The Chinese Head Tax

by Charity Brugger

This monument, located at the Brandon Municipal Cemetery, was created by Peter Sawatzky and unveiled on 26 June 2011. It commemorates Chinese immigrants’ experiences on the prairies.

The Chinese Head Tax monument at the Brandon Municipal Cemetery, n.d; Photograph by Charity Brugger

Chinese immigrants came to Canada to help build the Canadian Pacific Railway. Soon after the CPR was completed, federal authorities passed the Chinese Exclusion Act. A “head tax” of $50 applied to all Chinese people wishing to migrate to Canada.

Lee Don’s Head Tax Certificate, 1918. He arrived in Canada at the age of 22 years old; Courtesy of the Vancouver Public Library (VPL 30625).

Despite heavy discrimination, Chinese people persevered and thrived. Many opened businesses, including restaurants and laundries.

Some Chinese-owned businesses can be seen in this listing for Brandon, Manitoba; Courtesy of Daly House Museum.

Many Chinese immigrants were male bachelors who lived without their families until they made enough money to pay the head tax. Some, however, were never able to do so. The bachelor societies they established helped to sustain them in the face of hardships the Chinese Head Tax and other forces of discrimination imposed.

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