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Banner: Moving Here, Staying Here. The Canadian Immigrant Experience

The Documentary TrailTraces of the PastFind an Immigrant
Free From Local Prejudice
A National Open-Door Policy
Filling the Promised Land
A Preferred Policy
A Depressing Period

A Temporary Line

by Geoffrey Ewen, Glendon College, York University

For the most part, there were few restrictions on the entry of workers into Canada. The federal government promoted immigration, both as part of its land settlement policy and to encourage commercial and industrial growth. It provided reduced passage fares for agricultural labourers and occasionally extended this scheme to workers in other occupations when they were in demand. It also promoted a program in which employers advanced the cost of travel and then deducted the expense from the workers' pay. Government officials and immigration agents expected that newly arrived immigrants would initially seek temporary work wherever they could find it and that agricultural settlers would work for others until they could establish their own farms.

On two occasions, however, the federal government took a position on the immigration of a particular group of immigrant workers, namely the Chinese. The first occasion was in response to the claim in the early 1880s by Andrew Onderdonk, the contractor building the western leg of the Canadian Pacific Railway, that he could not get enough workers to complete the project on time without recruiting Chinese contract labour.

The federal government supported the entry of as many as 15,000 Chinese labourers between 1881 and 1884. Some were hired in the United States, but most came from the province of Guangdong in southern China. Once the rail line was completed in 1885, the Canadian government bowed to pressure from a range of groups in British Columbia and passed the notorious Chinese Immigration Act that imposed a $50 entry tax on working-class Chinese immigrants, Canada's first barrier to immigration based on national origin.

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