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Activity: Victor Mah - Stories of Alberta’s Newcomers

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Glenbow Museum, Calgary, Alberta

Victor Mah – Human Rights
Victor Mah’s family faced generations of racism and discrimination in Canada. Human rights are integral to quality of life.
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Learning Object Collection: Seven Stories
Session One: Thinking Deeply about Canada’s Immigration Policy
Facilitate a discussion on the Chinese immigration experience using the following questions:
•What was John A. Macdonald’s National Policy? (It was his three-part plan for Canada’s future. It included a plan to promote Canadian industry by taxing American goods, a promise to finish the railway, and to settle western Canada.)
•Why was it important to finish the railway? (It connected British Columbia to the rest of Canada, it would facilitate the transportation of goods across the country, and it would help bring newcomers to settle western Canada.)
•Who came to Canada to help build the railway? (The Chinese, by 1885 nearly 15,000 Chinese worked for the Canadian Pacific Railway.)
Meeting the Mah Family
Victor Mah’s great-grandfather came over to work on the railway. Read his story to the students.
•What discrimination did Victor’s father, Edward, face when he came to Canada?
•How did the Government of Canada try to restrict Chinese immigration to Canada?
Victor Mah's Story
Victor Mah, Glenbow Museum
© 2005, Victor Mah/Glenbow Museum. All Rights Reserved.
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Learning Object Collection: Seven Stories
Victor Mah, Calgary Chinese Cultural Centre, 2005
Victor Mah at the Calgary Chinese Cultural Centre, 2005
Victor Mah at the Calgary Chinese Cultural Centre, 2005.

“My heritage is very important to me, and because of that I helped to build the Chinese Cultural Centre and I am now President and Chairman of the Board.”

Glenbow Museum




© 2005, Glenbow Museum/Victor Mah. All Rights Reserved.
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Learning Object Collection: Seven Stories
Chinese Head Tax
Look at Edward Mah’s (Victor’s father) head tax certificate.

In 1885, the Government of Canada passed a law that restricted Chinese immigration to Canada. The law stated that any person of Chinese origin had to pay a $50 head tax. It was raised to $100 in 1900 and later, the head tax increased to $500 in 1903. Even though this tax became equal to two years' salary for a Chinese labourer, the Chinese continued to pour into Canada.
•Why do you think the Government of Canada passed this law?
•Did it stop the Chinese from immigrating?
•Why do you think this policy was ineffective?

In small groups, ask students to discuss the following question:
•Is it ever ok to discriminate against groups of people based on culture, religion, ethnicity, etc?

Ask students to share their responses.
Head Tax Certificate, 1923
Head Tax Certificate belonging to Edward Mah (Victor’s father), 1923
Head Tax Certificate belonging to Edward Mah (Victor’s father), 1923.

“When my father arrived in Canada, he had to pay a head tax of $500. Under the Dominion Immigration Act of 1885, Chinese immigration to Canada was regulated and limited.”

Government of Canada




© 2006, Victor Mah. All Rights Reserved.
View the complete media file

Learning Object Collection: Seven Stories
Looking Critically at the Chinese Head Tax
Invite students to think deeply about the Chinese head tax by asking the following questions:
•Put yourself in the position of the Chinese immigrants. How are they affected by the actions of the Canadian government?
•What are the effects of this action? What good things happened because of this action? What bad things happened because of this action?
•Did the Canadian government implement the head tax for a good reason? Why?

Facilitate a discussion on the students’ answers of the above questions. Ask the students to reflect on the following question in the form of a written response (the length of the response depends on the educator).
•Was Canada justified in implementing a head tax for Chinese immigrants? Why or why not?
Session Two: Letters Home
Invite students to share their responses to the question:
•Was Canada justified in implementing a head tax for Chinese immigrants? Why or why not?

Despite this head tax, from 1885 to 1920 more than 82,000 Chinese people paid the tax and moved to Canada.
•How successful was the head tax?
•Even with the head tax, why did Chinese people continue to move to Canada?
Making Judgement
Read or listen to Victor read his father’s letter to his family. In spite of all the struggles of moving to Canada, Edward still decided to bring his family here.
•Imagine you were a Chinese immigrant during this period of Canadian history. What would you do? Would you convince a family member to move to Canada?
•Pretend you are writing a letter home to a family member. Decide whether you would convince them to move to Canada or encourage them to stay in China.
•Things to consider: How will your family member pay for the head tax? What jobs will he or she do in to Canada? What skills does he or she have? What skills do you need to have to work on the railway?
Father’s Letter
Audio Clip (1:19 mins, 1.28 MB wma file) Victor Mah reading his father’s letter

Because of the Chinese Immigration Act, Victor’s family was separated for 15 years before Victor, and his mother and sister could join his father in Canada.
In 1929, the Chinese Immigration Act allowed Chinese people to go back to China to get married, but they were not allowed to bring their wives and children to Canada.
Edward Mah
© 2006, Victor Mah. All Rights Reserved.
Play the Audio File

Learning Object Collection: Seven Stories
Extension Activities
•Interview a family member or someone you know who is a recent immigrant. Ask them to describe their immigration experience. How has immigration changed over time? How has the immigration experience remained the same?
•On July 27, 2006 Prime Minister Stephen Harper officially apologized for the head tax imposed on Chinese immigrants. Research the initiatives the Canadian government is doing to take responsibility for this period in history. Do you agree with what the Canadian government is doing? What would you do differently?
Suggestions for Assessment and Evaluation
•Students hand in their writing assignment
•Students give more formal presentations of their findings through answering the various critical thinking questions
•Students hand in their letter to a family member

Learning Objectives

Students will recognize and appreciate the positive and negative impacts political decisions had on immigration in Canada following Confederation. They will critically examine Canada’s immigration policies and their affects on the Asian immigration experience.

Suggested Grade Level: Grade 7
Suggested Length of Class Time: Two 60 minute sessions
Subject Areas: Social studies, language arts

Alberta Social Studies Curriculum
Grade 7 - Following Confederation
7.2.1 Recognize the positive and negative aspects of immigration and migration (GC, LPP, C, I)
7.2.2 Recognize the positive and negative consequences of political decisions (PADM)
7.2.5 Evaluate the impact of Confederation and of subsequent immigration on Canada from 1867 to the First World War by exploring and reflecting upon the following questions and issues:
•How did the National Policy determine the economic and demographic aspects of Canadian expansion? (TCC, ER, PADM, LPP)
•How did Asian immigrants contribute to the development of Canada (i.e., Chinese railway workers)? (TCC, CC, LPP)
•In what ways did the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway affect the growth of Canada? (TCC, PADM, ER, LPP)