The head tax alone did not restrict Chinese immigration enough to satisfy the public outcry to "keep Canada white." Anti-Asian sentiment in Western Canada was fostered by publications like Vancouver's The Bisector in the 1920s (public domain).

The head tax did not restrict Chinese immigration enough to satisfy the public outcry to "keep Canada white." In 1923, legislators took the drastic action of passing the Chinese Immigration Act, modeled on the United States' historic Exclusion Act of 1882. The Canadian legislation had the desired effect; in the 24 years before it was repealed, only 12 Chinese, two of whom were from the exempted class of merchants or scholars, entered Canada.

Without prospect of bringing their families over, many men returned to China for good - exactly what whites hoped would happen. Exclusion cast a long shadow of discrimination over the Chinese here. All, including those born here, were required to register as "aliens" and were treated in many ways as if they were second-class citizens. Some school boards tried to segregate Chinese students. Few graduating Chinese were likely to find employers outside Chinatown willing to hire them.

Chinese Restriction

Among various municipal by-laws were restrictions on businesses that could be owned by non-Whites and a ban on Chinese cafés hiring Caucasian waitresses. During the Great Depression, when jobless Chinese were finally allowed to join the soup lines, their meal tickets were worth half those for White men. As the Depression deepened, the British Columbia government offered destitute Chinese one-way passage to China on condition that they not return.

The population of Chinese in Canada shrank steadily while exclusion was in effect. Because men's wives were in China and because there were fewer females here than males, birth rates remained low. The ratio of men to women would not come into balance until the 1950s, some years after exclusion was lifted.

Learn more: Exclusion Act