Three Calgary Chinatowns
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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