The Canadian government passed the Chinese Immigration Act in 1885, after the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Chinese immigrants entering Canada had to pay a $50 head tax. It was the first time in Canadian history that a group was obligated to pay a tax based solely on their country of origin. In 1900, the head tax was raised to $100, then increased up to $500 per person in 1903. About 81,000 Chinese immigrants paid the head tax between 1885 and 1923.
Students, merchants (except laundry, restaurant and retail operators), diplomats, and Canadian-born Chinese returning from education in China were exceptions to the exclusion.
In 1923 the Canadian government passed a more restrictive Chinese Exclusion Act which banned all Chinese immigration to Canada. It was repealed in 1947. Because of a quota, few Chinese were allowed into Canada until immigration reform in 1967.1
The Canadian Chinese Exclusion Act was similar to the U.S. Chinese Exclusion Act but the U.S. did not have a huge head tax on Chinese immigrants.
See more about Canadian immigration, the head tax, and exclusion at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights
Read about the Chinese Head Tax Monument at Municipal Cemetery, Brandon, Manitoba, Canada. It was commissioned by the Westman Chinese Association with financial support from the Government of Canada, Province of Manitoba, City of Brandon, Rotary Club of Brandon, Whitehead Foundation, and various private donors. Created by noted Manitoba sculptor Peter Sawatzky, the monument was unveiled during a ceremony on 26 June 2011.
[Thanks to Velda and Ron Schei for telling me about the Chinese Head Tax Monument in Brandon, Manitoba.]
- Arlene Chan, “Chinese Immigration Act, The Canadian Encyclopedia, published online 7 March 2017, https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/chinese-immigration-act
2 thoughts on “Canadian Chinese Head Tax (1885-1947) & Canadian Chinese Exclusion Act (1923-1947)”
Great summary, Trish! I’ve been reading your work for months as I signed up for the emails.
Incidentally, I met Arlene Chan and her sister Janet Lumb in Toronto a while back – it didn’t take us too long to work out who we knew in common as Chinatown is a small place. 🙂
Thanks. It is always fun to figure out how you are connected to the people you randomly meet. Small world!
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