Chinese urban communities in Southern Alberta, 1885-1925

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The Chinese came to Canada in a chain migration process, the majority being from Toishan district in Kwangtung province. The great majority of Chinese immigrants were males, and for many years the Chinese in Southern Alberta, as elsewhere, constituted a bachelor society. Chinese residents regarded themselves as solely sojourning members of Western society and their strongest ties were to their homeland villages, their families in China, and to Chinese society in general. The first Chinese arrived in Southern Alberta in 1886, or perhaps in 1885. They settled in larger centres such as Calgary, Medicine Hat and Lethbridge. The first Chinese to arrive in the Alberta territory opened laundries, which were an essential service in frontier communities. As local populations increased, more Chinese arrived and many established restaurants and grocery stores, in addition to more laundries. Chinese urban communities were culturally-exclusive entities marked by a high degree of interdependence in social, economic, cultural and political matters. This state of socio-cultural exclusiveness was essentially a result of the sojourning nature of Chinese migration and settlement. Many social and cultural aspects of Imperial China were transplanted to Southern Alberta. Traditional Chinese customs and festivals were retained in the new homeland and Chinese was the language which prevailed in social dialogue. Even traditional 'vices', gambling and drug abuse, had some currency. In urban centres of Southern Alberta, the Chinese established compact, ethnic enclaves, or Chinatowns, to better serve their wants and needs. In establishing overseas, urban communities, the Chinese relied heavily on traditional social institutions which proved to be adaptable to the North American environment. Each type of social institution performed significant socio-economic services and had its own special place in Chinese organizational life. The rich, organizational basis of Chinese urban communities further internalized Chinese community life. Chinese social institutions were complemented by the existence of voluntary, Chinese fraternal associations which were founded for political reasons. These associations were concerned with the political destiny of China and were not involved in Canadian political matters. Differing beliefs and programs of the Freemasons and the Nationalists led to a state of serious factionalism in Chinese communities which also strengthened Chinese isolation from the mainstream of Canadian society o Chinese residents in Southern Alberta were subjected to Anglo-Canadian prejudice and discrimination, particularly in Calgary and Lethbridge. In 1892, a Calgary mob attempted to chase all the Chinese out of the town. Civic authorities made no attempts to curtail or halt the mob violence. In Lethbridge in 1907, a mob wrecked Chinese businesses and sought to evict the Chinese from the city o Prompt civic action ended the affair. Hostility towards Southern Alberta's Chinese was a reflection of the so-called 'Anti-Chinese Movement', which subsided in significance around 1910. From 1910 to 1925 the Chinese continued to be derided in Southern Alberta's newspapers. Chinese labour was attacked verbally on occasion by labour organizations and few citizens publicly defended Chinese causes. For a time, Calgary's police force harassed Chinatown residents, and attempts were made in Calgary and Lethbridge to segregate the Chinese. Negative stereotypes and fears of a supposed Oriental 'menace' had currency in Southern Alberta. Anglo-Canadian prejudice and discrimination strengthened Chinese sociocultural exclusiveness.
Bibliography: p. 158-162.
Dawson, J. B. (1976). Chinese urban communities in Southern Alberta, 1885-1925 (Master's thesis, University of Calgary, Calgary, Canada). Retrieved from doi:10.11575/PRISM/17883