The first Chinese in Canada were artisans and traders who arrived in 1788 in the Nootka Sound area of British Columbia. Chinese gold prospectors from San Francisco founded Barkerville, British Columbia, in 1858. Thousands of young men from China arrived in the 1880s to work on the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway. The Government of Canada imposed many restrictions and regulations on immigrants from China, including a head tax.
In 1885, after the completion of the CP Railroad, the Government of Canada passed the Chinese Immigration Act. This act was intended to limit the entrance of Chinese immigrants to Canada by charging each immigrant with a head tax of fifty dollars. This tax was mandatory for all Chinese citizens entering Canada except for a small number of groups that were exempted from this tax, which included: diplomats, tourists, merchants, "men of science", and students. The head tax steadily rose to $100 in 1900 and finally to $500 in 1903.
This tax was abolished in 1923, and replaced with the Chinese Exclusion Act, which essentially closed the doors to the Chinese by restricting their admission to Canada. The Chinese citizens who had already entered Canada before this date were ordered to register with the government under this legislation. The government of Canada repealed The Chinese Immigration Act in 1947 and allowed Chinese immigrants to enter Canada without the payment of a head tax.
Research at Library and Archives Canada
Head Tax Certificates
Certificates were issued to each immigrant upon entry to Canada. These could also replace lost entry documents. The certificates were retained by the immigrant, not by the Government of Canada.
The main certificates were:
Library and Archives Canada holds only a small sample collection of the certificates. However, the certificate number and amount paid were recorded in the General Registers of Chinese Immigration, which are described below.
General Registers of Chinese Immigration
Library and Archives Canada holds the General Registers of Chinese Immigration (RG 76 D2a), created at the headquarters of the Chinese Immigration Service in Ottawa. These registers list all immigrants of Chinese origin arriving in Canada between 1885 and 1949. Some entries for residents arriving in Canada date back to 1860. The names in the registers are arranged numerically by serial number, in approximate chronological order by the date the notice of the immigrant's arrival was submitted to Ottawa. They include information such as:
The registers have been digitized and are available online. The use of this digitized database is facilitated by a name index.
Port of New Westminster Register of Chinese Immigration
In 1885, the collectors of customs were designated as Controllers of Chinese Immigration with responsibilities to register Chinese immigrants, collect the head tax and issue identification certificates. The Port of New Westminster Register of Chinese Immigration (1887-1908) (RG 76 D2bi) contains names of Chinese immigrants who registered and paid the head tax at the port of New Westminster, British Columbia, in the years 1887 to1898, 1907 and 1908. This is the only port register known to have survived. Names in this register should also be found in the Chinese General Registers of Immigration created by headquarters in Ottawa. The names are arranged in numerical sequence by declaration number. The register has been digitized and is available online. The use of this digitized database is facilitated by a name index.
Newfoundland Register of Arrivals and Outward Registrations
The Newfoundland Register of Arrivals and Outward Registrations (RG 76, Volume 1071) consists of two separate lists. The first list includes the names of Chinese persons entering Newfoundland as immigrants under the Newfoundland Chinese Immigration Act of 1906, who were issued identifying NF 63 certificate Nos. 1 to 384 from June 4, 1910 to March 26, 1949. The second list gives the names of persons leaving Newfoundland temporarily or permanently under Newfoundland C.I.9 certificate Nos. 1 to 436, issued from September 6, 1906 to February 24, 1950. Both lists are typed. The lists have been digitized and are available online. The use of this digitized database is facilitated by a name index.
Other Chinese Immigration Records
Once an immigrant's name has been located in the registers, the details listed can assist you in researching other records in our custody. Records can be searched using the ARCHIVED - General Inventory database. Select Government Records.
Title: Chinese Immigration Records
The main records are:
Research in Other Institutions
Some Libraries in British Columbia hold microfilm copies of the General Registers of Chinese Immigration (RG 76 D2a).
Search for other records in CAIN [www.archivescanada.ca/], using the Keyword term "Chinese immigration" or the Title Keyword "Chinese."
The Chinese in Canada, by Jin Tan and Patricia Roy
Across the Generations: a History of the Chinese in Canada
In partnership with Library and Archives Canada, the Vancouver Public Library hosts a Chinese-Canadian Genealogy [www.vpl.ca/ccg/index.html] website that provides research tools and information in English and Chinese. The site includes a wiki [http://ccgwiki.vpl.ca/index.php/ccg_wiki] that enables community members, researchers and genealogists to contribute interactively to a greater knowledge of early Chinese immigration and settlement in Canada. Their contributions enhance information reflected in original records and add historical accounts about the lives of these early immigrants and their families.
Historical Chinese Language Materials in British Columbia: An Electronic Inventory
Use AVITUS to find other Web sites about Chinese immigration.
Research in Published Sources
Chinese-Canadians in Search of Immigrant Ancestors: Current and Potential Resources, by Janet Tomkins
Evidence of "Past Injustices", Records Relating to the Chinese Head Tax, by Ellen Scheinberg, The Archivist, volume 20, no. 2, 1994.
The Records of Chinese Immigration at the National Archives of Canada, by Bennett McCardle, Canadian Ethnic Studies, volume 19, number 3.
Consult our Bibliography for further information on this topic.
Search for books on Chinese in AMICUS, using authors, titles or subject terms such as: