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Chinese Labour in Moose Jaw

The Tunnels of Moose Jaw Passage to Fortune tour correctly acknowledges that its characters, including a demanding White laundry owner and his foreman, are fictitious. The historic reality is quite different. As in other cities, Chinese workers in Moose Jaw’s early years were mainly self-employed, or employed by other Chinese workers. Many had constructed the Canadian Pacific Railway, but did not find work where they later settled. They established themselves in service work such as laundries or restaurants. Their success later led the dominant society to seek legislative means to protect “White” businesses. Trade unions were also involved in the campaign for laws to curb the Chinese workers’ success, seeing cheap Chinese Labour as a threat to their status.

In 1912, Saskatchewan became the first jurisdiction to prohibit the employment of White (Caucasian) women by Oriental employers. Shortly after, Moose Jaw was the site of the first conviction under this law: Quong Wing and Quong Sing pleaded not guilty at their trial, but lost; each was fined $5, and they were required to fire the three “White” staff. With the help of the Chinese Community, they challenged their conviction in the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal and subsequently at the Supreme Court of Canada. They lost both times. The legislation remained in effect until 1969, although it was not enforced in later years.

Martha Tracey

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Further Reading

Backhouse, C. 1996. “The White Women’s Labour Laws: Anti-Chinese Racism in Early Twentieth-Century Canada,” Law and History Review 14: 315–68; Li, P.S. 1988. “Capitalist Expansion and Immigrant Labour: Chinese in Canada.” Pp. 101–26 in B. Singh Bolaria and Peter S. Li (eds.), Racial Oppression in Canada. Toronto: Garamond Press.
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