In this post, I share the story of one man’s fight to reunite with his sons. As material, I am using one Chinese Case file1 to show the breadth and depth that such a file contains. Future posts will complete the story, discuss more analysis, and provide tools on how you can look for case files for your family. If you’d like to start with the first part, see The startling details of a Chinese Case File – the story of Quon Hing, aka George Sing, pt. 1.
The saga begins
Round One (Sep 1938)
On 9 Sep 1938, George Sing, 53 and a naturalized Canadian, applied for permission to bring his son, Quon Yet Gee, to join him in Saskatchewan. His application contained letters from his banker and the town secretary attesting to his good character. In his own letter, George mentioned three sons [Quan Dong Set, Quan Yet Gee, and Quan Yip Get] and that his wife was fifty and living in Canton. He said that Gee could not finish his schooling and alluded to the war in China:
I beg to advise my son attended Tai Chung College [a high school] in Canton City [Guangzhou] but at present is not attending on account of the air raids. He will attend collegiate at North Battleford at first and then to some university. I do not know which yet. He has finished three years at the collegiate in China and has certificate for this… I have made no arrangements yet with any university as it will depend on which he wishes to attend.Letter from George Sing to the Immigration Officer-in-Charge at Regina, 9 Sep 1938
George was being circumspect. Canton was under siege by Japanese forces. The school had been closed because it was a target and safety trumps education in a war. He was so hopeful, thinking of his son’s future wishes.
It took only seventeen days for the Chief Controller of Chinese Immigration to make his decision. As this story will show, it is not a good sign when an immigration decision is made quickly. The letter denying Gee’s entry to Canada is enlightening. In it, he candidly explains – Chief Controller to Regional Controller – that he could admit the boy under a temporary permit, but then goes on to say, “… the office is constantly receiving applications for admission of wives and children and that to permit one exception would be to permit them all.” He says this as though he is unaware of any reason for the increase in applications. Then he suggests that temporary permits are being used to circumvent the process. (This is the process is to keep Chinese from immigrating to Canada.) Finally, he concludes with the real reason for his denial – George’s conviction.
I would draw your attention to the fact that George Sing is one and the same person as Quan Hing, whose case is dealt with on your File 1251 Ch.Chief Controller of Chinese Immigration to Regional Controller of Chinese Immigration, 26 Sep 1938.
Round one to immigration.
Round Two – the politicians (1938-39)
In Round two, George tries again to get his son Gee to Canada. It’s unknown if George had access to the above letter. George leverages his political connections. He asks his MLA (Member of the Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan) to intercede. The MLA contacts the MP (Member of Parliament in Ottawa). But to no avail. The Chief Controller says he is only able to follow the law and has “no discretionary power.” This is interesting given he just explained how he had discretionary power in the way of a temporary permit.
Apparently that was information not worth sharing with an MP.
Round two to immigration.
Round Three (1947-48)
Almost nine years pass. Then the Chinese Exclusion Act is repealed. George must have been waiting for his chance, because his next application is only two months later. This time he asks to bring his son Quan Yip Get, and to improve their chances, George retains the esteemed lawyer: John N. Conroy, King’s Counsel, of N. Battleford, SK. No longer is George fighting the Chinese Immigration Bureau at the Department of Immigration and Colonization. Post-repeal, the new authority is the Immigration Branch at the Department of Mines and Resources. But don’t be fooled. Just because there’s a new name on the door doesn’t mean the bout is easily won.
Combatants, to your corners.
It starts with the usual paperwork. George, via Conroy, sends the immigration application form (Immigration form 55(b) – Application for the Admission to Canada of Immigrants), then follows up with letters of good character, statements of net worth, proof of property and housing.
Over at the Department of Mines and Resources, letters fly from one department to another. Where’s the file? Who has George’s C.I.9s from 1908, 1919, and 1930? When was the marriage to wife Wong Shee? Are the children legitimate sons? Every detail is scrutinized. You can almost hear the pencils scratching. Here’s where the seven related file numbers proves the maxim that there is such a thing as being over-organized, never mind overdocumented: 39898 Ch, 66209, 842864, B. 44157, File 2391, Wpg File 2591-Ch., and YVR 39898. (This also shows that each physical immigration office kept separate files and filing systems.)
Who is Quan Dong Set?
And then the department found a new reason to be suspicious. What about that other son? Where’s his paperwork? Why didn’t George mention his son Quan Dong Set? And implied: What is George hiding? (Sharp-eyed readers will note that George mentioned an older son in his 1938 correspondence.) The department busied itself investigating this third son of the Quan family.
In early 1948, George was questioned by immigration about his son, Quan Dong Set. George said that Set, aka Sidney Quong, graduated McGill University, worked as an Allied war correspondent for the Central News Agency, witnessed the Japanese surrender on the USS Missouri, and was killed at Shanghai in 1946. George said that since Sidney was deceased, George didn’t realize it was relevant to mention him on an immigration application for the living.
Round three and a TKO to George Sing, assisted posthumously by son Sidney Quong.
Quan Yip Get is admitted to Canada
On 7 May 1948, the Canadian Government Trade Commissioner at Hong Kong received a package of documents approving Get’s immigration. Quon Yip Get travelled Hong Kong to San Francisco, arriving Thursday, July 22, 1948. He took the Great Northern train to White Rock, BC, Canada, arriving Saturday, August 7, 1948.
It took ten years for George to bring a son to Canada. But the Quan immigration story doesn’t end there.
Next week: The final chapter of the Quan’s immigration to Canada
Some tools of analysis
As a former executive legal assistant, it was my job to organize correspondence for legal files. This Case File brought back fond memories of those years – bringing order to chaos. In this series, I’ll talk about some of the tools I used in this analysis.
The who’s who in George’s ten year battle to bring family to Canada
A Case File package is a collection of documents, files, forms, letters, and memoranda. A letter is an official correspondence that communicated inquiries and responses. Letters were sometimes created in quadruplicate by carbon copy. Memos are internal communications with relevant information, not shared outside an organization. It’s important to understand who is writing and estimate their authoritative reach. This Chinese case sub-file occurs 1938-48, and is governed by the Chinese Immigration Act, 1923 until its repeal on 14 May 1947. Think of this case as being “before repeal” and “post-repeal.” In the Before Repeal period, the Chinese Immigration Branch operated under the Department of Immigration and Colonization. When George first applies for Gee to come to Canada, the hierarchy looked something like this.
In the Post-Repeal period, the Chinese Immigration Branch appeared to shift to general immigration in the Department of Mines and Resources. When George made his third application for Get, the hierarchy looked something like this.
Here is a list of every person involved in this sub-case file.
|Organization||Title / Description||Location|
|George Sing||acting for himself||Corderre, SK|
|J.N. Conroy, Q.C.||Legal Counsel, acting for George Sing / Quon Hing||N. Battleford, SK|
|Bank of Montreal||Manager||N. Battleford, SK|
|Imperial Bank of Commerce||Manager|
|Village of Corderre||Secretary-Treasurer||Village of Corderre, SK|
|House of Commons||The Hon. Dr. T.F. Connelly, Member of Parliament of Canada||Ottawa, ON|
|Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan||The Hon. E.M. Culliton, Member of the Legislative Assembly||Regina, SK|
|Before 1947 – the Department of Immigration and Colonization|
|Chinese Immigration||Chief Controller||Ottawa, ON|
|[Regional] Controller C.E.S. Smith||Winnipeg, MN|
|Immigration Inspector-in-Charge||Regina, SK|
|After 1947 – the Department of Mines and Resources|
|Department of Mines and Resources, Immigration Branch||Deputy Minister||Ottawa, ON|
|Director F.C. Blair3||Ottawa, ON|
|District Superintendent of Immigration, R.N. Munroe||Western District, Winnipeg, MN|
|District Superintendent of Immigration, F.W. Taylor||Pacific District, Vancouver, BC|
|Acting District Superintendent, D.N. McDonnell||Pacific District, Vancouver, BC|
|Immigration Inspector, L.G. Kyle||Saskatoon, SK|
|Trade Commission of Canada||Superintendent of Canadian Immigration, K.F. Noble and H.T. Peters||Hong Kong, China|
Timeline and World Events (1938-48)
In genealogy, the key to understanding the story is when the events happened and the historical context. There are twenty-two letters between George and the bureaucrats between 1938-1948. Below is a timeline of the dates. (Three letters were written on the same day.) In that decade, many momentous events occurred but the three I want to highlight are the Second World War, the Second Sino-Japanese War, and the repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act.
This story bookends the Second World War, meaning there wasn’t a time when the war wasn’t a factor. Everything gets more critical, emotional, and difficult in wartime. In addition, there was another war that is largely unknown by Canadians: the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-45).2 Japan’s military losses were between 455K-700K. China’s losses were exponentially greater: almost twenty million dead. At the risk of oversimplification, it was hazardous to be in China during this period. When George was requesting to bring his son Gee to safety in Saskatchewan, the Japanese were marching on Wuhan, the capital of Hubei Province. A month after George’s first letter, the Japanese took Guangzhou [Canton], the capital of Guangdong Province. This is where Gee was attending Tai Chung College before its closure due to bombings. It is not known what happened to Gee after his request to emigrate was denied.
Thirdly, the harshest iteration of the Chinese Immigration Act, aka The Chinese Exclusion Act, was repealed on 14 May 1947. Theoretically, Chinese people were free to reunite their families, but Canada kept a law in place – Order in Council Privy Council 2115 – which continued to prevent immigration. This story illustrates how one man successfully navigated the post-repeal Chinese immigration process. For more, see Order-in-Council PC 2115: When immigration met the X-ray machine.
When I reflect on this story about George Sing’s ten year battle to bring his sons Gee and Get to Saskatchewan set against the backdrop of the Second Sino-Japanese War where twenty million Chinese died, I’m reminded of another sorry tale in Canadian immigration history. A high-level immigration official, when asked how many Jews should be admitted to Canada during the Second World War, said, “None is too many.”4 This xenophobic quote has been ascribed to Prime Minister William Lyon MacKenzie King and Immigration Director Frederick Blair and is probably neither but shows the attitude at the highest levels of government. Canadian Immigration, helmed by Blair, was deaf to the pleas of Canadians desperate to shelter their relatives living under the threat of war and too many died as a result of his “careful control” of Canada’s borders.5
1Canada, Department of Citizenship and Immigration, Immigration Branch, Ottawa, Ontario, Chinese case files, File #CH-I-6082 for Quon Hing, RG 76, accession no. 1984-85/041 GAD, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, ON, Access to Information Request file no. [redacted], filed 3 Oct 2020, received 1 Aug 2023, 86 PDF pages.
2Editors, Encyclopaedia Britannica, “Second Sino-Japanese War – Summary, Combatants, Facts, & Map – Britannica,” Encyclopedia, Encyclopedia Britannica, August 8, 2023, https://www.britannica.com/event/Second-Sino-Japanese-War.
3“Frederick Blair,” in Wikipedia, May 31, 2023, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Frederick_Blair&oldid=1157807622. From Wikipedia: “Blair developed and rigorously enforced strict immigration policies based on race and is most remembered for his successful effort to keep Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany out of Canada during the 1930s and the war years that followed.”
4Taylor C. Noakes, “None Is Too Many,” encyclopedia, Canadian Encyclopedia, July 21, 2022, https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/none-is-too-many.
5Jeremy Maron, “Canada, Antisemitism and the Holocaust,” Canadian Museum of Human Rights, Stories, blog, November 5, 2021, https://humanrights.ca/story/canada-antisemitism-and-holocaust; Abella, Irving and Troper, Harold. “The line must be drawn somewhere’: Canada and Jewish Refugees, 1933-1939”. A Nation of Immigrants: Women, Workers, and Communities in Canadian History, 1840s-1960s, edited by Franca Iacovetta, Paula Draper and Robert Ventresca, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998, pp. 412-446. https://doi.org/10.3138/9781442687271-026
Thank you this week goes out to Carol F. Lee for her scholarship and generosity in sharing her thoughts with me.