Jordan Yee, Lynnea Yee, Kayla Yee, and Mitchell Yee

The Story of Lee Lume and His Family

Lee Lume arrived in Canada in 1910. His story is told by four of his descendants: great-grandchildren Jordan, Lynnea, Kayla, and Mitchell Yee. Note: Their four stories have been woven into one but introduced separately.

Jordan Yee

Looking back at history, many people neglect to look at how certain decisions and actions affect the individual and his family. History is grouped into categories which also group individuals and their stories together. When you study history in school, you learn how these actions and decisions impact the world, countries, governments, and society; but it is rare when you learn how it impacted the individual. This is why the individual’s story fades throughout the generations as it is lost in time. This is why when you learn about the Chinese Head Tax you learn what it was and when it was stopped. You learn about why it was implemented, how much was charged, and the major effects it had on the community. Here you will not; you will learn about an individual and his family, how the Chinese Head Tax shaped his family, how it changed their lives, and how it impacted his family to this very day.

This story tells how the Chinese Head Tax separated this family for generations. From 1910 to the 1950s, Lee Lume and his wife Bow Lee could not be together; until 1967 he could not be with his daughter or grandchildren. This story is not unique though. This situation affected many Chinese immigrants who could not afford the Head Tax for all or any of their loved ones. Some who had come before the Head Tax was introduced were suddenly cut off completely from ever having their loved ones join them in Canada. By seeing one individual’s story, you can see how the decisions and actions of the government affected more than just the flow of Chinese immigration into Canada. They tore apart families, separating them for the majority of their lives. The government, whose goal was to manage the flow of Chinese immigrants after the Canadian Pacific Railway was completed, charged a fee which would financially stop many people from immigrating, allowing the government to profit $23 million dollars from the suffering and discrimination of others.

Lynnea Yee

Some families can list back generations in their families forever, while some can only name back to their grandparents. My father does not speak much about his grandfather, and for my father I can understand why. Lee Lume is my great-grandfather, my father’s grandfather, but he did not know him growing up. The reason for this is the Chinese Head Tax. Lee Lume came to Canada in May of 1910 wanting to start a new life for him and his family. Unfortunately at this time the Chinese Head Tax was in effect and he and his family could not afford this fee for immigration for more than himself. Lee Lume would have to leave his wife, Bow Lee, in Hong Kong until he could make enough for her to join him in Canada.

The Chinese Head Tax greatly affected my family because it kept them apart for decades of their lives. My great-grandparents lived most of their lives separated from each other, my great-grandfather separated from his children and his grandchildren. The Head Tax created strangers in place of family, caused loneliness instead of happiness, and destroyed families. My family was lucky. Although they had to wait almost fifty years to reunite, they eventually did, a reality many people did not get to experience.

Kayla Yee

The Chinese Head Tax was first initiated through the Chinese Immigration Act of 1885, and was created to discourage Chinese immigration after the Canadian Pacific Railway was completed. The Head Tax started at fifty dollars and in 1903 doubled to one hundred dollars. Within just a few years the Head Tax spiked at five hundred dollars, a price too high for many Chinese who wished to immigrate. With this immigration fee, many Chinese were unable to come to Canada. It affected many family situations, including my own.
Lee Lume and His Story of Immigration and Separation

Mitchell Yee

It was May of 1910 when Lee Lume, my great-grandfather, took his first step onto Canadian soil. He had landed in Victoria, BC, ready to begin a new life in this new country. At age eighteen, Lee Lume travelled alone from Hong Kong, leaving behind his wife, Bow Lee, and parents in order to achieve prosperity and wealth for his family back home. He wished that his wife and parents could journey with him, adventuring to this new land to seek their fortunes together, but this was impossible. The high cost of immigration, due to the Chinese Immigration Act of 1885, restricted them from immigrating with him; financially they could not afford paying more than one Head Tax. What started as a fifty dollar fee had quickly risen to five hundred by the time Lee Lume had immigrated in 1910. This sum of five hundred dollars was equivalent to the cost of buying two houses in Montreal at the time.
From Victoria, my great-grandfather moved to Vancouver to settle. He got a job working for the Canadian Pacific Railway, then later at a grocery store. He eventually ended up owning his own grocery store in Vancouver’s Chinatown.

The certificate of immigration for my great-grandfather Lee Lume states that he landed in Victoria, BC, on May 15, 1910, and lived in Vancouver. This document shows his registration number.

Lee Lume’s wife, my great-grandmother, lived in Hong Kong but he was not able to bring her to Canada. So he travelled back and forth from Vancouver to Hong Kong, as often as financially possible to visit his growing family. Because of his short and infrequent visits, Lee Lume and Bow Lee only managed to have one biological daughter, Yuet Yung Lee (my grandmother), and an adopted son.

In 1923, the Head Tax was revoked and replaced with the Chinese Exclusion Act, an Act just as harsh if not harsher. It stopped immigration of Chinese into Canada. This new Act devastated families. Lee Lume could no longer even dream of reuniting with his family.

This document states that my great-grandfather Lee Lume is registered by Section 18 of the 1923 Chinese Immigration Act which excluded Chinese from immigrating to Canada. Since he had immigrated before 1923 and had paid the Head Tax, he was allowed to stay in Canada, but his family was not allowed to join him.

This registration certificate, required by the 1923 Chinese Immigration Act, Section 18, for my great-grandfather Lee Lume is dated August 20, 1940. He had to carry it at all times to prove that he was registered.

As the years went by, my great-grandfather Lee Lume lived apart from his family, separated first by the Chinese Head Tax, then by the Chinese Exclusion Act. His children were growing up in a country across the world from him, and he could not bring them to Canada. He made infrequent trips to Hong Kong to visit his wife, my great-grandmother, but never stayed longer than one year. If you left Canada for a longer time, the Head Tax had to be repaid.

In 1947, the Chinese Immigration Act was repealed. Lee Lume’s wife, my great-grandmother Bow Lee, finally moved to Canada to join her husband.

It was not until 1967 that immigration, freed of restrictions on the Chinese, was revived and the rest of Lee Lume’s family could come. In that year, his daughter Yuet Yung Lee, along with her five children, Wing, Shirley, Kwok Wah, Kam, and Vincie, moved to Canada to be with him. So much time had passed; Lee Lume’s own children were now grown with their own children. Yuet Yung Lee’s husband, my grandfather, didn’t enjoy life in Canada due to the discrimination he and his family faced. He went back to Hong Kong. Eventually, he was convinced by his son Kwok Wah to return to Canada.

This Certificate of Canadian Citizenship is for my grandmother Yuet Yung Yee. Her last name was Yu but the handwriting was misread. Her last name, as well as one of her children’s, was changed to Yee while the rest remained Yu.

The first years in Canada were hard for Yuet Yung Lee and her children. She did not speak a word of English and although there were many Cantonese-speaking people in Vancouver, she felt restricted to Chinatown. Her children attended school and learned their second language, English. The eldest sibling, Wing, however, never fully mastered it. Moving to a new country with five children was difficult for a forty-three-year-old mother who could not speak English.

Grandmother Yuet Yong Lee with her three youngest children (left to right): Shirley, Kam, and Wally (Kwok Wah). The older siblings, Wing and Vincie, are not in the photograph.

Although Lee Lume and his family eventually reunited, they were separated for most of their lives. The Canadian Government at the time stemmed the flow of Chinese Immigrants into Canada after the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Many men, like Lee Lume, gave up their life savings, working their entire lives just to have the chance to live in Canada with their families. Meanwhile, the government profited twenty three million dollars from the Head Tax inflicted on the Chinese immigrants for thirty-eight years from 1885 to 1923. Although Lee Lume’s family managed to come back together, their time apart can never be replaced. For many other families, they never reunited. And although this occurred many years ago, the separation has left an impact on many individuals and families to this very day.


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