stories from exclusion to inclusion

No Canada Without Me


Christine Cheung
Christine Cheung

visual artist

Featured internationally and showcased in renowned museums, Cheung’s art embodies the act of letting go. She brings her artistic prowess as the visual artist for “No Canada Without Me | Stories from exclusion to inclusion” light show.

Sunshine agency
Sunshine Creative

visual storyteller

The talented visual storyteller behind the “No Canada Without Me | Stories from exclusion to inclusion” light & sound show, brings a unique blend of creativity and expertise to illuminate the impactful narratives of Asian Canadians.

studio luma

visual projection designer

The talented visual storyteller behind the “No Canada Without Me | Stories from exclusion to inclusion” light & sound show, brings a unique blend of creativity and expertise to illuminate the impactful narratives of Asian Canadians.

Sharing the stories of Asian Canadian contributions to Canada

This project emerged from the Asian Canadian community’s recognition of the need to raise awareness about their contributions as essential workers to Canada over the past 150 years. However, the community faces cultural barriers in sharing their dark past experiences. To overcome this, Action! Chinese Canadians Together Foundation (ACCT) & Asian Heritage Foundation (AHF) collaborated with visual artists and storytellers to visually depict and narrate the impactful experiences of Asian Canadians. The project aims to validate their history, promote awareness of racial inequities, and counter anti-Asian racism sparked by the pandemic. These stories highlight a legacy of exclusion and how succeeding generations of Asian Canadians have embraced their full citizenship in this country. It’s their journey from exclusion to inclusion.

About the project

Asian Canadians have played an integral role in shaping the history of Canada for over 150 years. However, their contributions and experiences have often been overlooked or marginalized. From the 1850s to the 1880s gold rush, thousands of Chinese workers were brought to Canada as a cheap source of labor first for the gold mining industry and then for the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway.

Asian Canadian history is rooted in the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR). As thousands of Chinese workers, enduring perilous conditions and facing significant prejudice, played a crucial role in building this monumental transportation infrastructure that connected the country from coast to coast. Where despite their immense contributions, these workers faced discrimination, low wages, and dangerous working conditions.

Between 1881 and 1884, as many as 17,000 Chinese men came to B.C. to work as labourers on the Canadian Pacific Railway. (Lorna Fandrich)

Once the need for their labour was over, between 1885 and 1923, the Government of Canada imposed a head tax on Chinese immigrants as a part of an attempt to limit their entry into the country. Every person of Chinese origin entering Canada had to pay at least $50 which gradually escalating to an exorbitant amount of $500 in 1903, which could afford you two houses at the time. The tax did not apply to any other immigrants.

Another pivotal moment was when The Chinese Exclusion Act, also known as “Humiliation Day” for the Chinese community, was enacted on July 1st, 1923, and remained in effect until 1947, severely restricted their entry, settlement, suffrage, and integration into Canadian society. It required all people of Chinese ‘race’ living in Canada, including the Canadian-born, to register with the federal government in order to stay in the country.

The Act legally sanctioned racial discrimination and perpetuated systemic racism, leading to a significant decrease in the Chinese population in Canada and the enduring perception of Chinese Canadians as perpetual foreigners. The Act resulted in significant financial burdens and separated families, with some Chinese Canadians leading solitary lives and never reuniting with their loved ones.

Despite these challenges, throughout Canadian history, Asian Canadians, including those in essential worker roles, have made significant contributions to the nation’s growth and prosperity. From healthcare professionals to farmers, restaurant owners to shopkeepers, Asian Canadians have been instrumental in various industries and sectors. Yet, their stories have often been untold or underrepresented.

The legacy of exclusion and discrimination continues to impact Asian Canadian communities today. It has resulted in systemic inequities, limited representation, and undervaluing of their contributions. Recognizing and addressing this history is crucial in fostering a more inclusive and equitable society for all Canadians. The project “No Canada Without Me – Stories from exclusion to inclusion” aims to bring awareness to this rich history, counteract present-day anti-Asian racism triggered by the pandemic, and highlight the resilience and accomplishments of Asian Canadians. The project highlights the profound impact of the treatment of Asian communities in Canada, both historically and in the present day. It seeks to shed light on the consequences of discriminatory policies, racism, and the lasting effects on the Asian Canadian community.

Historically, the Chinese Exclusion Act, enacted a century ago, stands as a stark reminder of the systemic discrimination faced by Asian Canadians. This act, which banned Chinese immigration and barred their integration into Canadian society, had a devastating impact on families and individuals. It tore apart loved ones, shattered dreams, and perpetuated a legacy of exclusion and marginalization.


A C.I.5 head tax certificate of a young boy — Chung Chee Pan — who arrived just months before the Exclusion Act became law. He paid the full $500 entry fee and settled in Thunder Bay, Ont. (Photo: The Paper Trail Archive: Su Kai Jung/Chee Pan Chung)

The project aims to raise awareness about the long-lasting effects of such discriminatory policies. It seeks to amplify the voices and experiences of Asian Canadians who were directly impacted by the Chinese Exclusion Act or anti-Asian racism, highlighting the intergenerational trauma and challenges faced by their families.

Furthermore, the project addresses the present-day impact of anti-Asian racism, particularly in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Asian communities have faced a surge in xenophobia, scapegoating, and hate crimes, fuelled by misinformation and prejudice. This widespread discrimination has created an atmosphere of fear, anxiety, and marginalization within the Asian Canadian community.

By collecting powerful personal narratives and impactful visuals, the project aims to counteract these negative narratives and challenge the perpetuation of stereotypes. It seeks to humanize the experiences of Asian Canadians and to foster empathy, understanding, and solidarity among all Canadians.

Moreover, the project aims to build awareness about the contributions of Asian Canadians as essential workers throughout history. Despite facing numerous barriers, Asian Canadians have played pivotal roles in industries such as healthcare, food, transportation, and essential services, contributing to the growth and development of Canada. By showcasing these stories, the project seeks to combat the erasure of Asian Canadians’ contributions and validate their integral role in nation-building.

Through storytelling and education, the project aims to dismantle biases, promote inclusivity, and foster a more equitable and just society. By challenging the treatment of Asian communities in the past and present, it seeks to inspire dialogue, reflection, and collective action to address racial inequities and create a more inclusive future for all Canadians. The project aims to challenge and transform the narrative surrounding the Asian Canadian community, countering stereotypes, promoting inclusivity, and fostering a more accurate and nuanced understanding of their experiences.

Historically, the Asian Canadian community has been subjected to prejudice, discrimination, and exclusionary policies such as the Chinese Exclusion Act. These injustices have contributed to the perpetuation of harmful stereotypes and a limited understanding of the rich and diverse contributions of Asian Canadians to the nation.

Case in point, Asian Canadian essential workers were also scapegoated, blamed for the pandemic, and denied services while serving Canadians during a very challenging time. One of the Asian Canadian communities that have played essential worker roles and as nation builders in Canada since the 1850s is Chinese Canadians. As one of Alberta’s first Asian immigrants from the 1800s Chinese labourers and railroad workers risked economic security, endured systemic racism, and lived long distances from their loved ones to build a brighter future for the next generation in Calgary.

People hold up signs against racism against Asians and in memory of the people murdered in Atlanta during a demonstration in Montreal, Sunday, March, 21, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

Through the collection of impactful visuals and powerful personal narratives, the project seeks to reclaim and reshape the narrative about Asian Canadians. By highlighting their stories of resilience, perseverance, and success, the project aims to break down ingrained cultural barriers that have hindered the community from sharing their experiences.

Moreover, the project aims to build awareness about racial inequities of the past and counteract the present widespread anti-Asian racism triggered by the pandemic. By shedding light on the experiences of exclusion, the project emphasizes the need for empathy, understanding, and solidarity in confronting and dismantling racial prejudices.

By actively engaging creative visual artists and digital storytellers, the project seeks to bridge historical gaps and provide a platform for Asian Canadians in Calgary to share their compelling stories. Through these stories, the project aims to foster a greater appreciation for the diversity and richness of Asian Canadian history and culture.

The project also aims to engage Canadian youth of Asian descent to search, discover, and reflect on their family history and cultural heritage in reflection to the current context of the resurgence of anti-Asian racism and hate. Next-generation Asian Canadian youth are often not aware of the history and hardship faced by their immigrant forebears. Often they grow up with internalized racism and see themselves as inferior. It is the goal of ACCT, Act2EndRacism & AHF to equip these youth with an appreciation that their culture is a strength and to inspire them to lead.

Ultimately, by changing the narrative, the project hopes to empower Asian Canadians to claim their full citizenship and celebrate their contributions to Canada. By challenging stereotypes, building awareness, and promoting a more accurate understanding of the community’s experiences, the project aims to foster a more inclusive and equitable society where Asian Canadians are recognized, valued, and celebrated for their integral role in shaping the nation. The significance of this project lies in its relevance to the experiences and struggles of Asian communities in Canada today. By addressing the mistreatment and discrimination faced by Asian Canadians, it aims to bring attention to ongoing issues and foster positive change.

Why It is Important

Firstly, it matters because it challenges the prevailing narrative and stereotypes that have perpetuated the marginalization of Asian communities. Historically, Asians in Canada have often been portrayed as the yellow peril or perpetual foreigners, facing exclusion, stereotypes, and discrimination based on their ethnicity. By changing the narrative, the project aims to challenge these harmful perceptions and promote a more accurate and inclusive understanding of Asian Canadians’ diverse experiences and contributions.

Secondly, it matters because it addresses the current rise in anti-Asian racism triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic. The unjust blame placed on Asian communities for the virus has resulted in an alarming increase in hate crimes, xenophobia, and discrimination. The project seeks to counteract these negative narratives by showcasing the resilience, strength, and contributions of Asian Canadians as essential workers and active participants in Canadian society.

Furthermore, it matters because it strives to build awareness and empathy among the broader Canadian population. By sharing the impactful stories and lived experiences of Asian Canadians, the project aims to foster understanding, compassion, and solidarity. It encourages individuals to reflect on their own biases, challenge prejudice, and actively work towards creating a more inclusive and accepting society.

Importantly, this project matters for the Asian Canadian community itself. It provides a platform for their voices to be heard and their experiences to be validated. By amplifying their stories, the project empowers Asian Canadians to reclaim their narratives, celebrate their heritage, and assert their rightful place as equal and valued members of Canadian society.

Ultimately, the project holds immense significance as it has the power to ignite positive social change. By confronting the historical and ongoing mistreatment of Asian communities, its aim is to actively contribute to dismantling systemic racism, promoting social justice, and fostering a more equitable and inclusive Canada for all its residents. It serves as a resounding call to action, inviting individuals and communities alike to recognize the profound contributions of Asian Canadians and to contemplate the implications of their absence in shaping the nation. Asking the question “What would Canada be without me”. Through reflection and understanding, it encourages collective efforts to address the issues at hand and actively work towards a future that is characterized by justice, equality, and the full recognition and inclusion of all communities. The project serves as a catalyst for transformation, inspiring meaningful engagement and driving tangible progress towards a more just and inclusive society