Kurtis Leung-Ho

Chinese Canadian Head Tax Story

I would like to speak out on behalf of my grandfather Henry Foo Leung who came into Canada from China back in 1907 at the age of 23 looking for a better life. To me, anyone coming into a country, whether risking everything they have back home, leaving behind loved ones, and not speaking the language of a foreign country you are entering, is an act of extraordinary bravery to say the least.

Henry Foo Leung was born on April 2, 1884 in Nor Lang Village in Toishan, Kwangtung, China. He came to Canada first in 1907 and then it was not until 1920 that he had his first wife come over from China. Of course, she too had to pay the Chinese Head Tax of $500.00.

My grandfather and his first wife settled in Trois-Rivières, Québec in the 1920’s. They had 6 children who were born in Trois-Rivières and one I believe was born in China but was left behind in the care of someone else in China. We don’t know for what reason she was left behind only that she was. Out of the six children born in Trois-Rivières one was apparently “given up to the convent” because they simply could not afford to raise them all. When the children were in their teen years, my grandfather’s wife passed away. My grandfather was left alone to raise and care for all his kids. How difficult that must have been for him.

While in Trois-Rivières my grandfather had opened a restaurant, a laundrymat, and later on another restaurant with his second son. He was a true family man and extremely hardworking throughout his entire life.

As the years went by and the children all grown up and married, my grandfather at the age of 69 decided to take on another wife, her name was Wai Foon Louie, better known as my grandmother. She was much younger than my grandfather, 31 years to be exact. They met through someone my grandfather knew of in Hong Kong. My grandfather made the trip to Hong Kong to meet his future wife and at the same time to find a wife for his eldest son. My grandfather aged 69 and my grandmother aged 38 married in Hong Kong on June 20, 1953.

Apart from having seven children of his own with his first wife, my grandfather had two more children with his second wife, one being my mother Marie, and her brother, my uncle Phillip. My mother Marie is the youngest born, the baby of the family. It’s always funny to hear my mom tell the story about her father fathering a child at the age of 70. People would ask her father when he would take her for a walk when she was three years old, “is that your granddaughter?” and my grandfather would say, “no, that’s my daughter.” We’re not sure if he was proud of it or embarrassed by it.

In 1962 my grandfather and grandmother moved to Montreal with Marie and Phillip. Being Chinese and Trois-Rivières being a small city with virtually no Chinese produce, moving to a bigger city was the right decision as well as better opportunities for schooling and jobs. While living in Trois-Rivières for most of his life, my grandfather use to come to Montreal a few times a month to buy all his Chinese produce and bring them home to Trois-Rivières. When my grandfather decided to move to Montreal most of his children also left Trois-Rivières with their families and settled in Montreal and Toronto.

On January 23, 1967 my grandfather Henry Foo Leung passed away of natural causes two months shy of his 83rd birthday. He died at the Montreal Chinese Hospital which was located on St. Denis Street at the time. My grandmother Wai Foon Louie (Leung) was a widow for the next 40 years. She passed away on July 7, 2007 at the age of 91 at St. Luc Hospital in Montreal.

My grandfather like many thousands of Chinese hoping to seek and build a better life in what every Chinese refers to this country as a land of opportunity, a country they call “Gold Mountain”.

The imposed Head Tax on the Chinese immigrants which began in the amount of $50.00 in 1885 and increasing to $500.00 by 1903 is a downright shameful act of racism and discrimination by the government of Canada at that time. This Head Tax was not forced onto any other race/nationality except solely for the Chinese before entering Canada. It was the government’s way of discouraging anyone of the Chinese origin from entering Canada. This country no doubt flourished and became a richer country at the expense of the Chinese Head Tax payers which amounted in the many millions after the abolishment in 1923.

I can only imagine what it was like to be Chinese at the time. Not only did they endure hardships back home but have yet to face the hardships of loneliness of not fitting in a totally white society. I would have liked very much to know how my grandfather felt knowing that the Head Tax was merely imposed on the Chinese people. I suppose many Chinese did not argue the fact but to pay it if they wanted to make Canada their permanent home.

My only regret and it saddens me that my grandfather never lived to see the apology. It took almost 120 years later before the Head Tax payers and surviving spouses received an apology and redress from the Canadian government. Had it not been the relentless and continuous and tireless hard work of the Chinese Canadian National Council and everyone involved, this redress would never have seen the light of day.

Let this be a lesson we can all learn from for future generations never again to be repeated. While these actions paved a better life for the Chinese people, there remain still a lot of work to be done towards the fight against racism and discrimination in this country.

I am most proud and most thankful to the person or persons who initially began this pursuit in the fight for justice and achieving their goal in obtaining this apology and redress from the Canadian government for the sake of the Head Tax payers and their families.

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