Can "A Better Life" For Newly-Arrived Mean "A Worse Life" For Many Residents? Mackenzie King’s 1907 Royal Commission Report (The Methods By Which Oriental Labourers Have Been Induced To Come To Canada) Showed That It Did.


Mackenzie King’s 1907 Royal Commission, “The Methods By Which Oriental Labourers Have Been Induced To Come To Canada”,investigated why unusually high numbers (about 11,500) of Japanese, Chinese and East Indians suddenly arrived in Canada in 1907. One of our previous press releases revealed that large numbers of Japanese labourers arrived because the immigration industry of 1907 (Japanese employment contractors and others  in Canada) had arranged to get cheap-labour jobs for them. In addition, displaced Japanese labourers in Hawaii believed rumours that they could find jobs in Canada.

This press release explains why large numbers of Chinese and East Indians started arriving. By implication and otherwise, it also looks at a number of significant similarities between new arrivals then and now.

The common reason that labourers from Japan, China and India had for wanting to come here was economic. This was the 1907 version of the “better life” argument which Canadians hear so often today. The newly-arrived labourers could get wages which were unbelievably higher than wages they would receive at home.

For example, in 1907, at a wage of $1.50 per day in Canada, East Indian labourers could earn 50 times more than the 3 cents a day they earned in India. At a wage of $1.50 per day in Canada, Chinese labourers could earn 20 times more than the 7.5 cents a day they could earn in China. At $1.50 per day in Canada, Japanese labourers could earn 10 times more than the 15 cents a day they could earn in Japan.

Some openly admitted that they had no intention of staying. They were here merely to make money and then return to their home countries to buy the land they could not otherwise afford. The majority were unskilled and most were younger males.

Today, Canada’s immigration system uses the term “Temporary Workers” for those who are here merely for financial reasons and then leave. In contrast, Canada’s immigration system refers to those who are here permanently as “Immigrants”. In 1907 and earlier, Canada’s immigration system did not make this distinction, although political leaders such as Prime Minister John A. Macdonald and different Royal Commissioners recognized that many people were here temporarily. As in 1907, the majority of Canada’s intake today is overwhelmingly unskilled—–despite the clamour made by the CBC and others, about the side issue of foreign credentials.

In the case of the Japanese, Mackenzie King made two clear recommendations: (1) Prohibit Japanese labourers from entering Canada if they did not come directly by ship from Japan. (2) In the case of labourers coming directly from Japan, restrict the numbers of contract labourers.

On other occasions, Mackenzie King made it very clear that the primary reason for the wide-spread antagonism towards the Chinese and Japanese was the economic repercussions they had caused for host population workers (displacement of host population First Nations and whites from jobs, forced departure from British Columbia of displaced workers, discouragement-because of low wages–of a settler/family base from coming to British Columbia). In the case of the newly-arrived cheap-labour East Indians, he was saying much the same thing.

In the cases of all three groups, Mackenzie King makes it clear that Japanese, Chinese and East Indian employment contractors in Canada (as well as emigration companies in Japan and shipping companies/agents in Japan and India) had profitted and had “induced” the inflow. In the case of the Japanese and East Indians, he says that the immigration industry of 1907 (employment contractors, shipping companies and others) continued to play a major role.

King makes an important distinction with the Chinese. He says that because of the $500 Chinese Head Tax and a doubling of wages to Chinese between 1904 and 1907, the Chinese already in Canada began to take over here the role of Chinese cheap labour contractors who were responsible for the importing of Chinese labourers from the early 1880’s to 1904. These Chinese labourers in Canada began to pay for the $500 Head Tax and the transportation costs of relatives and friends in China. King does not make specific recommendations about how to deal with this issue.

However, for all three groups he says that if labourer migration is to be “regulated and controlled”, it is necessary to have a Canadian representative in each of the three countries . The representatives who would be sent there would be responsible for keeping “the Canadian government informed of matters affecting Canadian interests along other than merely commercial lines”.

King says that if such representatives had been working in Japan, China and India prior to 1907, “much of the trouble of the past year” (the increased antagonism, employment displacement, and the September, 1907 riot in Vancouver) might have been avoided. He implies that controls of the numbers of immigrants and of the immigration industry that was profitting from the numbers were necessary and that the problems of 1907 were the result of lack of sensible controls.

From pressure now being applied to quickly admit over 800,000 applicants, it is clear that Canada’s immigration industry thinks it can dictate policy to Canada’s Department of Citizenship and Immigration. It controls rather than being controlled. It has profitted enormously by seizing control and deflecting debate about its own self-interest by saying that it is giving its clients “a better life”.

It should be noted that by implication, Mackenzie King deals also with that matter. The important question then and now remains this: Can a “better life” for many newly-arrived mean a “worse life” for many members of the host population in Canada?

It obviously did in 1907 and it does today in 2007.




A. Mackenzie King made the following observations in his 1907 Royal Commission Report about why high numbers of Chinese labourers began to arrive:

(1) Between the time of the Chinese Head Tax increase from $100 in 1901 to $500 in 1904, 16,007 Chinese labourers were charged the $100 Head Tax. King observed that this influx nearly doubled the Chinese population in Canada to around 30,000, most of whom were in British Columbia. King explains that so many Chinese labourers had entered before 1904, “that they not only entered into serious competition with white labour, but being in such numbers, there was more or less competition among themselves.”

(2) The effect of the $500 Head Tax was immediate. Between January 1, 1904 and June 30, 1907, only 121 Chinese labourers paid the tax. “The imposition of a $500 tax administered a death blow to the work of the labour agencies and contractors.” “Yip Sang, a prominent Chinese merchant of Vancouver, stated that were there no tax at the present time, at least 8000 would come out each year, and that he himself would bring out Chinese in large numbers.” (P.70)

(3) However, from June 30, 1907 to March 31, 1908, a sudden increase occurred: 1482 Chinese labourers arrived.

(4) Why was there a sudden increase? King concludes that a decline in the inflow of Chinese labourers had created a decline in supply of labour. In King”s words, “Monopoly began to do its work”. “The Chinaman, discovering his protected position, sought the advance in wages which comes from an increasing demand and a diminishing supply. Within a couple of years, the wages doubled, and in some instances, more particularly in the cases of servants of a better class, trebled, and even went beyond this point.” (P.71) “Yip Sang (a Chinese merchant) testified that before the $500 tax was imposed, he paid Chinamen for packing fish, from $25 to $40 a month with food, that now he was obliged to pay for the same services, $60 to $70…. (P.71)

(5) King observed that “It took about three years for the economic changes to work out, and for the Chinaman to become fully aware of the new situation; once cognizant of it, he began to advise his relatives and friends in China.” (P.71)

(6) The Chinese cheap-labour contractor system had been the major system for the inflow of Chinese labourers since the early 1880’s. Some labourers continued to enter Canada as a result of sponsors having a commercial motive in bringing them here, but payment of transportation and head tax by relatives (usually with the expectation of repayment after a few years) became much more common from 1907 to the time of Chinese exclusion in 1924.

(6) King concluded that “The difference in the remuneration of labour in Canada and China and the fact that the savings of a few years here constitute a life fortune in China, have constituted the main incentives to immigration.” (P.71)


B. Mackenzie King made the following observations about Immigration from India:

(1) “Until the year 1905, immigration from India was practically unknown.” Between mid-1904 and March 31, 1908, 5179 East Indians arrived. However, not all intended to stay in Canada. “Of this number, many were in transit for the United States.” (P.75)

(2) David E. Brown, general superintendent of the Trans-Pacific Service of the CPR, and who was in charge of the CPR’s (steamship) business in the Orient, explained to Mackenzie King why East Indians had come to Canada. He said that soldiers of different colonies had visited England for Queen Victoria’s Jubilee in 1897. Some of the East Indians (particularly those employed as police in Hong Kong) had returned to the Orient by way of Canada and were impressed by the opportunities here.

(3) Mackenzie King explained that the East Indians had come for three reasons:

(a) Steamship companies and their agents overseas wanted to sell tickets from India to Canada and profit by the commissions.

(b) Pamphlets about Canada had circulated in India and people believed thay could make a fortune by coming to Canada. Labourers’ wages in India were even lower than in China: 3 cents per day.

(c) Individuals in B.C. (for example, a Brahmin named Davichand and some of his relatives) acted as cheap-labour contractors for “one or two industrial concerns to obtain a class of unskilled labour at a price below the current rate…”. One witness believed that at least 45 labourers had come as a result of information Davichand had provided. The witness stated that Davidchand had sent tickets from Vancouver to India, but he did not mention how many. This man was from Ferozepore. One witness from the Punjab said that the foreman at a mill had promised to give work to those who came, “and 200 or 300 men had come from his part of the country”. Davichand was involved in sending tickets for at least some of these men too.

(4) Gillander, Arbuthnot & Company, Calcutta agents of the CPR and RMS (Steamship line), advertised widely in India. They told potential passengers that a medical exam was required of all East Indians intending to go to Canada. They guaranteed that if a passenger bought a ticket but failed the medical exam, the company would refund the money paid for the ticket. The fare from Calcutta to Hong Kong and then to India was around $47 Canadian (236 East Indian rupees).

(5) A number of East Indians owned farms in India and mortgaged their farms to come to Canada. Others who did not own land borrowed the money. All paid very high rates of interest (between 15 and 20%). Some used their own savings to come to Canada. Almost all were males who were single or, if married, had left spouses and children behind. A number reported that they were paid the promised wage of $1.50 per day at the outset, but that their wage had been reduced to $1.25 per day. Uday Ram, a foreman at one of the mills and nephew of the Brahmin Davichand who was also a physician and who “exercised considerable influence over men of the lower caste in India”, explained that wages had been reduced because of a large supply of labourers. (P.80)

(6) King concluded that the immigration from India, and “the methods by which it was carried on” (encouragement of a gold rush mentality, usurious interest rates for loans, exploitation of workers, etc.) had caused both unrest in B.C. and “great hardship and injustice to many of the Indians themselves”. He stated that “Apart altogether from the question of whether or not they are suited to this country, it is clear that without some supervision on the part of the authorities which will protect the natives from false representations, it is within the power of a few individuals to create a situation not only prejudicial to the lives and fortunes of hundreds of well-meaning and innocent persons, but of grave concern to the British Empire itself”.

As many Canadians know, the misrepresentations of the federal government through the Department of Citizenship and Immigration as well as the misrepresentations of Canada’s immigration industry continue today.


NOTE: Quotations in this press release are taken from “The Report of W.L. Mackenzie King, C.M.G., Commissioner Appointed To Enquire Into The Methods By Which Oriental Labourers Have Been Induced To Come To Canada” conducted in November, 1907.