Why 2023 is Significant for Canadians and My Family

100 – 2023 marks 100 years since the end of the head tax on Chinese immigrants to Canada. The head tax was implemented in 1885, immediately after the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railroad. Between 1881-1884, 15,000 Chinese men were recruited to build the railroad. They were offered only half the daily wages of their White counterparts, making it possible for the railroad to be built on budget and ahead of schedule. The tax started at $50, raised to $100 in 1902, and jumped to $500 in 1903. No Chinese person was exempt, even babies were required to pay the tax. Between 1885 – 1923, $23 million was collected.

To learn more about when the Chinese first came to Victoria, check out First Steps: Chinese Canadian Journeys in Victoria and Gold Mountain at the Chinese Canadian Museum, in Fan Tan Alley, located in Victoria’s Chinatown. Attendance is by donation.

100 – It is also 100 years since the Chinese Immigration Act (1923) was passed. Implemented on July 1, 1923, this law ended the need for the head tax, because it effectively shut the doors into Canada by Chinese immigrants. There were few exceptions. During the exclusionary period, 1923 – 1947, fewer than  50 Chinese immigrants were allowed entry, and the Chinese population decreased by 25 per cent. According to The Canadian Encyclopedia On-line: “Not only did the law ban Chinese immigration, it also intentionally disrupted family life and stunted community growth.” The Act forced a whole generation of men to live apart from their families. It did not matter of one was a parent, sibling, spouse, or child – no one could be reunited with the men in Canada. Chinatowns, the places where men could find community and feel safe, were like ghost towns full of “bachelors.”

To learn more about how the Exclusion Act affected these immigrants, check out The Paper Trail to the 1923 Chinese Exclusion Act exhibition at the new Chinese Canadian Museum in the historic Wing Sang Building in Vancouver’s Chinatown. It opened on July 1, 2023 and will be available for in-person visits until June 30, 2024.

Why is this dark chapter in Canada’s history relevant today, for everyone?

It is important to know because it is part of our shared Canadian Chinese history. A century may seem like a long time ago, but racism still exists in Canada. During the COVID pandemic, incidents of anti-Asian hate increased, especially in British Columbia.


My own parents’ lives were affected by both discriminatory laws and their resilience and grace were an inspiration for a book.

102 – On October 10, 1921, 102 years ago, my father, Guey Dang Wong arrived in Vancouver, Canada. He spent his 19th birthday in a prison-like detention centre awaiting the landing process. My father was more fortunate than his travelling companions, because his adopted father, who had proceeded him to Canada, could afford to pay his $500 head tax. Coincidentally, my father was born 121 years ago, in 1902, when the tax was “only” $100. It has been 40 years since he died, 2 days before Christmas in 1983.

112 – My mother, Tew Thloo Wong (née Jang) was born on January 11, 1911, 112 years ago. My parents wed in 1929 and were married for 54 years. But during the first 25 years of their marriage, they were forced by the Chinese Immigration Act of 1923, to live separate lives. He was in Canada, earning a living as a cook at workcamps and saving money to return to China for brief visits.


My mother stayed in China, raising a daughter and a son, while suffering through natural disasters, the Japanese invasion, and civil war. My mother arrived in Canada with my brother on Christmas day, 1954. I was born 10 months later, a surprise for both parents. My sister, at 18 years old, was no longer considered a dependant, so was not eligible to immigrate. She only met our father twice in her life; first when she was age 13 in 1947, and 25 years later, with a successful medical career and growing family of her own.

11 – This year marks 11 years since my first book, A Cowherd in Paradise: From China to Canada (Brindle&Glass) was published. The book is an homage to my parents, whose story was so significantly impacted by both the head tax and the Chinese Immigration Act. After my father died, my mother came to live with my husband and myself. It was her reminiscences that I recorded. She was still alive when the debate about restitution for the racist laws that had so affected her life was going on.


She was of the opinion that financial restitution would not be effective; rather, Canada should recognize its past mistakes and apologize. She missed the federal apology by four years, dying 11 days before Christmas, in 2002, 21 years ago.

What can we do now, to fight against racism in our communities?

Learn more about our Canadian Chinese history. 1923: Challenging Racisms Past and Present, is a free resource as a printable pdf.

Learn about how to intervene and/or report incidents of racism and hate crime from these two resources:

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