Legislation touches three generations of Chinese-Canadian family

Legislation touches three generations of Chinese-Canadian family

‘He gave up a hell of a lot for me,” grandson says

Hope residents might know Jimmy Toy as a pharmacist that has lived in Hope since 1961, but his family has an even longer history here in Canada.

His grandfather, father and himself all have come in contact with Canada’s past legislation that both welcomed and hindered Chinese people from coming to Canada.

Toy knows little about his grandfather. He knows that his grandfather came to Canada in the late 1800s to build a railway in British Columbia. Then a young confederation, Canada needed a railway to connect the provinces from coast to coast.

“They could not get any cheap labour to do the dangerous jobs in those days,” said Toy. “A lot of people died.”

Asked why his grandfather wanted to come Canada, he said all immigrants look for a better life.

“This is why I have such a great respect for my grandfather,” said Toy. “Because he gave up a hell of a lot for me.”

His grandfather returned to China as he had no work left in Canada. He farmed until he died, when Toy was four to five years old.

Toy’s father also came to Canada, aged 13. Toy said his father came to Canada a few years before the 1923 Chinese Exclusion Act, which banned the Chinese from immigrating. However, that also meant that he had to pay a head tax, put into law in 1885.

Toy expects that he paid the highest tier of head tax to enter Canada, which was increased from 1885 to 1923 in increments.

His dad left Canada in 1933 to get married in China and they had Jimmy, but his father could not bring him nor his wife to Canada because of the Chinese Exclusion Act.

Nevertheless, finances brought his father back to Canada in 1934, after Toy was born, and for about 15 years, Toy would not see his father.

“I have three kids and I can’t think of myself, getting married, and immediately leaving the country and for the next 10, 20 years, not to see them again. That’s a hell of a sacrifice,” said Toy.

Toy said he lived his life basically as an orphan.

“I never lived with my family for one day,” he said, adding his mother died when he was eight.

Luckily for Toy, in 1947, Canada repealed the Chinese Exclusion Act and his father went to apply to bring him over. In a letter, Toy’s father told him about this. One of his suggestions was to go to Hong Kong, then a British colony, to receive education in English. There, Toy visited the Canadian embassy for verification and health checks.

Then one day, a guardian informed him of when he was leaving and what he needed to do. Asked how he packed, he said, “not hell of a lot.”

Then in November 1949, Toy arrived in Canada on a Philippine Airline flight, spending two weeks in Vancouver before moving to Bowsman, in northern Manitoba, to join his dad, where he ran a restaurant.

After five years in Canada, Toy became a Canadian citizen. Toy and his wife have three children.

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