Asians account for sixty percent of the world’s population, and since 1984, half of all immigrants to Quebec. Ethnic Chinese form the largest part of Montreal’s Asian community.
Much of Montreal’s Asian community has roots in western Canada where, more than a hundred years ago, Chinese, Sikhs, and Japanese immigrated as labourers to build railways, and work on farms and in mines and forests.
With the Canadian Pacific Railroad completed, Asian immigration was discouraged. Chinese wanting to come to Canada had to pay a fee – “head tax.” This practice ended only when the federal government decided that, except for rare cases, no Chinese or Japanese could enter the country. This legislation lasted for over a generation, ending only after WWII.
Asians who did enter from other countries found further official discrimination. They were lumped together as “Orientals” and only allowed to enter if they had $250, a financial requirement not demanded of Europeans. After anti-Asian riots in Vancouver in 1907, Asians lost their right to vote in local and federal elections in British Columbia and Alberta. Legislation was also passed to ensure they could not be hired for public service jobs or work on government projects.
Even as late as 1952, immigration officers had authority to stop anyone from entering Canada because of nationality, ethnic group and “peculiar customs, habits, or modes of life.” Attitudes began changing after WWII. Canada was growing and needed teachers, scientists, researchers, engineers, and other professionals. Well-educated Asians, particularly from English-speaking Commonwealth countries like India, found Canada could be a welcome home.
In 1962, the federal government officially ended its policies of discriminating by the race or country of the prospective immigrant. Hundreds of thousands from India and Pakistan found work in Canada as nurses and other professionals, skilled workers, labourers, and domestics.
The 1975 withdrawal of American forces from Vietnam precipitated a massive evacuation from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Many refugees came to Quebec which continues to attract over 10,000 Asians a year.
While each community has its own festivals there are many common celebrations. In mid-winter, the Festival of Saraswati, the Hindu Goddess of Learning is honoured by Bangladeshis, Sri Lankans and others. Spring is the time for the New Year according to Cambodian, Laotian and Thai lunar calendars and a ceremony and feast are held at the Kymer Society Pagoda at 7188 de Nancy. In the Fall, there is a four day Autumn religious and cultural festival.