Celebrating Chinese Canadian Immigration

Have you ever wondered about the Chinese immigrant experience in North America? Why they left their homeland? Where they settled? What they did for a living? Discover your ancestors and their story in these unique immigration records on FamilySearch!

History of Chinese Immigration to Canada

Depending on the year and place, Chinese immigrants have had very different experiences as they settled in North America. Many of the first Chinese immigrants who arrived in Canada in 1788 were artisans. From 1848 to 1885, a large number of Chinese immigrants settled in the Vancouver area because of the gold rush of 1858. Between 1881 to 1885, many came to work on the Canadian Pacific Railway.

By the 1900s, there were government policies in place that greatly impacted Chinese immigration to Canada as a whole and affected the individual lives of many Chinese Canadians. The Chinese Immigration Act of 1885 imposted a head tax on Chinese immigrants, which started out at $50 but increased over the years.

This legislation was replaced by the Chinese Immigration Act of 1923, which abolished the head tax, but it is often referred to as the Chinese Exclusion Act because it greatly limited Chinese immigration to Canada until it was repealed in 1947.

Why Did Chinese Immigrants Come to Canada?

War, rebellion, unemployment and rural poverty during the First Opium War (1839-1942) and the Taiping rebelling (1850-1864) contributed to an increase in Chinese immigration to Canada and North America over the years. The 1857 Canadian Gold Rush in the Fraser Valley, job opportunities with the Canadian Pacific Railway, and other economic possibilities also encouraged immigrants to make the journey from China to Canada.

In many records, we find that by the 1920s, many Chinese immigrants were cafe owners, journalists and printers, school teachers and school masters, clerks, farmers, and miners.

There were instances of men who had more specific occupations, such has working as a jeweler, druggist or pharmacist, matchmaker, credit manager, court interpreter, Methodist missionary, professional boxer, rancher, silk merchant, teamster, dentist and doctor.

Chinese Canadian women, like other women of that era, helped in many ways to contribute to the family income as housewives, waitresses, cashiers, dressmakers, secretaries, teachers, storekeepers, stenographers, nurses, domestic servants, clerks, and actresses.

In many cases, men immigrated without their families and sent money home because the earning potential was higher in Canada. In some cases, they were able to bring their families with them, but in other cases, they were often distanced from their family for many years.

Where Did Chinese Immigrants Settle In Canada?

Most Chinese immigrants settled in Vancouver and Toronto to mine gold, work on the railroad, and then to pursue the various occupation opportunities listed above. Similar to Chinatown, San Francisco (in the United States), Canada eventually become home to its own Chinese communities in Victoria, Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver. These communities were home to many Chinese Canadians, giving them a space to continue practicing their culture.

Chinese Canadians and the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1923

The most significant part of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1923 was section 18, which required “every person of Chinese origin or descent in Canada” to register with the government within a year. This applied both to Chinese immigrants and Chinese Canadians who were born in Canada. Initially, around 56,000 Chinese Canadians registered, with a little over a thousand absentees doing so when they returned to Canada.

The Chinese Exclusion Act was passed on July 1, 1923. A hundred years later, FamilySearch joined in the efforts to help make these unique records available online for free. Find more information about Canada, Chinese Exclusion Act records. 1923-1946 HERE

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Chinese Genealogy

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