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Chronology of Victoria's Chinatown

1788 – English Captain John Meares brought 50 Chinese artisans to Nootka Sound in Nuu-chah-nulth territory, on what would become Vancouver Island, to build a trading fort for sea otter pelts.

1848-1852 – Up to 25,000 immigrants from South China arrived in California to take part in the gold rush.

June 1858 – Chinese migrants started to arrive in British Columbia via ships from San Francisco to take part in the gold rush.

1858 – The Victoria branch of Kwong Lee opened on Cormorant Street, managed by Lee Chong.

Spring 1859 – The first Chinese migrants arrived directly from Hong Kong to Victoria.

June 1859 – Ay Kay was the first Chinese doctor to arrive in Victoria.

1860 – The Sino-British Treaty allowed Chinese immigration to Canada.

April 1860 – Labour contractor Loo Chock Fan arranged for 265 Chinese labourers to come from China to Victoria.

1860 – Mrs. Lee became the first Chinese woman to arrive in Victoria. Her husband was Lee Chong, a merchant from San Francisco who set up the Kwong Lee Company in Victoria. His wife and child arrived from China in the spring of 1860.

Spring 1860 – Vancouver Island had a Chinese population of 1,577, and a white population of 2,884. Less than one percent of the Chinese population were women.

1860 – The House of Assembly of the Colony of Vancouver Island proposed that each Chinese resident of the colony should pay a poll tax of $10. The tax was dropped because of opposition from leading citizens in Victoria.

March 1861 – The First Chinese baby was born in Canada at Port Douglas, at the head of Harrison Lake. This baby was Won Alexander Cumyow.

1862 – Kwong Lee was the second largest company in Victoria, after the Hudson’s Bay Company.

1863 – The first Canadian branch of the Hongmen Society, the Hong Shun Tang, was established in Barkerville.

March 1864 – Three major Chinese companies in Victoria (Kwong Lee, Yan Wo Sang, and Tai Soong) petitioned new governor Arthur E. Kennedy to remove certain tariffs on Chinese imports.

1871 – Victoria’s Chinatown had 211 Chinese inhabitants (181 male and 30 female). In BC, there were 1,548 Chinese residents, including only 53 women.

1872 – The BC Legislative Assembly removed the provincial franchise from Chinese and Indigenous residents of British Columbia. Since their names were not on the voters’ list, Chinese and Indigenous residents could not enter professions such as law, medicine, pharmacy, and teaching.

May 1873 – The Anti-Chinese Society was established in Victoria. This society wanted to revise the Sino-British Treaty of 1860 and requested that the working day be limited to 8 hours.

18 March 1874 – The Methodist Church started to offer English lessons and religious classes at a Sunday school near Chinatown for Chinese adults and children.

August 1874 – 92 Chinese voted in the Victoria municipal elections.

14 August 1875 – The City of Victoria passed a by-law stating that Chinese residents may not be employed in municipal work.

1876 – City of Victoria removed the municipal franchise from Chinese and Indigenous residents.

1876 – The Methodist Church opened a Chinese Mission School on Government Street.

12 January 1876 – The Tam Kung Temple was built by Hakka people at 1713 Government Street.

1876 – Chee Kung Tong (“Justice to All” society) was established in Victoria as a branch of the Hongmen Society, which would later be named the Chinese Freemasons.

31 July 1878 – The BC government excluded Chinese from public works projects.

1 September 1878 – The Workingmen’s Protective Association was formed in Victoria. Its goals were to reduce competition for white men from Chinese workers, and to suppress immigration from China. Members agreed not to patronize Chinese businesses. This association, under the leadership of Noah Shakespeare, became the Anti-Chinese Association in 1879.

2 September 1878 – The BC government passed an act requiring Chinese residents over 12 years of age to pay a $10 license every three months (Chinese Tax Act). Chinese merchants in Victoria appealed to the Chinese Legation in London to request that the British government disallow this act. Ten Chinese merchants also sent a petition to the Governor General challenging the Act.

17 September 1878 – In response to tax collection and the seizure of their goods, Chinese workers staged a strike in Victoria. The municipal government returned the goods and Chinese residents returned to work.

27 September 1879 – The Supreme Court found the Chinese Tax Act of 1878 unconstitutional. On 8 October 1879, the Governor General disallowed the act.

1879 – John A. Macdonald established a Select Committee to study the question of Chinese immigration and employment in BC. Amor de Cosmos was the chair of the committee.

1880 – Andrew Onderdonk asked Lee Tin Poy, a Chinese labour contractor in Portland, to recruit 1,500 Chinese workers from the United States for employment on the Canadian Pacific Railway.

1880 – The United States prohibited the production and sale of opium. Opium production and sale remained legal in Canada. Opium merchants moved from San Francisco to Victoria’s Chinatown.

1881 – The Population of Victoria’s Chinatown was 592.

1881 – The Canadian census reported that the Chinese population was 4,383. Of these, 4,350 resided in British Columbia.

1882 – Chinese workers recruited by contractors began to arrive in Victoria en route to construction jobs on the Canadian Pacific Railway. Over 17,000 Chinese immigrants came to Canada between 1881 and 1884.

1882 – Noah Shakespeare, an opponent of Chinese immigration, was elected mayor of Victoria.

8 May 1882 – The United States passed the Chinese Exclusion Act – no Chinese labourers could enter the United States for ten years. Chinese workers who had moved to BC to work on the CPR did not have the option to return to the US.

1883 – The Knights of Columbus formed a lodge in Victoria and protested the presence of Chinese labour.

1883 – Victoria had eleven opium shops, earning $3 million per year. The BC government imposed a $500 license fee per year on opium manufacturers. By 1884, twelve opium factories operated in Victoria, up from one factory in 1881.

1883 – The Methodist Home for Chinese Girls was established in Victoria.

18 February 1884 – The BC government passed acts to stop Chinese residents from acquiring Crown land, prohibiting the immigration of Chinese immigrants to BC, and requiring an annual head tax of ten dollars.

March 1884 – Chinese merchants in Victoria wrote to the consul-general in San Francisco, Huang Tsim Hsim, requesting a consulate in Canada and permission to establish a Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association (CCBA) in Canada. By April, 20 Chinese merchants raised funds to form a CCBA. The constitution of the CCBA (Zhonghua Huiguan) was published in July.

July 1884 – The Dominion government created a Royal Commission on Chinese Immigration. Only two Chinese witnesses testified to the commission, both of them officials employed at the Chinese consulate in San Francisco.

1884 – The Population of Victoria’s Chinatown was 1,767. This figure included 1661 males and 106 females: 41 married women, 34 prostitutes and 31 girls.

1884 – British Columbia passed a $15 license fee for each Chinese miner who wished to prospect for gold.

1885 – The Dominion government passed an act requiring Chinese immigrants to pay a $50 head tax.

3 February 1885 – With support from some Chinese merchants and the Methodist Church, John Endicott Vrooman opened the Chinese Mission School on Cormorant Street.

August 1885 – The CCBA building at 554-560 Fisgard Street, designed by architect John Teague, was completed.

1885 – The CCBA built a wooden hut called Taipingfang (Peaceful Room) behind its association building as a shelter and hospital for elderly Chinese men who were sick and had no one to care for them.

1885 – The City of Victoria passed a “cubic air” bylaw stating that each occupant of a room should have 384 cubic feet of space. Intended to reduce overcrowding, this bylaw could make housing more expensive for Chinese residents and allowed the police to raid the living quarters of Chinese residents and impose fines.

27 December 1885 – The CCBA installed a temple, the Palace of Sages or Palace of Saints (Lie Sheng Gong) in the top floor of its association building.

1887 – Eleven shantang (charitable associations) operated in Victoria.

1888 – Miss Morgan’s Chinese Girls’ Home was established in Victoria to help women leave the sex trade. The home was supported by the Women’s Missionary Society of the Presbyterian Church. The home assisted 40 Chinese and 8 Japanese girls and women between 1888 and 1902, on the condition that they become baptised and accept the Methodist faith.

1891 – The CCBA arranged for the remains of over three hundred men who had died in the Fraser and Thompson canyons to be collected and returned to China for burial.

1891 – The CCBA purchased an 8.75 acre lot on Christmas Hill for a Chinese cemetery. Because of hostility from neighbouring settlers, this site was not used as a cemetery.

1891 – Bishop Hill established the Chinese Anglican Church (Good Hope Mission) at 719 Caledonia Street.

13 March 1891 – The Chinese Methodist Church, initiated by Reverend John Endicott Gardiner opened at 526 Fisgard Street. Ministers at this church included Reverend Chan Sing Kai in the 1890s and 1900s, and his brother, Reverend Chan Yiu Tan from 1912.

1891 – A leper colony on D’Arcy Island was established to quarantine five Chinese men found in Chinatown with leprosy. There was no medical care for the sufferers until 1906 when the federal government took control of the station, and by 1907 all the residents were repatriated to China. D’Arcy Island remained a temporary detention centre for those with leprosy until the station was closed in 1924.

April 1892 – The Empress of Japan arrived in Victoria. One of its 530 Chinese passengers had smallpox. All Chinese passengers were quarantined at Albert Head, and white passengers were allowed to go to their destinations.

April 1892 – Reverent A.R. Winchester started the Victoria Presbyterian Gospel Hall to serve Chinese residents at the corner of Government and Cormorant Streets.

2 November 1893 – To challenge the “cubic air” bylaw, the CCBA passed a resolution that any Chinese who were arrested under this bylaw should go to jail. So many Chinese men were arrested that jailing them would be a violation of the bylaw. After this point, the police ended raids for overcrowding.

ca. 1895 – A two-storey Chinese Hospital, administered by the CCBA, replaced the Taipingfang.

September 1896 – Li Hung Chang (Li Hongzhang), viceroy of the Guangdong and Guangxi provinces, visited Vancouver.

August 1897 – Dr. Sun Yat-sen passed through Victoria on his way from Europe to Japan.

1894-1895 – The Manchu government was defeated in the First Sino-Japanese War.

Summer 1898 – Emperor Guangxu initiated a series of reforms to modernize China.

22 January 1899 – The Victoria Presbyterian Gospel Hall became the First Chinese Presbyterian Church.

7 April 1899 – Reformer Kang Youwei, having escaped from China, arrived in Victoria on his way to London.

1 July 1899 – Lequn Yishu (Sociability Free School), the first free Chinese school in Canada, opened with 39 students.

20 July 1899 – Baohuanghui (Protecting the Emperor Association) was established in Victoria by Kang Youwei. The organization was known as the Chinese Empire Reform Association (CERA) in English. By 1904, the CERA had twelve branches in Canada, with about 7,000 members.

24 December 1899 – A bomb exploded in the Chinese Methodist Church. The Chinese Empire Reform Society (CERA) was accused of planting the bomb, since the church’s pastor, Reverent Chan Sing Kai, dissuaded church members from joining CERA to ensure the safety of their families in China.

1900 – Canada passed the Chinese Immigration Act. This Act went into effect on 1 January 1902. The head tax was raised from $50 to $100, and BC would receive half of the tax.

1901 – There were 189 Chinese companies operating in Victoria.

1901 – The census reported that there were 17,312 Chinese in Canada in 1901.

1902 – Victoria’s Chinese population was 3,283. This figure included only 96 women, of which 61 were merchants’ wives, 28 labourers’ wives, 1 minister’s wife , and 2 who were married to interpreters. The remaining four women had no occupation and were assumed by the white population to be prostitutes.

1902 – The federal government sent a Royal Commission on Chinese and Japanese Immigration to British Columbia.

1903 – The head tax on Chinese immigrants was raised to $500.

3 April 1903 – The CCBA bought land at Foul Point (now Harling Point) for a Chinese cemetery.

1904 – On top of the head tax, Ottawa passed a law requiring Chinese immigrants to have $200 in their possession to enter the country.

1907 – Victoria youths established Jijishe (Striking Oar Society) to support the anti-Qing Republican Revolution led by Sun Yat-sen.

29 August 1907 – The Victoria School Board banned Chinese children from attending public schools until they could understand English. The CCBA hired lawyer Fred Peters to challenge this decision, but lost the case.

1907 – BC passed the Natal Act for the fourth time. The Natal Act was named after a similar South African law which required prospective immigrants to pass a language test. The law had previously been disallowed by the Governor General. This time, the Lieutenant Governor, James Dunsmuir, a coal mine owner who employed Asian labour, refused to sign the bill.

1907 – The Asiatic Exclusion League was founded in Vancouver. A rally organized by this association on September 7, 1907 turned into a riot. The mob broke windows in Chinatown and moved to the Japanese quarter where forewarned residents defended their property.

1907 – William Lyon Mackenzie King headed a Royal Commission to assess the damage to property from the riot in Vancouver.

1908 – Canada’s Minister of Labour, Rudolphe Lemieux, negotiated a “Gentleman’s Agreement” with Japan, limiting Japanese immigration to Canada.

1908 – The Victoria Chinese Merchants Association was formed by incorporating two smaller groups of Chinese merchants.

1908 – Emperor Guangxu and Empress Dowager died in late Qing China.

1908 – Canada banned the manufacturing of opium, causing opium factories in Chinatown to close.

1908 – A detention centre for Asian immigrants was built at the corner of Dallas Road and Ontario Street in Victoria. Immigrants were questioned, given a medical examination and made to pay the head tax there.

1909 – The Manchu government established a general consulate in Ottawa and later a consulate in Vancouver.

1909 – The shipment of bones to China of deceased Chinese immigrants was centralized and carried out by the Hoy Sun Ning Yung Benevolent Association.

7 August 1909 – The Imperial Chinese School, built by the CCBA, was opened at 636 Fisgard. This school was built because Chinese-born children who could not understand English were banned from attending public schools in Victoria. The CCBA moved its headquarters to the top storey of the school. After the Manchu government fell in 1912, the school was renamed the Chinese Public School (Huaqiao Gongli Xuexiao).

1911 – Dr. Sun Yat-sen visited Victoria for the third time. At his instruction, the first Chinese revolutionary newspaper in Canada, the Xinminguo Bao (the New Republic) began to be published in Victoria that year.

1911 – The population of Victoria’s Chinatown was 3,458. The population of Chinese residents in Vancouver started to outgrow that of Victoria.

28 February 1911 – 80 members of the Chee Kung Tong (Chinese Freemasons) in Victoria mortgaged their building to raise money to support Dr. Sun Yat-sen’s anti-Qing Republican Revolution in China. Lim Bang and two other merchants added a donation of $1,600 (in addition to a $900 loan from a Canadian bank) to bring this amount to $10,000.

May 1911 – The Chinese Young Men’s Progressive Party was formed to lobby for equality with white youth (CCL, 106).

October 1911 – The Republican Revolution took place in China.

1911 – Sun Yat-sen’s Revolutionary Alliance (Tongmenghui), the predecessor of the Chinese Nationalist League (Kuomintang) in Canada, established its branches in Pacific Canada.

1912 – The Manchu-ruled Qing government fell in China, and the Republic of China was established.

1912 – The Revolutionary Alliance, or Tongmenghui, was renamed the Kuomintang (KMT), or the Chinese Nationalist League, in Victoria and other North American cities.

4 November 1913 – The President of the Republic of China, Yuan Shih Kai, banned the Kuomintang.

1913 – A recreation association called the Han Yuen Club was founded by Victoria Kuomintang members.

June 1914 – Dr. Sun Yat-sen formed the Chinese Revolutionary Party (Zhonghua Gemingtang). The Kuomintang, or the Chinese Nationalist League, kept its title in Victoria and other North American cities (CCL, 96)

1914 – The Victoria Chinese Canadian Club (Tongyuanhui, or Common Origin Association) was formed. It was active in social and political issues and raising funds for charitable causes. The Chinese Canadian Club was made up of a younger generation of Chinese residents – those born in Canada or having arrived in Canada at an early age, and visitors such as students and mission workers.

1915 – The first high school class of twelve students (boys and girls) graduated from the Victoria Chinese Public School.

12 November 1915 – The Dart Coon Club was formed by central members of the Chee Kung Tong (Chinese Freemasons).

1918 – Tang Hualong, a Chinese statesman, was murdered in Victoria by a member of the Kuomintang. The Canadian government then banned the Kuomintang and increased surveillance of Chinese political activities in Canada.

October 1919 – Dr. Sun Yat-sen renamed the Chinese Revolutionary Party as the Chinese Nationalist Party. The Chinese Nationalist League still kept its title in Victoria and other North American cities. Twelve branches of the party were set up in Canada.

1919 – Shortly after the First World War, 515 Canadian-born and naturalized Chinese in Victoria sent a petition to the federal government requesting the franchise. This was denied in the Dominion Elections Act.

1921 – Reverent Leung Moi Fong established the Christ Church United Society (Yesujiao Lianhui).

1921 – The Chinese Anti-Drug Association was established in Canada.

1922 – Chan Dun and Lee Quong Yee started the Victoria Chinese Aviation School to train pilots to fight for the nationalist cause in China.

7 August 1922 – The Chinese Vegetable Peddlers Association was formed to challenge a request by the Victoria Chamber of Commerce to the City Council to restrict the rights of Chinese vegetable sellers.

1922-1923 – Chinese children carried out a year-long strike when the Victoria School Board threatened to teach them in segregated schools. The CCBA founded an Anti-Segregation Association that challenged the school board’s decision. In August 1923, the school board allowed Chinese students to return to their schools, except for 17 students who needed assistance with their English.

1 July 1923 – Canada’s Chinese Immigration Act (Exclusion Act) came into effect, barring further immigration from China. July 1, Canada’s national holiday, was declared as Humiliation Day in Chinese communities, and businesses were closed on this day in protest.

12 April 1925 – A memorial procession of 1,000 mourners through Chinatown commemorated the death of Dr. Sun Yat-sen.

1925 – Chinese greenhouse owners formed the United Green House Association.

1925 – With the union of the Presbyterian and Methodist churches and two other churches in Canada, the Chinese United Church was founded at 526 Fisgard Street.

1931 – The population of Victoria’s Chinatown was 3,702.

September 1931 – Japan invaded Manchuria.

4 October 1931 – In response to the Japanese invasion of Manchuria, the CCBA held a mass meeting and founded an organization known in English as the Chinese National Salvation Bureau to raise funds and boycott Japanese goods and businesses.

1931 – Albert Mar founded the Chinese Students’ Basketball Club.

December 1931 – Mrs. Robert Brent Mosher opened a soup kitchen called the Chinese Relief Mission at 1428 Government Street to feed unemployed Chinese residents during the Depression. Mrs. M. Field of the Chinese Anglican Mission also ran a soup kitchen from 1931 to 1934.

1932 – Reverend Clarence L.T. Lee of the Good Hope Mission (Chinese Anglican Church) formed the First Chinese Scout Group that lasted until 1934.

7 July 1937 – The Second Sino-Japanese War started, merging into the Second World War with the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941.

1937-1945 – Victoria’s population of about 3,000 Chinese residents raised $750,000 to support China’s war effort. Five million dollars was collected across Canada during the war and sent to China.

1940 – The Chinese Youth Association was founded to raise money for Chinese victims of the war and boycott Japanese products.

1941 – Metropolitan Victoria had a Chinese population of 3,435.

1943 – Canada established an embassy in China, and China established an embassy in Ottawa.

1945 – The Chinese-Canadian Club presented a brief to BC Premier John Hart requesting the franchise.

March 1945 – The BC Elections Act awards the franchise to all Asians who had served in the First or Second World Wars (Japanese Canadians who served in the First World War already had the franchise).

1946 – A civil war broke out in China between supporters of the Chinese Communist Party under Mao Tse-tung, and the Kuomintang or Nationalist Party, headed by Chiang Kai-shek.

1947 – The Chinese Immigration Act (Exclusion Act) was repealed in Canada.

1947 – The BC Legislature granted the vote to Chinese Canadians and Indo-Canadians.

1947 – Chinese Canadians received federal citizenship rights including the vote.

1 October 1949 – The Communist Revolution succeeded in China, and the People’s Republic of China was established. Direct immigration from China to Canada ended until 1974, after diplomatic relations were re-established. In the interim, most Chinese migration to Canada was from Hong Kong and Southeast Asia.

1957 – Chinese residents could apply for their families to join them in Canada.

1957 – Douglas Jung, representing Vancouver Centre, was the first Chinese Canadian to win an election as a Member of Parliament. He lost his seat in 1962, and for over a decade, there was no Chinese-Canadian MP in Ottawa until Arthur Lee was elected in Vancouver East in 1974.

1959 – The first female directors joined the board of the CCBA.

24 May 1960 – The RCMP searched offices of Chinese organizations throughout Canada as part of an investigation into illegal Chinese immigration.

1960 to 1973 – An amnesty program, called the Chinese Adjustment Statement Program, operated in Canada whereby Chinese immigrants who had entered the country illegally could gain legal status.

1961 – The Chinese Community Hospital Society of Victoria was incorporated.

1962 – The City of Victoria purchased buildings on Cormorant Street and tore them down to create Centennial Square.

1966 – The Palace of Sages in Victoria was moved from the old CCBA building to the assembly hall of the Chinese Public School.

1 October 1967 – Canada introduced a “point system” for assessing new immigrants. This was intended to eliminate racial discrimination but in practice this was not entirely the case.

13 October 1970 – Canada and the People’s Republic of China established diplomatic relations.

1979-1986 – Chinatown underwent a process of rehabilitation and beautification.

1981 – The Gate of Harmonious Interest was built in Victoria’s Chinatown.

25 February 1982 – The Chinatown Care Centre opened.

8 March 1983 – Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip visited Victoria’s Chinatown.

20 October 1985 – Chung Wah Mansion, an apartment building with subsidized housing, was opened behind the Chinese Public School.

1986 – Canada introduced the Immigrant Investor Program – inviting entrepreneurs with capital to settle in Canada.

1988 – Dr. David See-chai Lam, the first Asian Canadian Lieutenant Governor, was installed at Government House in Victoria.

December 1995 – Victoria’s Chinatown was designated a National Historic District, and the Chinese Cemetery designated a National Historic Site by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.

18 November 1999 – Governor General Adrienne Clarkson, of Chinese descent, toured the Chinese Cemetery while visiting Victoria.

March 2001 – A project to beautify the Chinese Cemetery, including surveying the plants and geology, restoring the wooden fence and building an arch at the entrance, was completed. The gateway to the cemetery, called the Gate of Peaceful Repose, was designed by Victoria geographer David Chuenyan Lai.


Sources

Chan, Anthony B. Gold Mountain: The Chinese in the New World. Vancouver: New Star Books, 1983.

Lai, David Chuenyan. Chinese Community Leadership: Case Study of Victoria in Canada. Singapore: World Scientific Publishing Co., 2010.

Lai, David Chuenyan. The Forbidden City within Victoria: Myth, Symbol and Streetscape of Canada’s Earliest Chinatown. Victoria, BC: Orca Book Publishers, 1991.

Roy, Patricia. A White Man’s Province: British Columbia Politicians and Chinese and Japanese Immigrants, 1858-1914. Vancouver: UBC Press, 1989.

Ruttan, Stephen. “The Lepers of D’Arcy Island.” Local History, Greater Victoria Public Library.
http://gvpl.ca/using-the-library/our-collection/local-history/tales-from... (accessed 26 March 2013)

Wickberg, Edgar et al, ed. From China to Canada: A History of the Chinese Communities in Canada. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1982.