East Asians of Canada - Economy

Chinese and Japanese laborers who came to British Columbia around 1907 were brought in mainly through contractual arrangements between emigration companies and Canadian importers of labor such as the Canadian Pacific Railway and the Wellington Colliery. Many of these men worked for the railroad, on farms, in the fishing industry, and in wood pulp mills. For the Chinese, White Canadians expected that they would return to China once their work on the railroad was completed. When most stayed in Canada and took low-level work at low wages, White resentment resulted and was Directed both at the Chinese and Japanese. A labor shortage during World War I dampened anti-Asian feelings, but they increased again after the war as a result of a depresssion and unemployment that became marked upon the return of soldiers.

The strong control of the fishing industry on the west coast by the Japanese at this time became a matter of concern for British Columbia politicians, and in 1919 they attempted to limit the number of fishing licenses issued to Japanese fishermen. As part of the attempt to restrict immigration, the provincial legislature asked the dominion government to amend the British North America Act so that provincial Governments would have the "power to make laws prohibiting Asiatics from acquiring proprietary interest in agricultural, timber and mining lands or in fishing or other industries, and from employment in these industries." Between 1923 and 1925, the Department of Marine and Fisheries took away close to one thousand fishing licenses from the Japanese, and they were prohibited even from using gasoline-powered fishing boats in order to give White fishermen a competitive advantage. Such economic harassment continued to plague the Japanese fishermen, and consequently, many went into farming.

Laws that denied Chinese and Japanese the right to a provincial vote prevented them from participating fully in several areas of professional employment because of a requirement that one must be on the voters' list. For example, to secure a logging license, one had to be twenty-one years of age and on the voters' list. These employment restrictions also applied to education, and it was not until the fall of 1945 that McGill University in Montreal accepted a nisei. This delayed access to education has had serious consequences for the nisei in terms of their occupational mobility. Chinese professionals, because of these restrictions, confined their business to the Chinese community. After release from the detention camps, some Japanese chose to remain in Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan where they became farmers. The Japanese who have arrived since World War II are more highly educated than both the prewar Japanese and Canadians in general and are found in relatively large numbers working in the professions, academia, and the arts. The Chinese today are still heavily involved in service industries (restaurants, laundries, garment-making), although recent Immigrants are less likely to enter these traditional occupations. The economic nature of the Chinatowns has been transformed in the last two decades from what were essentially residential enclaves that provided products and services to the Chinese community to major economic centers that provide products and services to Canadian society.

Many Koreans came to Canada to find economic independence, and many have succeeded. Unemployment is rare among Korean-Canadians and about 50 percent own their own home, a far greater percentage than in Korea. Many are university-educated and work as physicians, lawyers, and professors, while perhaps some 50 percent own small businesses such as food stores, gasoline stations, restaurants, and real estate agencies. In Toronto, for example, Koreans run about twelve hundred convenience stores. The success of these enterprises rests in part on the willingness of family members to staff the establishments so that they can remain open for long hours.

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