Asian-Canadian Farmers


Agricultural exports are a major part of Western Canada’s past and present. For example, “Crops account for about 85% of primary agricultural exports [in Alberta] and… Wheat is Alberta’s largest agricultural export commodity at $2.0 billion in 2012.” (Government of Alberta, pp. 3) It is no surprise that historically many immigrants have ended up in these occupational sectors.

On the Western coast of British Columbia, the agricultural sector in the province was revitalized by the arrival of new immigrants in the early 1900s, such as the Chinese, of whom many were originally farmers. These landed immigrants formed the earliest market gardens, which were “…small-scale business[es] of growing vegetables, fruits and flowers as cash crops, often for direct sale to consumers or restaurants, farmers’ markets, or wholesalers. Typically, a wide range of crops are grown.” (Lennon, pp. 2) Similar constructions occurred in southern Alberta as well. Chinese farmers such as High Wo and others “…began producing for the city’s [Calgary] market, while Edmonton’s market garden industry began in 1907. In all prairie cities both working and middle class families tended kitchen gardens for domestic use.” (Dick, pp. 13)

Their presence grew notable enough that by the late “…1980s and 90s, [the] Ministry of Agriculture extension literature for vegetable crops in these areas [such as British Columbia’s Big Bend and Musqueam Reserve] was communicated in both English and Chinese.” (Phung & Yoshizawa) Calgary’s Inglewood Bird Sanctuary and Nature Centre was originally property owned by Colonel James Walker. “From 1929 to 1952, several Chinese families leased land from Colonel Walker and established market gardens to serve the needs of a growing city.” (City of Calgary, pp. 8) Nonetheless, Asian-Canadian farmers faced continued prejudice and racism.

“In 1907 the Lethbridge Herald strongly urged the Alberta government to disenfranchise the Chinese as was being proposed in British Columbia: “Make these yellow men understand we are not going to allow them to secure any influence in our affairs. They have no right…to compete with white votes.” (Calgary Chinese Cultural Centre, pp. 8)

Nowadays, much has changed but much also has not. By 1947, the Chinese received voting rights and with that “…more equal status in society. The children of market gardeners were able to pursue other forms of livelihood.” (Lennon, pp. 4) This contributed to the decline of market gardens and their eventual disappearance. However, that is not to say Asian-Canadian farmers have also followed suit into the annals of history. In 2012, the Globe and Mail published an article spotlight on the newfound surge of immigrant farmers. Mr. Yin is among the many individuals from mainland China who have found good business in buying farmland in the prairies. He “…owns nearly 2,000 acres, [and] has been in business for four months but he already has roughly 100 clients…” (Waldie, pp. 8)

Andy Hu is another who seeks fortune in the prairie fields. However, his approach is slightly different. Hu “…grew up on a farm in China and immigrated to Canada in 2004, launching a commercial real estate business in Calgary. After a few visits to Saskatchewan, he turned his attention to farmland and launched MaxCrop Farm Canada Inc., a Regina-based company that specializes in finding farmland investors among new immigrants from China and South Korea.” (Waldie, pp. 17)

Nonetheless, racial tensions still remain and “The influx is creating mixed feelings in many communities. There is a long history of Chinese immigrants coming to Western Canada and good part of it is unhappy: a head tax, as well as prohibitions on voting and on owning farmland. While older farmers planning to retire are thrilled to have a growing pool of new potential buyers, many worry about the long-term impact of so many new immigrants arriving with little knowledge of agriculture and often overpaying for farms. (Waldie, pp. 9)

It is clear that Western Canada’s agricultural field has changed greatly over the course of Canadian history and it will undoubtedly continue to do so, and Asian-Canadians will also continue to be part of that landscape. Jason Dearborn, MaxCrop’s chief operating officer, believes that, “Race and ethnicity should never be a punishment in this country for commercial enterprise as far as I am concerned,” he added. “I think that is a Canadian value.”” (Waldie, pp. 28)