The Chinese community in Canada has a long and storied history. One of Canada’s largest and most prominent demographics, persons of Chinese descent have played an important role in shaping Canadian society since the first Chinese immigrants landed on the country’s shores over 200 years ago.
As perhaps Canada’s oldest non-European immigrant community, the Chinese have faced a bumpy road to full integration in Canadian culture. Today, they are the country’s largest non-Caucasian ethnic group, numbering over 1,300,000 residents. As thousands of new arrivals come from China each year, both countries are able to benefit from a rich exchange of language, culture, and ideas.
The History of Chinese Immigration to Canada
The Chinese were some of Western Canada’s first settlers. The first recorded immigrants from China arrived as far back as the late 1700’s. Many more began arriving during the Gold Rush almost a century later, with some even striking it rich.
In the late 1800’s, thousands of Chinese laborers were brought to Canada to help build the Canadian Pacific Railway. This railway, which stretched across the country, was an important link between eastern and western Canada.
Although they had helped to build one of the country’s greatest works of infrastructure, after its completion some xenophobic lawmakers wanted to keep more Chinese from entering the country. To do this, a ‘head tax’ was levied on all new immigrants from China.
Seeing that the head tax was doing little to discourage immigration, in 1927 lawmakers passed the Chinese Immigration Act, which is known historically as the Chinese Exclusion Act. The Act banned new immigration from the country in all but a few specific circumstances. Thankfully, this discriminatory legislation was repealed in 1947.
In 2006, the Government of Canada issued a formal apology to all those who were affected by these past decisions. Surviving individuals who had been forced to pay the head tax were compensated for the money they lost at that time.
Chinese Immigration Today
Since 1947, Canada has welcomed Chinese immigrants with open arms. In fact, today China is the second largest source country for new immigrants. Between 2006 and 2011, over 122,000 Chinese nationals became permanent residents in Canada. This is fully ten per cent of total immigration to Canada during this time period.
The rate of Chinese immigration to Canada appears to be on the rise. According to the country’s most recent census, almost one out of every five foreign-born Chinese individuals arrived in the past five years alone. Only 2.8 per cent of self-identified Chinese Canadians were third generation or more.
One important contributing factor to the growing rate of Chinese immigration is Canada’s generous family sponsorship rules. The country allows citizens and permanent residents to sponsor both parents and grandparents. This can be done through the popular Parent and Grandparent Sponsorship Program as well as the Super Visa Program, which offers long-term visitor visas.
The Chinese Community in Canada Today
Individuals with Chinese ancestry can be found in every Canadian province. There is a particularly strong Chinese presence in Toronto and Vancouver, where 40 per cent and 31 per cent of the country’s Chinese residents live respectively. Both cities, as well as smaller cities such as Montreal, have official Chinatowns and an active Chinese community.
With over 1 million Canadians speaking a Chinese language (such as Mandarin, Taiwanese or Cantonese), it is not uncommon to hear Chinese spoken in public. In fact, Chinese is the most commonly spoken language in Canada, after English and French.
People of Chinese descent have had great success succeeding in white collar occupations in Canada. The percentage of second generation Chinese Canadians working in professional or managerial fields is higher than that of other immigrant populations and of the Canadian population in general. In recent years, most common professions for Chinese Canadians have been in fields such as information technology and medicine, which has resulted in a community that is by and large wealthy and well established across the country.
Many Chinese Canadians have gone on to hold prominent positions in Canadian public life. They include Peter Wing, the first mayor of Chinese descent in all of North America, and members of parliament such as Ted Hsu, Chungsen Leung and Olivia Chow. Many successful businesspeople have also claimed Chinese ancestry, such as Eva Kwok, the former director of the Bank of Montreal, and Milton Wong, the former chairperson of HSBC Canada.
“I have personally helped many individuals emigrate from China to Canada who have gone on to achieve incredible success in their new homes,” said Attorney David Cohen. “Canada holds a deep respect for its Chinese community members. They have made invaluable contributions to our economy and society, and will do so for many years to come.”