Saturday, May 20, 2006

Alberta Chinese

Alberta: The Chinese Canadian Perspective - Past and Present
Yesterday, Sharon, Annie and I attended the 7th annual Western Canadian History Lecture on "Alberta: the Chinese Canadian Perspective - Past and Present" at the Hotel MacDonald. The lecture is sponsored by the University of Alberta Faculty of Arts and is given by Honourable Vivienne Poy who is a Senator in the Senate of Canada and a Chancellor of the University of Toronto. We missed the first 15 minutes of the lecture but still got to hear her speak for about a hour. Here are some points I remember from the lecture:
Anti-chinese sentiment was very high in the past
Vivienne cited a quote from a letter written by a Chinese in the early 1890s/1900s (not verbatim): "You send missionaries to our country to preach. If you don't think we're good enough to live here [Canada], then why do you try to send us to heaven?"
During the depression in 1930, welfare payments for white people was about $2.50 but only a little more than a $1 for chinese people. After a few deaths due to malnutrition and the frigid winter, the government increased it to around $2 - still lower than that of White people.
Surname associations such as Tong or Wong assocations were actually formed to help fellow chinese out.
If I remember correctly, the first chinese business was a laundry service. It was one of the most popular businesses among chinese people at the time as the only real investment was manual labor to wash the clothes.
The first chinese Edmontonian actually came from Calgary. He was quarantined for small pox and after he was released, a mob burned his business down and tried to drive him out. He decided to move to Edmonton along with his family.
In the 1940s, there were only about 350 chinese women out of the total 3500 chinese people living in Alberta. This was mainly due to the head tax enacted in 1885 followed by the immigration act in 1923. The head tax provided a strong obstacle for potential immigrants who had to pay an exuberant amount of money. The immigration act virtually banned all Chinese immigrants from coming to the country. Ironically, this act was introduced on Canada Day - July 1st, 1923.
In World War II, many Chinese Canadian volunteered for the war. This began to change the face for chinese people.
In more recent years, immigration to Alberta has actually decreased but interprovincial migration has increased. Alberta has the highest postivie interprovincial migration rate.
She talked about how the face of Chinese people in Alberta and Canada has really changed and even noted people like Gary Mar and honorable Norman Kwong.
Surprisingly, the demographics of the audience comprised of mostly non chinese people. It would have been nice if some notable chinese figures from the community made an appearance. I really enjoyed the first half of her speech and wish I caught the first 15 minutes. However, I did not enjoy the later half as much as she drifted off topic and it became more statistical praising of Alberta. Sharon and I agree that she sounded like a spokesperson for the Alberta government. In any case, I did learn quite abit about the past life of Chinese Canadians and also enjoyed some wine and cheese at the reception afterwards.

You can learn more about Canadian Chinese History here.

Canada Alberta History Chinese China Canadian Edmonton Vivienne Poy

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