In one of those sharp turnabouts of history, Canada is now waging an ardent campaign to lure Chinese businessmen fleeing Hong Kong -- especially those willing to invest a quarter of a million Canadian dollars or more in a job-creating business.

For most of the first half of this century, Canada used its laws and, on occasion, violence to bar Chinese immigrants. But today, Canadian officials in Hong Kong tout opportunities for Chinese in Canada and tinker with immigration regulations in an effort to skim off the richest and the brightest of those scrambling to leave Hong Kong before the British colony passes into the hands of Communist China in 1997.

Long lines formed at the Canadian Consulate in Hong Kong this year after rules were loosened to allow more of the wealthy migrants into Canada. Business at the consulate has been so brisk that its elevator keeps breaking down.

Thousands already have been granted special Canadian "business immigrant" visas and settled their families in Canada, primarily in Toronto and Vancouver. Forming perhaps the wealthiest tide of immigration in Canada's history, they have been courted by provincial governments, bankers, realtors, lawyers and assorted predatory schemers -- all wanting to make a deal with them.

Suitcase Canadian lawyers have swooped down on Hong Kong, many of them setting up shop in hotel rooms. The Toronto Globe and Mail newspaper reported late last year that some of the more unscrupulous of them gouged applicants, charging fees of $15,000 to $60,000 to fill out forms that an immigration officer at the Canadian consulate in Hong Kong would do free of charge in 20 minutes.

In their haste to get applications approved, a number of unwitting Hong Kong businessmen invested in bankrupt Canadian companies. James S. Carrick, manager of Ontario's immigrant entrepreneur program, said those swindles involved only about 2 to 3 percent of those in the program.

Canadian officials estimate that Hong Kong and other Asian business immigrants put more than $500 million into Canadian businesses last year to meet the conditions of their special visas. The new settlers sank hundreds of millions more in real estate ventures, according to realtors and government officials.

The Hong Kong entrepreneurs already have brought a distinctive dash and bustle to the staid world of Canadian business, which is not known as a leader among western industrial powers in innovation or efficiency. Alan Seymour, a Canadian business consultant who has been involved in several deals with Hong Kong businessmen coming to Canada, said, "They are better than we are when it comes to business. There's no getting away from it."

Hong Kong money has touched off a real estate boom in Toronto's once homely inner city Chinatown as new syndicates raise six-story condominiums and shopping malls alongside the traditional mom and pop restaurants and herbal medicine stores. Many of the new settlers as well as upwardly mobile Canadian Chinese citizens have clustered in a new upper income Chinatown north of the city where the favorite gathering spot is the Dragon shopping mall.

There is a Chinese cable television channel in Toronto now. Sing Tao, a Hong Kong daily newspaper whose pages are sent to Canada by satellite, includes stock results 10 hours after the Hong Kong exchange closes.

All last month, the 93 Eaton's department stores across Canada paid tribute to Hong Kong in a marketing campaign. With the theme, "Uncrate the Sun," the stores were adorned with fans and dragons and featured booths with Chinese entertainers, doll-makers, calligraphers and fortunetellers.

But the welcome mat was not always out for Chinese in this country. For most of the first half of this century, Chinese immigrants were forced to pay a "head tax" to enter Canada. It was raised from $50 to $100 to $500 in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Labor unions, especially those on the Pacific Coast, were vitriolic in opposing the importation of cheap Chinese labor to help build the national railroad that knitted Canada together and warned of the threat of becoming a "mongrelized nation."

White mobs attacked Chinese and Japanese enclaves in Vancouver in the early 1900s, destroyed homes and businesses and assaulted any Asian they could find. The agitation increased until July 1, 1923, a day known now to Chinese Canadians as "Humiliation Day," when Canada passed the Chinese Immigration Act denying Chinese settlers the right to vote and imposed restrictions that virtually ended the influx from China.

The law was not repealed until 1947, and restrictions were not removed entirely until 20 years later. It is a long, shameful chapter of their history that most Canadians would prefer to forget.

Not until the late 1960s did Canada overhaul its immigration system, which had been weighted heavily in favor of British-born migrants and northern Europeans. The reform was motivated in part by Canada's desire to play a larger role on the world stage, but it also had the practical objective of maintaining a high rate of population and economic growth.

The Chinese population in Toronto is now estimated at more than 150,000. There are also hundreds of thousands of Italians, Greeks, Portuguese and substantial communities of Caribbean islanders and East Indians in the new Toronto.

The new waves of immigrants are hardly tired, poor or the huddled masses. Canada is more selective than the United States about whom it lets in. Preference is given to those who speak English or French, are professionally trained and agree to invest in ventures that will produce jobs in Canada, which still suffers a 9.8 percent unemployment rate.

Ontario's Carrick estimates that about 3,500 to 4,000 jobs are created each year in the province by the new business immigrants, half of whom come from Hong Kong.

The United States once had a similar program, but it has been discontinued, and Hong Kong residents now have to wait many years to enter the United States.

A recent survey of about 1,000 entrepreneurs who have come into Canada since the program was created in 1979 discovered that most were buying small manufacturing companies, restaurants, shops and pharmacies. Their estimated median net worth was about $500,000. Rule changes that went into effect this year seek to expand the program to bring in 4,000 new entrepreneurs this year. The requirement that they participate actively in the day-to-day management of their companies has been dropped for those who irrevocably commit $250,000 (U.S. $177,500) in a three-year period.

Carrick acknowledged that some Chinese have chafed at the program, saying it smacks of the old "head tax."

"I don't see it as being a head tax," Carrick said. "All I'm doing is looking at people who will come in and expand our economy."

Caseworkers in the Chinatown office of New Democratic Party member of Parliament Dan Heap complain not only about the business immigrant program but also other policies that explicitly discriminate in favor of professional managers, meteorologists, dieticians, advertising artists and dental hygienists to the disadvantage of assembly-line workers and other low-skilled employes. About 10 times each week, they say, they must tell a parent that his or her adult son or daughter is not likely to be admitted to Canada under the current rules.

Like many of the Chinese businessmen coming to Canada, John Fok has retained his shares in the company he owned in Hong Kong, a textbook publishing firm, while investing at the same time in a Canadian company in order to qualify for the special business immigrant status.

Fok moved his wife and mother-in-law last July to a big, modern brick house in the suburbs north of Toronto where many of the new immigrants are settling. He is pleased that he can walk just a few blocks from his home to a Chinese shopping center and pick up a copy of Sing Tao and follow the stocks he still owns that are traded on the Hong Kong exchange.

Although Canadian officials question whether many of the new immigrants intend to become citizens of Canada or whether they are simply acquiring immigrant status as insurance against the possibility that the Communist Chinese will renege on promises not to confiscate private property, Fok says he is here to stay.

The Chinese entrepreneurs have brought a new, aggressive style to the real estate and business game in Toronto.

"They believe in syndications and big corporations," said realtor Frank Chow. The principle is: "You want to make good business, you have to be big."

Nicole Cullen, an immigration official, said, "I wish we were that aggressive in Canada. We are not, are we?"