Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


In February of 1912 the Saskatchewan legislature enacted the Female Employment Act, which made it illegal for "any Japanese, Chinaman or other Oriental person" to employ or offer lodging to any "white woman or girl." The legislation resulted from, in a general sense, the adoption in Saskatchewan of pronounced anti-Chinese ideas, current especially on the West Coast, and from an almost pathological fear of miscegenation. However, the trigger was a seemingly innocuous incident in Moose Jaw involving a Chinese restaurant owner who rapped with a broom handle the ankle of a white woman (and former employee) who was blocking a doorway in his establishment. This incident, for which the restaurateur was convicted of indecent assault, occurred less than a week before the introduction and passage of the act.

The owners of two restaurants in Moose Jaw, with the financial help of other Chinese businessmen and the active support of their white female employees, unsuccessfully challenged the act before the courts, claiming that it infringed on federal powers. The act's scope was reduced in 1913 when an amendment confined the prohibition to Chinese, and again at the end of World War I when another amendment allowed the owners of restaurants and laundries to employ white females if they obtained a yearly license from the municipal council.

It was a demeaning experience to apply for such a license, and by no means guaranteed to be successful. The effect of the act was to discourage such businesses, commonly run by Chinese, from employing white females and to contribute to the marginalization of the Chinese in Saskatchewan. Of course the act also limited employment opportunities for "white women and girls," and it was this that ultimately led to the act's repeal in 1969.

Ken Leyton-Brown University of Regina

Leyton-Brown, Ken. "Discriminatory Legislation in Early Saskatchewan and the Development of Small Business." In Proceedings of the Seventh Annual Conference of the International Council for Small Business–Canada. Regina: icsb- Canada, 1991: 252–71.

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