Legacy of Hate
Home Radio Television Curio.ca
CAPH banner left CAPH banner centre CAPH banner right
A Land of Many Cultures
Legacy of Hate
History Home
Legacy of Hate
Chinese immigrants encounter prejudice and violence as they settled in Canada
In the early 1900s, Chinese immigrants settled in Canada to escape poverty and war at home but encountered prejudice and eventually violence on this side of the Pacific.
In the early 1900s, Chinese immigrants settled in Canada to escape poverty and war at home but encountered prejudice and eventually violence on this side of the Pacific. (Courtesy of the National Archives of Canada)
In the early 1900s, Chinese immigrants settled in Canada to escape poverty and war at home but encountered prejudice and eventually violence on this side of the Pacific. (Courtesy of the National Archives of Canada)

Asians were the under-class in Canadian society with few rights and no power. They were not allowed to become citizens.

Chinese are "unfit for full citizenship" reported a 1902 Royal Commission on Chinese and Japanese Immigration. "They are so nearly allied to a servile class that they are obnoxious to a free community and dangerous to the state."

Many Asians were brought to Canada to provide cheap labour. More than 15,000 Chinese came over in the early 1880s to build the most dangerous and difficult section of the Canadian Pacific Railway. One worker died for every mile of track lay through the Rocky Mountains between Calgary and Vancouver.

When work on the railway ended, many Chinese settled in British Columbia and were joined by more Chinese immigrants seeking a better life. By 1900 the Chinese population in B.C was growing by 4,000 annually. As before, the newcomers took dangerous jobs in sawmills and fish canneries.

Employers found them industrious, sober and cheap. Canadians resented them for the same reasons.

"Canada would be strengthened by exclusion of the Chinese race," the Reverend Leslie Clay reported to Commission. "It has a tendency to deter white immigration. They depress wages ... lower the standard of living."

The Canadian government tried to discourage immigration. In 1900, it increased the $50 entry fee for Chinese immigrants to $100 dollars. In 1903, the government raised its "head tax" to $500. Chinese immigration dropped from 5,000 in 1904 to just eight people the following year.
More than 15,000 Chinese came to Canada in the early 1880s to build the most dangerous and difficult section of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Later many workers settled in settled in British Columbia. (Courtesy of the National Archives of Canada, C-023415
More than 15,000 Chinese came to Canada in the early 1880s to build the most dangerous and difficult section of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Later many workers settled in settled in British Columbia. (Courtesy of the National Archives of Canada, C-023415, Chinese houses in Chinese quarter Victoria B.C.)

But the move to keep Asians out of B.C proved difficult as many immigrants continued to arrive from Japan.

A Vancouver paper observed a boatload immigrants from Japan in May 1907.

"Eleven hundred & seventy-seven of the little brown men were on the steamer ... The decks were crowded with the swarming Japanese, who covered her from stem to stern like a swarm of ants."

Hatred against Asians boiled over in September 1907, at a huge protest rally at Vancouver City Hall organized by the newly formed Asiatic Exclusion League. Half the citys 30,000 people turned out for the rally wearing ribbons that said "For a White Canada."

Part of the crowd of about 7,000 men turned on Chinatown. For three days, Asian homes and businesses were vandalized.

"The mob soon left the Chinese quarter and headed in the direction of Japtown ... " the Vancouver Province reported. "The crash of glass was continual. Window after window was shattered in stores and boarding houses as the riotous gang pushed farther into the thoroughfare lined with nests of Japanese."

There were no deaths from the riots but bitter feelings simmered for decades. On July 1, 1923 Chinese immigration was banned outright. Chinese would call it "Humiliation Day." It would take another 25 years before the ban was repealed.


top of page


Last Topic:
A New Start

Current Topic:
Legacy of Hate

Canada Opens its Door
Canada casts its net wide to lure newcomers from around the world
read more ...

A New Start
The story of a young man who leaves his homeland to forge a new life in Canada
read more ...

history home | explore the episodes | biographies | teacher resources | bibliography | games and puzzles | sitemap | contact us
cbc home | tv episode summaries | merchandise | press releases | behind the scenes | audio/video

copyright � 2001 CBC