Canadian Genealogy

When Canada excluded us: remembering 1 Jul 1923

It’s a good time to talk about all the Asian history events being planned this year: 2023. If you’re wondering why so many, it’s this. It’s been one hundred years since Canada pointed its finger at one group of settlers to the country and said, nope, not you. It was the hammer of the 1923 act – what we call The Exclusion Act – that made what was already pretty hard next to impossible.

The Chinese Exclusion Act…

… closed the door to almost all immigrants of one group based on race.

… split husbands from their families, sometimes forever.

… controlled all Chinese persons in the country.

… took the concept of birthright and tossed it out the window.

… formed the basis for a whole basketful of discriminatory laws and practices for decades. Rights? Ha.

If you’d like to read more, see 97 years of history in 6 minutes, The Chinese Detention Shed, Vancouver, and Do you have a Chinese Immigration certificate?

I don’t say all of this lightly. I wish it wasn’t so dreadful. But we are Canadians. We know how to face hard things.

The National Remembrance of the 100th Anniversary

On 16 Mar 2023, Senator Victor Oh (Ontario), Senator Pau Woo (British Columbia) and the Action! Chinese Canadians Together (A!CCT) Foundation together announced a slate of events remembering the anniversary of the Exclusion Act. See the announcement at CPAC here.

On June 23rd, from 3-5 pm Eastern, join the Senate in the National Remembrance of the 100th Anniversary of the Enactment of the Chinese Exclusion Act in Canada. Register for the virtual viewing party here.

See what’s on in 2023

To help spread the word, the Senate has created a website of events: the Sign up to get notice of events and / or register your event. Let’s make this a year to remember. I wish my father and uncle could see this. I think they’d be proud to see their struggles honoured this way – not a single speech, not with a single day, but a year’s worth of events from bottom to top. There are archivists, authors, curators, historians, organizations, societies, speakers and parties all lined up. The aim is to connect this whole wide country, coast^3, together in recognizing the rights and freedoms given to us by our forebears.

Because you can’t appreciate a thing until you understand it.

About the cover – W.A. Cumyow

WA Cumyow
Yucho Chow Studio. “[Portrait of Won Alexander Cumyow].” P. Chung Photographs. Last modified 1910. Accessed May 5, 2023.

Won Alexander Cumyow (1861-1955) fought for civil rights. When all Chinese were disenfranchised, Cumyow fought to be included on the voters lists (and succeeded, at least initially). Trained as a lawyer yet unable to take the Bar, Cumyow leveraged his skills to advocate on behalf of his community. It is probable he did three hard years in prison because he was causing too much of a fuss.

When the Dominion Elections Act was revised to include Chinese, a whole slate of other exclusions disappeared. It’s not “only” about voting. It’s not “only” about immigration. It’s everything. Rights are not given. They are the rewards of hard-fought battles. Our rights rest on the shoulders of others.

This is the story of one man’s fight. This year I want to learn more stories.

Thank yous

Thank you to my father, Pte. Cecil Wing See Yip; to my uncle Lt-Cpl. Dake Wing Yip; to the men and women of ANAVETS Unit 280 and to the members of Force 136; and to my community, wherever you may be. A special thanks to Senators Woo and Oh and the A!CCT Foundation for your spearheading work at the Senate. Bring it, 2023!

3 thoughts on “When Canada excluded us: remembering 1 Jul 1923

  1. When I first learned of this shameful chapter in Canadian history, I was horrified. Yet another historical event ignored in our school curriculum. I’m glad the A!CCT Foundation is officially marking the anniversary of the event and bringing it to people’s attention.

    1. Me too, Teresa. Horrified. The general awfulness is so outside my comprehension I can’t process it all sometimes.

      You know, I am wondering if there’s a reason why this history hasn’t historically been part of the school curricula. This week I was giving a talk including the legal framework surrounding Chinese in Canada. I drew attention to the link between voting rights, the BC Public Schools Amendment Act, 1884; and the BC Public Schools Act, 1885, 1891, and 1897. If you couldn’t vote, you couldn’t work with the school boards (e.g., teacher, trustee, employee). And if you were barred from the schools in any capacity, good luck influencing the curricula.

      That might be a reason for the historic ignorance.

      However, there is a groundswell of change with education now. Today’s students get a fuller look at history and I feel sorry for the teachers who have to manage it.


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