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Documents & Records

Naturalization and Citizenship

Basics

Prior to 1947, people born in Canada were British subjects. Anyone born in the United Kingdom or another Commonwealth country was similarly a British subject, and retained that status when he or she moved to Canada.

Aliens, a category including the Chinese, could become British subjects through naturalization, although petitions for naturalization could be denied without appeal by a judge if the judge decided that the petitioner would not make a good citizen. Thus, well-established, successful Chinese businessmen might become naturalized British subjects, but it was not assured.

The Canadian Citizenship Act, which came into force on January 1, 1947 was the first naturalization statute to introduce Canadian citizenship as an entity independent from British subject status.

Naturalization and citizenship are federal matters, but are administered by provincial courts on behalf of the federal government. The process of becoming naturalized or obtaining citizenship generates many documents and records, including correspondence, applications, oaths of residence and allegiance, and indexes created by court registries.

Sometimes, documentation relating to one individual is collected in a single file. For example, a merchant named Chu Bau Quan, applied to the B.C. County Court in Fort Steele for naturalization in 1905. The papers in his file (B.C. Archives GR-1617, Box 01, File 20) include:

Another Fort Steele naturalization file (B.C. Archives GR-1617, Box 01, File 11), from 1903, relates to an applicant named Wong Wing Yuen, a cook and resident of Rossland. It includes some of the same documents found in Chu Bau Quan's file, as well as correspondence from his solicitor. But there is no Certificate of Naturalization, and it is not clear that one was issued.

A very useful piece of information in naturalization records is the number of years that the applicant has been in Canada. This may help narrow the search for immigration records.

Finding the Records

Because naturalization and citizenship are shared by the federal and provincial governments, records are found at both the B.C. Archives and at Citizenship and Immigration Canada. A database of historic naturalization information is available on the Library and Archives Canada website.

At the B.C. Archives

B.C. Archives holds naturalization documents and records deposited by the B.C. courts. To view these records, it is necessary to visit or contact the B.C. Archives. In some cases online finding aids are available which can identify the existence of a file relating to a specific individual. The links below point to online finding aids that include Chinese names:

Cariboo: B.C. Government Agent - 1860-1918 (GR-0216)

Comox: B.C. County Court - 1886, 1896 (GR-1947)

Fort Steele: B.C. County Court - 1901-1905 (GR-1619)

Princeton: B.C. County Court - 1925-1968 (GR-2166)

The B.C. Archives also holds court records for the following locations. All groups of records include naturalization and citizenship records, but there are no online finding aids with personal name indexes. Use the links to find out more more about these groups of records, some of which include naturalization and citizenship documentation relating to Chinese people. To view the actual records, you will need to visit or contact the B.C. Archives

Ashcroft: B.C. County Court - 1894-1914 (GR-1930)

Atlin: B.C. County Court - 1905-1965 (GR-3115)

Barkerville: B.C. County Court - 1933-1953 (GR-2345)

Chilliwack:

B.C. County Court - 1884-1897 (GR-2084)
B.C. County Court - 1912-1926 (GR-2087)
B.C. County Court - 1920-1939 (GR-2367)

Cranbrook:

B.C. County Court - 1897-1924 (GR-1803)
B.C. County Court - 1913-1925 (GR-2828)

Cumberland:

B.C. County Court - 1897-1914 (GR-2870)
B.C. County Court - 1908-1917 (GR-2871)

Kamloops:

B.C. County Court - 1895-1916 (GR-1652)

Kelowna:

B.C. County Court - 1923-1952 (GR-2313)
B.C. County Court - 1944-1954 (GR-2728)
B.C. County Court - 1923-1966 (GR-3170)

Fernie:

B.C. County Court - 1903-1949 (GR-2224)
B.C. County Court - 1915-1940 (GR-2443)
B.C. County Court - 1915-1977 (GR-2442)

Fort George: B.C. County Court - 1914-1919 (GR-2792)

Grand Forks: B.C. County Court - 1903-1908 (GR-2807)

Lillooe: B.C. Provincial Secretary - 1913 (GR-0588)

Nanaimo: B.C. County Court - 1883-1913 (GR-2279)

Nelson: B.C. County Court - 1900 (GR-2357)

Nicola: B.C. County Court - 1905-1916 (GR-3218)

Railway Belt / Peace River Block: Canada. Department of the Interior. Dominion Lands Branch (GR-0436)

Revelstoke:

B.C. County Court - 1890-1944 (GR-2183)
B.C. County Court - 1890-1919 (GR-2416)

Trout Lake: B.C. County Court - 1902-1922 (GR-2167)

Victoria

B.C. County Court - 1859-1917 (GR-1554)
B.C. County Court - 1888-1917 (GR-1565)
B.C. County Court - 1859-1963 (GR-1865)

Williams Lake: B.C. County Court - 1919-1948 (GR-1800)

Online finding aids and / or original records for the following courts have been reviewed, but no Chinese naturalization or citizenship documents have been noted:

Barkerville (1906-1959)
Cranbrook (1905-1923)
Cumberland (1897-1941)
Golden (1911-1912)
Smithers (1931, 1946-1947)

At Citizenship and Immigration Canada

Citizenship and Immigration Canada holds records of naturalization and citizenship from 1854.

The original copies of records dated between 1854 and 1917 have been destroyed, but there is a surviving nominal card index. The index provides information compiled at the time of naturalization, including present and former place of residence, former nationality, occupation, date of naturalization certificate, and location of the court.

Records created after 1917 comprise more detailed information, including surname, given name, date and place of birth, date of entry into Canada, and sometimes the names of spouses and children.

To obtain photocopies of naturalization and citizenship certificates you must apply to Citizenship and Immigration Canada. The request must comply with the federal Access to Information Act. Requests must be accompanied by the name, date and place of birth of the subject of the inquiry, and, if possible, the Canadian citizenship or naturalization certificate number. There is a $5.00 fee. For more information, see Citizenship and Immigration Canada's Citizenship or Naturalization Records Fact Sheet.

Online

1915-1951 Canadian Naturalization
Hosted by the Library and Archives Canada, this database was produced by the Jewish Genealogical Society of Montreal. From 1915-1951, all naturalizations were published in the annual reports of the Secretary of State (Sessional Papers) and in the Canada Gazette, a weekly government publication reporting on activities of the Government of Canada. This corresponds to a period during which the number of Canadian residents who were not from Britain or the Commonwealth increased significantly. Naturalization details published in the Canada Gazette typically included:

The database comprises digitized images of pages from the Canada Gazette, providing references to more than 200,000 people who applied for and received status as naturalized Canadians from 1915 to 1951.

The database can be searched by surname, given name or country of origin. A search based on China as the country of origin indicates that 399 Chinese men became naturalized Canadians from 1915 to 1951. The small number of Chinese wives who became naturalized during the same period is not represented by this statistic. In the naturalization records associated with these women, the designation Wife is substituted for the name of the country of origin. Records of these individuals can therefore only be searched by surname and / or given name.

Photo banner: Detail from VPL Historical Photograph 78362