May 2020 is Asian Heritage Month, a time to celebrate the long history of immigrants from Asia. What is considered Asia? According to the United Nations current geoscheme, Asia comprises 48 countries from the Central, Eastern, Southeastern, and South Asia and the Middle East.
People from these areas now make up a large part of the North Vancouver community, but what was it like for Asian immigrants arriving in Canada over 100 years ago? How have their descendants experienced life on the North Shore? Take a peak into the Archives for some of the answers…
In North Vancouver’s formative years, residents came from all over the world to work in business, forestry and fishing. Although they could work, and their descendants were born in Canada, many racial groups were not allowed to vote – excluding them from political participation and presenting barriers.
Immigrants from China were among the many newcomers that endured these hardships. In December 1907, the City of North Vancouver mayor organized a meeting of the Asiatic Exclusion League, a group that pledged to work for the exclusion of “all Asiatics” from Canada. While a total ban on Asian immigration did not take place, North Vancouver council was clear on its anti-Asian stance.
Against such odds, one of the earliest Chinese immigrants who made North Vancouver his home was Lim Gong. He arrived in Canada from Guangzhou, then known as Canton, in 1884. It was one year before the federal government passed the Chinese Immigration Act, which required every person of Chinese origin pay a hefty ‘head tax’ to enter Canada.
No other group in Canadian history has ever been forced to pay a tax based solely on their country of origin. Lim Gong moved to North Vancouver in 1900 after residing in Vancouver and New Westminster.
Lim Gong quickly established his own grocery store to serve the North Vancouver community, which lasted for many decades. He was remembered for his generous gifts to locals of all ages, such as candies for children and fruit for visitors.
In 1923, the Canadian government passed a new Chinese Immigration Act, also known as the Chinese Exclusion Act. The Act banned Chinese immigration to Canada until 1947. In the same year, the vote was finally granted to people of Chinese descent. Finally, Lim Gong was eligible to vote in Canada. He died four years later.
C.W. Cates of the Cates Tugboat Company wrote of his friend Lim Gong, “It is remarkable how these people, although sometimes tormented almost beyond endurance… invariably turned the other cheek and returned good for evil.” (North Shore Press, April 24, 1952)
During the COVID-19 pandemic when social life is muted, anti-Asian racism has been amplified. Now, more than ever it is the time to remember the contributions of Asians to the community of North Vancouver.
This year’s theme for Asian Heritage Month is ‘Asian Canadians: Unity in Diversity’ which Lim Gong, whose friends were many, would have appreciated.
Explore more information about early Asian immigration to North Vancouver from the Archives database.
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