Three Calgary Chinatowns

Chinese gathering at Calgary, Alberta | Photographer Unknown | 1905 | Glenbow Archives, NA-2622-31

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Chinese immigrants were attracted to Western Canada to work on the construction of the CPR in the early 1880s. They faced racist government policies and discrimination. In 1885, a discriminatory $50 head tax was enacted by the federal government. The tax, which doubled in 1902 and increased tenfold in 1903, was in place until 1923 when it was replaced by the Chinese Immigration Act, or the Chinese Exclusion Act. From 1923 until its repeal in 1947, immigration from China was severely restricted.

Despite this, by 1885, Calgary’s first Chinatown was emerging. Chinese residents were concentrated along 8 Avenue between 2 and 4 Street SE. There were residences, laundries, restaurants, a grocer, and a tailor.

Calgary’s Chinatown Locations

 

In 1892, one of the worst instances of anti-Chinese hostility in Alberta occurred in the first Chinatown, the 1892 Smallpox Riot. One Chinese resident had contracted smallpox in Vancouver. Upon his return to Calgary, he fell ill and nine Calgarians were infected. Fearing the spread of the disease, a mob of 300 men attacked a Chinese laundry, vandalizing property and injuring two men. The North West Mounted Police stepped in and offered the barracks as refuge for the targeted Chinese men. For three weeks, they sheltered there.

North-West Mounted Police Barracks, Calgary, AB | Photo by O.B. Buell | c. 1886 | Glenbow Archives NA-2856-7

 

The second Chinatown developed on 10 Avenue between 1 and 4 Street SW, centred on the Chinese Mission at 215 10 Avenue SW. Due to the restrictions on immigration, the majority of Chinese people living in Calgary were men who came for work. In 1910, of a population of nearly 500, only three of them were women. Many Chinese men in Calgary simply could not afford to bring their wives and families over to Canada with them.

How about a Chinatown? | Calgary Daily Herald, July 2, 1910

In 1910, property values in the area increased due to new developments and many of the Chinese tenants were expelled, forcing them to move to the third, and current, location of Chinatown.

Want to learn more about Chinatown? Watch Secret Calgary: Chinatown or learn about Tomorrow’s Chinatown, Calgary’s cultural plan for Chinatown.

Do you have any stories that you think Calgarians should know about?

Tell your side of the story at Lougheed House Civil Space – Lougheed House Re-Imagined.

Because our story is best told together.

4 Comments

  1. 馬鳳齡 Fung Ling Feimo on November 4, 2020 at 11:24 am
    • BlogAdmin on November 6, 2020 at 10:48 am

      Thank you Fung Ling! This is an excellent resource for anyone who wants to learn more.

  2. Tamara Lee on November 4, 2020 at 11:14 am

    Thank you for this blogpost! Many Calgarians do not know the history of the Chinese in this city goes back a long way. Our story IS best told together. Personal note: I am Calgarian, born and bred, and have Chinese / Asian heritage. My mother’s family was based in Taber, Alberta in the early 1900s and we have had five generations in Alberta, and now three generations in Calgary. My father had a photography studio in 1950 on 8th Av, right where the Famous Five stand now–ironic since he volunteered for the Canadian Armed Forces in World War II to fight for his enfranchisement as a Canadian-born Asian, originally from Toronto.

    • BlogAdmin on November 6, 2020 at 10:34 am

      Thank you for sharing Tamara! It’s wonderful to hear your family’s story. And oddly enough, our next blog post is about Nellie McClurg and the Famous Five. Your father’s story highlights some of the inequities within the suffrage movement. It was a long road for many people to earn the right to vote in Canada.

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