Early Chinese Canadian Experiences in British Columbia
What can you find out about Chinese Canadian history using artifacts and documents from the Royal BC Museum?
Chinese Canadians have a long and rich history in British Columbia. The first recorded Chinese presence in BC was in 1788, when 50 Chinese workers and sailors were hired to work at a British trading post in Nootka Sound on Vancouver Island. But it was not until 1858, when gold was found on the Fraser River, that the first major migration of Chinese people came to British Columbia. Like so many other gold seekers from Europe and the Americas, most Chinese planned on staying only long enough to earn money to send back to their families in China. In the end, many stayed in BC for longer than expected.
Over time, Chinese Canadian populations in BC grew and community hubs started to form. Chinatowns emerged in places like Victoria, New Westminster and Barkerville, some of which still stand today! Parts of traditional Chinese culture, like community organizations, food, arts, music and religion, played an important role in everyday life in these communities.
It wasn’t easy for early Chinese Canadians to come to Canada. They faced a voyage of over 10,000 km across the Pacific Ocean on ships that provided little in the way of comfort. Between 1885 and 1923, all people from China were forced to pay an expensive head tax to enter the country. This practice finally stopped in 1923 when Chinese immigration was banned completely.
Once in BC, Chinese workers were paid less and exposed to harsher working environments than white workers. Additionally, laws limited their basic human rights—the right to vote, equal working opportunities, and the ability to own land. Learn more about the discrimination faced by Chinese Canadians in the Acknowledging Past Wrongs pathway.
In spite of these hardships and others, Chinese Canadians persevered and fought for their freedoms to be recognized.
Today, we acknowledge the contributions of the Chinese Canadians in BC’s history and how the community has helped to build British Columbia’s rich and diverse cultures. Explore this pathway’s collection of artifacts, images and research from the Royal BC Museum and Archives.
What can you find out about life for Chinese Canadians in the early days of the province?
This resource was developed for the Ministry of International Trade and Responsible for Asia Pacific Strategy and Multiculturalism in partnership with the Legacy Initiatives Advisory Council.
Find out more by reading stories from our staff, and explore further with outside links.Read
Watch archival footage of a Chinese theatre performance in Vancouver, and explore a BC connection with the Chinese Revolution of 1911.Watch
View objects and images from the Royal BC Museum and Archives relating to Chinese Canadian experiences in BC.Look