Video Interviews

Douglas is a Canadian born Chinese tax lawyer based in Quebec. He is the great grandson of Yip Wang Sang who was employed by the CP Railway as an agent to facilitate Chinese workers from oversea China to come to Canada to work on the construction of the Canadian Pacific railway. Yip Sang was born in China in 1845. At age 19, he sailed to California in 1864 after 80 days aboard a Chinese junk where he worked as a dishwasher, then a cook, cigar-maker and gold miner before going up north in Yukon to search for fame and fortune in the gold rush, but unfortunately he was not successful in finding the gold, so he backtracked south to Vancouver and set up a shop there.. He came to Vancouver seventeen years later in 1881 and settled down in Chinatown. He is instrumental in setting up the benevolent association in Vancouver to help the Chinese people to settle down and worked there. In 1882, Yip Sang was employed by the Canadian Pacific Railroad supply company where he worked as a bookkeeper, timekeeper, payer master and then as a Chinese superintendent. Yip Sang was in charge of the 7,000 labourers who helped to build the CP railway from the east to the west coast of Canda. Yip Sang established the Wing Sang Company where he supplied the Canadian Pacific Railway with large contingents of goods and labour forces from China. In 1888, Wing Sang Company became one of Vancouver’s biggest import-export firms, acquired 16 buildings in Chinatown. Yip Sang became an activist against racism and fights against segregation of Chinese students in public schools. Yip Sang is a person who encourages education and it is a trait value that is passed on and continues in the family’s tradition. Many descendants of Yip Sang are professionals like lawyers, engineers and doctors with a good education. Douglas’s great uncle “Kew Dock Yip” was the first Canadian born Chinese lawyer to be call into the bar association in Canada. Kew Dock Yip was born in Vancouver in a Cantonese Chinese family home. He was the 17th son out of the 19 sons. His father, Yip Wang Sang, had 23 children and four wives. Kew Dock Yip entered the Osgoode Hall Law School in 1942. At Osgoode Hall, he formed a committee together with a fellow student Irving Himel to repeal the Chinese Exclusion Act, a task that took another five years. Finally, in 1947, Dock became a key role figure in the petition team that went to Ottawa to influence the government’s decision to repeal the Chinese Exclusion Act.

Douglas’s father Chuck Wing Yip is a retire chemical engineer. Douglas first graduated in chemical engineering in McGill University, then got a business degree and finally obtained another two more law degrees. Douglas’s grandfather Yip Sang passed away in 1927 and have over four hundred descendants.

He is the second generation immigrant. He was born in China and moved to Hong Kong when he was 4 to 5 years old. He immigrates to Canada with his mother after finishing high school in Hong Kong in the late 60s to unite with his father for family reunion in Winnipeg. His mother‘s elder brother was a head tax payer descendant and was living in Montreal at the time and help him to move to Montreal from Winnipeg in 1967 during the Expos 67 event. The minimum wage was one dollar per hour. His uncle was given the Post office responsibility to manage a district post office in Chinatown. The work loads in the post office were very heavy at times including handling mails and money transfer to China. His uncle’s father is a head tax payer and came to Canada in 1920s.

Jack’s grandfather arrived from Canton, China on October 12, 1912. Jack is a head tax payer descendant and a community activist, was the co-president of the National Congress of Chinese Canadians. In 2011, he wrote a letter to Mr. Stephen Harpen to express his very concern of the redress process. He seeks for a collective compensation to the Chinese community as a redress and repair due to the Chinese Head Tax and Chinese Exclusion Act; otherwise he felt that the Chinese people will never forget nor forgive the harm and prejudice that were suffered by the head tax payers and their descendants. Although $20,000 amount was granted to the few still living head tax payers or their surviving widows in 2006, he felt disappointed where thousands and thousands of head tax payers and their descendant families did not receive anything

Throughout the 80/90s, William Dere, Walter Tom and Jack Lee carried out various meetings with members of Parliament, cultural ministers from the Brian Mulroney’s government to the Paul Martin’s government with little success, where the governing power refused to accept the redress to the Chinese Canadian community. CCNC took the case all the way to the supreme court of Canada. The Supreme Court refused to hear the case based on a technicality because the Charter of Freedoms and Rights is not retroactive. The Chinese Canadian Redress alliance was formed with other supporting cities like Winnipeg and Edmonton as a national alliance to work along side with other organization like CCNC and National Congress to push on the redress.

Karen is a fifth-generation Canadian of mixed heritage. Karen directed a documentary on head tax “In the Shadow of the Gold Mountain” with the National Film Board of Canada. In the interview, she spoke about her personal story on the head tax, its meaning and impacts of her documentary to herself and to the community. She discovered that half her family wasn’t welcome in Canada they called home. She was shocked when she learned about the “Dominion Land Act” where the European immigrants were given a piece of land when they came to Canada, but in contrast the Chinese were given nothing, instead a head tax was levied upon their arrival.

Kim Hong

Laurin (劉舒雲) was elected on May 2, 2011 as the first Chinese to be elected member to the House of Commons of Canada for the New Democratic Party for the Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, Quebec district.

Laurin was born in 1990 in Calgary and moved to Quebec when she was quite young. The New Democratic Party is very actively involved on the head tax redress issues. Vancouver MP Don Davies and Olivia Chow from Toronto drafted a motion in 2011 to the parliament to seek redress for children of Chinese head-tax payers. In a news conference in Vancouver on January 23, Don Davies said that the head tax policy and the effects of this racist policy were not just on the head-tax payers and their spouses but the children were also harmed greatly. In many cases, children were separated from their fathers for decades. The effects emotionally, socially, culturally, economically, and personally are incalculable. Laurin believed that the 23 million dollars collected from these Chinese workers from the late 1800 and early 1900 were certainly a racist act that benefitted the federal government where they should not benefit from these policies. Therefore any future government should take steps to reimburse and refund the money back to these victims or to their surviving descendants. Laurin felt that at times Canadian have difficulties in talking about the head tax because it reflects racism on a part of the Canadian history where Chinese were excluded from obtaining Canadian citizen, causing serious consequences on demographic and their families. Many families were broken up because the fathers were not able to bring their wives and children to Canada. The New Democratic Party was very happy to hear from Harper’s apology in 2006 because the party was looking forward beyond the spoken words of Harper for more solid compensation to return these head tax money back to the head tax victims and their descendants. The head tax is an important issue for Canada where NDP parliament members including Olivia Chow of Toronto Trinity-Spadina and Don Davies of Vancouver Kingsway were actively involved for many years in pursuing and pressuring the government to act on because it concerns with the various basis of social justice and equality within the country. The head tax is also very crucial to have young people and future generation to get involved in. Chinese people should not only perceive as new immigrants into Canada but recognizing them as a part of the Canadian history in building up the nation since 1800s.

On February 25, 2005, when Montreal City Council adopted a resolution to support city’s Chinese community’s effort to seek for victims of the Chinese Head Tax. City councillor Marvin Rotrand initiated a resolution to support the Chinese Head Tax redress by the Montreal city council

Marvin Rotrand is the Montreal city councillor for the Snowdown district. In 2012, he is the leader of the majority party at city hall and the longest serving councillor in Montreal. He was first elected in 1982. He proposed that regardless of what the Montrealers’ origin are, should knows about other cultures and its histories. Somehow in this big melting pot, they become better a citizen because we know better about others. Canada today is more multicultural and in effect one of the more tolerant and respectful to the origin of its citizens, and making Canada unique. Marvin’s parent immigrated to Canada in 1948 at the end of the war. The reality of Canada at that time saw itself as a nation of two founding people, so it is very exclusionary toward people of other origins and races. Racism is indeed quite embedded in the Canadian fabrics. Canada has a long shameful history of racism in the late 19 century and throughout very much in the 20th century. Modern Canada is a much recent creation only dates in the 1960s and now we are very proud of Canada, but we should not bury the carpet some of the shameful incidents and events in our own history. When Marvin’s parent came to Canada, there are still quotas on the number of Jews that can go to university particular at McGill University. It was only until the 1960s the administration under Pierre Trudeau that our immigration laws are completely reformed, removing prejudices against immigrants of different color and races. The Chinese were brought into Canada to build the railroad at the turn of the century. Once the railroad was completed, the Chinese were considered superfluous, an unfair competition to the white man. The British Columbia started to enact law that is clearly racist and exclusionary. Canada celebrated the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897 and in the same time imposed the head tax to keep Chinese out to Canada. The Chinese Head Tax and the Chinese Exclusion Acts have deformed many Chinese families in Canada. It was not until 1947 where the racist law Chinese Exclusion Acts was repealed and Canadian Chinese were fighting for Canada side by side in the Second World War The underground laundry at the Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan should be visited by every Canadian to understand exploitation but most Canadian are not aware of it. The teaching of the Chinese history in Canada is really missed in our school and not very much is done about it.

Marvin always felt the head tax is an injustice issue and he admires the Chinese National Congress and its long struggle for redress. He is proud of the accomplishment of the Chinese communities in Canada, posing as an example for other communities to promote tolerances and cooperation where their own history is a hard one but their future is a brilliant one.

Grandfather: James Wing

Dr. James Wing is head tax payer and an active speaker in the head redress campaign and a guest speaker in the documentary “Moving the Mountain” produced by William Dere. Dr. Simon Wing is the son of James Wing. James Wing finished his high school in the 30s at a time of depression where very little works were available for people in work. In 1931, Simon’s grandfather told James to go to China to get marry. The grandfather then sold his life insurance policy in order to pay off the trip for James to China. James stayed in China for three years and got married. The three years is the maximum period where a Canadian can stayed aboard without losing his or her rights to come back to Canada. A son and a daughter were born in China in 1935 and 1936. James came back to Canada until 1948. During the Sino war in China with the Japanese, James was completely cut off from his family in China. He was not able to send money back home to his wife. The family members that were left behind in China have almost died because of starvation. In 1948, James went back to China to unite with his wife and got another baby boy. James came back to Canada in 1949, moment before the communist rule over China. After the Chinese Exclusion Acts was repealed, James promptly applied to the immigration for his family. In 1952, James’s wife and his youngest son of three years arrived. The eldest eighteen years old son was educated under the communist regime in China and he refused to join his father in Canada in the 50s because he felt that it is unpatriotic to leave the country. James’ story is the one that demonstrates the sufferings and pain that a head tax payer endured during head tax and the Chinese Exclusion Acts period.

Timothy was known as Chan Chiu Man. He chooses to use Timothy to help people in Canada to pronounce his name. He immigrated to Canada on October, 1954 using “son” paper to join his grandfather who was living in Canada at the time. He came from Sam Hup三合, Toisan, China. When Timothy was young, he asked his grandmother as where is his grandfather, his grandmother answered back “Gold Mountain”. When Timothy posed the same question to his mother, his mother answered back with the same response. He got some answers from his uncle who had immigrated to United States and came back to China to get marry. He learned more about his grandfather later through Chan Ho Lan who is a close friend of his grandfather and is now living in Montreal Kwok Ming Tang building. Chan told Timothy that his grandfather opened a laundry shop in Montreal. Timothy went to the Montreal city library and found the name under Charlie Chiu Laundry located on 15 Fairmont Street, west. He contacted his uncle in the United States and learned that his grandfather came to Canada in 1915, his uncle told Timothy that his great grandfather immigrated to United States for the gold rush and later joined the gambling business like the 6/49 lottery in today. The great grandfather make the money and went back to China a number of times to help Timothy’s grandfather Chin Hung Lung to pay the head tax to come to Canada. It is the gambling business that enables Timothy’s great grandfather to afford to pay off a large sum of $500 head tax money. Timothy’s great grandfather had four children; one stayed on in China, one moved to the United States, the third and forth child is in Canada. Timothy’s grandfather is the forth child of the family, he worked very hard in Montreal and must sent money back to China regularly to support his family. The women are left behind in China to look after the family rice field. Timothy also worked in the rice field when he was fourteen year old.

Victor Hum is the president of the Hum’s association situated in Chinatown. He is the descendant of a head tax payer Tom Dick Hum (1908) who came to Canada in 1923 just before the Chinese Exclusion Act was enacted. Most of the earlier immigrants were mostly come from Toisan, China. The Hum’s Association is an important meeting ground for the earlier Chinese immigrants. Victor’s grandfather was in Canada in the early 1900 and worked on the CP railroad. Victor’s father and grandfather were both working in the laundry business in Montreal. Victor’s grandfather opened a laundry shop on Saint. Catherine Street, west located near the old forum. Chinese were working for one dollar day meaning you must finished your daily work regardless of the number of regular worked hours, so the number of hours can extend from twelve to fifteen hours a day. Victor had once worked in the laundry and understands all the harsh experiences of father and grandfather have suffered. Victor’s father went back to China by boat three times before he was married and conceived Victor in the 40s. Victor learned about the Chinese Exclusion Acts through his father where Chinese were not allowed into Canada. The result of the Chinese Exclusion Acts had created many lonely Chinese men in Canada, unable to link or to bring their spouses into the country. Tom Dick Hum borrowed money from his relatives and friends in China to pay the head tax to come to Canada to buy a hope and to join up with Victor’s grandfather. Life for these earlier immigrants was very harsh and boring, especially for gamblers where they were unlikely able to pay off the head tax and saved up enough money to go back to China to get marry. These gambling addicts remained single for the rest of his life until death. The negative impacts of the head tax have touched everyone including their family members and friends. Victor felt that even though it is not compulsory to make anyone to come to Canada, it is however not an option truly for those who are poor to take a chance in Canada even getting themselves in debt in order to buy a hope in a time when China was poor.

Warren Jang, a retired professional engineer and worked on many major construction projects in Quebec with SNC Lavalin, QCM and U.S. Steel in northern part of Quebec in the Mount Wright project. The Mount Wright project is the first computer operated project. His father Jang Kum Hom came to Canada in 1919 at 14 years old as a student and paid the head tax for $500. He was able to reunite with his father in Canada only after the Second World War was ended due to the Chinese Exclusion Act. Jang Kum Hom worked in a logging camp in a saw mill in Duncan, British Columbia. He saved up the money to become a partner in a shoe repair shop. Every three years, Jang Kum Hom went back to China for three years until the Second World War in China. He was unable to come back in Canada in time so he had to stay in China for the whole years of the war. Once the war is finished, he came back to Canada immediately and return back into the logging or lumber industry. Jang Kum Hom was the first one to apply for his family to Canada when the Canadian government re-activated the family reunion immigration policies. Warren’s mother Jang Gung Shee came in 1949. Warren came to Canada in January, 1950 with his younger brother and sister. Warren is educated in Canada along with his brothers and sisters. At first, Warren found difficulties to communicate with the local people because of the language problem. The principal of the elementary school even offered his daughter who was also in the same school to help Warren to catch up with his English. Warren finished his high school and graduate studies in Montreal in 1960s. Warren studied at night to earn his professional degree. Warren on many major construction projects until he retired at 56 from SNC Lavalin. Once retired, Warren started his own business for consulting on housing, condominium and apartment buildings. Although most of the family is now living in Vancouver, they are still very well connected. Although the earlier generation have suffered tremendously from the harsh time, but Warren felt thankful to the Canadian government of providing them such an opportunity to succeed with the education that they wanted.

William’s father Hing Dere was also a head tax payer and came to Canada in 1921. William is a prominent documentary maker on the head tax issues. In the interview, he talked about his father’s personal journey and the making of the documentary “Moving the Mountain” and what it means to him personal level. William’s father also worked in the laundry business in Montreal where laundry is the main occupation of the early Chinese pioneer. Hing Dere was unable to discuss the head tax experiences with his son when he was alive. He felt that the head tax was a very shameful experience and cause tremendous pain and sufferings to him from the isolation and physical family segregation resulted from the enactment of the Chinese Exclusion Act. These personal issues were discovered in a number of interviews where the father (head tax payer) is very reluctant to tell their harsh stories to their surviving son or daughters about their mishaps and mistreatment in Canada during this difficult time. William’s father had to work very hard to pay back the $500 head tax money that he borrowed from friends and relatives; and in the same time sending money back home to China to support his family. William came to Montreal with his mother Dong Sing Yee in 1956 with his family after three decades of separation. William’s mother was 51 years old and his father was 53 at the time when they were united. William expressed his disappointment and felt sorry for his parents where they lost the best prime time of their years due to the long separation years. In our interview, William talked about the term “Gold Mountain widowers” meaning women that were left alone in the Chinese village in China when their husband left them to come to Canada to work on the railroad construction or other matters. William discussed about the effects of the Chinese Exclusion Act where he felt that it has more devastating impacts on the Chinese families than the Chinese head tax issue itself.

As an activist supporting the cause and participating in the redress movement, William was the vice chair of the National Committee of the Chinese Canadian Council. In regards to the head tax redress, he talked about the beginning movement on the campaign in 1983with a gentleman called Mr. Dak Leon Mark of Vancouver. Mr. Mak raised the Chinese Head tax and the Chinese Exclusion Act issue shortly after Canada passed the Bill of Rights and freedom. Margaret Mitchell was a Member of Parliament in the Vancouver riding raised the issue in the Canadian House of Commons to repaying the Chinese Head Tax money back to two of her constituents. Over 4,000 other head tax payers and their family members since then approached the Chinese Canadian National Council (CCNC) in 1984 and its member organizations across Canada where Chinese Neigbourhood Society was a Chapter member to register their Head Tax certificates and asked CCNC to represent them to lobby the government for redress.

There were 350 names collected in Montreal according to William Dere in the early movement. A concert was held in Montreal Chinese Catholic community center in 1989. The concert was very successful with 300 people attended the concert.

Chow Quen Lee came to Canada on July 4, 1913 from Hoi Ping, China. He worked in laundry and restaurant and later opened his own restaurant. Yew Lee’s grandfather came to Canada in 1800s and worked for the railroad. Yew had worked on the head tax campaign with many of his colleagues in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. Yew worked with a group that consisted of Mr. Mark, Chow Quen Lee and Yew himself started a class action suit in early 2006 against the government of Canada on the head tax issues. The class action suit had helped to bring the head tax subject onto the eyes of the public. Many outstanding Canadians like Pierre Burton came out to support the head tax redress. Pierre gave them one of the very rare commemorative “Last Spike” where only forty of them were made. Canadian War veteran, Gim Wong travel across Canada with the “Last Spike” travelling from Vancouver, went to Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Montreal, St. John (Newfoundland) and finally Halifax to symbolize that there are still a “Last Spike” to be grounded to unite the country. The “Last Spike” was delivered by James Pong to the Prime Minister Mr. Harper in 2006 on the day when Mr. Harper apologized for the head tax. Yew spoke about Montreal as a major player with great leadership role in the redress campaign and started the healing process with activists like William Dere, May Chiu and Jonas Ma who was responsible for establishing major link with the Chinese Canadian National Council and other associations across the country. Yew believed that it is important to show that there is legislative discrimination and racism, whereby bringing forth the issue is the key for further discussion in establishing political maturation among the communities and to initiate the reconciliation process.

Chuck’s grandfather Yip Sang was working as an agent with the CP railroad where he is responsible to get Chinese people to come to Canada for the railroad work. So, Chuck Wing Yip felt that it is very important for the head tax descendants to get educated in order to secure a better future. Chuck’s aunt Susan went to New York city for her university education. Chuck’s uncle Kew Dock Yip graduated in pharmacy in University of Michigan in the mid west. Chuck graduated in university of British Columbia as chemical engineer. Chuck’s forth uncle graduated in McGill University as civil engineer. Chuck’s eleventh uncle graduated in Queen’s university in Kingston as a doctor. Uncle Dock could not found any jobs due to the discrimination at that time so he went to Toronto to get his law degree. Uncle Dock played a pivotal role in persuading the federal government to repeal the Chinese Immigration. The relentless effort of Uncle Dock paid off in opening up the doors for Canada to Chinese immigrants.

Dan Phillips is a human rights activist for over forty years and is the leader the Black Coalition. He worked with Kenneth Cheung on many different issues like the Tiananmen Square massacre demonstration and supported the head tax redress. Dan talked about how hard Kenneth worked to get the redress from the federal government along with other human rights issues. Dan had many meetings with Kenneth to help him out on the redress and went to Toronto and Ottawa together to work out various events. Dan felt that Chinese were been targeted in the head tax and there are hardly any resemblances to justice. In his lifetime, Kenneth continued to fight for some type of equal justices. Dan recalled Kenneth as a person of activist, a person who stood for justice, and a person who asked nothing for return but just to give as much he could of himself. Kenneth did not limit himself just in the Chinese community but in other communities as well. Kenneth must be remembered as one of the exceptional individual whoever passed through, and this is how Kenneth Cheung is remembered in the Black Coalition.

Dan attended the “Last Spikes” redress campaign in Ruby Rouge Restaurant in Montreal with Kenneth Cheung to support the redress.

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