The section below contains short descriptions of the resources teachers reviewed on the Chinese Head Tax, along with some notations on some of them about their usability and adaptability for Nova Scotia classrooms.
Open School BC, Bamboo Shoots: Chinese Canadian legacies in BC
This is a comprehensive resource that highlights a key theme: that “BC’s multicultural landscape was not a linear progression from an exclusive society to an inclusive one,” but rather one in which there were “periods of contribution and early pioneering among different groups that were accepting of each other, and then a period of decline into exclusion and legislated discrimination” (p. 3).
These materials were developed with the six Historical Thinking concepts in mind, and include upper elementary and high school units; historical photographs; various issue backgrounders; and archive packages with primary source materials, fact sheets, and short audio and video interviews.
The Additional Resources link to related materials, for example, on First Nations and Chinese Canadian Relations, Introducing the Unit with Fiction, Teaching with Primary Sources, Debating Skills, and others.
• Teacher Commentary on Adaptability for Nova Scotia Classrooms
The teachers focused on Lesson 3 (Historical Perspectives of Chinese Canadians in BC) from the high school-level unit. They commented that:
Their comprehensiveness and the thoughtfulness with which they were developed makes these resources very attractive. The archive packets, with photos and primary source materials already compiled, are also useful.
Canadian Encyclopedia, The Chinese Head Tax in Canada (available in French and in a Plain Language Summary)
Critical Thinking Consortium, Reasons for the Head Tax
This resource includes 10 one-page primary source documents (quotes, political cartoons, media) and four secondary source materials. The Teacher notes section provides a condensed timeline of related events, as well as a Guide for using history docs and Strategies for investigating historical documents.
There are also links to a related/supporting resources, such as the Causes of the 1907 anti-Asian riots; Chinese Canadian teenagers 1910-1947, Consequences of the Chinese Exclusion Act, and others.
• Teacher Commentary on Adaptability for Nova Scotia Classrooms
The primary documents packet has a lot of variety, which would help students appreciate the many ways racism was expressed – in official documents, in politicians’ statements to the media, in visual form (e.g. political cartoons), and so on.
As with other use of primary source materials, teachers will want to prepare students for the racist language and images and take the necessary precautions.
Vancouver Sun (video, 4:58), “Canadian apartheid: Chinese Head Tax and racism’s legacy”
Voices into Action, Unit 4, Chapter 4: Chinese immigration
This resource provides a succinct overview of the history, starting with the imposition of the Head Tax, then leading to the Chinese Exclusion Act, the repeal of the Act, and efforts at redress. It includes a short (four-minute) video, a timeline of relevant events, brief background information, discussion questions, and five ready-to-use activity options.
Adaptability for Nova Scotia Classrooms
These materials are ‘lighter’ in volume than some of the other resources, making them a good option for teachers who want to stimulate students’ thinking around core questions but do not have a lot of time for preparation. The discussion questions, activity ideas would be relatively easy to translate into French.
Paul Yee, “Halifax: From Sea to Shining Sea,” in Chinatown: An Illustrated History of the Chinese Communities of Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Halifax (available at the Halifax Public Library).
Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, The Chinese Immigration Act, 1885 original text (French)
Chinese Canadian Museum, The faces & places of those who owned C.I. certificates
Presents images of people – many of them children – who were issued C.I. (Chinese Immigration) certificates. Two of them, both children, were in Nova Scotia (Halifax and Glace Bay).
Knowledge Network (video series), “British Columbia: An untold history” (free with registration). See “Episode 3: Migration + Resilience”; first 45 minutes provide a superb overview of pre-WWII Asian Canadian history (including segment on the Head Tax).
Canadian Museum of History, “Tips for Teaching Difficult History” (available in French)
BC Teachers’ Federation, “Making space: Teaching for diversity and social justice throughout the K-12 curriculum”
Facing History and Ourselves, “Preparing students for difficult conversations”
Learning for Justice, “Let’s talk: Facilitating critical conversations with students”
Resource Supplements: Atlantic Canada
Albert Lee, “Chinese Canadians on the East Coast,” Saltscapes; a shorter version of Albert’s – and his family’s – experiences in Nova Scotia can be found here.
“South-end house helps tell story of Chinese community in Halifax,” CBC, July 29, 2022.
(Video) “Chinese business history with photographer Albert Lee,” Why Halifax Documentary Series
Other Atlantic Provinces
Greg Mercer and Jimmy Huang, “Monks, money and the fierce debate over PEI’s scarce land,” Globe and Mail, August 12, 2023. This could be an interesting case study for comparing the experiences of newcomers from Asia now and in the past, including how they are perceived by locals.
Newfoundland and Labrador Case Study
Although not part of Canada at the time, Newfoundland and Labrador is nonetheless is a useful case study of how members of the Chinese community pursued a livelihood there, including by opening successful businesses like cafes and laundries.
As background, when the first Chinese immigrants began arriving in Newfoundland in the late 1800s and early 1900s, there were some local missionaries who had been to China and were thus somewhat culturally familiar with this population. However, as Chinese immigration picked up pace, with more than 50 Chinese arriving in a single day in 1904, negative attitudes among the public began to surface. These attitudes are captured in local newspaper articles (see Other Information below).
In 1906, Newfoundland enacted its own Head Tax under the Act Respecting the Immigration of Chinese Persons, which mandated that each Chinese person entering Newfoundland would have to pay $300. This Head Tax, enacted before Newfoundland joined Canada in 1949, is a unique aspect of present-day Atlantic Canada’s history with Chinese immigration.
Brief Timeline of Events:
1895: First Chinese laundry opened in Newfoundland by the first settled Chinese immigrants.
1906: The Act Respecting the Immigration of Chinese Persons (Newfoundland’s Head Tax) goes into effect.
1949: Newfoundland joins Canada; Newfoundland Head Tax repealed.
2006: Newfoundland government issues formal apology 100 years after the introduction of the Newfoundland Head Tax (see press release). The federal government also apologizes.
2010: Newfoundland Chinese Head Tax monument created in St. John’s to honour the memory of Chinese immigrants who settled in Canada.
Heritage Newfoundland and Labrador provides a short description of the history of Chinese Canadians in the area.
The Newfoundland & Labrador Historical Society offers a video presentation, “From a Sojourner’s Life to Family Reunification: Reflections on the Experiences of Chinese Immigrants in Newfoundland, 1890s-1950s,” by Miriam Wright and Robert Hong.
Memorial University Digital Archives Initiative has a collection of short newspaper articles, starting with the first known arrival of Chinese residents in 1895, as well as reports on their businesses and incidents of hostility and even violence toward them.
See also Miriam Wright, "The most modern dining hall in the city: Chinese immigrants, restaurants, and social spaces in St. John’s, Newfoundland, 1918–1945."
The teachers assessed a series of graphs for their suitability for addressing historical and contemporary immigration, race, and inclusivity. The graphs that follow are those that were seen as having the most potential for stimulating thinking and discussion. Each graph is presented along with some of the teachers’ questions, ideas for classroom use, and comments.
See the download tabs above.