Chinese Immigration in Alberta

1850s - Present


The first wave of Chinese enters Canada.  They travel north from the gold fields of California to join the Fraser Valley gold rush


The government of British Columbia passes a law imposing special taxes on the Chinese in hopes of driving them out of the province.

This is struck down by the court because the taxes are discriminatory and impinge on Federal authority over trade and immigration.

A similar law passed in 1885 is also struck down by the court.


There are over 3,000 Chinese in British Columbia out of a total population of 33,586.


Chinese residents are recorded in Lethbridge, Coleman and Banff.   They likely traveled north after the Montana gold rush ended.


To ensure that the Canadian Pacific Railway is completed on time, the Canadian government relaxes its position on allowing Chinese labour to enter the country.

However, the contractor for the British Columbia section of the railway has to promise the Canadian government that he will first employ white labour from BC,

then French Canadians, followed by First Nations before hiring any Chinese.

An estimated 15,000 Chinese workers are hired from the United States and China to complete the railway’s BC section.


Chinese residents are recorded in Lethbridge, Coleman and Banff.  They likely travelled north after the Montana gold rush panned out.


Thousands of Chinese railway workers are stranded in Canada following completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway.  Most settle in Victoria and Vancouver.


Chinese men are recorded living in and around Calgary.

Most work as houseboys or cooks on ranches and in homes.


Calgary’s first Chinatown is established on railway land at Centre Street South and Ninth Avenue East.  It consists of 8 eateries, 1 tailor, 1 grocer, and several laundries.


The first Chinese man arrives in Edmonton from Calgary by stagecoach.


A Royal Commission is convened to “make enquiry into and concerning all facts and matters connected with the whole subject of Chinese immigration, its trade relations as well as the social and moral objections taken to the influx of Chinese people into Canada”.


Release of the report leads to the introduction of a $50 head tax, with revenue shared with the provinces,

designed to restrict the number of Chinese entering the country.


Those already in residence did not have to pay this tax but had to obtain a certificate of residence for 50¢.

Diplomats, tourists, students and merchants were also exempt.


 The federal census reports 9,129 Chinese living in Canada.  Only 219 live east of the Rockies. 31 Chinese are reported for the district of Alberta.


A Chinese laundry worker in Calgary is found recovering from smallpox. Both Chinese and non-Chinese are found to be infected and a quarantine area is established.  Newspapers and citizens blame the Chinese and their unhygienic living conditions for the outbreak.

The incident sparks riots in the city.  The Chinese seek refuge from the violence at the North West Mounted Police barracks and at the homes of local clergymen.

The NWMP patrol the town for the next three weeks to protect the Chinese from further attacks.


The Chinese Immigration Act is amended.

The Head Tax is removed for Chinese in transit through Canada and for “any woman of Chinese origin who is the wife of a person who is not of Chinese origin… [S]uch a woman shall be deemed to be of the same nationality as her husband.”


As the Chinese population grows, Calgary’s second Chinatown emerges.

Separated from the first by railway tracks, the second Chinatown is clustered around the Chinese Mission run by the Presbyterian Church on 1st Street near 10th Avenue.


Lethbridge’s Chinatown emerges because of railway construction in the Crowsnest Pass and construction of the High Level Bridge.

There are 30 Chinese and Japanese living at 3rd Street and 2nd Ave. S.


The census records 202 Chinese in the district of Alberta.


 The Head Tax is raised to $100.

A new restriction is added which requires that any Chinese leaving Canada returns within one year or pays the tax again.


 The Head Tax is raised to $500.  At the time, it would take a labourer two years to make $500.

The high fee was justified as the only way to stop the Chinese from coming to Canada.

 In all, $23 million was collected through the tax. The equivalent sum in 2012 dollars is $300 million.



63 Chinese people live in Calgary.


 The first Chinese woman arrives in Calgary.

The first Chinese baby is born in the city the following year.


The Asiatic Exclusion League stages a protest against Chinese labour at City Hall in Vancouver.  Leaders encourage the crowd of more than 10,000 people to move to nearby Chinatown and Little Tokyo.  Rioters loot and destroy businesses with little to no police intervention.  Following the riot Chinese workers stage a general strike.  W.L. Mackenzie King is called to investigate the event and claims for damages submitted by Chinese and Japanese merchants.

The Canadian government pays $9,000 in compensation to the Japanese and $26,000 to the Chinese victims of the riot.


On Christmas Day a rumour starts that two Chinese waiters in Lethbridge have attacked a customer and killed him.

Five hundred drunken men go to Mah Wong’s restaurant looking for revenge.  They destroy it, then move on to damage other Chinese businesses nearby.

The rioting continues until it is demonstrated that the victim was not dead.

The two Chinese waiters are arrested and found guilty of assault, apologies are made to Mah Wong and restitution made for the damage to his business.


Local newspapers report on attacks on Chinese cafes in Cardston and Grassy Lake.


B.C. passes a law disenfranchising all Chinese.

 By denying Chinese the right to vote in provincial elections,

the law aims to prevent them from joining professions that require members to be registered voters.



 Saskatchewan passes a law disenfranchising all Chinese.


 The CPR expropriates and sells the land housing Calgary’s first Chinatown.

Calgary’s third Chinatown is constructed on land purchased by local Chinese at Centre Street and 2nd Avenue, S.E.


Canada’s first Chinese YMCA opens in Calgary.

The Lethbridge Herald reports that the city’s Chinese population is 150.


18 of Calgary’s 79 restaurants are owned by the Chinese.


Calgary citizens propose that all Chinese residents be fingerprinted and photographed by police.  City Council rejects the proposal.


Pon Yin of Edmonton sues the city and police chief for harassment for having been repeatedly arrested during raids on Kwong Lee Yuen Company store, an import company suspected of being a gambling den.


 The case is taken to the Supreme Court of Alberta, where Pon Yin wins a partial victory.

The judge rules that the city cannot be held liable for the ‘understandable but unlawful actions’ of the police.

The police are fined $1 each plus court costs.


 27,774 Chinese live in Canada. 70% are in BC.

1,787 Chinese live in Alberta. They account for less than .5% of the total population.

130 Chinese live in Edmonton and 485 in Calgary.

3 are women.



 There are 26 Chinese in Lacombe out of a total population of 1047.

All are men with the exception of 1 woman and 2 children–1 girl, 1 boy.

 The Chinese in Lacombe make up 2.5% of the total population, making Lacombe one of the most Chinese places in Alberta.


 Chinese in Canada are subject to monitoring over fear that Beijing may support Germany in the First World War.

Monitoring continues even after China declares support for the Allies in 1917.


The Great War Veteran’s Association begins lobbying for the exclusion of foreign immigrants, especially Asians.


The United Farmers of Alberta and other unions lobby the Canadian government against “Oriental labour” and call for an end to Asian immigration.


The Canadian government recognizes the failure of the head tax to limit Chinese immigration.

This, combined with pressure from Anti-Chinese groups, leads to passage of the Chinese Immigration Act.

Under the Act, the only Chinese allowed into Canada are diplomats, merchants and students.


 Chinese children born in Canada may return if they can prove their identity.

The Act requires every Chinese person in Canada to register with the authorities and obtain a special identity certificate.

  Within the Chinese community, this Act is called the Chinese Exclusion Act.


The Chinese in Calgary stage a series of marches and strikes to protest the Alberta government’s practice of paying them half of what white men receive for relief work

($1.12 vs. $2.50).  They eventually are given an additional $1 housing allowance. This still pays them less than white workers.


The Alberta government offers to pay the passage of any Chinese willing to return to China.  Few take up the offer due to conflicts between China and Japan that erupt into war in 1937.


Chinese men in Canada are classified as ‘allied aliens’ and not allowed in the Canadian military even though the Chinese are allies during the Second World War.


There are 46,519 Chinese in Canada.

There are 3,875 Chinese in Alberta.

 The greatest concentrations are in Calgary and Edmonton but the majority, 72%, is scattered throughout the province.



85 Chinese and Japanese live in Medicine Hat.


There are 34,627 Chinese in Canada.

 3,122 Chinese live in Alberta–2817 men, 305 women.

 799 Chinese live in Calgary.

There are 384 in Edmonton and 248 in Lethbridge.


Saskatchewan restores the franchise to Chinese living in the province.



 The Chinese Immigration Act is repealed following lobbying by Chinese and non-Chinese organizations.

Repeal allows the Chinese to become citizens, gives them the vote and the right to practice certain professions.

Some restrictive regulations remain.  Immigration from China is only open to wives and children under 18.

All other categories of immigrants from China are still banned.



For the first time since 1923, the Chinese may vote in federal and provincial elections across Canada.

The Communist victory in China restricts immigration to Canada.


 A limited number of Chinese men are allowed into the military.  They are initially recruited by the British to serve in covert missions in Malaysia and Singapore.


 Chinese men are included in the draft.


32,528 Chinese live in Canada.

973 Chinese live in Calgary.


The number of Chinese in Canada declines due to an aging population and continued restrictions of the Immigration Act.

These restrictions limit Asian immigration to family reunification of Canadian citizens.

At the time, less than 10% of the Chinese are citizens of Canada.


Norman Kwong, fullback for the Edmonton Eskimos and the first Chinese Canadian to play professional football, is named Canadian Athlete of the Year.


Douglas Jung is the first Chinese Canadian elected a Member of Parliament.

He joins Diefenbaker’s Progressive Conservative government as the representative for Vancouver Centre.


George Ho Lem is elected an Alderman in Calgary. He is the first Chinese to hold public office in Alberta.


58,197 Chinese live in Canada.


2,232 live in Calgary.


The Sien Lok Society is formed by Calgary’s Chinese business community to protest the city’s proposal to demolish Chinatown for proposed road extensions.

The project is temporarily halted, then revived in 1973.  A task force to examine the redevelopment is created following community protests.

A new plan that calls for urban renewal of the Chinatown area is approved in 1976.


George Ho Lem is the first Chinese elected to the Legislative Assembly of Alberta.

A member of the Social Credit party, he represents the riding of Calgary McCall.


118,815 Chinese live in Canada.


4,630 Chinese live in Calgary.


 A CTV W5 report characterizing Asian university students as “foreigners” spurs national protest and leads to the formation of the Chinese Canadian National Council.

Following the protests, a Parliamentary motion is passed resolving, “That this House recognizes the contribution made to the Canadian mosaic and culture by the people of Chinese background.”


The Edmonton Chinese Bilingual Education Association is established to provide Chinese language education in the Edmonton public school system.

This is the first program of its kind in North America.


Calgary opens its new Chinese Cultural Centre at a cost of $10 million.

The Calgary Chinese Cultural Centre is part of the Chinatown Area Redevelopment Plan first agreed on in 1976 and renegotiated in the early 1980s.



700,000 Chinese business people immigrate to Canada, primarily to Vancouver and Toronto.  The majority of Chinese immigrants during this period are from Hong Kong and are motivated by the impending return of the colony to Communist Chinese control in 1997.


The National Congress of Chinese Canadians organizes a rally on Parliament Hill demanding that the Canadian government

apologize and offer restitution to individuals who paid the Head Tax.

 Symbolically, protestors ride the train from Vancouver to Ottawa.


Norman Kwong is appointed Lieutenant-Governor of Alberta.

The Redress Express

A video about the Chinese Canadian community's Redress Campaign for the Chinese Head Tax and Exclusion Act and the Parliamentary Apology on June 22, 2006.


Total population of Alberta: 2,669,195.


Total Chinese population in Alberta: 98,135.



Total population of Alberta: 2,974,810.


People of Chinese ethnicity in Alberta:

99, 095.


Douglas Jung introduces a private member’s bill to grant amnesty to Chinese immigrants who had entered Canada illegally by

purchasing Head Tax certificates originally issued to others.  These men were known as “Paper Sons”.



The Canadian government introduces the “Points System” as a basis for immigration eligibility.

Where someone came from is removed as criterion for immigration and quotas are eliminated.

The points system opens up the system and increasing number of immigrants are accepted from Africa, the Caribbean,

the Middle East and Asia.




A new Immigration Act gives the provinces more power to set their own immigration laws.

It introduces four new classes of immigrants–refugees, families, assisted relatives and independent immigrants.

A “business class of immigrants” is created under the independent group heading.


Prime Minister Stephen Harper issues an apology to Chinese Canadians for the Head Tax.


Total population of Alberta: 3,256,355.


People of Chinese ethnicity in Alberta: 120,275.

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