The Chinese Experience at Queen’s University

Street Address : Old Medical Building, off Arch Street
Period : 1900-1950

During the early 20th century the Chinese in Kingston experienced mixed interactions with Queen’s University. Queen’s students were important customers for Chinese businesses. Chinese laundries tended to be located a short walking distance from the campus. Several Chinese-owned restaurants offered meal plans to students. When asked why he chose to donate $50 to the university in 1901, Hong Lee responded pragmatically that as enrollment grew so would his business, because almost all of his clients were students.

The first Chinese students began to attend Queen’s University in 1912. William Fung enrolled in engineering but was told by the administration that he would not be allowed to register and should seek his education elsewhere. Yatsane Dan Poon was the first Chinese student to attend classes in the school year of 1912-1913 but he did not finish his degree. The next known Chinese to register was Ross Wong who enrolled in 1919 in medicine and was the first Chinese student to graduate in 1923. He would have spent the majority of his studies in the Old Medical Building on the west side of the square. It was the first building constructed by Queen’s University in 1858 and served as the Medical Building until 1986.

During the 1920s an average of two to three Chinese students were enrolled per year. All of them were male and all of them had been born in China. Chinese students were frequently described as determined, hardworking, and dedicated to their education. After the imposition of the head tax in 1885 and its increase to $500 in 1903, education became a popular way for Chinese immigrants to come to Canada. The head tax policy stated that Chinese immigrants, who came to Canada for educational pursuits, would receive a full refund of the head tax after providing proof of two full years of study.

Despite the total exclusion of Chinese immigrants from Canada in 1923, the Chinese population at Queen’s University remained steady throughout the 1930s. Most of the new students during this period came from northwestern Ontario or British Columbia. It is likely that they were part of the migration eastward to avoid the harsh racism that was prevalent in the west. After 1946, when the Exclusion Act was abolished, Queen’s Chinese population began to grow steadily. Today the university has a large and diverse Chinese population. There are over seven different clubs specifically for Chinese students, ranging from religious groups to the Cantonese debating society.

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Young Chinaman to Study at Queen's
Young Chinaman to Study at Queen’s
Chinaman's Gift to Queen's
Chinaman’s Gift to Queen’s