Immigration: Early Immigration


Postcard: In Chinatown, Vancouver, B.C.

Most Chinatown people were from the dense villages of southern Kwangtung province, a territory racked by cycles of famine and drought. When the call for railroad workers came from labour contract brokers in Canada in the 1880s, every man who was able and capable left his farm and village to be indentured for dangerous work in the mountain ranges of the Rockies. There had also been rumours of gold in the rivers that poured down those mountain cliffs, gold that could make a man and his family wealthy overnight.

“Go to Gold Mountain,” they told one another, promising to send wages home, to return rich or die.”

from The Jade Peony, p. 9, by Wayson Choy

Chinese immigration into British Columbia began in the 1850s with the discovery of gold in the Fraser valley. Many of these early Chinese immigrants came from the Southern provinces of Guangdong (Kwangtung) and Fujian (Fukien). The majority of the Chinese population was men.

Chinese came from not only China , but also different parts of the world, too, including the United States, which had drawn to California a few years earlier also because of gold. In fact, the first migrants had sailed to San Francisco, but reports of the discovery of gold in British Columbia in the May of 1858 had redirected some of them to Victoria. As gold fields depleted in British Columbia, Chinese miners moved into other occupations such as gardening, farming, domestic service, road construction and then as railway builders.

In 1859, the first Chinese arrived directly from Hong Kong and the following year some 4,000 Chinese immigrants landed at Victoria. However, not all Chinese arrived by sea, as some had entered British Columbia by moving overland from the present state of Oregon. As pioneer Chinese Families first settled in British Columbia, they gradually moved across Canada.

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