Those talents, education and experience represent billions of dollars of time and investment. We get all that plus the entrepreneurial spirit and the capital. What more could you want?"
Medium: Radio
Program: Morningside
Broadcast Date: March 13, 1990
Guest(s): Colleen Leung
Host: Peter Gzowski
Duration: 10:17

Last updated: April 23, 2013

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

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