Sahali Lee Tsang


My name is Sahali Lee Tsang. I was born and live in Vancouver, BC Canada. I am twelve years old and was born in the year of the Dragon, the year 2000.
I found out about the head tax because I did research about the Chinese Canadian railway workers for school. But in 1881, there were not enough white people to work on the railway, so the government made an exception and let Chinese workers come to Canada to help build the railway. They only wanted to add the railway going through B.C. so it could be part of Canada – confederation. The Canadian government promised BC they would build the railway from the other part of Canada to BC. The Chinese worked on one of the hardest parts of the railway. It was through the Rocky Mountains and along the Thompson River. But they didn’t get lots of thanks for their work. Instead, the Canadian government made Chinese people pay the head tax to come/bring their families over to Canada after the railway was finished. The government tried to stop most Chinese from going into Canada. No other people had to pay the head tax, except for the Chinese. This was in 1885, one hundred and fifteen years before I was born.

Before the railway was built, many Chinese came to Canada because they heard of the gold in Barkerville. I went to this place called Barkerville – it is a gold rush town in northern BC. I found out a lot more than I thought I would. There are a lot of actors in Barkerville that play important roles. One actor plays the role of my great great grandfather, Mr. Tsang Quan and my great great grandmother, Mrs. Tsang Ho-Shee. This place called Barkerville is a town where a guy named Billy Barker found gold in 1858. After that, many people came to look for gold, some of them found gold, but others found none and left very poor. There was lots of gold there, and it was in the traditional territory of the Nazko First Nations people. I don’t think many First Nations got rich from the gold though I don’t think many even looked for gold. It was mostly all the foreigners who found the gold. But there were a lot of Chinese that went there too. AT one point about half of the population of Barkerville were Chinese, but they weren’t treated very well by the white people, But at least the Chinese then did not have to pay the head tax then. Now I will talk about my great great-grandfather’s story.

Tsang Quan was born in Canton, China, Soon Duck Village on September 8th, 1860. He sailed from China to the United States on a clipper ship Titania in 1876. The boat left from Shanghai and sailed to New York. There was no head tax at that time. He came to join his brother who was already living in Nevada. He then moved from Nevada to Vancouver, then to Barkerville. He worked as the accountant and manager for the Kwong Lee Wing Kee store in Barkerville until 1915. The Kwong Lee Wing Kee store was like the Hudson Bay Company. It was one of the biggest chain stores in China, and it opened stores in Victoria, Yale and Barkerville.

After Tsang Quan settled into Barkerville, he made several trips to China. His first trip in 1890 was to get married to Miss Ho Shee. The second time he went back they had a daughter named Foo-Ling (Florence). Florence was born in 1895 in China. Tsang Quan wanted to bring over my great great grandmother Ho-Shee and great grandmother Florence to Canada, but the Canadian government made the Chinese pay the head tax starting in 1885.

Foo-Ling (Florence) Tsang 1895-1986

In 1901, Tsang Quan brought over his wife Ho-Shee and daughter Foo-Ling to Canada. They sailed on the Canadian Pacific Steamship – Empress of Japan and landed in Victoria, BC. Ho-Shee and Foo-Ling were sea sick for most of the voyage. After they arrived in Victoria, Tsang Quan had to pay 100 hundred dollars each before they were allowed to enter into Canada.

My great grandmother Florence was only 5 years old when she came with her mother to Canada. They arrived on April 2nd, 1901. She lived in Barkerville for 6 years then moved to Vancouver to attend school with her younger brother Pat Low in 1907. Pat Low was born in Barkerville on Christmas day in 1902.

Tsang Quan made enough money for his family to come to Canada. He really only had to pay $200. dollars for Ho-Shee and Foo-Ling. That doesn’t seem like a lot of money today in 2012. But the two hundred dollars Tsang Quan had paid for the head tax in 1901 is really worth $5406. today (2012). One dollar in 1901 is worth 27.03 now. The average daily wage for Chinese railway workers during those early days was $1.25. It would have taken almost 160 days of work to save up enough money to pay for the $100. Head tax.

Head Tax Certificate re-issued to Tsang Foo-Ling in 1926.

The only reason I am here today is because of my great great grandfather Tsang Quan who worked very hard and saved his money to bring his family over, so now I’m the 5th generation of my family in Canada today. Today I am very lucky to be here. I have great great grandparents who paid the head tax to come and great great grandparents who did not pay the head tax like Tsang Quan who came here before the head tax.

(If you would like to read about the other side of my family please read my sister Naiya Lee Tsang’s story)

One Response to “Sahali Lee Tsang”
  1. Harley Wylie says:

    Well written and informative. The reason that Nazko, and other First Nations, did not pan for gold or open up any claims is because they were not allowed to. The gold rush happened when Indian’s (now called First Nations) had A) many die from smallpox (lost up to 90% of population), B) had their land taken away (and given to European immigrants), C) had been moved on to Indian Reserve’s, D) had an Indian Agent enforcing the Indian Act (legislated iin 1876). At that time Indian’s needed permission even just to leave the reserve. And not many people know this but it was illegal for 3 or more Indian’s to meet in public… and Indian’s/First Nations did not have the provincial vote until 1951 and did not have the federal vote (citizenship) until 1960. So there were many things (many more than I’ve listed here) First Nations could not do, and were still illegal to do (because of the Canadian Indian Act (1876). But your piece gives good information on Barkerville, your family ancestry and the Chiese Head Tax – that no other culture had to pay. Good job. Thank you.

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