In 1942, three-year old Adrienne Clarkson, her seven-year old brother and their parents, William and Ethel Poy, left Hong Kong for Canada. The colony had fallen to the Japanese. When the United States had room on its list of a prisoner exchange with Japan, spots were offered to the Canadian Trade Commission. Adrienne's father, an employee at the Commission, applied and was accepted.
Under the auspices of the Red Cross, the Poys went to Montréal. Canadian immigration authorities there tried to turn them away, citing the Chinese Immigration Act. In the end, they were admitted under the act's provision of "special circumstances." The family settled in Ottawa.
In 2002, in a speech to a refugee committee in Red Deer, Alta, Clarkson recalled her family's beginnings in Canada: "We arrived with one suitcase apiece and nothing else. I was very fortunate that my family never thought of themselves as having lost anything of real value. We only lost material things… We didn't lose what we really believed in as human beings."
Clarkson observed that Canada, in her childhood, was not necessarily welcoming:"… (W)e still faced numerous uncertainties. One… was that Canada at that point didn't welcome or particularly want non-white immigrants or refugees who were not white." Canadian immigration laws were liberalized only gradually. "… (E)ven the definition of 'white' was a moving target and changed from one decade to the next. Italians were not considered 'white' at the beginning of the 20th century, nor Slavic peoples either," Clarkson went on to say.
In the late 1960s, Adrienne Clarkson became a household name in Canada when she was an on-air CBC television personality. In 1999, she became Canada's 26th Governor General.