Guide on Anti-Asian Racism: Asian Canadian History


Welcome to our research guide on anti-Asian racism in Canada. This guide is designed to provide starting points to learn about the histories and experiences of Asian Canadians and Asians in Canada since their first arrival in the late 1700s.

The guide includes a timeline of some key historical events in Asian Canadian history, a chronological list of resources from the University of Toronto Libraries on Asian Canadian history, and links to community supports around the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and the University of Toronto (U of T).



For more than 200 years, Asian communities have made significant contributions to Canadian society, culture, and politics. However, these achievements must be understood alongside the many challenges wrought by anti-Asian racism.

This guide focuses on East Asian communities in Canada, which include those of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Tibetan heritage. We acknowledge that South Asian, Southeast Asian, and West Asian communities are equally important and that their experiences may be similar to or unique from those of East Asian Canadians. Due to the interconnectedness and complexity of anti-Asian racism, some events and resources included in this guide may discuss their histories in Canada.

We also recognize that anti-Asian racism operates alongside and, at times, as an oppressive tool to facilitate anti-Indigenous racism, anti-Black racism, and ongoing settler colonialism. We hope that this guide will help raise awareness about and encourage reflective and critical engagement with these complex and ongoing issues.

Notes on language

Where appropriate, names, titles, and other information may be presented in their original languages, Romanized form, and/or English translation.

Some Romanized terms may be specific to certain communities. For instance, among Japanese Canadians, issei refers to first-generation Japanese immigrants to the Americas, nisei to the second generation, and sansei to the third generation.

Some primary-source materials may include discriminatory and racist language that is reflective of the climate of their time of writing. The Cheng Yu Tung East Asian Library does not condone such language or views, and these resources are highlighted for informational and research purposes.


The following timeline highlights just some of those racially-charged events across Canada, and especially in Ontario.

Please see our extended timeline and references if you are interested in learning more.




1788 First Chinese settlers arrive in Nootka Sound

1858 Origins of "Chinatown" in Canada

1858 Chinese immigrants begin arriving in pursuit of 金山 Gum San (Gold Mountain)

1872 British Columbia disenfranchises Chinese and Indigenous peoples

1877 Nagano Manzo, the first Japanese permanent settler, arrives in New Westminster BC

1878 Chinese-run laundries are established in Toronto ON

1880-1885 At least 17,000 Chinese immigrants arrive to work on the Canadian Pacific Railway

1885 The Chinese Immigration Act imposes a $50 head tax on each new Chinese arrival

1885 The Electoral Franchise Act excludes Chinese, most Indigenous people and women from voting in federal elections

1895 British Columbia revises legislation to deny franchise to all citizens of Asian descent

1905 Chinese community gathers around Queen Street East in Toronto ON

1907 Anti-Asian riots erupt in Vancouver BC

1908 The Hayashi-Lemieux Agreement restricts immigration from Japan

1912 Saskatchewan prohibits Chinese establishments from hiring White women

1914 British Columbia refuses to allow the Komagata Maru to dock and escorts the ship out of the harbour after 2 months

1914 Some 200 Chinese Canadians volunteer to fight in WWI

1916 Issei from British Columbia travel to Alberta to volunteer for WWI efforts and are promised enfranchisement upon their return

1916, 1919 The first Chinese Canadian and Japanese Canadian labour unions are formed

1919 400 men and boys riot in Elizabeth Street Chinatown

1919-1924 Fishing licenses granted to "other than white residents" in British Columbia are reduced

1921 The Asiatic Exclusion League is formed

1922 Chinese grade-school students in Victoria BC strike for a year against segregated schooling

1923 The Chinese Exclusion Act replaces the Chinese Immigration Act with an outright ban

1939 Canada invokes the War Measures Act, which allows the state to impose sweeping measures in the name of national security

1939 Despite resistance from both the Chinese Canadian community and officials, Chinese Canadians volunteer for WWII efforts

1941 BC begins confiscating properties and closing businesses owned by Japanese Canadians

1941 All persons of Japanese heritage, regardless of citizenship, are required to register with the Registrar of Enemy Aliens

1942 All persons of Japanese heritage are forcibly removed from the west coast and relocated to internment camps

1944 Japanese and Japanese Canadians must choose between moving east and out of British Columbia or being deported to Japan

1945 All internment camps are closed, except for the New Denver site, where the BC Security Commission office is closed in 1957

1946 The National Emergency Powers Act replaces the War Measures Act to maintain restrictions against Japanese Canadians

1946 Businesses and properties in the Elizabeth Street Chinatown are bought up and expropriated by the City of Toronto

1947 The Canadian Citizenship Act grants franchise to Chinese and South Asian Canadians, but not to Japanese Canadians and Indigenous peoples

1948 Tae-yon Whang, the first Korean permanent settler, arrives in Toronto ON

1951 Chinatown West, along Spadina Avenue, begins taking shape in Toronto ON

1962, 1967 Canada removes its quota on "nonwhite" immigrants and introduces a points-based immigration system based on skills and education

1967 The Save Chinatown Committee forms to preserve the remaining sections of the Elizabeth Street Chinatown

1970 East Chinatown, around Gerrard Street and Broadview Avenue, starts forming

1970 Koreatown emerges in the Annex in Toronto ON

1971 Tibetan resettlement in Canada begins

1975-1982 Over 60,000 refugees from Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, who fled the region by land and sea, were admitted to Canada

1977 Chinese communities and new plazas develop in Scarborough

1977-1988 Calls for redress by the National Association of Japanese Canadians and others are acknowledged in 1988

1983-2006 Chinese Canadians call for reparations and an official apology for discrimination under Immigration and Exclusion Acts

2007 The second Tibetan resettlement program begins

2020-present The COVID-19 pandemic catalyses a resurgence of anti-Asian racism


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The UTL resources listed here, organized by period covered and then in alphabetical order by title, provide starting points for those interested in Asian Canadian histories and experiences, especially the above events. For those interested in more in-depth research, please see our list of additional resources.

Jump to: Overview | Pre-1920s | 1920s-1940s | 1940s-2020

Resource access: online, open access 💻 | online, log in with UTORid 🔑 | in library 🏫


加拿大华侨移民史, 1858-1966 / History of Chinese migration to Canada, 1858-1966, Chuenyan David LAI 黎全恩, Guo DING 丁果, Baoheng JIA 贾葆蘅 (2013, Chinese, Book 🏫)

Organized according to the restrictions imposed on Chinese immigration by Canada from 1858 to 1966, this book explores the development of Chinese communities in Canada and their continued participation in cultural traditions and political activities.

A dream of riches: The Japanese Canadians, 1877-1977 / 千金の夢: 日系カナダ人百年史 / Un rêve de richesses: les Japonais au Canada, 1877-1977, Japanese Canadian Centennial Society (1978, English / Japanese / French, Book 🏫)

Documenting 100 years of Japanese Canadian history, with a focus on the experiences of issei and nisei, this work is enriched by photographs that reflect the gradual social and cultural changes affecting the Japanese Canadian community due to racism and pressures to assimilate.

Asian Canadian studies reader, Roland Sintos COLOMA, Gordon PON (eds.) (2017, English, Book 🏫 | 🔑)

An edited volume of essays providing an intersectional overview of Asian Canadian histories and experiences, organized by "encounters," and exploring interactions within and between various communities.

The enemy that never was, Ken ADACHI (2nd ed.) (1991, English, Book 🏫)

From the first arrival to the redress movement, this book examines the discrimination against and oppression of Japanese communities in Canada through various immigration and domestic policies.

From China to Canada: A history of the Chinese communities in Canada, Edgar WICKBERG (ed.) (1982, English, Book 🏫)

Exploring Chinese Canadian history from 1858 to the 1970s, particularly in British Columbia, with biographies and detailed histories of community leaders and organizations as well as extracts from oral histories.

Trans-Pacific mobilities: The Chinese and Canada, Lloyd Lee Wong (ed.) (2017, English, Book 🏫)

Spanning more than 150 years from the 1850s to 2010s, contributions to this volume explore Chinese immigration to Canada and its associated physical, cultural, economic, and familial movements and relocations.

White Canada forever: Popular attitudes and public policy toward Orientals in British Columbia (3rd ed.), Peter WARD (2002, English, Book 🏫 | 🔑)

This book focuses on racist and nativist public sentiment against Chinese, Indian, and Japanese communities in British Columbia from the late 1800s to the early 1940s, with some discussion of public policy from the time as well.

Yamato Nadeshiko in Canada: Experiences of Japanese immigrant women, 1868–1941, Kaori DONOVAN (2002, English, Thesis 🔑)

Spotlighting Japanese immigrant women from 1868–1941, Donovan challenges stereotypes about issei women and asserts their active roles in immigration processes and ensuring community survival.

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カナダの萬蔵物語 / The first immigrant to Canada, MORI Kenzō 森硏三, TAKAMI Hiroto 高見弘人 (1977, Japanese, Book 🏫)

A detailed biography of NAGANO Manzō 永野萬蔵, the first Japanese immigrant to settle in Canada. Includes illustrations and maps.

写真婚の妻たち: カナダ移民の女性史, Tomoko MAKABE 真壁知子 (1983, Japanese, Book 🏫) 

Picture brides: Japanese women in Canada, Tomoko MAKABE 真壁知子 (1995, English, Book 🏫)

Through oral narratives, Makabe provides insight into the lives of issei immigrant women who arrived in Canada as picture brides and how they challenged gendered expectations, navigated the unfamiliar environment in Canada, and negotiated a Japanese Canadian identity. 

日本人 カナダ 移民史 Nihonjin Kanada iminshi, SASAKI Toshiji 佐々木 敏二 (1999, Japanese, Book 🏫)

This book depicts the experiences of Japanese who immigrated to Canada before WWII. It was awarded the Canadian Prime Minister’s Award for Publishing in 1999.

A white man's province: British Columbia politicians and Chinese and Japanese immigrants, 1858-1914, Patricia ROY (1989, English, Book 🏫 | 🔑)

Examining the roles of race and racial anxiety in the political history and identity of British Columbia, as well as views of Chinese and Japanese immigrants that culminated in the 1907 anti-Asian riots in Vancouver and further aggressions.

Brokering belonging: Chinese in Canada’s exclusion era, 1885-1945, Lisa Rose MAR (2010, English, Book 🏫 | 🔑)

Foregrounding the work of generations of community leaders as intermediaries and in fighting for legal protections and political rights to the development of Chinese communities in Canada.

Chinatown: An illustrated history of the Chinese communities of Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, Montréal, and Halifax, Paul YEE (2005, English, Book 🔑)

Detailing the history and plurality of Chinese immigrant populations to Canada and examining the unique circumstances faced by Chinatowns in cities and provinces across Canada.

Colonial proximities crossracial encounters and juridical truths in British Columbia, 1871-1921, Renisa MAWANI (2009, English, Book 🏫 | 🔑)

Considering how early Asian immigration to British Columbia affected colonial infrastructures and relations between and among Indigenous peoples and European settlers and the various regulations enacted in response to these impacts.

Construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway and the transpacific Chinese diaspora, 1880–1885, Zhongping CHEN (pp. 294-313) (2020, English, Book chapter 🏫 | 🔑)

Chapter 18 of The Chinese and the Iron Road (eds. Gordon H. Chang and Shelley Fisher Fishkin) on the roles of Chinese labour contractors in the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway and supporting migration efforts and transpacific networks between China and Canada in the 1880s.

Enduring hardship: The Chinese laundry in Canada, Ban Seng HOE (2003, English, Article 🏫)

Based on extensive interviews, Hoe explores the advent and decline of Chinese-run laundries in Canada, from the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway in the mid-1880s to the rise of modern laundry equipment in the 1950s.

Gold Mountain: The Chinese in the new world, Anthony B CHAN (1983, English, Book 🏫)

Situating early Chinese immigration to Canada in the context of dreams of "Gold Mountain," Chan reassembles the daily lives of Chinese labourers and communities in Canada to reflect on how they maintained and adapted cultural traditions and attitudes.

Imperialism and Sikh migration: the Komagata Maru incident, Anjali Gera ROY (2018, English, Book 🏫 | 🔑)

Unpacking the Komagata Maru incident and how legal processes and surveillance mechanisms were employed by the Canadian and British Indian governments to regulate migratory flows and movements of South Asian people.

John A. Macdonald, “the Chinese” and racist state formation in Canada, Timothy STANLEY (2017, English, Article 💻)

Arguing that the explicit disenfranchisement of the Chinese, as well as the non-propertied Indigenous populations and women, through the 1885 Electoral Franchise Act, set the precedent for state-sanctioned biological racism and control over Indigenous peoples and lands through private ownership.

Mass capture against memory: Chinese head tax certificates and the making of noncitizens, Lily CHO (2018, English, Article 🔑)

Examining the systematic use of identification photography by the Canadian government for the Chinese head tax certificates and system, Cho asserts that technology, surveillance, and racialization converged to establish the Chinese in Canada as noncitizens.

"The mysterious oriental mind": Ethnic surveillance and the Chinese in Canada during the great war, Allan ROWE (2004, English, Article 🔑)

Focusing on the racialized perceptions of Chinese people that motivated the increasing surveillance of Chinese communities in Canada, and especially of the Chinese Nationalist League, by Canadian officials during WWI, and led to the eventual suppression of the League.

Under the willow tree: Pioneer Chinese women in Canada, Margaret WONG, Dora NIPP (1997, English, Film 🏫)

Highlighting early Chinese women immigrants to Canada and subsequent generations of Chinese Canadian women and their experiences with racism and sexism and role in preserving and sharing language, culture, and values.

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石 を もて 追わるる ごとく : 日系 カナダ人 社会史 Ishi o mote owaruru gotoku : Nikkei kanadajin shakaishi, SHINPO Mitsuru 新保 満 (1975/1996, Japanese, Book 🏫)

History of Japanese Canadians from the early years to the post-war period. The topics include: the birth of Little Tokyo, immigrant women, severe persecution of the Japanese, Japanese community in Haney, the war and the forced relocation, the end of Little Tokyo, ghost towns and internment camps, and moving to the east. – description from Nikkei National Museum Library Collection

日本人移民はこうして「カナダ人」になった : 「日刊民衆」を武器とした日本人ネットワーク Nihonjin imin wa kōshite "Kanadajin" ni natta : "Nikkan minshū" o buki to shita Nihonjin nettowāku, TAMURA Norio 田村 紀雄 (2014, Japanese, Book 🏫)

Depicting the process by which individuals such as Etsu Suzuki strived to educate Japanese Canadian workers about labour issues and the labour movement in Canada through the publication of Nikkan Minshu (The Daily People).

日系 カナダ人 の 追放, KAGE Tatsuo 鹿毛 達雄 (1998, Japanese, Book 🏫)

Uprooted again: Japanese Canadians move to Japan after World War II, Tatsuo KAGE, translated by Kathleen Chisato Merken (2012, English, Book 🏫)

Focusing on the early post-war years, Kage writes on the ongoing evacuation and relocation of Japanese Canadians from western Canada and gives voice to some of the 4,000 Japanese Canadians who were exiled to Japan after WWII.

二世 マス・エバキュエ-ション・グル-プ と 戦時 捕虜 収容所 「101」, アングラ-・オンタリオ : カナダ 日系人 強制 移動 五十周年 を迎える に 際して, Robert Katsusama OKAZAKI 岡崎 ロバ-ト 勝昌 (1994, Japanese, Book 🏫)

The nisei mass evacuation group and P.O.W. Camp 101: the Japanese-Canadian community's struggle for justice and human rights during World War II, Robert Katsusama OKAZAKI, translated by Jean M. OKAZAKI and Curtis T. OKAZAKI (1996, English, Book 🏫)

An organizer of the Nisei Mass Evacuation Group, which lobbied for families to be evacuated together, Okazaki shares his experiences in internment and prisoner-of-war camps in British Columbia and Ontario.

The Canadian Chinese Exclusion Act and the veterans who overcame it, Larry WONG (2007, English, Article 🔑)

Foregrounding Chinese Canadian WWII veterans and the scope of their service, as well as the tensions that arose at various levels of community and government at the prospect and implications of Chinese Canadians contributing to Canada’s war efforts.

Cartographies of violence: Japanese Canadian women, memory, and the subjects of the internment, Mona OIKAWA (2018, English, Book 🔑)

Engaging with Japanese Canadian internment from a gender studies perspective, Oikawa illuminates the myriad ways in which women navigated and resisted the violence of internment and its intergenerational consequences.

Contesting white supremacy school segregation, anti-racism, and the making of Chinese Canadians, Timothy James STANLEY (2011, English, Book 🔑)

Examining the attempted segregation of schools in Victoria, BC in 1922, Stanley delves into the internal tensions that marked the Chinese Canadian community in Victoria and its united anti-racist responses following segregation.

The dragon and the maple leaf: Chinese Canadians in World War II, Marjorie WONG (1994, English, Book 🏫)

Wong discusses the contributions of Chinese Canadians to war efforts in Southeast Asia and the Southwest Pacific, as well as across Europe, during WWII, despite the restrictions on Chinese Canadian recruitment in place until 1944.

The exiles: An archival history of the World War II Japanese road camps in British Columbia and Ontario, Yon SHIMIZU (1993, English, Book 🏫)

Unravelling intentions for and experiences in the WWII road camps, through letters and documents by government officials overseeing the camps and the Japanese Canadian men interned there, while also critiquing the impacts of censorship on public archives.

Intimate archives: Japanese-Canadian family photography, 1939-1949, Namiko KUNIMOTO (2004, English, Article 🏫 | 🔑)

Focusing on the meaning of family for Japanese Canadians during their internment, Kunimoto considers how domestic photographs and albums allowed Japanese Canadians to imagine narratives of belonging and construct spaces of stability.

Landscapes of injustice: A new perspective on the internment and dispossession of Japanese Canadians, Jordan STANGER-ROSS (ed.) (2020, English, Book 🏫 | 🔑)

Dealing with the concerted efforts by and racist motivations of politicians, lawyers, and other officials in British Columbia to dispossess Japanese Canadians of their property during WWII and the enduring impacts of this dispossession.

Organizing against racism in the workplace: Chinese workers in Vancouver before the Second World War, Gillian CREESE (1987, English, Article 🔑)

Documenting labour activism by Chinese workers in Vancouver, BC, Creese reveals the persistent efforts by Chinese Canadians to reject racial discrimination in the workplace, especially in the late 1910s and early 1930s.

The politics of racism: The uprooting of Japanese Canadians during the Second World War, Ann Gomer SUNAHARA (1981, English, Book 🏫 | 🔑)

On the development and implementation of federal government policies against Japanese Canadians from 1942 to 1950, along with the methods that Japanese Canadians found to respond to and resist repression.

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캐나다 한인사 / History of Korean Canadians, 캐나다 토론토 한인회 Korean Canadian Cultural Association (2013, Korean, Book 🏫) [currently on display]

Commemorating 50 years of diplomatic relations between Korea and Canada, this volume of collected writings explores initial interactions between Koreans and Canadians, the changing landscape of Canadian immigration policies, and the Korean Canadian communities that have flourished across Canada.

戦後 日系 カナダ人 の 社会 と 文化 Sengo Nikkei Kanadajin no shakai to bunka, SAKAGUCHI Mitsuhiro 坂口 満宏 (2003, Japanese, Book 🏫)

Addressing the establishment and development of Japanese Canadian organizations during and after WWII, their responses to oppressive policies and advocacy for redress, as well as efforts to rebuild cultural and community connections.

A community in motion: The development of Toronto's Chinatown and Chinese community, 1947-1981, Jimao PENG (1995, English, Thesis 🔑)

Identifying competing economic, social, and political interests relating to Toronto's Chinatown between the 1950s and 1980s and their impacts on the evolution of the neighbourhood, as well as perceptions of its value by those within and outside of the Chinese Canadian community.

Democracy betrayed: The case for redress, November 21, 1984: [a submission to the Government of Canada on the violation of rights and freedoms of Japanese Canadians during and after World War II], National Association of Japanese Canadians (1984, English, Primary source 🏫)

Launching the redress movement into the national political arena, this brief presents the pivotal argument of the redress movement that the Canadian government failed to uphold democratic principles when it wrongfully interned Japanese Canadians.

Exclusion by other means: Medical testing and Chinese migration to Canada, 1947-1967, Laura MADOKORO (2019, English, Article 🔑)

Following the repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act until the introduction of the points-based system, Canadian immigration policies continued to discriminate against Chinese migrants through targeted medical testing requirements.

Home in Canada? The settlement experiences of Tibetans in Parkdale, Toronto, Jennifer LOGAN, Robert MURDIE (2016, English, Article 🔑)

Investigating the housing satisfaction felt by Tibetan refugees in terms of finding adequate housing and establishing a sense of home and comfort in Toronto’s Parkdale neighbourhood.

Humanitarian gesture: Canada and the Tibetan Resettlement Program, 1971–5, Jan RASKA (2016, English, Article 🔑)

Examining various diplomatic, immigration and other actors, Raska considers how these figures navigated and negotiated immigration policy and procedure to facilitate the first Tibetan resettlement program in Canada.

Korean immigrants in Canada: Perspectives on migration, integration, and the family, Samuel NOH, Ann KIM, Marianne NOH (eds.) (2012, English, Book 🔑)

Exploring Korean Canadian history from the 1990s on, this edited volume delves into the various factors driving migration and how individuals and communities navigated assimilation, integration, and changing notions of family.

Migration and racialized identity formation: Skilled Korean immigrant women in the Canadian labour market, Young-Hwa HONG (2007, English, Article 🏫 | 🔑 | 💻)

Interviewing skilled Korean women who immigrated to Canada after the 1997 Asian financial crisis, Hong finds that gendered and racialized workplace environments affected how they conducted themselves and negotiated the racialized identities imposed on them.

Passage to promise land: Voices of Chinese immigrant women to Canada, Vivienne POY (2013, English, Book 🏫 | 🔑)

Blending personal narratives with historical analysis, Poy shines a light on the diverse journeys, hardships, and transformations faced by Chinese Canadian immigrant women who migrated to Canada from 1950 to 1989.

Reconciling with history: The Chinese-Canadian Head Tax Redress, Peter LI (2008, English, Article 🔑)

Detailing the rise in advocacy and support for official head tax redress during the 1980s and the political and legal resistance that arises when governments are called on to acknowledge historical injustices.

Redress: Inside the Japanese Canadian call for justice, Roy MIKI (2004, English, Book 🔑)

A key figure in the redress movement, Miki explains the community’s long struggle for basic rights and critiques the contradictions between Canadian citizenship policies, democratic values, and the forcible dispersal and internment of Japanese Canadians.

Strangers at the gate: The “Boat People”s’ first ten years in Canada, Morton BEISER (1999, English, Book 🏫 | 🔑)

Following a decade-long study of refugees from Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia who arrived in Canada from 1979 to 1981, Bessier outlines many of the struggles that they faced integrating into Canadian society and recommends reforms to refugee policies.

The triumph of citizenship: The Japanese and Chinese in Canada, 1941-67, Patricia ROY (2007, English, Book 🏫 | 🔑)

Examining the complex array of politics and public opinion that shaped the disparate and, at times, competing attitudes toward Japanese and Chinese Canadians during WWII and the decades of respective redress activism that followed.

Unsettled belongings: Chinese immigrants’ mental health vulnerability as a symptom of international politics in the COVID-19 pandemic, Zhipeng GAO, Mark YANG, Louis HOFFMAN, Zenobia MORRILL (2021, English, Article 🔑 | 💻)

Analysing the negative impacts on the mental health of Chinese immigrants resulting from the racism, limitations on mobility, and social isolation due to political views that rose alongside the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Connect with Asian Canadian communities around Canada, the GTA, and U of T.

Community organizations

  • Chinese Canadian National Council - For Social Justice (English)
  • Chinese Cultural Centre of Greater Toronto (English)
  • Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre (Japanese | English)
  • National Association of Japanese Canadians (Japanese | English)
  • Nikkei National Museum & Cultural Centre (English)
  • Korean Canadian Cultural Association of the G.T.A. (Korean | English)
  • Taiwanese Canadian Association of Toronto (Chinese & English)
  • Canadian Tibetan Association of Ontario (English)
  • Tibetan Canadian Cultural Centre (English & Tibetan)
  • Canadian Multicultural Council — Asians in Ontario (English)

Around U of T

East Asian Library

Academic Programs

Student Groups

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Last updated: December 9, 2021