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IntroductionExplore the Communities

Section title: Chinese
Introduction | History | Daily Life | Culture | References

Daily Life

Way of Life - Chinatowns

When the Chinese came to Canada, they found a land that was very different from China. It was natural for people who spoke the same language and had the same culture and needs to wish to live near each other. The first Chinese immigrants formed their own communities of tents when they arrived in Victoria during the gold rush. Most men headed for the gold fields, but others stayed behind to provide food and supplies for the Chinese workers.

Many White Canadians did not want Chinese people living near them. With their low wages, the Chinese workers who stayed in cities such as Victoria were forced to live in crowded conditions within a small number of streets that became known as Chinatowns. Chinatowns had general stores, rooming or boarding houses and various shops such as barber shops, herbal medicine stores, laundries and cafés.

Houses in Chinese quarter, Victoria, British Columbia, circa 1886   Chinese Benevolent Association of Victoria, British Columbia, circa 1920

Chinatowns also had associations that helped newcomers find places to live and work. These associations provided friendly meeting places for their members and offered such services as helping the needy, opening Chinese-language schools and providing legal aid and loans.

Only the wealthy merchants and a few of the other Chinese immigrants who managed to save enough were able to bring their wives over from China. The early Chinese in Canada were mostly men. Many were very lonely. The Chinese associations in Chinatowns provided a place to meet, talk and pass the time.

A Chinese merchant family in British Columbia   Chinese Yan War store, Quesnel, between 1890 and 1910   Four Chinese children outside a storefront believed to be in Montréal, Quebec

Moose Jaw, an important railway city, had Saskatchewan's largest Chinatown. There were other large Chinatowns in Toronto, Hamilton and Ottawa. Almost all the Chinese who moved to Quebec settled in Montréal. Chinese communities in the Maritimes were small, but did exist.

A Chinese street, Victoria, British Columbia, 1886   Pender Street in Vancouver's Chinatown, 1928


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