From the Archives: Forgotten Labour

Chinese labourer pushing wheelchair

Between 1885 and 1923 the Canadian government imposed a head tax on Chinese immigrants coming to Canada. Starting at $50 the government increased this head tax to $100 in 1900 and again to $500 in 1903. This would be equivalent to well over $6000 today.

During this period of the head tax, the federal government collected over $20 million dollars from about 81,000 Chinese immigrants. Discouraging the immigration of spouses and children, many of those who were immigrating were men intending on starting a life for their families and sending money back when they could.

Some of us are familiar with the narratives of Chinatown communities, those labourers who shaped the rail and mining economy but less is known about the cooks and labourers who worked for wealthy European settler families.

The Dunsmuirs were one such family. In 1911, there were 127 Chinese labourers working for the Dunsmuirs and living at Hatley Park. From cooks, house boys, dishwashers, farm hands, stable hands and gardeners, they supported much of the development of the property into the 1930s. Additionally, records even note the presence of a Chinese camp on the property, where most of the labourers would have lived.

But, most available records have largely privileged the white- settler narrative and rendered many records nameless and stories untold. Stories that should be told, in authentic ways: we should know who they were, their descendants, and their role in shaping this community. Over the next few months, we will be looking to uncover more of this history demonstrating that this area was home to village sites of the Lekwungen speaking peoples, to Chinese labourers, as well as European settlers.

Stay tuned for more from the Archives: Forgotten Labour series!

If you have any questions contact Jessica Humphries in the Archives at ext. 4606.