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Hong Kong Immigrants In Vancouver- Uneasy Partnership Essay, Research Paper


This paper is concerned with the recent wave of Hong Kong immigrants into Vancouver. The stage is set for this discussion by first explaining some background behind Canadian immigration policy and then discussing the history of Chinese immigrants in Vancouver. From these discussions we are informed that Canadian immigration policy was historically ethnocentric and only began to change in the late 1960s. It was at this point that we see a more multicultural group of immigrants into our nation. The history of Chinese immigration in Vancouver, and for that matter, Canada is not positive one. The experiences and prejudices which were developed over 100 years ago still colours the way in which we view one another.

The recent wave of Hong Kong immigrants began in the 1970s. This group is different from most others before it because of it’s scale and the fact that they tend to be well-educated, affluent people. The result of their immigration into Vancouver has been a booming economy and social tension. With greater understanding and awareness on both sides we can alleviate the social tensions.


There is a school in Vancouver which is offering a four year immersion programme to its students. That in itself is not highly unusual in our bilingual nation, what is unusual is that the language of choice for the immersion programme is not French, it is Mandarin. The programme was voted in by parents who believed the Mandarin language to be more important to their children’s futures in Vancouver than French. This situation shows quite effectively the transition which is taking place in Canada’s third largest city. Vancouver is a city which is consistently looking more and more to the Pacific Rim nations, especially Hong Kong, for its economic and social connections.

Vancouver is the most asian Canadian city in outlook. At $1.3 Billion, British Columbia accounts for the greatest Asian investment of all the provinces. As the urban center of the province, Vancouver is the destination for most of this capital. With an Asian population of over 18%, perhaps it is not so surprising that so much Asian capital is invested in the city. The draw of Vancouver for Asians has numerous reasons including, security, an opportunity to continue business in Asia, and a feeling of welcome. The result is that the city is being completely rebuilt with asian money. As a consequence of this influx, all is not well, there are tensions within the city that have recently been surfacing. Before entering into this discussion, however, it is important to understand the context of immigration in Canada as well as the history of asian immigration into our nation.

Policy Jurisdiction

Jurisdiction over immigration is shared between the Federal and Provincial governments. The Federal government is responsible for establishing admission requirements while the provinces are becoming increasingly interested in the selection of applicants and their settlement. The governments set out numerous controls, including those over the ethnocultural composition of incoming immigrants, the total number of immigrants admitted, the categories of immigrants admitted, and the regional settlement of immigrants once they arrive.

History of Immigration in Canada

Historically, Canadian immigration policy has been consistently ethnocentric. It was only recently that the Canadian government sought to maintain a ?white’ society by selectively advertising abroad as well as granting prospective applicants from Europe, the US, New Zealand, and Australia preferential treatment. During the 1960s this distinction between preferred and non-preferred contries was replaced with a points-system. Along with the new points-system it was hoped that applicants from all countries and of all ethnic origins were treated equally. The effects of this shift has been significant.

Fig. 1

As can be seen in the above table, the majority of the immigrants arriving before 1967 were of European background. From 1967 onward the flow of immigrants has been internationalized.

Throughout the 20th Century the Canadian government has set targets for the number of immigrant entries based upon economic criteria. Periods of encouragement have included the early decades of this century along with the reconstruction era of Post World War II. The 30s, 40s and the recession of the early 80s have been periods during which the national government has discouraged immigration. At times, economic concerns have given way to humanitarian ones such as during the Soviet invasions of Hungary and Czechoslovakia, and during the Vietnamese refugee crisis of the 70s.

Generally, however, Canadian immigration targets have reflected the rate of economic expansion and employment. An exception to this rule was during the latter part of the 1980s. Worry over the declining fertility rate and our ageing population led the federal government to raise its annual targets despite high unemployment. Most recently, under economic pressures, the most recent Liberal government once again lowered the immigration level.

The Geography of Immigration

There have also been attempts at controlling the geography of immigrant settlement. The Federal government stated that one of the primary goals of immigration is to, “foster the development of a strong and viable economy and the prosperity of all regions in Canada.” Immigration in our country has been seen as a means of promoting economic development in less prosperous regions, as well as supporting heartland areas.

While the government has attempted to influence the geography of immigrant settlement, they have been able to achieve few results. Most immigrants still gravitate to areas of demonstrated economic growth. Immigrants have avoided the Atlantic provinces, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan while they have been attracted to Alberta (mainly during the economic boom of the 70s), British Columbia, and especially Ontario. In the table below we are able to clearly see that, as a percentage of their own population, Ontario, B.C. and Alberta dominate the remaining provinces with their share of the immigrant population.

Fig. 2

An even greater degree of concentration is apparent when urban destinations are considered. In 1991 Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver accounted for 60% of the intended destinations stated by those immigrants arriving into Canada.

Nearly 80% of immigrants intended to settle in just ten cities. The Table below shows the intended urban destination of immigrants to Canada in 1991.

CityTotal ImmigrantsPercentage




Top Three136,55259.2








Top Ten181,21778.5


Of all immigrants, those entering under the business category exhibited

the most clustered pattern of settlement. 80% of this group chose to live in either

Toronto, Montreal, or Vancouver. The following table breaks down the intended

urban destination of business immigrants to Canada in 1991.

Fig. 4

CityBusiness ImmigrantsPercentage




Top Three2,97880.3








Top Ten3,31489.3


Chinese Immigration

The first major influx of the chinese into Canada was during the 1850s

and 1860s, when they were lured to this country by the promised bounty of the

Fraser River gold rush. By 1860, the new colony of British Columbia counted

amongst its population 4,000 Asians but their numbers tended to fluctuate

according to the prosperity of the mines. The greatest period of chinese

immigration occured between 1881-1884 when over 17,000 chinese came to

work on the CPR.

Pressured by the railway companies, who viewed the chinese as reliable,

cheap labour, the federal government vetoed any attempts to halt their

entrance into the country until the railway was completed. With the final

completion of the railway chinese immigration remained in flux by continued to

grow in absolute numbers.

History of Discrimination

The chinese were always discriminated against, they were consistently

treated as outcasts. The chinese immigrant was thought, by mainstream

Canadian society to be “taking” jobs away from whites at half the “acceptable”

wages. This was said even though the chinese usually were employed in jobs

which the majority of whites thought were beneath them. For instance, many

chinese immigrants employed themselves by providing laundry services in

mining camps, or in cities. It was at this point that the chinese began a tradition

of entrepreneurship in Canada which they still maintain today.

Fig. 5 is a picture cut out of a Vancouver newspaper at the turn of the

century entitled “The Unanswerable Argument”. It essentially epitomizes the

cities views of itself and those of the chinese immigrant.

FIG. 5

In 1885 discrimination against the chinese received official sanction with

the implementation of the “head tax”. Originally this tax was set at $10 but, by

1893 it had grown to $500. It never had the desired effect of stopping chinese

immigration, but it certainly slowed it down considerably. In 1923 the

discrimination continued as the federal government barred all immigration

from China; a provision which was not lifted until 1947. Until 1947 the chinese

were also prevented from practicing medicine, law, or becoming members of

any other professions. It was only in the late 40s that chinese/canadian citizens

were even allowed to vote in Canada. The numerous restrictions placed upon

this group of people ensured that chinese communities were made up of

bachelors as only single adult men could afford to immigrate.

From the time that Vancouver was incorporated in 1886 there was a

geographical reference to the racial category “chinese” at Carall and Dupont

(E. Pender) streets (indicated in Fig. 4 as Chinatown). One-hundred forty-three

merchants founded associations and ran businesses in the area, usually with

attached homes, to service the chinese immigrant population of 2,053 in 1901.

At that time the community included over 1,500 labourers. Many of the

individuals in this district depended upon chinese bosses to find them contract

work in laundries, saw mills, brickyards and canneries. Others worked within

the community in construction, restaurants and tailoring firms.

Ottawa had seen an economic interest in the idea of a cheap “chinese”

type of labour and set a precedent for widespread economic subordinization of

the chinese. Vancouver’s Bell-Irving said in 1901, “It is the destiny of the white

man to be worked for by inferior races.” In 1885 proprietor R. Dunsmuir said

that in his mines the “chinese are put to the type of work that best suits them -

ordinary, manual labour.”

Fig. 6

Local white workers were equally willing to believe in the idea of a unique

“chinese” type of labour. They even resorted to violence on February 24, 1886

when 300 whites invaded a camp of chinese workers in the West End to rid the

city of “unfair competition”. With tacit approval of local police and officials, the

white labourers attacked the camp and sent the chinese residents of Dupont st.

to New Westminster. The provincial government stepped in at this point and

sent special constables from Victoria to restore law and order.

The rioters were eventually brought to trial. The banished chinese

returned from New Westminster and the West End contract was completed.

Many of the labourers gravitated to the original Dupont st. settlement. It was

only the senior state interaction which allowed the chinese to settle peacefully in

a somewhat reluctant Vancouver. This history of chinese settlement in

Vancouver is extremely crucial to the understanding of the present situation as

it still plays in the psyche of these two groups in their daily interactions in the


New Immigrants

There has been a shift in chinese immigration over the past thirty years.

No longer are the majority of chinese immigrants poor, single-adult males from

rural farming communities in mainland China; today, the dominant chinese

immigrants are middle to upper-class, generally educated, urbanites from

Hong Kong.

Some of the changes which were talked about earlier in this paper made

to the Canadian immigration policy have encouraged more middle-class/

professional immigration in order to boost Canada’s skill profile and to help

generate employment. These changes have caused a shift in the orientation of

the immigrant population and capital flows into Canada.

Fig. 7

In particular, the countries of the pacific rim have risen in relative

importance as source regions for both international finance and migrants into

Canada. Fig. 7 shows the transition in the importance of certain countries as

sources of immigrants. The table shows all immigrants in Canada and

compares them to the most recent immigrants in the country. One can see from

this table that Pacific Rim nations, especially Hong Kong, have contributed the

most immigrants in recent years.

These new immigrants are not following the traditional pattern of chinese

settlement in Vancouver. No longer is Chinatown the destination of chinese

immigrants into Vancouver. Since the 1970s the new wave of immigrants has

been moving out of the central city, usually skipping it altogether and into the

suburbs. The fastest growing chinese communities throughout Canadian cities

are no longer found in downtown’s but rather on the fringes. In Vancouver, this

translates into a booming Chinese population in such suburbs as New

Westminster and Richmond. Richmond’s population, for example, is made up of

over one-third recent immigrants from Hong Kong.

The Business-Immigrant

As was shown in Fig. 4, Vancouver is the destination for the majority of the

business-class immigrants. Over 30% of all immigrants entering the country

under this category are destined for Vancouver, that is greater than any other

single city in Canada.

According to Roslyn Kunin, author of a government report on immigrant

investment, $3Billion was brought into Canada by business immigrants between

1986 and 1991. The majority of that money came from Asia. For those five years,

business immigrant financial investment amounted to 10% of all business sector


Impressive as those numbers are on their own, they are even higher for

British Columbia, where, in 1992, a full 25% of the $4Billion invested in the

province came from Hong Kong alone. Thanks to these new immigrants, the

province enjoyed a growth of 3.3% in 1992, far exceeding the 0.7% growth of the

rest of Canada. The Hong Kong Bank of Canada, after purchasing the Bank of

British Columbia and Lloyds Bank of Canada, has become the country’s largest

foreign bank with assets of $12.6Billion. Its most profitable branch: Vancouver


The Exodus

Why is it that their are so many recent immigrants from Hong Kong?

Fears of an uncertain future for the country after the reigns of power are given

over to the People’s Republic of China are the primary driving force. Many of

the affluent members of Hong Kong society fear that what they have worked for

may be taken away, they fear political, social and economic repression. The

calming voices coming out of Beijing have not convinced many Hong Kong

residents. China is not trusted. Also, the political and economic climate of the

territory have driven many people away. Emigration has long been a feature of

Hong Kong life and Canada has been, and continues to be, a favourite

destination for the disillusioned.

The Case of Toronto

Vancouver is not alone in the changes taking place within its city.

Toronto’s Chinese population is also decentralizing. No longer is its Chinese

population centered upon an area in the downtown core called Chinatown.

Canada’s largest Chinese community is now found in six centers throughout the

Toronto region. Three of these centers are within the city, while three are

without, but the growth is in the suburbs – Scarborough, Mississauga, North


The transition is from a central, condensed Chinatown area into more

sparsely populated North American style neighborhoods. Chinese have been

more slow to move to the suburbs than other ethnic groups, mainly due to the

extremely harsh racism which was outlined earlier. The Chinese, it is thought,

needed Chinatown to protect themselves, something which, arguably, is not

necessary any more.

Why Vancouver?

The change in structure of this new immigrant group as well as their

location amongst the community has caused many problems to surface.

Vancouver tends tobe one of the most popular destinations for new Hong Kong

immigrants, especially for the business-minded.

Why is Vancouver so popular? There are three core reasons for this

popularity 1)The provincial and civic governments have given clear signals to

the Hong Kong community that the city is open for business (i.e. the sale of expo

lands to Li Ka Shing). There has been a marked shift in view by policy makers in

the region away from the East where Europe and Central Canada lie, towards

the West, and the pacific rim nations. 2)Asian entrepreneurs are able to do

business in Vancouver around the clock. Vancouver is located in such a way as

to be in perfect position for Asian entrepreneurs, it is almost exactly halfway

between Tokyo and London. As a result businessmen can conduct business in

London in the morning, the west coast in the middle of the day, and Tokyo or

Hong Kong in the evening. 3)Asian businessmen also are begining to see how

they can take advantage of Nafta. By settling in Vancouver they are taking

advantage of the first two benefits and possibly using this third one. By

immigrating into Canada and ensuring that the Canadian content of the

business is 51% or greater the businessmen can take full advantage of Nafta


Social Strains

As Vancouver enjoys the economic benefits of record levels of immigration, the

city of 1.6 million finds itself straining to accomodate the needs of an

increasingly multicultural population. Citizens of longer standing, meanwhile,

are asking other questions: as the face of the city changes, whose values will

prevail, those of traditional Vancouver – or those of the newcomers?

Vancouver is a city which still evokes strong British heritage, the visibly

changing population might prompt an even deeper question, one that has

profound meaning for the entire country. As the numbers of Canadians of non-

European origin increases, who are “we” anyways?

In contrast to the immigrants of past decades, most of whom arrived in

their new home with little money and a willingness to take any work that was

offered, many of the most recent newcomers to the city, particularly the roughly

one-fifth who arrive from Hong Kong, have both wealth and high expectations.

As investors and consumers their growing presence has extremely visible


The new economic immigrants arrive in Vancouver flush with cash. They

are rich. At the Chinatown branch of the Hongkong Bank of Canada, half of the

20,000 clients have $3Million deposits. Ready to invest, they arrive in a city with

little industry to invest in. As a result they turn towards real estate. Over the

course of 1993 the real estate prices in Kerrisdale and Shaughnessy, two

communities popular with new chinese immigrants, rose over 40%. The

following figure shows examples of the “monster homes” built in Kerrisdale and

Shaughnessy on typical lots and compares them to examples of the more

traditional homes.

Fig. 8

In late 1992, Kerrisdale and Shaughnessy were neighborhoods at the

centre of a heated debate over the right of new purchasers to level existing

homes and replace them with much larger dwellings that residents believed to

be out of place. In a district where many long-standing homeowners are avid

gardeners, it did not help that many builders felled full-grown trees in order to

accomodate the larger scale homes, and replaced greenery with multiple

parking spaces. “There is suffering going on in the neighborhood. People are

emotionally exhausted,” says Johanna Albrecht, chairwoman of the West

Kerrisdale Residents’ Association tree committee about the greenery issue. At

the same time, the owners of the offending homes, many recently arrived

immigrants from Hong Kong, insisted that they had met existing zoning rules

and had a cleara right to do as they wished with their property.

After a series of emotional public hearings during early 1993, a

compromise was reached. In exchange for permission to build houses larger

than anywhere else in Vancouver, City Hall now insists that builders of new

homes take into account the style of the dwellings on either side. While city hall

thinks that this solution is working, many residents are not so positive.


To be honest with ourselves, we must begin by admitting that not

everyone rejoices in the “changing face” of our country. Nor is it the case that

Canada opens its arms equally and impartially to all corners of the earth, or

looks positively opun all of their cultural differences. Every Canadian nows that

such preferences exist; the task of a nation which is truly commtted to human

rights is to defy its own prejudices.

Discriminatory attitudes and acts are not necessarily aimed at the least

advantaged. 1995 was witness to several cases of vocal resentment directed

against relatively affluent Asian minorities in cities such as Toronto and

Vancouver. The cause of the disturbance is that some of these people have

moved into neighborhoods with different ethnic backgrounds. The increased

Asian visibility created a backlash, which in this case took the form of

suggestions that the community was too “concentrated” or “exclusive,” or

insufficiently “divers.” Perhaps what was most positive about these outbursts

was that when people began to calm down things usually led to a greater

dialogue and a determination by all sides to do better.

For instance, a story about “overly prominent” Chinese-Canadians in

Vancouver led to the publication of some advice in the city’s Ming Pao Daily

News suggesting that Canadians of Chinese origin might do more to avoid

raising intercultural resentments and to examine their own cultural and racial

prejudices. Perhaps this is good advice for all Canadians, especially in

Vancouver in Toronto.

One might ask whether the ideal of a color-blind and ethnically

harmonious society would not be better served by putting such differences to

the side rather than in-graining them through official hyphenization. If we are all

Canadians together, why do we continue to qualify our geographic identifiers

with words such as White, Black, French, Asian, German, Muslim, or




Albrecht, Johanna. Telephone Interview. 22 March 1996.

Chong, Abner. Telephone Interview. 23 March 1996.

Employment and Immigration Canada. Immigration Statistics 1991. Ottawa:

Ministry of Supply and Services, 1992.

Statistics Canada. Immigration and Citizenship. 1991 Census of Canada,

Catalogue No. 93-316.


Anderson, Kay J. “Community Formation in Official Context: Residential Segregation and the ?Chinese’ in Early Vancouver” Canadian Geographer

38, No. 3 (1994), 354-356.

Anderson, Kay J. “The Idea of Chinatown: The Power of Place and Institutional

Practice in the Making of a Racial Category” Annals of the Association of

American Geographers, 77(4), 1987, 580-598.

Ford, Ashley. “Canadian Land Boom Goes West” Far Eastern Economic Review Mar. 29, 1994, 44-45.

Fung, May. “Passport to a New Beginning” The Hong Kong Standard Feb. 4,

1996, Special Report.

Gold, Kerry. “Proposed Legislation Would Protect Most Trees” The Vancouver

Courier, Jan 10 1996, 2.

Gorrie, Peter. “Farewell to Chinatown” Canadian Geographic v. 111 (Aug/Sept,

1991), 16-28.

Hiebert, Daniel. “Canadian Immigration: Policy, Politics, Geography” Canadian

Geographer 38, No. 3 (1994) 254-258.

LeCorre, Phillippe. “Canada’s Hong Kong” Far Eastern Economic Review Feb.

10, 1994, 36-37.

Lee, Wei-Na and Tse, David K. “Becoming Canadian: Understanding How Hong

Kong Immigrants Change their Consumption” Pacific Affairs v. 67

(Spring, 1994), 70-95.

Majury, Niall. “Signs of the Times: Kerrisdale, a Neighborhood in Transition”

The Canadian Geographer 38, No. 3 (1994) 265-270.

McMartin, Peter. “Learning to Fit In” The Vancouver Sun Feb 10, 1996, D5.

Nash, Alan. “Some Recent Developments in Canadian Immigration Policy” Canadian Geographer 38, No. 3 (1994) 258-261.

The Economist v. 336 (Aug. 26, 1995), 40.

Todd, Douglas. “Immigration is About More than Money” The Vancouver SunJan. 20, 1996, D11.

Vibert, Dermot. “Asian Migration to Canada in Historical Context” Canadian

Geographer 38, No. 3 (1994), 352-354.

Wood, Chris. “Lessons of Vancouver” Maclean’s Feb 7, 1994, 26-31.

“Yacht People” The Economist v. 311 (Apr. 22, 1989), 42.

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