This Week in History
Victoria’s Chinatown: Not Enough Women
For the week of Monday February 28, 2011
On March 1, 1860, Mrs. Kwong Lee, the first Chinese woman arrived in Canada. Among the many people attracted to the 1855 gold rush in the Fraser Valley of British Columbia were wealthy Chinese merchants from San Francisco. They quickly set up shop in Victoria and created the foundation for what would become a prosperous Chinese community. However, between 1860 and 1885, a mere 53 Chinese women officially entered the province, compared to the several thousand men. Although this gender imbalance also existed amongst most immigrant groups, it was rarely as pronounced as it was with the Chinese.
Victoria experienced a surge in its population as thousands of Chinese labourers established themselves in Chinatown, only aggravating the already disproportionate gender ratio. Many of these men were eager to marry, but that same year, the government had imposed a $50 head tax on future Chinese immigration of labourers and their families. For many, the head tax was simply unaffordable, especially when it was raised to $500 in 1903. In 1923, the Chinese Immigration Act put an end to immigration of all people of Chinese “race.” Furthermore, cross-cultural marriages were then extremely unusual, in large part because of the strong anti-Asian sentiment felt by Euro-Canadians.
From its inception, Chinatown was segregated by racism and women became highly sought after. Kidnappings, prostitution and abuses became a concern for the leading merchants, since most of the women were their wives and daughters. So, several influential members of Chinatown took it upon themselves to re-establish order in their community. In 1884, they sent a letter to the Qing Consul General in San Francisco, calling for help in eliminating discriminatory laws and prostitution. In response, the Qing Consul established the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association (the CCBA), which was incorporated under Provincial Statutes in 1885 and continues to exist.
As the oldest surviving Chinatown in Canada, Victoria's Chinatown was designated a National Historic Site in 1995.
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