Asians in Canada

Chronological Highlights

With a focus on British Columbia

 1788 Captain John Meares arrives at Nootka from China with Chinese artisans who help build a vessel there
 1858 – April, first rush of gold seekers from San Francisco
– June, first Chinese arrive from San Francisco
1860 – first Chinese woman to arrive in British North America (wife of the owner of the Kwong Lee Company, Victoria, BC)
– increase in Chinese arrivals, mostly from Hong Kong
 1861 Won Alexander Cumyow, first Chinese baby born in Canada (Port Douglas, BC)
 1862 gold discovered in Cariboo’s Williams Creek
 1867 Confederation of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia
 1871 – Chinese employed in Nanaimo coalfields
– British Columbia joins Confederation
– increase in anti-Chinese sentiment
 1873 Anti-Chinese Society formed in Victoria
 1874 Chinese construct Grand Trunk Road to Hope
 1875 – Chinese barred physically from voting in Nanaimo
– BC Legislature passes law to disqualify Chinese from voting
– motion to bar Chinese from employment on Victoria city works passed
 1877 Manzo Nagano, first Japanese person known to land and settle in Canada (Victoria)
1878 – bill to exclude Chinese from provincial works passed
– bill levying $30 licence on all Chinese passed, leading to a general strike of Chinese in Victoria
 1880 – April, construction of CPR in BC begins
– June, Euro-Americans/Europeans and Chinese/Japanese labourers arrive from San Francisco, followed by Chinese labourers from Hong Kong in July
 1881 – Chinese labourers arrive in larger numbers
– shortage of Chinese labour in Victoria
 1882 – peak of Chinese immigration (8,083) from San Francisco and Hong Kong
– US bill prohibits immigration of Chinese
 1883 Chinese killed in riot at CPR construction site
 1884 – Chinese labourers break strike in Dunsmuir mines
– establishment of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association (Victoria, BC) by Chinese Canadian merchants
– provincial Chinese Regulation Act passed, later disallowed
– provincial act to prevent Chinese immigration passed, later disallowed by the federal government
– First Royal Commission on Chinese Immigration (1884-85)
 1885 – province again passes act to prevent Chinese immigration, later disallowed by the federal government
– head tax on Chinese set at $50
– Franchise Act excludes Chinese
 1886 – province inserts anti-Chinese clauses in all private bills
– Chinese construct CPR extension to New Westminster
– Chinese population decreasing
 1888 US suddenly passes absolute exclusion bill causing an increase in Chinese immigration to BC
1890 BT Rogers offered bonus and tax concessions for sugar refinery in Vancouver, provided he employ NO Chinese
1891 increased Chinese immigration
1893 request to raise head tax to $100 passed, refused by federal government
1895 Franchise Act excludes Japanese
1897 – increased Chinese and Japanese immigration
– first Sikhs in Canada, soldiers of the British Army (Sikh Lancers & Infantry), visiting after celebrating Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee
1900 – head tax increased to $100, effective 1901
– increased Japanese immigration
1901 Second Royal Commission on Oriental Affairs (1901-02)
1903 – 13 BC anti-Oriental bills disallowed by the federal government
– head tax increased to $500, effective 1904
1904 first Sikh to bring the Guru Granth Sahib Ji (holy scripture) to Vancouver
1904-08 first immigration wave of Indians (almost all Sikhs)
1906 – treaty between Japan and Canada: subjects of each power granted “full liberty to enter, travel, and to reside in any part of the dominion and possessions of the other contracting party”
– first Sikh organisation, Khalsa Diwa Society, established in Canada (Vancouver, BC)
1907 – increased immigration of Chinese, Japanese, and Indians
– the Kumeric, from Hawai’i, docked in Vancouver carrying 1,177 Japanese
– Asiatic Exclusion League organised in Vancouver
– anti-Asiatic riot in Vancouver’s Chinatown and Japantown
– Gentlemen’s Agreement (Hayashi-Lemieux), limits Japanese immigration of male labourers and domestic servants (400 per annum)
– Bowser Amendment to Election Act, adds “Hindus” to the list of other Asian undesirables (disenfranchised, although British subjects)
– BC legislature passes act preventing Asians from entering certain professions, and buying property in some parts of Vancouver
– Third Royal Commission on Oriental Affairs
1908 – importation, manufacture, and sale of opium prohibited
– Civic Charter excludes Indians
– first Gurdwara Sahib built in Canada (Vancouver, BC)
– Federal government requires Indian immigrants to have $200 in their possession on arrival [European immigrants required to have only $25]
– Continuous Voyage Order, an Order-in-Council, immigrants must come by direct passage from their native country (directed at Japanese and Indians)
1909 – Grand Trunk Pacific complains of inability to import Chinese labour
– Professor Teja Singh establishes the Guru Nanak Mining and Trust Company to organise and secure the economic welfare of the Sikh community
– Continuous Voyage Order used to exclude Indians
1910 – Canadian Northern and Kettle Valley Railway Bills pass with stipulation that white labour be used
– Fourth Royal Commission on Chinese Immigration
– Chinese immigration again increasing
– Immigration Act sanctions Continuous Voyage Order; orders all Asian immigrants, except Japanese/Chinese, to be in possession of $200 upon landing
1912 – Republic of China established
– Chinese immigration continues to increase
– first Sikh baby, Hardial Singh Atwal, born in Canada (Vancouver, BC)
1914 – Naturalization Bill stipulates 5-year residence and adequate knowledge of French or English
Komagata Maru affair, refusal to allow Indians (376) to land in Vancouver, BC
1914-18 – World War I
– 200 Japanese volunteer for service with Canadian army in France (1916-1917); 54 killed and 92 wounded
1917 Provincial laws make it illegal for Chinese-owned restaurants and laundromats to hire white women (also in SK, MB, ON)
 1919 – Japanese fishermen control nearly half of the fishing licences (3,267); DOF reduces number by limiting to “white residents, British subjects and Canadian Indians [Natives]”
– resident Indian men allowed to bring wives and children under 18
 1919-21 increased opposition to Orientals and Europeans from veterans and businessmen
 1921 BC passes resolution in favour of complete exclusion
 1923 – new Immigration Act, in effect excludes Chinese; consuls, merchants, and students exempt
– Gentlemen’s Agreement, same categories as 1908 but now limited to 150 annually
 1928 revisions to Gentlemen’s Agreement, wives and children are now included in the 150 per annum quota
 1931 enfranchise Japanese veterans of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (80)
 1936 Japanese Canadian Citizens League delegation goes to Ottawa to plead for franchise (unsuccessfully)
1937 revival of anti-Asian agitation (result of the Manchurian Affair)
1939-45 World War II; Chinese join armed forces voluntarily
1941 – despite citizenship, Japanese are excluded from military service
– registration of all Japanese (March 4); later required to carry registration card that have their thumbprint and photo (August 12)
– attack of Pearl Harbor (December 7)
1942 – Chinese protest lack of franchise, their restriction from certain professions, and anti-Chinese clauses in government contracts
– evacuation and internment of Japanese; men to road camps and women/children to detention camps (Greenwood, Kaslo, New Denver, Slocan, Sandon, and Tashme, BC); confiscation and disposal of property without owners’ consent
1944 Chinese conscripted
1945 – 150 Japanese volunteer for service with Canadian army in Asia (January-May)
– Japanese, Chinese, Indians, and Natives who served in WWII are granted the provincial vote
Kew Dock Yip becomes the first Chinese Canadian lawyer called to the bar (Ontario)
1946 – “repatriation” of Japanese and Japanese Canadians (3,964) to Japan
Gretta (Wong) Grant becomes the first Chinese Canadian woman lawyer called to the bar (Ontario)
1947 – Chinese wives and unmarried children allowed to enter Canada
– repeal deportation of Japanese Canadians
– repeal of The Chinese Immigration Act of 1923
– repeal discriminatory clause in BC Provincial Elections Act (included Chinese and Indians, but excluded Japanese); allows entry into previously barred professions such as pharmacy, accountancy, and law
1948 federal franchise granted to Japanese Canadians
1949 enfranchisement of Japanese and Native Canadians in BC
1950 Narjan Grewall, Canada’s first Sikh city councillor (Mission, BC)
1951 anti-Chinese clauses in Crown leases dropped
1955 Harban Singh (Herb) Doman establishes Doman Industries Ltd., which becomes one of Canada’s largest lumber companies
1957 Douglas Jung becomes the first Chinese Canadian Member of Parliament (Vancouver Centre)
1962 racial discrimination in immigrant selection removed (emphasis on education and skills)
1967 immigration based on point system; all Asian Canadians are allowed to sponsor relatives
1978 second wave of Vietnamese refugees escaping after the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Vietnam in 1975
1982 Mr. Justice Wallace (Wally) Oppal appointed to the BC Supreme Court
1986 Monmohan (Moe) Sihota becomes the first Indo-Canadian MLA
1988 – Canadian Government’s formal apology for the wrongful incarceration, seizure of property and the disenfranchisement of thousands of Canadians of Japanese ancestry
– David Lam becomes BC’s Lieutenant Governor
1993 Harban (Herb) Dhaliwal (Vancouver, BC) and Gurbax Singh Mahli (Malton, ON) become the first Indo-Canadians elected to Parliament
1995 $975 Right of Permanent Residence Fee for immigrants and refugees
1998 Vivienne Poy becomes the first Chinese Canadian senator
1999 Adrienne Clarkson becomes the first Chinese Canadian Governor-General
2000 Ujjal Dosanjh becomes the first Indo-Canadian premier (BC)
 2006 – reduction of $975 Right of Permanent Residence Fee to $490
– Prime Minister Stephen Harper delivers an official apology for Canada’s historic anti-Chinese legislation (June 22)
2008 Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologizes to the South Asian community about the Komagata Maru incident, but it was not delivered in the House of Commons (August 3).


Lack of franchise excluded Asians from:

  • voting in federal and municipal as well as provincial elections
  • nominations to the provincial legislature or municipal office
  • juror’s duty
  • voting for school trustees or being elected as a trustee
  • certain professions, e.g., law, pharmacy, or civil service

Terms used to denote the generation of Japanese ancestry in Canada:

  • Issei first generation Japanese immigrant
  • Nisei second generation
  • Sansei third generation
  • Yonsei fourth generation
  • Gosei fifth generation
  • Kika-Nisei Canadian-born, repatriated or deported to Japan during the 40s and since returned to Canada
  • Shin-Issei new generation of post-war immigrants

It is a fact no person of Japanese race born in Canada has been charged with any act of sabotage or disloyalty during the years of war.
–Prime Minister MacKenzie King, August 1944

Begg, Alexander.  1894.  History of British Columbia: From Its Earliest Discovery to the Present Time. Toronto, ON: The Ryerson Archive Series, McGraw-Hill Ryerson Limited. [1972]

Harper, Stephen.  Prime Minister of Canada.  2006.  Prime Minister Harper offers full apology for the Chinese Head Tax., accessed July 12, 2012.

Jagpal, Sarjeet Singh.  1994.  Becoming Canadian: Pioneer Sikhs in their own Words.  Vancouver, BC: Harbour Publishing., accessed July 12, 2012.

Japanese Canadian Centennial Project Committee.  1978.  A Dream of Riches: 1877-1977 The Japanese Canadians.  Vancouver, BC: Japanese Canadian Centennial Project.

Lai, David Chuenyan.  2011.  A Brief Chronology of Chinese Canadian History: From Segregation to Integration.  Vancouver, BC: SFU David Lam Centre. accessed July 7, 2012.

Metro Toronto Chinese & Southeast Asian Legal Clinic (MTCSALC).  2011.  Road to Justice: The Legal Struggle for Equal Rights pf Chinese Canadians., accessed July 7, 2012.

Morton, James.  1974.  In the Sea of Sterile Mountains: The Chinese in British Columbia.  Vancouver: JJ Douglas Ltd.

Sandhu, K.M.  1997.  One Hundred Years: The Pioneers.  Mehfil Magazine December:30ff. (Cover story)

Simon Fraser University (SFU).  2011.  Komagata Maru: Continuing the Journey., accessed July 13, 2012.

Ujimoto, K Victor and Gordon Hirabayashi (Editors).  1980.  Visible Minorities and Multiculturalism: Asians in Canada.  Toronto: Butterworth & Co. Ltd.

Vancouver Art Gallery.  1985.  Gum San Gold Mountain: Images of Gold Mountain 1886-1947. Vancouver, BC: Vancouver Art Gallery.

Last updated 2012-07-13