SASKATOON – Andy Yuen still remembers when he came to Wynyard, Sask. in 1996. His uncle and grandmother picked him up from the airport and headed straight to the local Chinese grocery store in Saskatoon.
His family has been tied to the Chinese restaurant business in Saskatchewan for decades. Today, he’s the owner of Odd Couple Restaurant in Saskatoon, one of many that thrive in the province.
“It wasn’t easy but I think part of it is, I’m glad we went to a small town because we got to learn about Saskatchewan’s culture,” he said.
Before finding success in the restaurant scene, thousands of Chinese immigrants were brought in to work on the Canadian Pacific Railway.
Yixi Lu, a Chinese immigration researcher, says it was a good deal for Canada; Chinese people were willing to work hard for very little money. Records indicate they received three times less the payment compared to other workers.
“Their parents when they came, their intention was to come here, save up money, send money and eventually go back to China,” she said.
“They couldn’t view Canada as a home or some place they really want to raise their family.”
The discrimination didn’t end there. In 1923, after years of legislation and raising the head tax, Canada passed the Chinese Exclusion Act. As a result, Chinese men couldn’t bring their families over, earning them the name the “bachelor society.”
“A provincial law required white European women could not work for Chinese men unless the man had filled out an application form … proof that he was of good character because there was a fear that these innocent white girls would be seduced,” said city archivist Jeff O’Brien.
Lu says with increasing hostility in B.C., more Chinese Canadians decided to call Saskatchewan home.
“Saskatoon had its own little Chinatown in the early 1900s on 19th Street in what’s now River Landing. There were a bunch of little Chinese businesses, grocery stores and restaurants,” said O’Brien.
Despite discrimination and scrutiny, Lu says resilience has helped the Chinese-Canadian community thrive. She says she hopes to someday see another Chinatown in the city.