Canada 150: Chu Lai fought against anti-Chinese discrimination and won
June 6, 2017
By Kevin Griffin, Vancouver Sun |
After he died while asleep at home at age 59, the Chinese community in Victoria turned out in huge numbers to say goodbye to one of the country’s pioneers. Chu Lai is not much remembered today, but in his day in the late 19th and early 20th century, he was known for fighting against racism toward Chinese immigrants at a time when it wasn’t popular. He was one of the wealthiest Chinese merchants in B.C., with a net worth estimated at $500,000.
On Wednesday, June 6, 1906, the Victoria Times Colonist reported about preparations for his public funeral.
The story said ceremonies included building a temporary altar for a Taoist priest to perform last rites in front of where Lai died. Everything was arranged by the Chinese Empire Reform Association, a political party started by the Chinese reformer and exile Kang Youwei in Victoria in 1899 to establish a constitutional monarchy in China. Chu was vice-president of the Victoria chapter when he died.
“Professional mourners who will be clad in sackcloth have been engaged to weep as they walk in a funeral procession,” the story said. “Every carriage in the city has been engaged, as also the services of a local brass band.”
Chu came Canada in the 1860s. A member of the Hakka minority in Guangdong in southern China, he made his fortune trading during the Cariboo Gold Rush. By 1876, he was successful enough to open the Wing Chong Company in Victoria.
In 1885, Chu was a participant in a historic court case. A year before, the provincial legislature had passed the Chinese Regulation Act which put an annual tax of $10 on all Chinese residents over the age of 14.
Chu and another Chinese immigrant were charged and convicted of failing to pay the tax. Chu posted a bond of $250 and challenged the law in B.C. Supreme Court, according to the Dictionary of Canadian Biography.
In the precedent-setting case, the court ruled that the act was “ultra vires” — beyond the power of the provincial legislature.
In Vancouver, Chu left his mark at 111 East Pender Street. The historic, two-storey brick building, built by Chu in 1903, is recognized as a one of Canada’s Historic Places.
“A restaurant, known as the ‘Green Door,’ first opened onto the lane in the 1930s,” HistoricPlaces.ca says about the building.