Chinese Canadians (Plain-Language Summary)

Many Canadians are of Chinese origin. In 2021, there were about 1.7 million Chinese Canadians. Chinese Canadians have faced many challenges. One big challenge has been racism. (See Anti-Asian Racism.) Many white Canadians did not want Chinese people to move to Canada. And, when they did move to Canada, they had a very tough time. They were not accepted.

(This article is a plain-language summary on Chinese Canadians. If you are interested in reading about this topic in more depth, please see our full-length entry, Chinese Canadians.)

Chinese Students' Athletic Association soccer team, ca. 1925.

Origins and the Canadian Pacific Railway

In the 1800s, people from China started coming to Canada. By 1860, about 7,000 Chinese people lived in what is now British Columbia. Many lived on Vancouver Island. The number grew a lot in a few years. In the 1880s, about 15,000 Chinese men built the railroad in BC. This was a dangerous job. Probably more than 600 died.

Anti-Chinese Immigration Rules

The railroad was finished in 1885. In that year, the Canadian government made Chinese people pay a “head tax.” People from China needed to pay it to come to Canada. The goal was to stop Chinese immigration. Most white people in BC did not want the Chinese to live there. Chinese people kept coming to BC though. Many people in BC were very upset. They wanted to live in a “White Man’s Province.” The federal government became nervous. So, it created the Chinese Immigration Act in 1923. This Act banned most Chinese people from coming to Canada. In 1947, the government finally killed the Act. One reason why it did so was because the Chinese community protested a lot. They called on the government to treat them as equal to all other Canadians.

Canadian Illustrated News, 26 April 1879

Chinese Associations

There are many associations in Chinese communities. These associations were first created to help newcomers. Some of these associations were political. They fought for the rights of Chinese Canadians. A very important organization was called the Chinese Association of Canada. It fought against anti-Chinese immigration rules. It also fought against the Chinese Immigration Act. Chinese Canadians also fought to get the right to vote. They received it in 1948.

Apology For Anti-Chinese Racism

Chinese Canadians have sought redress for the historical wrongs committed against them. Redress means to make something right. The Chinese Canadian redress movement gained much power in the 2000s. The federal government listened. In 2006, Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized for the wrongs committed against Chinese Canadians. And those who paid the head tax (or their spouses) were to receive $20,000.

Chinese Canadian Communities

During the early 20th century, the Chinese population grew slowly in Canada. In 1931, there were about 46,000 people of Chinese origin in Canada. The population began to grow much more after 1967. In this year, immigration laws changed. This made it easier for non-Europeans to come to Canada. Now, there are more than 1.7 million people of Chinese origin in Canada.

Most Chinese Canadians live in cities. For a long time, the majority of Chinese Canadians lived in what are known as “Chinatowns.” Some of the biggest Chinatowns are in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. So many Chinese Canadians lived in Chinatowns because it was difficult for them to find jobs or buy property elsewhere. Chinatowns were the centre of life for Chinese Canadians. Most Chinese Canadians still live in cities.

Montreal Chinatown


Chinese Canadians originate from different parts of China and the world. They often speak different Chinese languages. Usually, this is Mandarin or Cantonese. Immigrants also bring with them different ways of cooking. Some Chinese Canadians even create new styles. (See Chinese Food in Canada.)

Many Chinese Canadians celebrate Lunar New Year. It takes place in February or late January.

Recent Chinese Immigration

From 1999 until 2009, the biggest group of immigrants to Canada came from China. The Chinese still make up a large percentage of immigrants to Canada. Tens of thousands of Chinese people come to Canada every year. Many come to study. Many come to Canada to live forever. The Chinese Canadian population will probably continue to grow. And Chinese Canadians will also continue to make valuable contributions to Canada.