A Scattering of Seeds: The Creation of Canada
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THE ROAD CHOSEN: The Story of Lem Wong
Immigration History

Since 1885, Chinese immigrants like Lem Wong had been forced to pay an "entry" or "head" tax upon entering Canada. By the turn of the century Asian immigration was further restricted by the federal government. The head tax was $100. In 1902 the government set up a Royal Commission on Chinese and Japanese Immigration. The commission reported that Asians were "unfit for full citizenship...obnoxious to a free community and dangerous to the state"(9).

Acting on the report, in 1903, Parliament passed legislation in 1903 raising the head tax to $500. Not surprisingly, Chinese immigration the following year dropped to 8 people, from 4,719 the year before. But even these laws could not stop the human urge for betterment. As the number of Chinese immigrants began increasing again, the Canadian government passed the punitive Chinese Exclusion Act virtually eliminating Chinese immigration. The date of its passage, July 1, 1923 became known to the Canadian Chinese as "Humiliation Day." For many years the Chinese refused to observe Canada Day which celebrated on the same date(10).

© Glenbow Archives
Calgary, Alberta NA-3976-4
Bruising prejudices and stereotypes also surrounded Chinese Canadians at the time. Other Canadians regarded overcrowded Chinese living quarters as unsanitary and disease-infested, and resented the willingness of the Chinese to work long and hard for low wages(11).

For Lem Wong, the years and years of working in the laundry trade and as a vegetable and poultry merchant, gradually paid off. In 1914 he ventured into a new business and opened Wong's Cafe in London, Ontario. Although the Depression of the 1920's hit hard, Lem's business acumen made the restaurant a success. But Lem was still fighting against closed-minded attitudes. It was illegal, for example, for Wong to employ white women in his restaurant, because of a provincial law designed to protect the white population from corruption by Chinese Canadians.

In 1947, in recognition of their contribution to Canadian society, discriminatory legislation against the Chinese finally began to be repealed and Chinese Canadians were granted the right to vote. But restrictions on Chinese immigration were not entirely removed until 1967(12).

9,12 - The 1998 Canadian & World Encyclopedia
(McClelland & Stewart, Toronto, 1998).

10,11 - Struggle and Hope, The Story of Chinese Canadians
by Paul Yee (Umbrella Press, Toronto, 1996).

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