|Birth: ||Mar. 10, 1900|
|Death: ||Mar. 15, 2007|
Retired Chinese-Canadian entrepreneur who was the oldest surviving Chinese head tax payer, Ralph Lung Kee Lee passed away in Pickering ON at the age of 107. He was predeceased in 1981 by his wife of 59 years, Kem Lun Lee. He is survived by two daughters, Faye (Larry Yee) and Linda (the late Leo Ing Sr.); seven grandchildren; Sharon (Frank), Deanna (Donald), Lisa (Michael), Richard (Dawn), Tina (Gary), Landy (John), Leo Jr.; and twelve great-grandchildren.
Ralph was born in Toishan county, Guangdong province, China in 1900 and immigrated to Canada in 1912. He and two young cousins sailed for three weeks, landing in Fort William ON (now Thunder Bay). He worked for five years as a dishwasher to repay the $500 head tax levied on his arrival.
The infamous head tax was imposed on all Chinese immigrants from 1885 to 1923. The poll tax started at $50, raised to $100 in 1900 and increased in 1903 to $500, the equivalent of about two years' wages. No other nationality was taxed in similar fashion. The head tax ended in 1923 when the Exclusion Act completely banned Chinese immigration to Canada. It was not until 1947, in part upon pressure by Chinese-Canadian war veterans, that the discriminatory Act was repealed.
Ralph later worked for the Canadian Pacific Railway and at a hotel in Fort Frances ON, saving enough to return to China, find a wife and start a family. Because of the Exclusion Act, he was unable to bring his family to Canada for some 20 years. His son died during the Second World War. Eventually, his wife and daughters were able to join him in Canada. Mr. Lee then operated his own import-export business in Windsor. After retirement, he enjoyed cooking, travelling through the United States and Canada and spending time with his friends and family. He will be remembered by family members as a strong man, who drove a car until he was 96 years old and lived alone until his late 90s.
In June 2006, the Government of Canada offered a long-awaited formal apology and compensation to surviving head tax payers. Mr. Lee was one of five survivors, and other family and community members, who journeyed on the "Redress Express" train to Ottawa to participate in the official ceremony. At the age of 106, he carried a ceremonial "last spike" in recognition of work done by immigrants to build the railway – our "National Dream".
"He's lived to this day and outlived all the other head-tax payers who couldn't live to see this day of apology," his granddaughter Landy Anderson told reporters.
On his 107th birthday, five days before his death, Mr. Lee finally received his redress cheque for $20,000.
From the obituary placed by his family in the Toronto Sun on 17 Mar 2007:
"His courage, strength and perseverance enabled him to overcome hardships of a rugged Canada and carve a family legacy, cherished and respected by all. His road was long and challenging, a true pioneer. We remember his strength of character and strong spirit. Rest in peace, you will be sadly missed."
Created by: Milou
Record added: Mar 18, 2007
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