Across the Generations: A History of the Chinese in Canada

Nearly 64% of the Chinese newcomers came from the counties of Taishan, Kaiping, Xinhui and Enping, collectively known as Siyi (the four counties) because their dialects were similar to one another. About 18% came from the counties of Panyu, Shunde, and Nanhai. They are known as Sanyi (the three counties) and their dialects are very similar to the Cantonese dialect. Another 8% came from Heshan and Zhongshan counties, and 6% came from the counties of Zengcheng, Dongguan, and Baoan on the eastern side of the Pearl River (Zhujiang).

There were 4 periods of migration. The period of free entry, 1858-1884; the period of restricted entry, 1885-1923; the period of exclusion, 1924-1947; and the period of selective entry, 1948 to present.

During the first period, Chinese immigrants were permitted to enter and leave Canada without restriction, and all Canadian Chinatowns were located in British Columbia. The second period of migration saw the federal government restrict Chinese immigration by means of a head tax. The period of restricted entry ended with the Immigration Act of 1923 (Exclusion Act), which virtually prohibited any Chinese immigrant from entering Canada. During this period, the Chinese population across Canada declined. Some of the Chinatowns were not only depopulated, but disappeared forever. After the Exclusion Act was repealed in 1947, the admission of Chinese immigrants was resumed with restrictions. The Chinese, like other immigrants who came to North America in the 19th century, came with the hope of seeking a better life or finding a fortune in the New World. However, unlike European immigrants who were accepted as permanent immigrants, the Chinese were not. Instead they were viewed as temporary workers, to be used in low-paying and dangerous jobs. Consequently, they were blamed by the labouring class for lowering wages. 


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