Despite such high numbers of immigrants crossing the border, the government is quick to acknowledge what it terms as an “enormous economic and cultural contribution” to Canadian immigration. In a recent interview with China’s Xinhua (the official press agency of the PRC), Canada’s Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Jason Kenny made the following comments:
“China is one of the our top two source countries for immigration to Canada, I think it's No.1 source country for permanent residents moving to Canada...Obviously, Chinese immigrants to Canada have made enormous contribution, it is impossible for us to quantify the economic and cultural contribution of Chinese Canadians,"
Chinese immigrants were instrumental in the building of the Canadian Pacific railway, uniting the east and west in the 1860s. Chinese communities have also existed on the Canadian mainland for over 150 years.
Yet despite this relatively recent influx for Canadian immigration, the path for China’s immigrants has not always been smooth. Emigrating from China was once considered a capital crime, with those who dared to leave the great nation considered enemies of the imperial court. In 1788, British explorer John Meares landed on Vancouver Island with 70 Chinese carpenters aboard. Their arrival marked the first occasion a Chinese national set foot on Canadian soil.
Canadian immigration began in earnest during the mid 19th century, when population growth began to outweigh agricultural productivity, forcing the Chinese government to establish emigration treaties with Western powers. This event saw the beginning of many years’ of cheap labour in often bitter conditions – culminating with the exclusion of Chinese immigration for 24 years from 1923, as the country experienced post-war recession.
WWII saw the turning point for Chinese immigration to Canada, as the nations became allies and the Chinese Exclusion Act was abolished following the advent of the UN charter of human rights. In 1947, Chinese Canadians regained the right to vote in federal elections. Further changes to Canadian immigration law in 1978 and 1985 saw an influx of wealthy entrepreneurs from China, in exchange for investment in Canada’s business sector. By 1990, as many as half of all business-category immigrants to Canada had come from Hong Kong or Taiwan.
Yet even during the harshest of times, the immigrant population displayed a distinct work ethic and entrepreneurial spirit, establishing thriving businesses that have been handed down through the generations. In 1999, Vivienne Poy became the first Chinese-Canadian to be appointed to the Senate.
During her inaugural speech, she highlighted the valuable contribution of Chinese immigrants during years of oppression: “Many prairie farming families owed their lives to the credits given to them by Chinese store owners in their purchase of daily necessities during those difficult years.”
As Canada’s economy continues to flourish, it’s debt to the Chinese Canadian population has become clear. As generations of middle-class Chinese Canadian immigrant families have since spread throughout the land, their contribution to Canada’s economic infrastructure has become a truly valued commodity, as Jason Kenny adds:
"But particularly, I think one of the gifts that Chinese immigrants bring to Canada is the great work ethic, good business sense, and the sense they are willing to take risks, they are willing to save up, they are willing to invest, they are willing to hire people and start small businesses."
"Most of our economic growth now is because of small- and medium-sized businesses. And in my view, that's where many Chinese immigrants excel, because they are very good business people and work very hard."