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ARCHIVED - The Early Chinese Canadians

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Head Tax Records

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Family Histories

Read memories from people who have looked for the names of their own family members in the online General Registers of Chinese Immigration.

If you have a family member whose name might have been recorded in the General Registers, tell us about them, using the Comments box to the left. What was the person's name? When did they arrive in Canada? Where did they settle? What kind of work did they do? What are your thoughts about their experiences?

Please note that some comments will be chosen for posting on this website, and become the property of Library and Archives Canada. Comments may be edited, and will be translated into French.

A Supportive Father

My father, Wong Mow, arrived in Vancouver on the Chicago Maru, May 17, 1911. Like his compatriots, he paid his $500 head tax. He was 19, leaving his First Wife and only boy in China.

He was a tailor specializing in custom-made shirts, importing silk from his village.

Ten years later, my mother, 19-year-old Lee Shee, arrived on the Empress of Asia, February 24, 1921. They married that day at the immigration building.

She was my father's second wife and together they had five children.

Until the start of the Sino-Japanese war, my parents took my siblings to China in the old tradition of introducing subsequent children to their "Mother." My father faithfully sent money to First Wife every month until he retired in 1960. During that time, he supported two families: his First Family in China and the one in Vancouver. He never wavered from his obligations.

Larry Wong, Vancouver


I remember as a young child, walking down the streets of Victoria's Chinatown, which had many older Chinese men lounging on the streets. They were very glad to see little Chinese children since they were so far away from their own families. They lived in rooms with many bunk beds, in boarding houses just off Chinatown. It was a harsh life for them. My mother used to help the Chinese men mail packages for their families back home.

Against my mother's wishes, I was the first member of my family to enter university. She did not believe that the non-Chinese Canadian world would give me a chance to succeed. Fortunately, she was proven wrong.

Li Jing Lai, Ottawa


Finding my grandfather on the LAC database answers the question: who am I? Well, I'm the grandson of Wong Wa Dai who immigrated to Canada on June 28, 1912 and lived in Victoria, British Columbia. He spent the next 50 years reuniting his wife and children here in Canada – all of his descendants are Canadians.

Victor Wong, Toronto


I am a Chinese Canadian of mixed ancestry. Although my mother's Hong Kong Chinese roots do not connect me to the history and heritage of early British Columbia, my father's lineage does.

My great-grandfather migrated from Scotland to Quebec in the 1880s, and later to Vancouver in 1890. Reverend George Ritchie Maxwell became a politician and helped create the Nationalist Party, Canada's first labour party in 1894. A few years later he ran as the Liberal-Labour Member of Parliament for Vancouver's Burrard riding and in 1896 he became the first Liberal Member of Parliament from British Columbia.

Like many other early B.C. politicians, he was anti-Chinese. He even encouraged Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier to raise the Head Tax (1885-1923) from $50 to $500. I have copies of this hand-written correspondence between my great-grandfather and Prime Minister Laurier.

Great-grandfather couldn't have possibly foreseen all the changes and progress that British Columbia would make. Nor could he have fathomed that his grandson would marry a Chinese woman. It's funny how history and life unfold.

Judy Maxwell, Vancouver


Tom Thoon or Soon Toy was born in Toi San, Guangdong, China, in 1906. He came to Canada at the age of 15, in 1921, and was subject to the $500 head-tax imposed at the time.

Tom loved his country Canada, and worked diligently to provide for his family, despite the many challenges he faced as a new immigrant. He established his own restaurant and grocery businesses in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, formally retiring in Winnipeg in 1962.

Tom was married to his beloved wife, Louise Tiu-Moi (née Louie) for 65 years. He was the quintessential "family man," exceptionally devoted to his wife, children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. His family members and friends greatly respected Tom for his simplicity, honesty, integrity, perseverance, and "Winnie-the-Pooh" approach to life. He greatly appreciated the simple pleasures...going for walks, having a picnic, fishing, and cooking feasts to be enjoyed by family and friends.

Tom was proud to be a Canadian and was grateful for life in "Gold Mountain." His greatest gift to all of us was sharing his zeal for life, a gift which has inspired us all to think beyond the "here and now."

Helen Toy, daughter of Tom Thoon (Soon) Toy

Helen Toy also noted in her email, "My father's name on his head-tax certificate no. 90782 appears as: Toy Thoon (Toy Soon) or Tom Toy. He adopted the Canadian name "Tom." There are many equivalents to "Toy", many which appear as "Tsoi", "Tsai", "Choy" or "Choi" All of these equivalents are the same surname in Chinese. "Toy" is the pronunciation reflective of the Chinese Toi San dialect. Toi San is in Guangdong Province, where my father was from."