Christian outreach to Chinese immigrants in Canada began as early as the 1870s, when Methodists started a Chinese mission school in Victoria, B.C. Most early missionary work among the Chinese was done by Methodists and Presbyterians. Anglican activities were limited prior to the 1920s, when missions were established in several B.C. locations. Other denominations were generally more informal in their efforts to minister to the Chinese community.
The early missions offered English-language classes and a variety of social services, which attracted many Chinese. Christian missionaries were also among the few advocates and defenders of the Chinese community during a period characterized by discrimination and prejudice. "His Dominion" and the "Yellow Peril": Protestant missions to the Chinese immigrants in Canada, 1859-1967 examines the history of Chinese immigrants and their encounters with Canadian Protestant missionaries.
Although services offered by the missions and churches were welcomed and used by the Chinese community, the early missions resulted in few conversions. This changed over time, particularly after the exclusion legislation of 1923 (see Milestones in Chinese-Canadian History). The resulting separation of families and sense of isolation led to churches becoming important centres of community life. In some cases, members of the Chinese community decided to run their churches themselves, forming independent churches and Chinese-Christian associations. One of the oldest, the Christ Church of China, was established in Vancouver in 1911. A history of this association can be found on the Coquitlam Christ Church of China website.
This section focuses on records associated with historical Chinese missions and churches in Canada. However, during the Chinese community's long history in Canada, people have not always exclusively attended Chinese missions and churches, and information may be found in other church records. For general information on researching church records, see the Parish Registers page from Library and Archives Canada.
Both Chinese and non-Chinese genealogical researchers face challenges when attempting to access Canadian church records. Churches have appeared, disappeared, or merged over time and administrative arrangements have changed. Record-keeping practices and retention policies have varied greatly. Some records are in the custody of individual churches, others in diocesan collections, and still others in national repositories. Often, there are no online catalogues or finding aids, and in most cases it is necessary to visit the archives in person or hire a researcher. Nonetheless, there are some very useful and interesting records. In the case of Chinese churches, both Chinese and English records can be found.
For basic information about major denominations with ministries to the Chinese community and how to find their records see:
Although the Anglican Church carried out missionary activities in the Victoria area as early as the late 1880s, its ministry among the Chinese was limited before the 1920s.
By 1925, four missions had been established in British Columbia: Good Hope in Victoria, Good Shepherd and Good Samaritan in Vancouver, and Good Angel in Vernon. There are also references to an Anglican Chinese mission in Cumberland, B.C. in archival records.
The following book, published in 1925, provides more information about B.C. Chinese missions:
Oriental Missions in British Columbia (1925)
Ward, N. Lascelles
Ref. 266 W26o
For additional information about Anglican Chinese missions and churches in B.C. and elsewhere in Canada, contact archivists at individual diocesan archives (see below).
FINDING THE RECORDS
Anglican historical records in Canada are held in diocesan collections. (A diocese is a unit of church organization comprising a large number of churches, often encompassing a large geographical area). Historical records relating to Chinese missions and churches have been noted in several collections.
At the Anglican Diocese of British Columbia Archives
Despite its name, the Anglican Diocese of British Columbia encompasses only a portion of the province - Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands. The diocesan archives has records of the Good Hope Mission in Victoria, which opened in 1922 and operated until 1955. The following is a brief description of some of the records. Text and box numbers can be used to request various items:
Text 36 - Box 1
Comprises a two-volume Marriage Register for the Good Hope Mission. The Register consists of marriage certificates issued from September 18, 1926 to December 26, 1942. These are copies of marriage registrations sent to the provincial vital statistics agency, and are on stationary provided by the government. The file also includes a number of loose documents, including several marriage licenses.
Text 36 - Box 2
Contains a variety of documents related to the Mission, some of genealogical interest. Examples include a register indicating the Name, Age, Address, Date of Baptism, Date of Confirmation, and Remarks of about 50 individuals. Other files include a church directory, list of Sunday school students, record of contributors and other items. Records are mostly in Chinese and appear to date from the 1930s and 1940s.
The above records have not been microfilmed. For information, contact the Anglican Diocese of British Columbia Archives.
At the Anglican Diocese of New Westminster Archives
The Anglican Diocese of New Westminster has historical records relating to the Good Shepherd and Good Samaritan Chinese missions. For more information, contact the Archivist:
6000 Iona Drive
Telephone: (604) 822-9583
Fax: (604) 822-9212
Email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
At Other Anglican Archives in B.C. and the Rest of Canada
The Methodist church was the first to minister to the Chinese community in Canada, establishing a mission school in Victoria in 1876. The school moved to new premises in Chinatown and was inaugurated as the Chinese Mission School in February 1885. With the support of the Methodist church, missionary John Gardiner also established a Chinese Girls Rescue Home (later the Oriental Home and School) as a refuge for young Chinese women escaping prostitution and forced marriages. In 1891, Gardiner received a grant to build a Chinese Methodist Church.
In Vancouver, the first Methodist Mission was established on Hastings Street in 1888. By the following year there was a Chinese Methodist Church on Dupont Street. After much of New Westminster was destroyed by fire in 1898, a Chinese Methodist Church was established there as well. Nanaimo also had a Chinese Methodist Mission.
The Methodists were also active on the Prairies. In Moose Jaw, which had the largest Chinese population in Saskatchewan, a Chinese Mission was established in 1911.
Montreal had a Chinese Methodist Church by 1921.
FINDING THE RECORDS
In 1925, the Methodist church merged with the Presbyterian Church and Congregational Church to form the United Church of Canada. Archival collections were also merged. For more information about Methodist (United) church archives and their collections across Canada, see Church Records - United.
The Presbyterians, together with the Methodists, were the earliest and most active church group ministering to the Chinese community in Canada. In Montreal, a Presbyterian Mission began in the 1880s. Toronto's Chinese Presbyterian Church was established in 1905.
On the Prairies, a Presbyterian mission started in Calgary in 1901, while a 1914 survey of "Non-Anglo Saxon Races" indicated that Presbyterian churches in both Moose Jaw and Saskatoon were seeking ways to minister to their Chinese communities. In Winnipeg, Presbyterian work among the Chinese had started informally in 1890, and a mission jointly funded by the Methodists and Presbyterians started in 1910.
For additional information about Presbyterian missions in Western Canada, including among the Chinese, see:
Western Challenge: The Presbyterian Church in Canada's Mission on the Prairies and North, 1885-1925 (2000)
In British Columbia, the Victoria Presbyterian Gospel Hall for Chinese was established in 1892, and was upgraded in 1899 to First Presbyterian Chinese Church.
FINDING THE RECORDS
At United Church Archives
A majority of Presbyterian churches in Canada joined the Methodist and Congregational Churches in 1925, forming the United Church of Canada. Archival collections were also merged. For more information, see Church Records - United.
At Presbyterian Church in Canada Archives and Records Office
About one-third of the Presbyterian churches did not join the newly formed United Church in 1925. Records of these churches are held by The Presbyterian Church in Canada Archives and Records Office.
Victoria History Archives 1892 to 2004: Photos and Stories is a web-based exhibit about the historic Chinese Presbyterian Church in Victoria, B.C.. The exhibit includes many photographs of Chinese individuals.
The United Church of Canada was formed in 1925 through a union of the Presbyterian, Methodist, and Congregational churches. Prior to union, the Methodists and Presbyterianshad been the earliest and most active churches ministering to the Chinese community.
Reflecting this change, some of the previously established Chinese Methodist and Chinese Presbyterian Churches became Chinese United Churches.
FINDING THE RECORDS
At United Church Archives
United Church archival collections are held at a central repository in Toronto, and at Conference archives' in several locations across Canada. (A Conference is an administrative group of churches covering a regional area).
A small number of items held by various repositories of the United Church and of possible value to Chinese-Canadian genealogists are described below. The list is not comprehensive, and researchers are encouraged to contact individual repositories directly for advice about the availability of additional historical and genealogical records relating to Chinese churches. Contact information is available on the United Church of Canada Archives website. Microfilm items held by the United Church of Canada Archives in Toronto may be available through interlibrary loan.
Chinese school records from the Kelowna Methodist Church covering the period from 1914-1916 are available at the United Church of Canada British Columbia Conference Archives. For more information and a finding aid, see the archival description in the MemoryBC archival database.
Records of the Oriental Home and School in Victoria are also available at the United Church of Canada British Columbia Conference Archives. The School began in 1888 as the Chinese Girls Rescue Home. It was established by a Methodist missionary concerned about traffic in Chinese women and girls for the purposes of prostitution. For further details, see the archival description in the MemoryBC archival database.
St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church in Winnipeg existed from 1881 to 1925. It initiated Chinese classes around 1896. The church's records are held by the Conference of Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario.
All People's United Church in Hamilton, Ontario opened in 1926 to serve new Canadians in the city, especially the Chinese, Japanese and Italians. The church's records are held by the United Church of Canada Archives.
Information about specific items in the United Church of Canada British Columbia Conference Archives are available in the Historical Chinese Language Materials in British Columbia electronic inventory. Go to the Catalogue Search page and search by Holding Location, entering United church archive as keywords.
For information and links to other denominations of religious archives at locations across Canada, see the Religious Archives page from Library and Archives Canada.