Film Screening: In the Shadow of Gold MountainJune 22, 2017
June 27, 6:30 – 8:30 p.m.
Ottawa Public Library, 120 Metcalfe Street, Auditorium (in English)
Panel discussion following the screening features:
Tim Stanley – University of Ottawa professor who specializes in the history of Chinese immigrants in Canada and who teaches histories of racist exclusion and historical representation.
Yew Lee – Yew’s father, Foo Lee paid a $500 Chinese Head Tax when he arrived in Canada in 1913. The loan he took to pay the tax he paid with interest over two decades like the mortgage on a house. The Chinese Exclusion Act also prevented his mother, father and siblings from being reunited for a period of 14 years. In the year 2000, Yew and his mother, Chow Quen Lee, stepped forward as plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit against the federal government. Yew and his mother are featured in this film.
Shining a light
By Leah Geller
My niece Rachel, who is in Grade 9, does not like history. I get it—I didn’t like history either when I was in school. Our textbooks and teachers spoke mostly of prime ministers, of captains, of battles and victories.
But recently I’ve become enthralled with Canadian history, especially those important stories the history books left out. I’ve become captivated by our hidden past and the injustices that, for years, our country seemed to want to forget.
Like the cruelty we imposed on Chinese immigrants. After exploiting the labour of Chinese men to build the railroad that ties this country together, the Canadian government did everything in its power to keep Chinese from settling here, including the wives and children of these men. It imposed a prohibitive head tax from 1885 to 1923, and then a ban on Chinese immigrants altogether until 1947, leaving thousands of fragmented families in its wake.
Filmmaker Karen Cho tells this remarkable story in her documentary In the Shadow of Gold Mountain. She interviews those who suffered the humiliation and financial hardship of the Head Tax and the Chinese Exclusion Act, and those fighting to redress these horrible wrongs.
It also reminded me of the other skeletons in Canada’s closet—how we turned away close to 1,000 Jewish immigrants during World War II, many of whom perished back on European shores. The internment of Japanese-Canadians. The lack of voting rights for visible minorities. The utter cruelty inflicted on those who first called this land home, including the horror of residential schools, the deliberate attempt by the Canadian government to destroy Indigenous peoples, languages and cultures, and the resulting trauma suffered, generation after generation.
The movie also made me think of my niece Rachel, who was born in China and adopted by my brother’s family here in Canada. Her experience as a Chinese-Canadian is so different from generations past. She lives in a multicultural society where, at least constitutionally, all Canadians enjoy the same rights and freedoms, irrespective of race, religion or country of origin.
Rachel is at a turning point, transitioning from childhood to adulthood through that awkward stage of adolescence. And it feels as if Canada is coming of age, too. It’s as though this country, and our identity, is strong enough now to acknowledge our weaknesses and apologize for its mistakes. Canada is coming to terms with its past—good and bad.
As we mark Canada 150, let’s be courageous and curious to study all of our history, including our gravest mistakes, so we can learn from them. Let’s shine a light on the dark secrets of our past, so we can do better in the future. It’s the only way forward.
In June 2006, Prime Minister Harper apologized on behalf of Canada for this shameful period of government-legislated racism against Chinese Canadians, which lasted 62 years. As part of the government apology, symbolic redress payments were given to surviving head tax payers and spouses. These survivors numbered fewer than 2% of the 81,000 people who originally paid the head tax.