The Second Chinese Arch on Cormorant Street erected for the visit of the Earl of Dufferin

The Second Chinese Arch on Cormorant Street erected for the visit of the Earl of Dufferin

Chinese made big contribution to pioneer B.C.

The pioneer merchants helped write a significantly transformative chapter in trans-Pacific and Chinese Canadian history

  • Feb. 6, 2015 3:00 p.m.

Dr. Tzu-I Chung / Royal B.C. Museum

In the spring of 1858, news of gold in the Fraser Canyon transformed Fort Victoria from a quiet fur trade outpost of the Hudson’s Bay Company into a booming town.

Hop Kee & Co. of San Francisco played an instrumental role in the first wave of Chinese to Victoria.

On June 24, 1858, it commissioned Allan Lowe & Co. to ship 300 Chinese men and 50 tons of merchandise to Victoria at the cost of $3,500. Most men departed for the gold fields soon after arriving.

Throughout the summer of 1858 and 1859 Chinese continued to arrive from the United States; by 1859 clipper ships were bringing hundreds of Chinese immigrants directly from Hong Kong.

Initially, unlike Californians, British Columbians were tolerant of the Chinese. Few Caucasians perceived the Chinese as a threat to their wellbeing; some regarded them as useful or valuable members of the communities who shared the goal of making money, often providing useful services such as restaurants, laundries, and fresh vegetables and whose presence might lead to the growth of a profitable trans-Pacific trade.

When Victoria was incorporated as a city in 1862, 300 people, about six percent of the city’s population, were Chinese.

Since 1858, Victoria had served as the major port between Canada and Asia and had the second largest Chinese population in North America. After the Canadian Pacific Railway was completed in 1885, Vancouver was established as its western terminus, and economic activities gradually shifted to Vancouver.

A few Chinese, however, benefitted from the booming trans-Pacific trade and Victoria’s Chinatown also prospered, along with a network of subsidiaries and agencies in all the gold rush towns of B.C.

The trans-Pacific network enabled Chinese to contribute much to the building of British Columbia. In the 1860s and 1870s, besides mining, Chinese men also worked on many public projects such as erecting telegraph poles, constructing the 607-kilometre Cariboo Wagon Road, building trails, digging canals, and reclaiming wastelands.

Lee Chong, manager of Kwong Lee & Co., was one of the very few Chinese immigrants who was wealthy enough to have his family join him. On Feb. 29, 1860, his wife and two children arrived in Victoria; Mrs. Lee Chong became the first Chinese woman to settle in Victoria.

Lee Chong also represented the Chinese community before the government. On  March 7, 1860, Lee Chong and two other Chinese merchants went to see Governor James Douglas after hearing a suggestion to impose a poll tax on Chinese immigrants. When Governor Arthur Kennedy arrived in Victoria in April 1864, Lee Chong, Tong Kee and Chang Tsoo called on him to express concern about the unfair treatment of the Chinese and the government’s plan to modify the colony’s free trade policy.

In the late 19th century, one of the main complaints against the Chinese presence was the perception that they were sojourners who contributed little to the local economy before moving on to another gold field or back to China. Yet, as the example of Lee Chong shows, for some the gold rush migration pattern of the Chinese paralleled that of Europeans’ settler communities along the Pacific Rim.

The pioneer merchants helped write a significantly transformative chapter in trans-Pacific and Chinese Canadian history and demonstrated that not all Chinese were labourers or sojourners. Many of these early migrants contributed to the building of British Columbia.

Gold Rush: El Dorado in B.C. opens at the Royal B.C. Museum on May 13.

•••

Dr. Tzu-I Chung is a curator of history at the Royal B.C. Museum, specializing in the multicultural and intercultural history of B.C.

 

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Colwood resident Maria Curcic shows off a one-of-a-kind hat that she created. Curcic is one of several artists that took part in the annual Stinking Fish Studio Tour. (Contributed - Maria Curcic)
Curtain closes on Stinking Fish Studio Tour

The Stinking Fish Studio Tour will live on through the lasting legacy… Continue reading

(Black Press Media file photo)
Oak Bay looks to shift car culture with speed limit pilot

Council supports Saanich’s shift to seek 30 km/h limit on side roads

Saanich is calling for public input on the three design options for the youth bike skills park planned for the lot next to the George Tripp BC Hydro Substation off Lochside Drive. (Black Press Media file photo)
Saanich seeks input on designs for new bike park

Three concept plans to choose from feature pump tracks, jumps, trails

A case of COVID-19 has been confirmed at David Cameron Elementary School. People may have been exposed on April 14 to 16. (Black Press Media file photo)
COVID-19 exposure confirmed at Colwood elementary school

Exposure at Esquimalt’s Ecole Victor-Brodeur also confirmed

New figures show Canadian housing prices outpacing those in other developed countries. (Black Press Media file photo)
Canadian housing prices fastest rising in the world

Relative to 2000, housing prices have risen by a factor of more than 2.5

In this image from NASA, NASA’s experimental Mars helicopter Ingenuity lands on the surface of Mars Monday, April 19, 2021. The little 4-pound helicopter rose from the dusty red surface into the thin Martian air Monday, achieving the first powered, controlled flight on another planet. (NASA via AP)
VIDEO: NASA’s Mars helicopter takes flight, 1st for another planet

The $85 million helicopter demo was considered high risk, yet high reward

Orca 1
Orcas: Our Shared Future finally surfaces at Royal B.C. Museum

Museum dives into the world of the killer whale as delayed feature exhibition now open

Polystyrene has been outlawed as a take-out option for restaurants in Tofino and Ucluelet. (Black Press Media file photo)
Styrofoam done as a takeout option on Island’s Pacific Rim

Tofino and Ucluelet ban polystyrene take-out containers

The IIO is investigating after a police dog bit a man during a traffic stop near Ladysmith on April 17, 2021. (Black Press Media stock photo)
IIO investigating after police dog bites man near Ladysmith

RCMP dog bit man during traffic stop on Friday, April 17

Joudelie King wants to get out and live life to the fullest, but there are places she can’t go because they don’t meet her accessibility needs. (submitted photo)
New online tool provides accessibility map for people with disabilities

The myCommunity BC map provides accessibility info for nearly 1,000 locations in the province

British Columbia’s provincial flag flies in Ottawa, Friday July 3, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Wildfire fanned by winds near Merritt prompts evacuation alert

BC Wildfire Service says the suspected human-caused blaze was fanned by winds

The Rogers logo is photographed in Toronto on Monday, September 30, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tijana Martin
Rogers investigating after wireless customers complain of widespread outage

According to Down Detector, problems are being reported in most major Canadian cities

Flow Academy is located at 1511 Sutherland Avenue in Kelowna. (Michael Rodriguez - Capital News)
National fitness group condemns unlicensed Kelowna gym’s anti-vaccine policy

The Fitness Industry Council of Canada says Flow Academy is shining a negative light on the industry

People are shown at a COVID-19 vaccination site in Montreal, Sunday, April 18, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Nothing stopping provinces from offering AstraZeneca vaccine to all adults: Hajdu

Health Canada has licensed the AstraZeneca shot for use in people over the age of 18

Most Read