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In Their Words : The Story of BC Packers
Chinese woman mending fishing nets
Chinese woman mending fishing nets on the dock in Steveston.
City of Richmond Archives, 1978 34 42.
Chinese woman mending fishing nets

Almost from the beginning, Chinese workers faced anti-Asian sentiment from British Columbia's European working class. The first Chinese immigrants enjoyed equal rights under the law, but by the 1870s they lost their right to vote. Soon all new Chinese immigrants were forced to pay a $10 head tax to enter Canada. With the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1886, this tax was raised to $50. As British Columbia's economy grew, the tax doubled to $100 in 1900 and by 1904 it was raised again to a $500, a huge amount of money back then. This hefty head tax prevented new immigration, but for the Chinese workers already in B.C., the high demand for their labour in salmon canning and other industries allowed them to bargain for better wages.

Following World War I, anti-Asian sentiment grew in British Columbia. The federal government did away with the head tax in 1923, but replaced it with a Chinese Exclusion Act. This largely ended Chinese immigration to Canada until the laws relaxed after World War II. Less than fifty Chinese entered Canada between 1923 to 1947, but by then Chinese cannery workers had been unionized. From the 1960s onward, a different Chinese workforce began entering the canneries. The older generation retired and their children pursued work in other industries. New Chinese immigrants living throughout Greater Vancouver would commute to and from Steveston to work in the canneries.

To learn more about the Head Tax and other obstacles faced by Chinese people in British Columbia please visit our Learning Resources section for links and references.

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