Chinese-Canadian Community Projects

Head tax certificate serving as
proof of payment

Many Chinese were recruited to come to Canada in the 1880s to build the final section of the Canadian Pacific Railway in British Columbia. They were given the most dangerous tasks and due to the harsh living conditions they faced, many died.

A few years later, the Chinese Immigration Act of 1885 imposed a fixed fee, called the Head Tax, on each Chinese person entering Canada. While this policy was in effect, some 82,000 Chinese-Canadians paid their right of entry into Canada. In 1923, the Chinese Exclusion Act replaced the Head Tax and barred all but a few Chinese from entering Canada until the Actwas repealed in 1947.

Rocky Railway High — Interactive art project

Recipient: Arti-Smoking Corporation, Toronto

This interactive art project highlighted the effects of the Head Tax and Exclusion Act on Chinese railway workers, their families, and the Chinese-Canadian community. It recognized the contributions of Chinese railway workers, who worked and sometimes perished under often-dangerous conditions during the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway.

Arti-Smoking Corporation created multi-media avenues to address the issues above, i.e. blog, Twitter, documentary video, original paintings, as well as 1,000 pieces of artwork and writings collected from the public expressing their thoughts about the railway workers, the Exclusion Act and the Head Tax. The images of the artwork and writing were uploaded on the project website, and the pieces themselves shipped to Guangdong Province, China to be buried in a permanent site representing a symbolic return of the Chinese railway workers to their homeland.


Radio series on the Head Tax

Recipient: Canadian (Ont.) Chinese Broadcast Inc., Toronto

This broadcaster, now called Canadian Chinese Radio, aired weekly episodes in Mandarin and Cantonese. The series chronicled the lives and contributions of early Chinese–Canadians, the history and impact of the Head Tax, and community efforts to obtain redress.

The live broadcast reached Chinese-Canadians and new Chinese immigrants to Canada, to foster understanding of the history of those who arrived before them.


Loyalty Despite Legislated Restrictions: Chinese Canadian Veteran History Exhibit

Recipient: Chinese-Canadian Military Museum Society, Vancouver

The society curated this exhibition, which illustrates the impacts of the Head Tax, Exclusion Act and discrimination on Chinese-Canadian war veterans and their families. Based on research and interviews with 27 veterans, the resulting exhibit and accompanying booklet comprised photographs, Head Tax papers and other documents, medals, military uniforms and other artifacts.

The photos and interviews have been digitized and are available at the University of British Columbia archival portal.


Toolkit for Youth about the Chinese Head Tax

Recipient: Chinese Canadian National Council, Toronto Chapter

This 12-month project created a program to educate youths about the Chinese Head Tax and how this legislation affected Chinese immigrants, their families and the Chinese-Canadian community.

The council developed, with Chinese youths, a toolkit describing how to organize an Asian Heritage Month event about the Head Tax and Exclusion Act in their schools. The toolkit materials were written in English and Chinese to be easily accessible to teachers, youths, newcomer Chinese youths and Chinese parents. An online resource kit was also developed.


The Ugly Ducklings: Stories of Transformation among Chinese Canadians

Recipient: Chinese Christian Mission of Canada, Vancouver

Using archival information, such as church and family records, as well as oral histories of Chinese Canadians affected by the Head Tax and the Chinese Exclusion Act, the mission documented how Christian churches in the late 19th and early 20th centuries reached out to Chinese immigrants. Missionaries helped Chinese immigrants in mission stations set up in Chinatowns.

A portable photo exhibit was also created for the general public, including non-English speaking Chinese immigrants. The research was digitized and is available at the University of British Columbia archival portal.


Lost Years: The Chinese Canadian Struggle for Justice — Documentary

Recipient: Chinese Graduates Association of Alberta. Edmonton

The association, in partnership with Lost Years Production Inc., created a two‑part documentary, “Lost Years: The Chinese Canadian Struggle for Justice,” which aired on CBC and CTV.

The two-hour film documents the stories of and recollections about Normie Kwong, the outgoing Lieutenant Governor of Alberta. It also examines the impact of modern‑day redress efforts for the Chinese Head Tax in Canada, which sparked relationships with the Chinese community in New Zealand, which sought its own redress for a comparable historical restriction on Chinese immigration, the Toll Tax. The documentary has been aired in both Canada and China and has been nominated for numerous awards.


A Historical Brief of Chinese–Canadians in Ottawa — Digitized text and photographs

Recipient: Eastern Ontario Hoy Sun Association, Kanata, Ontario

Using interviews, written records and photographic collections, the association documented the historical experiences of Chinese–Canadians in Ottawa, Toronto, Montréal, Vancouver and Calgary, where the EOHSA’s sister organizations are located. The stories describe the challenges and achievements of these Chinese pioneers, and are an educational resource for researchers and future generations.

The research was digitized and is available at the University of British Columbia archival portal.


Play n’ Learn: A multimedia learning experience about the Chinese Head Tax

Recipient: The Chinese Neighbourhood Society of Montréal

The society developed multimedia learning materials tailored for children ages 8 to 16 in English and Chinese. The product, which offers different levels of challenge, educates and then tests users on the history of Chinese communities in Canada.

As well, the association compiled a collection of video interviews and written articles from the descendants of Head Tax payers are available in the four languages.


Siu Yeh — A Midnight Snack — Play

Recipient: The Firehall Theatre Society, Vancouver

The Firehall Theatre Society supported the development and workshop production of Larry Wong’s one-act play, Siu Yeh — A Midnight Snack. The play introduces audiences to characters from Vancouver’s Chinatown during the 1940s and 1950s, illustrating the effects of the Head Tax and restrictive immigration laws on Chinese-Canadians.

The workshop production offered members of the Chinese-Canadian community a chance to shape Mr. Wong’s play, a dramatic vehicle for commemorating their historical experiences in Canada.


The Ties that Bind: With Canada’s national dream came the Chinese Immigrants — Web content and educational kit

Recipient: Foundation to Commemorate the Chinese Railroad Workers in Canada, Islington, Ontario

The foundation created a website consisting of an online exhibit, educational kit, and a series of short videos. Together, they chronicle the experiences of early Chinese immigrants recruited to Canada to complete the last phase of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), and the effects of the Chinese Head Tax and Chinese Immigration Act on the lives of their descendants.

The educational kit features lesson plans and a teacher’s guide.


Pioneers and Founders — 150 Years of Chinese History in Kamloops and the Central Interior, British Columbia

Recipient: Kamloops Chinese Cultural Association. Kamloops, British Columbia

Written and photographic collections compiled by the association describe the 150‑year history of the hundreds of pioneer Chinese families in Kamloops and the central interior of British Columbia, and the impact of the Chinese Exclusion Act and Head Tax on this vibrant community.

The project chronicles the sacrifices and accomplishments of Chinese workers during the Fraser River Gold Rush and construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway, and their continuing contributions to the development of British Columbia.

The research is available at the University of British Columbia archival portal.


Operation Oblivion — Documentary

Recipient: Media Monkey Productions, Inc. Cobourg, Ontario

Through an online and permanent exhibit, as well as a national television broadcast in English and Chinese, this project explores the contributions of some of the 600 Chinese Canadians who volunteered to serve in the military in World War II, despite being denied citizenship, voting rights, access to professions, and often separated from their families, all due to the Chinese Exclusion Act.

Using rare archival footage and materials and new interviews, little known stories from war veterans are recounted, such as the exploits of the Chinese Canadian ‘Dirty Dozen’ who trained for Operation Oblivion, a mission they were not expected to survive, and the story of Force 136 commandos who went to Borneo to find Japanese forces who had refused to surrender and convinced them to repatriate.


The Historical Use of Laws as a Tool for Discrimination and the Legal Response to Legislated Racism: The Case of Chinese in Canada

Recipient: Metro Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic, Toronto

This web–based educational program in English, French and Chinese details the historical use of legislation discriminate against Chinese immigrants in Canada, including the Chinese Head Tax and Chinese Immigration Act. The program also recognizes the contributions of members of the legal profession who challenged the discriminatory laws.

The program covers historical legislation at all levels of government in all provinces, as well as court cases from all levels. It can be used as a comprehensive teaching tool.

Escape to Gold Mountain— Graphic novel

Recipient: Ming Sun Benevolent Society, Vancouver

This graphic novel tells the story of the Chinese-Canadian experience from the 1800s to today. Written and drawn by David Wong and published by the society, it is geared to teenagers and young adults as an alternative to textbooks or online information.

The book focuses on the Vancouver Chinese-Canadian experience, but also covers issues that are shared by members of the community across Canada. The plot and characters touch, in particular, on the personal stories of the community under the Head Tax and Chinese Immigration Act and other historic events.


Chinese Canadian Women, Obstacles and Accomplishments from 1923–1967

Recipient: Multicultural History Society of Ontario, Toronto

The website showcases the obstacles and accomplishments of Chinese–Canadian women from the introduction of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1923 to 1967. It comprises an online exhibit including Chinese–Canadian women’s personal recollections, a database containing photographs, interviews and other archival material, lesson plans and a guide for teachers, games based on the life experiences of Chinese–Canadian women the society interviewed, as well as contests and ’how-to’s’.


Newfoundland Head Tax and the Chinese Community

Recipient: Newfoundland and Labrador Head Tax Redress Organization, St. John’s

The organization erected a permanent monument in downtown St. John’s, accompanied by a temporary museum exhibit and website. These promote awareness of the Newfoundland Head Tax and its impact on the Chinese–Canadian community, as well as the contributions of pioneering Chinese immigrants who made the Dominion of Newfoundland and Labrador their home.

The trilingual (English, French and traditional Chinese) website comprises a collection of short videos, photographs, archives and articles about the Newfoundland Head Tax and the contributions of the early Newfoundland and Labrador Chinese.


Stories of Chinese Families in Ottawa and Eastern Ontario

Recipient: Ottawa Chinese Community Service Centre, Ottawa

The centre compiled and published the stories of Chinese-Canadian families and communities in the Ottawa area affected by the Chinese Head Tax and Chinese Exclusion Act. Five hundred copies of the book, in Chinese and English, were printed; the book was also digitized and made available online, along with multimedia interviews.

The content is also available at the University of British Columbia archival portal.


The Head Tax, What’s That? — Documentary

Recipient: Productions Multi-Monde Inc., Montréal

This a one-hour documentary examines how young Chinese-Québécois view the Head Tax and Chinese Exclusion Act today, and how they will keep the memory of these events, and the lessons to be drawn from them, alive and relevant to their peers in the decades to come. A team of young Chinese-Québécois filmmakers follow their peers to explore the effects of the Head Tax and Chinese Exclusion Act on their families and the wider Chinese Canadian community in Quebec. Available in French and English, the film is divided into five chapters that can be used together or independently by teachers and other educators.


Forbidden Phoenix — Musical

Recipient: Richmond Gateway Theatre Society. Richmond, British Columbia

Richmond Gateway produced Forbidden Phoenix, a musical fable written by Martin Chan with music and lyrics by Robert Walsh. The play commemorates the experiences of Chinese-Canadians immigrants. This fable is set during the influx of Chinese to build the Canadian Pacific railroad as well as the Head Tax and the Chinese Immigration Act.

The play is a fusion of Peking Opera, martial arts, acrobatic and western musical theatre that tells a Chinese-Canadian story. Forbidden Phoenix uses the classic Chinese myth of the Monkey King as a metaphor for Chinese immigrants coming to Canada to work on the railroad. The play ran for 19 performances in April, 2011 at the Richmond Gateway Theatre.


Stories of Early Chinese in the Maritimes — Oral histories

Recipient: St. Mary’s University, Halifax

Saint Mary’s researchers gathered stories on the affects of the Head Tax and Chinese Exclusion Act on children born in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island after the Act was repealed. The project gathered oral histories, photographs and artefacts in rural areas of the three Maritime provinces.

The stories and photos have been digitized and are available at the University of British Columbia archival portal.


Reconciliation Day — Educational package

Recipient: Simon Fraser University Learning and Instructional Development Centre, Vancouver

This comprehensive and interactive educational program in English, Cantonese and Mandarin comprises a learning package, interactive website and documentary. The educational program examines the impact of the Head Tax on Chinese immigrants, places the immigration legislation affecting Chinese-Canadians in context with the current reconciliation policy, and highlights the contributions that the Chinese-Canadian community has made to building Canada.

The video documentary aired on Fairchild TV.


Documentary: Redress Remix and web content: We Stand on Guard for Thee

Recipient: Stitch Media, Inc. Halifax

Redress Remix, a three-part documentary, uses narrated animation, interviews, and selected archival footage to tell the story of Chinese–Canadians affected by the Head Tax and the Chinese Immigration Act, and their perseverance to obtain redress from the government. Redress Remix was aired on OMNI television and at film festivals in English.

The interactive portal, called We Stand Interactive, was funded by the Bell New Media and Broadcast Fund. It enables users to navigate into certain scenes of the documentary to learn more about the events and era portrayed via a 360‑degree panorama view. The documentary and interactive portal are targeted at youth aged 18 to 35.


Youth Education on Chinese Head Tax

Recipient: Toronto Community and Culture Centre, Toronto

The centre developed this program to educate Chinese-Canadian youth about the Head Tax and its effects on Chinese immigrants and the Chinese-Canadian community.

A 12-month educational program comprised workshops with five guest speakers — three descendants of Head Tax payers and one Head Tax payer, who shared their memories and experiences, and a lawyer who discussed the Head Tax policy and its impact on Canadian human rights law. Youth in the Mandarin community of the Greater Toronto Area, and other high school students, including newcomers from Fujian Province, China, attended the workshops.

Portal and online-accessible digital archive for Chinese Canadian projects produced for CHRP

Recipient: University of British Columbia, Vancouver

This signature project yielded a single major repository of information about the Chinese Head Tax and the history of Chinese Canadians. Stories, testimonials and other resources are being made available for posterity, both in material form and at a portal hosted by the University of British Columbia.

The project comprises a bilingual portal; a searchable digital archive open to the public on the portal; two learning resources to use in tandem with the digital collections; and three portable mobile museum kiosks, which have been installed in Ottawa, Vancouver, Toronto and Montréal. The kiosks have content based on the information in the portal and archive, and are updated regularly as new information is added.


Chinese Canadian Stories: Uncommon Histories from a Common Past

Recipient: University of British Columbia and the Initiative for Student Teaching and Research in Chinese Canadian Studies, Vancouver

In a series of four workshops and two symposia, students conducted oral history research to preserve the history and experiences of Chinese-Canadians from 1885 to 1947 under the Chinese Head Tax and the Chinese Immigration Act. This project aimed to engage a young generation of Chinese-Canadian students with members of their community, particularly elders.

Students used the new Head Tax Registers Database at Library and Archives Canada to research early Chinese migration to Canada. All historical materials created from this project are accessible to the public as part of the university’s library collections.


Victoria’s Chinatown: A Gateway to the Past and Present of Chinese Canadians

Recipient: University of Victoria

Thisweb museum’, in English and Chinese, preserves oral histories, documents, photographs and artefacts of Chinese-Canadians affected by the Head Tax and Chinese Exclusion Act in the first and largest Chinese settlement in Canada — Victoria’s Chinatown.

The web museum is showcased and housed on the university’s website, and is also part of the University of British Columbia’s archival portal.

Red Letters — Musical

Recipient: Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre, Vancouver

Red Letters is a musical composed by Chinese-Canadian playwright Alan Bau. In English with Mandarin subtitles shown on video screens, it depicts the impact of the Head Tax and Chinese Exclusion Act, as told through the life of one man, Liang, who leaves his wife behind in China to come to Canada, hoping to make a better life for them.


Voices from Gold Mountain — Orchestral music

Recipient: Vancouver Youth Symphony Orchestra, Vancouver

Voices from Gold Mountain is an orchestral work that commemorates the impact of the Chinese Head Tax and other immigration restrictions experienced by the Chinese‑Canadian community. The Senior Division of the orchestra, comprising 80 pieces, premiered the work and recorded it on CD and video. One thousand copies were made available for distribution to Chinese‑Canadian community organizations, settlement services agencies and public libraries.


Monument to Western Chinese Immigrants and Head Tax Survivors

Recipient: Westman Chinese Association, Brandon, Manitoba

The association erected a monument to commemorate the historical experiences of the Westman Chinese Settlers, who were affected by the Head Tax and Chinese Immigration Act, and to educate new and established Canadians.

The monument is in the Brandon cemetery, where many Head Tax payers are buried, and faces east towards China. The monument takes the form of a bronze Chinese coin, five feet in diameter, on a black granite base. The granite used for the base is from Manitoba, representing the solid foundation of Chinese-Canadians in Manitoba and Canada. Engravings on the monument depict the history of Chinese immigrants and of the Chinese Head Tax.


History of Chinese Immigrants in Manitoba

Recipient: Winnipeg Chinese Cultural and Community Centre, Winnipeg

Research was conducted to develop and catalogue this electronic archive of oral histories and photographs to raise awareness of the experiences of Chinese Canadian in Manitoba related to the Head Tax and Chinese Exclusion Act.


Canadian First World War Internment Recognition Fund

The Government of Canada established the Canadian First World War Internment Recognition Fund to support projects that commemorate the experience of all affected communities during that period. The fund is managed by the Shevchenko Foundation.

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