The nine documents Louie showed to a reporter Wednesday record the registration of Louie’s grandparents, his father and six uncles.
They are the first to be seen in a set that includes 56,000 similar documents for other Chinese in Canada at the time.
“We were quite excited because when we started to look through them, we realized that all the things we had heard about are now true,” said Louie, the 79-year-old B.C. businessman who is president and CEO of the H.Y. Louie Co. Ltd., which distributes to IGA stores, and the chairman of London Drugs.
Some of the records have small but important details such as the exact year his grandfather arrived, or that his grandmother was exempt from the head tax because she arrived in Canada as a “merchant’s wife.”
He said confirming oral history and buttressing stories didn’t carry much relevance for him before, but anti-Asian racism during the pandemic made him reconsider the value of doing this so they can be of value to the current and next generation.
“When we heard these stories before, we used to merely assume they were stories of previous generations, that they didn’t apply to us,” said Louie.
Historian Catherine Clement is currently cataloguing the forms. She estimates the process will take a year and then they will be publicly available.
“What’s fascinating is that this is a snapshot of our community just before it enters its darkest days. And I always remind people, at the time this happened no one knew if this (Exclusion Act) law would come off the books, if things would change or get better. You couldn’t foresee it would last (until 1947).”
“There are headlines where we the community is afraid of the registration, afraid of how they’re going to be interrogated, of what’s going to happen to people if they don’t remember exactly what boat they came in,” said Clement.
Louie’s grandfather, Hok Yat Louie, who started the family’s legacy in Canada as a wholesale grocer, would have taken his family in for the process, submitting three photographs for each person. His form states he arrived in Victoria in 1898 while his grandmother, Young Shee, arrived in Vancouver in 1911. The forms for his father and six uncles list them as being born in Vancouver with two recorded as being 10- and 11-year-old schoolboys and the youngest a three-year-old child.
“It was really quite a classification,” said Louie, reading through the forms. “It’s almost as if (they) had to undergo a physical examination because how would you know where all these moles are?”
Louie remembers that even after the Exclusion Act was in place, his grandfather did go to China a few times as he was still in the business of importing sesame seeds, ginger and walnuts.
“If he wasn’t in the registry, he would have been denied entry. It was used to track people,” he said.
Clement, who is gathering the beige paper identity cards known as C.I. certificates issued by the government to people after they were registered in 1923, said that while families are finding and bringing some of these in, many have also been lost or damaged.