After the Canadian Pacific Railway was completed, many Chinese were left with no work and no longer seen as useful to both the CPR and the Canadian government. Many Chinese living in poverty stayed in Canada because they had no money to go elsewhere. Others Chinese Canadians, including many merchants and intellectuals, also willingly chose to stay. Some of them followed the railway tracks and spread out across Canada.
Because they spoke very little English and their lifestyle was so different from Westerners’, they initially found it hard to adjust to life in Canada, just like many other groups of immigrants. As a result, they formed ethnic enclaves, where they could live alongside fellow Chinese immigrants. In these ethnic enclaves, they built their homes and they opened laundromats, grocery stores and restaurants. In other words, they created what is now called “Chinatowns.”
Gradually, the increased numbers of Chinese immigrants in BC, from a few thousands to tens of thousands, led to the rise of many anti-Chinese sentiments. In an attempt to limit the number of Chinese coming into Canada, the federal government passed the Chinese Immigration Act which initiated the infamous $50 Chinese Head Tax.
The Chinese also faced other discriminations: they were not allowed to practice many professions; no Chinese had the right to become a lawyer, doctor or accountant. Thus, they had only access to low-paid jobs that very few people wanted, such as working in laundromats, grocery stores and on the farmlands.
1902: Old Wong and several friends are playing a game of mahjong in Vancouver’s Chinatown.
Old Chow: “Old Wong, I hear your son’s coming over soon?”
Old Wong: “Yes,
Old Chow: “Why isn’t your wife coming too?”
Old Wong: I worked very hard for more than ten years to save $100. I was planning to bring my wife and my son over so that our family can live together. But now they raised the Head Tax from 50$ to 100$. I hear that next year they will increase it to $500. So now I can afford only to pay for my son to come.”
Friend B: “Five hundred dollars! That’s what I earn in two years! And I’d have to skip all my meals to save up that amount of money!”
Friend C: “You could buy two big houses in the city with that!”
Friend B: “Look at me – I’m the owner of a restaurant! I charge only 25 cents for a combo including soup, main dish, fries and coffee. It would take me decades before I can afford to pay that much Head Tax!”
Friend C: “Doesn’t look like my wife will ever be able to come over!” exclaimed one Chinese.
(Sorrowful voice) “We are a bunch of married singles…”
Friend B, sighed: “Only opium can help me forget my troubles.”