Soldiers & Veterans

Chinese-Canadian soldiers from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, who served with the South East Asia Command (SEAC), awaiting repatriation to Canada, No.1 Repatriation Depot (Canadian Army Miscellaneous Units), Tweedsmuir Camp, Thursley, England, 27 November 1945 (Library and Archives Canada/Credit: Sgt. Karen M. Hermiston/Department of National Defence fonds/PA-211880

The outbreak of World War II was a pivotal point in the history of Chinese Canadians in British Columbia. The B.C. government strongly opposed enlisting any Asians in the armed forces, fearing that military veterans would ask for the right to vote afterward. Despite such obstacles and the injustice and discrimination they faced, some Chinese Canadians volunteered for military service to prove their loyalty to Canada, some of them travelling outside British Columbia to find a place that would allow them to enlist.

Chinese Canadian war veteran Gordon Quan said, when he was young, he wanted to fight for his country, and his country was Canada. “We didn’t know about the discrimination laws until well after the war was over. When we came home [after fighting Canada’s enemies], we fought for our rights.”

Due in large part to the honour and sacrifice of the Chinese Canadian veterans in World War II, the federal government repealed the Exclusion Act on May 14, 1947, relaxing immigration for the family members of Chinese Canadians. Subsequently, other discriminatory laws against the Chinese were also repealed. Having the right to vote and run for public office, Chinese Canadians began to participate in politics.

Vancouverite Douglas Jung, a veteran of World War II, was the first Chinese Canadian elected as a member of parliament in 1957, and Kamloops Mayor Peter Wing was elected as the first ethnic Chinese mayor in North America in 1966. Ben Lee served as a city councillor in Kelowna between 1973 and 1996, where he is still affectionately known as a community leader.