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Laotian Canadians

The immigration of Laotian nationals to Canada is relatively recent, having begun in earnest in the late 1970s. After the withdrawal of American troops from Vietnam in March 1973, mainland Southeast Asia (former Indochina) was left at the mercy of revolutionary forces in the region. In 1975, at the end of a 20-year-long civil war, communist revolutionaries of the Pathet Lao (Lao State) movement took power, abolished the monarchy and proclaimed the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. Living conditions deteriorated in Laos, as they did in Vietnam and Cambodia. Former civil and military officials were sent to labour camps and their families were denied access to employment and education. These difficult economic conditions, combined with an increasingly forceful communist regime and violations of human rights, sparked a mass migration in the region. Like Vietnamese, Laotians left their country in makeshift vessels, facing perilous conditions on the Mekong River and then the China Sea. This is the origin of the name often used to refer to these migrants: “boat people.” From 1979 to 1982, Canada welcomed nearly 8,000 Laotians. Approximately 20 per cent were of Chinese origin. Supported by the federal government and private sponsor groups, they resettled in various parts of Canada. Today, however, the Laotian population is concentrated in Québec and Ontario. In the 2016 Census of Canada, 24,590 people reported being of Laotian origin.

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Lunar New Year in Canada

The Lunar New Year — also known as the Spring Festival, Chinese New Year, Tet for Vietnamese Canadians, or Solnal for Korean Canadians — is celebrated in Canada and several other countries. It is one of the largest celebrations for Canada’s Chinese population, it is also celebrated by Canadians from Vietnam, Korea and Southeast Asia. Although it is not a statutory holiday in Canada, many Asian Canadian businesses are closed or have reduced hours for the occasion. Since 1 June 2016, this celebration has been recognized as an official holiday in Canada.

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Frank Bing Wong (Primary Source)

Frank Bing Wong was a Chinese Canadian corporal in the Canadian Army during the Second World War. From 1942 to 1946, Wong served in the North West Europe campaign. Learn all about Wong’s experiences as he recalls the sights of battle and the impact that the Liberation of the Netherlands had on the Canadian war effort.

Please be advised that Memory Project primary sources may deal with personal testimony that reflect the speaker’s recollections and interpretations of events. Individual testimony does not necessarily reflect the views of the Memory Project and Historica Canada.

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Masumi Mitsui

Masumi Mitsui, MM, farmer, soldier, Canadian Legion official (born 7 October 1887 in Tokyo, Japan; died 22 April 1987 in Hamilton, ON). Masumi Mitsui immigrated to Canada in 1908 and served with distinction in the First World War. In 1931, he and his comrades persuaded the BC government to grant Japanese Canadian veterans the right to vote, a breakthrough for Japanese and other disenfranchised Canadians. Nevertheless, Matsui and more than 22,000 Japanese Canadians were displaced, detained and dispossessed by the federal government during the Second World War (see Internment of Japanese Canadians).

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Palbinder Kaur Shergill

Palbinder Kaur Shergill, QC, judge of the Supreme Court of British Columbia in New Westminster (born in Rurka Kalan, Punjab, India). Shergill spent 26 years practising law before she was appointed to the Supreme Court of British Columbia. She was the first turbaned Sikh woman to be appointed as a judge in Canada.

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Southeast Asian Canadians

Immigration to Canada by Southeast Asians is relatively recent; most arrived in Canada after 1974. Southeast Asia is located south of China and east of India. It consists of multiethnic nations with common histories, structures and social practices, as well as a cultural system that recognizes ethnic pluralism. Southeast Asia is comprised of 11 countries: Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar (Burma), the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, East Timor and Vietnam.

In the 2011 National Household Survey (NHS), more than one million Canadians indicated that they were of Southeast Asian origin. Filipino Canadians were the most numerous (662,600), followed by Vietnamese Canadians (220,425), Cambodians or Khmer (34,340), Laotians (22,090), Indonesians (18,125), Thais (15,080), Malaysians (14,165), Burmese (7,845) and Singaporeans (2,050). Southeast Asians of the Hmong people (an ethnic minority living in the mountains in the south of China, and the north of Vietnam and Laos) have also settled in Canada, as well as several hundred Chinese originally from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos who came to Canada following the “boat people” crisis.

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Chinese Canadians

Chinese Canadians are one of the largest ethnic groups in the country. In the 2016 census, 1.8 million people reported being of Chinese origin. Despite their importance to the Canadian economy, including the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), many European Canadians were historically hostile to Chinese immigration. A prohibitive head tax restricted Chinese immigration to Canada from 1885 to 1923. From 1923 to 1947, the Chinese were excluded altogether from immigrating to Canada. (See Chinese Immigration Act.)

Since 1900, Chinese Canadians have settled primarily in urban areas, particularly in Vancouver and Toronto. They have contributed to every aspect of Canadian society, from literature to sports, politics to civil rights, film to music, business to philanthropy, and education to religion.

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Kim Thúy

Kim Thúy, CQ, writer (born 18 September 1968 in Saigon, Vietnam). The winner of several prestigious literary awards for her first novel, Ru, this Quebec writer of Vietnamese origin is known for her short and elegant stories. Her novels deal with the migrant experience and the challenges of adapting to a new culture. Written in French, which Thúy calls her “second mother tongue,” they have been translated into 15 languages.

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Chinese Canadians of Force 136

Force 136 was a branch of the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) during the Second World War. Its covert missions were based in Japanese-occupied Southeast Asia, where orders were to support and train local resistance movements to sabotage Japanese supply lines and equipment. While Force 136 recruited mostly Southeast Asians, it also recruited about 150 Chinese Canadians. It was thought that Chinese Canadians would blend in with local populations and speak local languages. Earlier in the war, many of these men had volunteered their services to Canada but were either turned away or recruited and sidelined. Force 136 became an opportunity for Chinese Canadian men to demonstrate their courage and skills and especially their loyalty to Canada.

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Iranian Canadians

Iran, formerly known as Persia, is one of the oldest civilizations of the world. Iranians are a relatively new community in Canada and one that continues to grow. Their immigration to the country began in the 1980s, in the wake of the 1979 Iranian Revolution. In 2016, there were 170,755 people of Iranian origin in Canada, and another 39,650 had multiple origins, one of them being Iranian (for a total of 210,405 Canadians). From 2011 to 2016, Canada welcomed 42,070 Iranian immigrants. Iran is one of the top ten birthplaces of recent immigrants to Canada, ranked fourth after the Philippines, India and China.

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Cambodian or Khmer Canadians

Immigration of Cambodians to Canada is relatively recent. From 1980 to 1992, Canada welcomed more than 18,000 Cambodia refugees who were fleeing the Khmer Rouge regime. They settled in Canada’s major urban areas. In the 2016 Census, 38,490 people reported being of Cambodian ethnic origin. Over the years since Cambodians began immigrating to Canada, many Cambodian Canadians have become distinguished in their fields; examples include actress Ellen Wong, journalist Chan Tep and graffiti artist FONKi.

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Chinese Head Tax in Canada

The Chinese head tax was enacted to restrict immigration after Chinese labour was no longer needed to build the Canadian Pacific Railway. Between 1885 and 1923, Chinese immigrants had to pay a head tax to enter Canada. The tax was levied under the Chinese Immigration Act (1885). It was the first legislation in Canadian history to exclude immigration on the basis of ethnic background. With few exceptions, Chinese people had to pay at least $50 to come to Canada. The tax was later raised to $100, then to $500. During the 38 years the tax was in effect, around 82,000 Chinese immigrants paid nearly $23 million in tax. The head tax was removed with the passing of the Chinese Immigration Act in 1923. Also known as the Chinese Exclusion Act, it banned all Chinese immigrants until its repeal in 1947. In 2006, the federal government apologized for the head tax and its other racist immigration policies targeting Chinese people.

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Jean Lumb

Jean Bessie Lumb (née Toy Jin Wong), CM, community leader, restaurateur (born 30 July 1919 in Nanaimo, BC; died 17 July 2002 in Toronto, ON). Jean Lumb was the first Chinese Canadian woman and first restaurateur inducted into the Order of Canada. She is also best known for her role in successfully lobbying the federal government to change its discriminatory immigration policies that separated Chinese families. Lumb also led the Save Chinatown Committee to prevent further demolition of Toronto’s Chinatown in the 1960s.

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Chinese Immigration Act

The Chinese Immigration Act of 1923, known also as the Chinese Exclusion Act, banned the entry of virtually all Chinese immigrants for 24 years. Although migration into Canada from most countries was controlled or restricted in some way, only Chinese people were singled out completely from entering on the basis of race. The four exceptions to the exclusion were students, merchants (excluding laundry, restaurant and retail operators), diplomats and Canadian-born Chinese returning from education in China. The limit on absence from Canada was two years, and the consequence for not returning on time was being barred re-entry. Additionally, every person of Chinese descent, whether Canadian-born or naturalized, was required to register for an identity card within 12 months. The penalty for noncompliance was imprisonment or a fine of up to $500. Though the Act was repealed in 1947, immigration restrictions on the basis of race and national origin were not fully scrubbed until 1967.

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Peggy Lee (Primary Source)

Peggy Lee served as a stretcher bearer with St John’s Ambulance Corps during the Second World War. Lee served in a platoon of Chinese Canadian women and explains how the Chinese were discriminated against in Vancouver, often barred from employment. Discover her story of service and her appreciation for how far Canada has come in respecting diversity.

Please be advised that Memory Project primary sources may deal with personal testimony that reflect the speaker’s recollections and interpretations of events. Individual testimony does not necessarily reflect the views of the Memory Project and Historica Canada.

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Malaysian Canadians

Malaysian immigration to Canada is a relatively recent phenomenon. In the 2016 census, 16,920 people declared they were of Malaysian origin. Among these Canadians were actor Osric Chau and writer Madeleine Thien.

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Sinhalese Canadians

The Sinhalese are the largest ethnic group of Sri Lanka. Immigration to Canada began in the mid-1950s and increased in the late 1980s. According to the 2016 Canadian census, 7,285 people claimed  Sinhalese ancestry (4,355 single and 2,925 multiple responses). The census reported 152,595 people of Sri Lankan origin in Canada.