Chinese Canadians

The first small group of Chinese immigrants came to Canada in 1788 as artisans. From 1858 to 1885, a significant number settled in the Vancouver area and many of those worked on the Canadian Pacific Railway. After 1947 a large number of immigrants came from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the People's Republic of China.

Historic language advisory

In your research, you may encounter historical language referring to Chinese Canadians that is considered offensive today. Please read the notice about historical language in LAC’s collection.

On this page

Before you start

Gather information such as:

  • name(s)
  • approximate year of birth
  • approximate year of arrival
  • place of residence in Canada

Places to look

There are many resources for researching your Chinese ancestors.

Census records

Canadian censuses often recorded the ethnicity of individuals and their place of origin. For example, the 1911 Census recorded ethnic origin and the country or province of birth. Starting with the 1901 census, census enumerators asked people who were not born in Canada to provide their year of immigration.

LAC holds the records for all official Canadian censuses.

You can search for your ancestor by name.

  • Select your census of choice
  • Enter your name term in the Surname and/or Given name(s) fields.

Birth, marriage and death records

Provincial and territorial government offices record births, marriages and deaths. These are also known as civil registration records. Those offices regularly transfer older records to the provincial or territorial archives.

You can find more information about the records in researching your ancestors in birth, marriage and death records.

Immigration and citizenship records

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) holds government records relating to Chinese immigrants (Record Group 76). Many of them are digitized in our Immigrants from China, 1885-1949 database.

There are other RG76 records that are not included in the database. They are described in the Scope and content section of Chinese immigration records. Click on the lower level descriptions for more details.

One of the sub-series is Sample Chinese immigration certificates. Some of them are digitized on that page. See the finding aid for the names and details. The full set is digitized on Héritage (RG76-D-2-g, volume 712, microfilm C-13421, images 12-58).

You may also find information about Chinese-Canadians in these records:

Community newspapers

There were many Chinese Canadian newspapers. Search Aurora to find them by using key words like Chinese plus newspaper. LAC holds some collections of Chinese community newspapers, including:

Published sources

Many Chinese Canadian historical societies and communities have published their own histories. Sometimes they'll have stories that help you better understand your ancestors' experiences. They may also include information about specific people. You can search Aurora to find these publications and genealogy guides and indexes. Try keywords like Chinese, history, biography, genealogy or a place.

We've prepared a list of examples from our Aurora catalogue to give you an idea of the types of books you might find. Each title in this list includes the author and the LAC call number.

  • Click on a title in the list to open the full catalogue entry. If you scroll down, you'll see a list of other libraries that hold copies. You can also check your local library’s online catalogue.
  • If the call number includes the word genealogy, the book is in the genealogy room at our Ottawa location.

Example of a call number: Genealogy Ref. - CS88 A2 A38 2003

Other records

We hold other records relating to Chinese-Canadians. Find records by using Collection Search. You can try the keyword Chinese and any others relevant to your search. Also try searching by a person’s name.

Here are some examples at LAC:

Search tips

  • Consider how Chinese Canadians experiences have been shaped by larger historical events:
    • Upheaval in China like the First Opium War (1839–1842) and the Hakka led T'ai P'ing Rebellion (1850–1864), caused many Chinese to leave
    • Construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway railroad
    • Exclusionary immigration policies like the Chinese Head Tax in place from 1885 to 1923 and the total exclusion from 1923 to 1947
    • A lot of immigrants settled in Chinatowns like those found in Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal and Victoria
  • Spelling was not standardized, and the same names might be written in many different ways.

Access the records

Digitized records

If you find a record of interest, there may be a digital image. Some of these are available through Collection Search. Others, particularly digitized microforms, are available through Héritage.

Non-digitized records

References in Collection Search show if a record is open (access code 90) or restricted (access code 32). To find the access code in an item description, click on Ordering and Viewing Options, then Conditions of access.

If the item is restricted, make an Access to information request.

For records that are not digitized and not restricted, you'll need to see them in person. If you can't visit us in person, you can order copies or hire a researcher.