Immigration Office Wall Pieces with Chinese Poems

between 1911 and 1919
RBCM 2000.41.1

These three wall pieces with Chinese poems carved or written on them, are the only known surviving artifacts of their kind in Canada. They document early Chinese immigrants’ first experience in Canada, and testify to BC’s significant role as the gateway from Asia-Pacific to Canada in the early 20th century.

The poems’ creators were immigrants who were detained in Victoria at the Federal Immigration Detention Hospital for further questioning while awaiting entry into Canada. Dated in 1911 and 1919, the poems express the immigrants’ aspirations for the new land, their thoughts of family and homeland, and their sorrows and anger over the treatment on the walls that detained them.

Dr. David Chuenyan Lai salvaged this precious collection from the building when it was being demolished in 1977. We preserve it as a unique and rare first-hand account of, and physical testimony to, the struggles and experiences of the early immigrants arriving in British Columbia, Canada’s western door. As part of the shared literary, cultural, and historic legacy in the pan-Pacific region the poems have global resonance.

This object selected by Dr. Tzu-I Chung. View Profile »