Category Archives: Chinese Head Tax issues + Gim Wong's Ride for Redress

CCNC calls on BC Government to return Head tax monies in wake of leaked document about targeting ethnic apologies

After the leaked documents revealed the BC Liberal party to use ethnic apologies for “quick wins”, the Chinese Canadian National Council, has now called on the BC government to return the provincial portion of monies received from the Chinese Head Tax 1885 to 1925.  In 2006, the Canadian government acknowledged that the Head Tax was racist and dark part of the country’s history.  Canada issued an apology in parliament and created ex-gratia payment of $20,000 for surviving head tax payers or their spouses if they were pre-deceased.  Only less than 1% of head tax certificates were recognized in this manner.  Another legacy program for education was created called CHRP.

Here is the link to the CCNC website:

Acknowledging BC’s Racist Past by Returning Head Tax Monies to the Families
Friday March 1, 2013 

The Chinese Canadian National Council called on the BC government today to acknowledge its racist past and to return the provincial share of the head tax monies received back to the head tax families.

Vancouver/Toronto. The Chinese Canadian National Council called on the BC government today to acknowledge its racist past and to return the provincial share of the head tax monies received back to the head tax families.

The Chinese have a continuous history in BC since 1858 and have faced overt discrimination right from the beginning. The BC government attempted to pass a head tax but it was declared ultra-vires by the courts because immigration is a federal responsibility. The BC government was able to pass legislation to deny Chinese residents the right to vote and local politicians lobbied the federal government to enact the Head Tax in 1885 and Chinese Exclusion Act in 1923.

A significant amount of these head tax levies that were collected were transferred to BC government. CCNC estimates that $8.5 million, a sum with a present value of $800 million to $1 billion made its way back to BC to pay for the government’s operations and public works investments. “The BC government was unjustly enriched by this arrangement,” Sid Chow Tan, Chair of the Head Tax Families Society of Canada said today. “The BC government must properly and sincerely offer a meaningful apology to the head tax families by returning these ill-gotten gains to them.”

CCNC is also disappointed with the contents in the Haakstad memo that was leaked on February 27, 2013. “Acknowledging a historic wrong should never be viewed as a partisan ‘quick win’,” Victor Wong, CCNC Executive Director added. “We appreciate the Premier’s apology for the memo and urge the BC government to negotiate in good faith with the head tax families to achieve a just and honourable resolution.”

“The BC Legislature passed a unanimous motion to support redress in 1992 and all parties should be included to ensure that the official legislative acknowledgement, apology and return of the head tax monies is seen to be non-partisan and sincere, and not made for political advantage.”

CCNC has lobbied for redress of the Head Tax and Chinese Exclusion Act since 1984. In 2006, Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued a Parliamentary Apology which included direct redress to the living head tax payers and surviving spouses. The symbolic financial redress – $20,000 per applicant – affected an estimated 785 families. Redress remains incomplete because some 3,000 head tax families were excluded as the head tax payer and spouse in those families had both passed on. CCNC has proposed that the BC government return a symbolic amount to the head tax families to give meaning to any official apology.

Founded in 1980, CCNC is a national non-profit organization with 27 chapters across Canada and a community leader for Chinese Canadians in promoting a more just, respectful, and inclusive society. CCNC and allies are one of the co-recipients of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation’s 2008 Award of Excellence for its work on the Chinese Head Tax redress campaign.

– 30-

For more information or media interviews, please contact:

Sid Chow Tan, Head Tax Families Society of Canada:

Victor Wong, Chinese Canadian National Council:; 416-977-9871


Sid Chow Tan on CBC Almanac:

Feb 28 2013 BC Hansard:

Feb 27 2013 BC Hansard:




Dinner with Arlene Chan

Jim Wong-Chu, Arlene Chan, Todd Wong.  Jim is holding “Swallowing Clouds” which he co-edited and contributed poems to.  Arlene is holding up her newest book “The Chinese in Toronto from 1878: From Outside to Inside the Circle.  I am holding “Paddles Up!” co-edited by Arlene and she also wrote chapter 1: The Beginnings, to which I contributed a quote, and a picture of the Gung Haggis Fat Choy dragon boat team in the Vancouver Taiwanese dragon boat race.

My writing career was launched in 1997 with The Spirit of the Dragon: the Story of Jean Lumb, a Proud Chinese Canadian. This children’s book tells the amazing story of my mother who was the first Chinese Canadian to receive the Order of Canada, the highest civilian honour, for her community activism. The Spirit of the Dragon was selected as a Choice Book by the Canadian Children’s Book Centre. My second book, The Moon Festival: a Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival, was shortlisted for the Silver Birch Award. Awakening the Dragon: the Dragon Boat Festival was published in 2004 and as a paperback in 2007. My fourth publication was released in 2009 as the first book on Canadian dragon boating, entitled Paddles Up! Dragon Boat Racing in Canada. I am currently working on a second book for an adult audience. It is entitled The Chinese in Toronto from 1878: From Outside to Inside the Circle, to be launched in October 2011.
Back Row: Allan Cho, Sid Tan, Adrian Lee, Todd Wong, Sean Gunn, Bruce MacBay, Deb Martin
Front: Albert Lee, Beverly Nann, Arlene Chan, Mary Wong, Jim Wong-Chu
 Here is a youtube video of Arlene Chan talking about Toronto’s Chinese Canadian community, and it’s relationship with McGregor’s Socks, and how the clothing manufacturing industry brought the Chinese and the Scots Canadians together.

McGregor Socks: Arlene Chan

401 Wellington Street West At the former home of McGregor Socks, Arlene Chan tells the story of the Chinese community’s connection with Toronto’s

Charlie Quan, head tax warrior, Rest In Peace, 1907-1912

Charlie Quan stood up for Head Tax Redress in 2005 at age 98

Quan was the the first person to receive a head tax redress ex-gratia
payment in 2006.  Charlie came to Canada as a small young child, and had
to pay $500 head tax, at the start of the previous century. In 2005, He
was a brave man calling for a full head tax redress and payment, when
others were feeling too afraid.  It was wonderful to meet and talk with
him, and I discovered he was the grandfather of one of my childhood

on Fri 20 Oct 2006 03:59 PM PDT

Quan. Standing are Victor Wong, Gim Wong and Sid Tan – photo Todd Wong

I met Charlie through renowned head tax activist Sid Tan.  Sid told a story at Charlie's service in his eulogy, about how Charlie came up to him after the Supreme Court of Canada denied leave to appeal in 2003.  “Charlie came up to me,” Sid says, “He said, you and Gim and Victor are doing a good job, but you need some help.”

“You're a head tax payer?” Sid says he thought maybe Charlie was a son or descendant of a head tax payer. But Charlie Quan had come to Canada at a young age, and in 2003, he was only 96 years old.

In the next few years, the head tax redress ramped up to one of the major issues of the 2005-2006 federal election campaign.  The Liberal Government of Paul Martin promised the ACE program of Acknowledgement, Commemoration and Education.  But Charlie wanted an apology and a monetary redress.  He went on record as saying what he thought a fair price would be.  You can see him in this CBC interview. 

Check out my blog posts with Charlie here:

Sid Tan, friend of the family sent this message out yesterday evening.

In Memory of
Mr. Charlie Sang Now Quan
February 15, 1907 – February 23, 2012
It is
with sadness that we announce the passing of Mr. Charlie Sang Now Quan. Charlie
was born in Hoyping, China and passed away peacefully in Vancouver, BC on
February 23, 2012 at the age of 105. He was predeceased by his wife, Own Yee
Lee. He is lovingly survived by his daughter-in-law Chung Yit Quan, his two sons
Gary, Wesley, his six grandchildren and his seven

He will be deeply missed
by his family and friends. The family has asked for privacy until after the service.

on Mon 27 Nov 2006 10:12 PM PST
members: Libby Davies, Charlie Quan, Jack Layton, ??, Gim Wong, Ujjal Dosanjh – photo Todd Wong

on Fri 20 Oct 2006 04:08 PM PDT
Charlie Quan holding cheque, Foon
Chang Ron Mah, Victor Wong and Todd Wong – photo Eric

on Thu 22 Jun 2006 10:38 PM PDT

Charlie Quan with his favorite grandson Terry Quan – my elementary school friend – photo Todd Wong

Vancouver Sun: 10 Legendary Vancouverites

Do you know these 10 legendary Vancouverites?
Vancouver Sun article includes Yip Sang, Mary Lee Chan, Wong Foon Sien

Check it out at: Vancouver Sun: 10 Legendary Vancouverites

Here are my personal connections to Joe Fortes, Mary Lee Chan, Yip Sang, and Dal Richards.

I learned the story about Joe Fortes when I first worked at the Joe Fortes Library when I started as a teenager.  I can answer trivia questions that his baptized name was “Seraphim”, and he was one of Vancouver's most beloved life guards of English Bay.  Here's a great video of Joe Fortes by Global TV's Mike McCardell.

Mary Lee Chan
I am friends with the children of Mary Lee Chan, and descendants of Yip Sang.  Mary Lee Chan's story about saving Strathcona neighborhood from Free way Destruction is wonderfully captured in the film documentary “Mary Lee Chan Takes On City Hall“.   There is a current campaign to name the newly proposed library in Strathcona neighborhood after Mary Lee Chan:

Here's a link from historia Chuck Davis' Metropolitan Vancouver

Yip Sang was an important figure for the building of CPR Railroad, and Vancouver Chinatown development.  The Yip Sang family reunion is also legendary.  I contacted descendant Hoy Yip when I started organizing a family reunion for the Rev. Chan family descendants for 99 and 2000.  Descendant Steven Wong (on his mother's side) paddles on the Gung Haggis Fat Choy dragon boat team. Vancouver Archives has the Yip Sang project online:

Wong Foon Sien was a pioneer in fighting for the repeal of the Chinese
Excusion Act in 1947, and asking for redress for the Chinese Head Tax. 
Here's a good story about Wong Foon Sien, by my friend Larry Wong

Dal Richards at the 2010 Canada Day celebrations at Kitsilano Showboat stage – photo T. Wong

I have known Vancouver-born Dal Richards for the past few years from our roles on Canadian Club Vancouver.  I had the honour of being included with Dal for the BC Royal Museum's “The Party”centrepiece display for the 150th anniversary
exhibition – titled Free Spirit: Stories of You, Me and BC – The Party featured 150 British Columbians who’ve helped shape the province.

Nobody born in Scotland?

Lachlan Hamilton, CPR surveyor and alderman might have been of Scottish ancestry, as were many of Vancouver's pioneers, but a google search isn't revealing anything so far.  Sam Greer is listed as born in Ireland.  Major Skitt Matthews, who started the Vancouver Archives, was born in Wales.

A google search on Alfred Larwill reveals more about the history of Larwill Park, formerly the Cambie street Grounds, and now a parking lot, and the proposed site of a new Vancouver Art Gallery, where the Olympics hosted the Live City Downtown site.

Interesting how 3 of the 10, were evicted (or almost) from their homes: Larwill from the Cambie Street Grounds, Greer from the CPR lands, and Fortes nearly from his shack on English Bay – if not for a blockade of 100 people.  His house was moved to the present location of the English Bay bandstand, where a plaque now commemorates Joe Fortes.

An Intimate Evening with playwright Marty Chan @ Kogawa House

30 March · 19:30 21:00

Historic Joy Kogawa House

Created by:

More info
his role as Canadian playwright, radio writer, television story editor,
and young adult author, Marty Chan explores the tensions between
opposing forces of assimilation and the search for heritage and cultural

His new play, The Forbidden Phoenix, combines adventure,
martial arts, and the coolest 10-piece orchestra you’ve ever seen, in an
eye-popping musical that tells the story of a father who comes to
Canada looking for a better life. High drama and visual spectacle
combine for a unique evening of family entertainment. Performed in
English with Chinese surtitles.

Please join us in the living room
of Historic Joy Kogawa House, childhood home of the author Joy Kogawa,
for a rare opportunity to sit with this master author and indulge in the
art of his smooth prose.

Ticket price $65
Includes admission to any production of The Forbidden Phoenix, running April 7 to 23, at Richmond’s Gateway Theatre.

To purchase tickets, email

will be brilliant…. Marty is entertaining and very funny. He is the
playwright of “Mom, Dad, I'm Living With a White Girl.” I have been
waiting years for a story about Monkey King comes to Canada…. this is
it! Tickets to Kogawa House exclusive event include tickets to the
Forbidden Phoenix play at Gateway Theatre…. I am honoured to moderate
and host, Cheers, Todd

Red Letters is a Canadian Musical about love, family, tragedy and a dark time in Canada's history

Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre is doing their part to contribute to the Canadian theatre repertoire.  Red Letters is an original musical about love, family, history and tragedy.  The story spans decades, continents and generations.  It is also set during Canada's pre-multicultural age, when Canada had a discriminatory head tax against any person of Chinese ancestry, which forcibly kept families apart.

I was fortunate to see the stage reading, while the musical was still in development.   Producer Joyce Lam had assembled a very talented collection of actors to help workshop the work.  The music was lyrical and soaring.  Kathy Leung wrote the book, and had interviewed many people whose lives and families were affected by the head tax, and crafted a story which Alan Bau has set to music and song.

I am looking forward to seeing the full production of Red Letters, which will run ambitiously in Vancouver, Richmond and Victoria.  If VACT's production of Flower Drum Song set their standard of excellence, then you will want to bring your friends and see this show!

Roundhouse Performance Centre

November 25 to December 4, 2010

Gateway Theatre Studio

December 29, 2010 to January 8, 2011

Metro Theatre

January 12 to 16, 2011

Immediate Release



(November 1, 2010) – Following the success of 2009’s production Rodgers and
Hammerstein’s FLOWER DRUM SONG, Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre (VACT)
is set to present the Canadian Premiere of its very first original production, a
musical by creator and songwriter Alan
and writer Kathy Leung. RED LETTERS is a period romance between
a young Chinese couple both separated by distance and torn apart by Canada’s
imposing of a head tax on new immigrants and eventually, the Exclusion Act of

story begins in present day as Ping rediscovers the love letters that his
parents wrote to each other when his father Shen immigrated to Vancouver from
China in 1922. Young Shen leaves his wife behind with the high hopes of making
his fortune in Canada, or “Gold Mountain” as it was coined, and earning enough
money to pay the head taxes to bring over his childhood sweetheart, Mei, and
their new baby son, Ping. Once in Vancouver, he finds support from all the
bachelors in Chinatown, but especially from his employer and sponsor, Boss. But
Shen also has to struggle against the harsh reality of language and racism. As
the final act unfolds, the main characters show their resilience as they strive
to maintain the dream of a better life in Canada for their

has assembled a strong cast of local Asian-Canadian talent under the leadership
of producer Joyce Lam and director
Andy Maton, with musical direction
by Yawen Wang and choreography by Vincent Tong. The cast includes FLOWER
DRUM SONG alumni Rosie Simon, Jimmy Yi and Isaac Kwok and newcomers to VACT, Alan Wong, Alvin Tran, Christopher Kim Sing and Ryan Erwin. Rosie Simon has recently
been seen in the highly successful Arts Club Theatre Company run of THE

LETTERS humanizes what many people in Canada may only see as a historical
political policy,” say director Andy Maton. “To portray the emotional life of
individuals as the effect of a governmental or bureaucratic decision is very


Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre is dedicated to showcasing Asian-Canadian
cultural stories and actors in a contemporary setting. VACT uniquely displays
“surtitles” transcribed in Cantonese to encourage Vancouver’s Chinese immigrant
population to enjoy English-speaking theatre.

LETTERS performances:

Roundhouse Performance Centre

November 25 to December 4, 2010

Gateway Theatre Studio

December 29, 2010 to January 8, 2011

Metro Theatre

January 12 to 16, 2011

more info: or call (604) 638-5537  | For tickets:  or

30 –

VAFF closes out with a Big Hapa feeling!

Jeff Chiba Stearns (far right) gives fist bumps to Todd Wong, Jason Karman and Julia Kwan.  Jeff's film “One Big Hapa Family” closed out the 14th Annual Vancouver Asian Film Festival

Film maker Angelina Cantado (centre) attended the screening of her film Sikat on Friday Night's program “Promised Lands“, which featured Phillipine-North American films. “Sikat” is a tender story about a Filipina domestic worker, who looks after the two children and does the laundry of a middle class Canadian family.  It is

Chinese Canadian WW2 veterans came on Sunday afternoon for the screening of Redress Remixed.  Left to right: Frank Wong, Tommy Wong, ??, Lesley Chan, Alec Louie, Todd Wong.  Frank Wong is interviewed in the movie, directed by Lesley Chan


Lt. Watada is a film about an US soldier who refused to go to deploy to Iraq, because he felt that
the war is illegal and a violation of his constitutional oath. “Watada described the war as illegal
and immoral and founded on deception. and offered twice to go to Afghanistan – a war he considered
legitimate – but his commanders said that granting such a request would
mean there was something wrong with the war in Iraq.” – This film screened on Saturday.

The buzz was big for the fully-packed theatre closing night screening of One Big Hapa Family, preceded by a short film titled
Ode to a Post-It Note, celebrating the 30th Anniversary of the 3M invention.

VAFF 2010: Ode To A Post-It NoteFollowing One Big

New Chinese-Canadian History website launched in Toronto

New Chinese Canadian History website launched in Toronto.

Here's a message from my contact Brad Lee

I'd like
to invite you to take a look at our website, The Ties That Bind:
Building the CPR, Building a Place in Canada,, which was launched on
The url is:;
received some very good press, listed below. The Vancouver Sun was
particularly good.

Best, Brad–online-exhibit-recounts-history-of-chinese-canadian-railway-workers

Chinatown Canada tv documentary on OMNI tonight at 8pm

Watch the Chinatown Canada documentary on OMNI TV tonight

Saturday, Aug 21 at 8pm PST on Omni News (BC)

Todd Wong is interviewed about Vancouver Chinatown and see the Gung Haggis Fat Choy dragon boat team in action at '09 Rio Tinto Alcan Dragon Boat Festival.

The footage was shot last June, when Kerry Beattie contacted me.  I recommended a number of people for them to talk to including Andrew Wong of Wild Rice Restaurant (Andrew's grandfather used to own the Lotus Hotel, where my grandfather Sonny Wong ran the Lotus Cafe Restaurant), and Shirley Chan and many others.

check link for other provinces

Globe & Mail: Head tax redress was not enough say Chinese descendants

Surviving sons and daughters need to be included for Chinese Head Tax settlement.

No other ethnic group was charged a head tax.
The govt repealed the racist “Chinese Exclusion Act” in 1947 and also
finally gave Canadians born with Chinese heritage the vote.

The Mulroney
govt apologized for Japanese Canadians interned during WW2 in 1988.  Four
years earlier, Chinese Head Tax Redress had been  brought to Parliament in 1984 by MP Margaret Mitchell,
but rejected by the Trudeau govt.

An apology for Chinese Head Tax
finally came 22 years later in 2006, but it was 86 years after the last
head tax was paid in 1923, and 121 years after the first head tax was
paid in 1885. Giving ex-gratia payments only to the few surviving head
tax payers and widows while ignoring the other 99% of head tax
certificates passed onto surviving sons and daughters is wrong.

It is
impossible to expect my great-grandfather to live to be 130 years old to
receive his “tax refund”. The payment should go to his remaining 7
children who are 99 to 85 years old, all born in Canada and had to live
through the years of The Exclusion Act until 1947.


Head tax redress was not enough say
Chinese descendants

97 year old Thomas Soon  (L) and 99 year old Charlie Quon hold government cheques, the first  redress payments to Chinese Head Tax payers in Vancouver, BC, October  20, 2006.

97 year old Thomas Soon (L) and 99 year
old Charlie Quon hold government cheques, the first redress payments to
Chinese Head Tax payers in Vancouver, BC, October 20, 2006. Lyle Stafford for The Globe and

Canada Day rally planned for Vancouver’s

Robert Matas

Vancouver Globe and Mail Update Published on Wednesday, Jun. 30, 2010 5:05PM EDT Last updated on Wednesday, Jun. 30, 2010
5:35PM EDT

Canada’s apology to
the Chinese community for the head tax from 1885 to 1923 was not enough,
say descendants of those who paid the tax.

Ottawa said sorry to
the Chinese community four years ago and gave $20,000 to those who had
paid the head tax or to their surviving spouse.

But members of the Head Tax
Families Society of Canada say the federal
excluded thousands
of Chinese families who were affected by the historic injustices and
Ottawa should rethink its approach to redress.

The children of those who paid the
tax but did not live long enough to hear the apology received nothing
and still feel left out, Sid Tan, head of the Head Tax Families Society
of Canada, said Wednesday in an interview on the day before a “redress
rally” planned for Vancouver’s Chinatown.

“The apology was not as meaningful
to us as it was to other [Chinese families],” said Mr. Tan, the
grandson of a head tax payer. “The federal government left out a large
chunk of people and you have to find some way you can meaningfully
provide redress for them.”

The federal government
acknowledged less than one per cent of families who had paid the head
tax, he said. Payments were made to about 800 people although more than
82,000 Chinese immigrants paid the tax from 1885 to 1923.

The rally on Canada Day is
intended as a celebration of being Canadian while reminding the federal
government that the issue is not closed, Mr. Tan said.

Victor Wong, executive director of
the Chinese Canadian National Council, an umbrella group with 27
chapters across the country, said 3,000 families across Canada are still
seeking to be included in the apology and payment that was made in

His grandfather, who immigrated to
Canada in 1912, could not bring his wife and four children until 1947,
he said. Mr. Wong said he is the family’s first Canadian-born grandson,
born 47 years after his grandfather arrived on the West Coast. “Family
formation was discouraged,” he said.

Redress that included the children
of those who felt the impact of the discriminatory policies would set
the tone for governments, prodding them to ensure that policies and
programs are sensitive to the needs of minorities.

“For an apology to be meaningful,
it needs to include [the children of head tax payers],” said Mr. Wong