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Immigration to Canada (Plain-Language Summary)

Aside from Indigenous peoples, everyone living in Canada has ancestors who arrived in Canada during the past 400 years. The first Europeans to permanently settle in Canada were from France. Then, people from the United States, Britain and Ireland came to Canada. Black people also came from the United States to escape enslavement. After this, people from Continental Europe and China arrived. Now, people from all over the world come to Canada. (See Multiculturalism.) A large percentage of Canadians alive today are first-generation Canadians who immigrated. Many are second-generation Canadians — children of immigrants. Without immigration, Canada would not be what it is today.

(This article is a plain-language summary of the Immigration to Canada. If you are interested in reading about this topic in more depth, please see our full-length entry, Immigration to Canada.)

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Vivienne Poy

Vivienne May Poy (née Lee), fashion designer, author, philanthropist, entrepreneur, senator (born 15 May 1941 in Hong Kong). Vivienne Poy is a fashion designer who founded Vivienne Poy Mode in 1981. In 1998, she became the first Canadian of Asian descent to be appointed to the Senate. She is an accomplished author and publisher of histories and biographies. She was also governor of McGill University and chancellor of the University of Toronto, and played a key role in founding Asian Heritage Month in Canada.

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Dominion Elections Act

The Dominion Elections Act enfranchised many of those who had been disenfranchised during the First World War, such as those originating from countries with which Canada had been at war. However, the Act stated that anyone who was disenfranchised by provincial legislation because of race would remain disenfranchised from the federal vote. This included persons of Chinese origin in Saskatchewan, and those of Indigenous, Chinese, Japanese, and South Asian origins in British Columbia.

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Norman Kwong

Norman “Normie” Lim Kwong (né Lim Kwong Yew), CM, AOE, football player, executive, businessman, lieutenant-governor of Alberta 2005–10 (born 24 October 1929 in Calgary, AB; died 3 September 2016 in Calgary). Nicknamed “the China Clipper,” Norman Kwong was the first Chinese Canadian to play professional football. In his 13 years as a halfback in the Canadian Football League (CFL), Kwong won four Grey Cups and set 30 league records. He was twice named the CFL’s most outstanding Canadian player and received the 1955 Lionel Conacher Award as Canada’s male athlete of the year. He served as president and general manager of the Calgary Stampeders (1988–92) and part owner of the Calgary Flames (1980–94) before becoming the first Chinese Canadian to serve as lieutenant-governor of Alberta. He was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame and Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame.

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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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Immigration Policy in Canada

Immigration policy is the way the government controls via laws and regulations who gets to come and settle in Canada. Since Confederation, immigration policy has been tailored to grow the population, settle the land, and provide labour and financial capital for the economy. Immigration policy also tends to reflect the racial attitudes or national security concerns of the time which has also led to discriminatory restrictions on certain migrant groups. (See also Canadian Refugee Policy.)

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Voting Rights in Canada

The struggle for voting rights is the struggle for human rights. Historically, governments have given the right to vote to the people who they’ve valued the most. Typically, this included only a select few. The majority of the population had to fight for their right to vote — a right that, once earned, could be taken away. 

The story of the right to vote in Canada is complex. Provincial and federal franchise regulations varied widely. This timeline provides an overview of voting rights in Canada.

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Right to Vote in Canada

The term franchise denotes the right to vote in elections for members of Parliament, provincial legislatures and municipal councils. The Canadian franchise dates from the mid-18th-century colonial period. At that time, restrictions effectively limited the right to vote to male property holders. Since then, voting qualifications and the categories of eligible voters have expanded according to jurisdiction. These changes reflect the evolution of Canada’s social values and constitutional requirements.

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Canadian Pacific Railway

The Canadian Pacific Railway company (CPR) was incorporated in 1881. Its original purpose was the construction of a transcontinental railway, a promise to British Columbia upon its entry into Confederation (see Railway History). The railway — completed in 1885 — connected Eastern Canada to British Columbia and played an important role in the development of the nation. Built in dangerous conditions by thousands of labourers, including 15,000 Chinese temporary workers, the railway facilitated communication and transportation across the country. Over its long history, the Canadian Pacific Railway diversified its operations. The company established hotels, shipping lines and airlines, and developed mining and telecommunications industries (see Shipping Industry; Air Transport Industry). In 2001, Canadian Pacific separated into five separate and independent companies, with Canadian Pacific Railway returning to its origins as a railway company. CP, as it is branded today, has over 22,500 km of track across Canada and the United States. It is a public company and it trades on the Toronto Stock Exchange and the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol CP. In 2020, CP reported $7.71 billion in total revenues.

This is the full-length entry about the Canadian Pacific Railway. For a plain-language summary, please see The Canadian Pacific Railway (Plain-Language Summary).

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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.

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Africville

Africville was an African-Canadian village located just north of Halifax and founded around the mid-19th century. The City of Halifax demolished the once-prosperous seaside community in the 1960s in what many said was an act of racism. The mayor of the Halifax Regional Municipality apologized for the action in 2010. For many people, Africville represents the oppression faced by Black Canadians, and the efforts to right historic wrongs.

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South Asian Canadians

South Asians trace their origins to South Asia, which encompasses India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Most South Asian Canadians are immigrants or descendants of immigrants from these countries, but immigrants from South Asian communities established during British colonial times also include those from East and South Africa, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Fiji and Mauritius. Others come from Britain, the US and Europe. In the 2016 census, 1, 963,330 Canadians reported South Asian origins (1,603,000 single and 360,330 multiple responses).

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West Indian Domestic Scheme

The West Indian Domestic Scheme was an immigration program for Caribbean women between 1955 and 1967. Through the scheme, approximately 3,000 Caribbean women emigrated to Canada to work as domestic workers. The program opened the door for many Black Caribbeans to migrate to Canada, giving them an opportunity which would not have been available otherwise. Despite this, the women that participated in the scheme often faced difficult work conditions and racial discrimination. (See Racism.) Due to Canada’s changing immigration policy, the scheme officially ended in January 1968; it was replaced by a points-based system, which provided temporary work permits. Even with the program’s official end, women from the West Indies continued to come to Canada as domestic workers on temporary employment visas for years afterwards. (See Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Programs.)

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Montreal's Little Italy

The product of two major Italian immigration cohorts to Canada (one from 1880 until the First World War, and the other from 1950 to 1970), Montreal’s Italian Canadian community has been gathering in the Notre-Dame-de-la-Défense parish since 1910. This neighbourhood, nestled within the Rosemont-La Petite-Patrie borough, is located along Saint-Laurent Boulevard, with Saint-Zotique and Jean-Talon streets marking its limits.

Always at the heart of Italian-Canadian community and cultural life in Montreal, Little Italy (Piccola Italia) is known for its buildings’ remarkable architecture and decor. It is also home to a true institution of Montreal’s cityscape: the Jean‑Talon Market.

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Fergus

Fergus, Ontario, population centre, population 20,767 (2016 census), 19,335 (2011 census). Fergus is a community located on the Grand River 22 km north of Guelph. First incorporated as a village in 1858 and later as a town in 1952, it was incorporated into the township of Centre Wellington in 1999.