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COCHRANE, HENRY – Volume XII (1891-1900)

d. 22 May 1898 at Jackhead, Man.


Responsible Government

Sir John A. Macdonald

From the Red River Settlement to Manitoba (1812–70)

Sir Wilfrid Laurier

Sir George-Étienne Cartier


The Fenians

Women in the DCB/DBC

The Charlottetown and Quebec Conferences of 1864

Introductory Essays of the DCB/DBC

The Acadians

For Educators

The War of 1812 

Canada’s Wartime Prime Ministers

The First World War

Chinese Migrants

Chinese immigrants such as CHU LAI and CHANG TOY presented a particular challenge to Sir John A. MACDONALD’s hopes for a “homogenous population.” With the 1885 electoral franchise act, Macdonald addressed the House of Commons and called on mps to take away the voting rights from Canadians of Chinese origin. Macdonald was not alone in seeing the Chinese as a threat to the British character of Canada. Noah SHAKESPEARE, a fellow Conservative mp from Victoria, was particularly active in bringing anti-Chinese legislation to the floor of the House of Commons:

“Playing on the growing Sinophobia caused by the influx of Chinese work crews for the Canadian Pacific Railway, Shakespeare, a Conservative, successfully contested one of the two seats for Victoria in the federal election of June 1882. He continued as mayor until the end of his term and when the House of Commons was reconvened in February 1883 he took his seat. The following year he reached his political zenith when he tabled a motion in the commons for a law to prohibit Chinese immigration. It was made necessary, he claimed, by their unfair economic competition and their immorality. His motion was amended and became law in 1885 as the Chinese Immigration Act, introducing the infamous $50 head tax on each Chinese arrival and limiting the number of immigrants per vessel. It did not provide outright exclusion, but it was the culmination of Shakespeare's anti-Chinese activity. Later that year in Victoria he established the Labor Bureau, a union of white labourers to fight Chinese competition. In the 1887 election Shakespeare retained his federal seat, but he resigned it to accept an appointment on 1 Jan. 1888 as postmaster of Victoria, a reward for his loyalty to Conservative prime minister Sir John A. Macdonald*.”


Shakespeare’s views were shared by many, including Amor DE COSMOS, another mp from British Columbia:

“The issue of race also demanded increased attention from De Cosmos in the final years of his public career. His views on native Indians and Chinese immigrants always reflected settlers’ values and stereotypes. In the 1880s he spoke of both Indians and Chinese as ‘inferior’ peoples; it had been particularly in the early years of the gold-rush, when Indians roamed the streets of Victoria, that he thought them so. He portrayed Indians as ‘irrational’ yet generally susceptible of ‘improvement’ and ‘redemption’ if removed from the worst influences of whites and trained in ‘civilized’ occupations, especially agriculture. Chinese immigrants, while less degraded, represented a more fundamental threat because they ‘did not assimilate.’… Concessions of land to Indians were over-generous, De Cosmos argued, blocking legitimate white settlement. In addition, he now opposed recognition of Indian title to land, which he had previously supported, and urged that Indians no longer be treated as ‘a privileged class.’ The Indian should be taught ‘to earn his living the same as a white man.’ Anti-Chinese feeling increased most noticeably among Victoria’s growing white working class, who felt that Chinese labourers competed unfairly with white workers.”


For more information on attitudes towards Chinese immigrants, please consult the following biographies.

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