Anti-Asian Riots of 1907
A racist mob storms through Chinatown and Little Tokyo, protesting Asian immigration
In 1907, approximately 11,000 Asian immigrants, mostly from Japan, journeyed to Canada in search of a better life. They arrived in a land ripe with opportunity but also prejudice and discrimination.
On Aug. 12, 1907, amid a recession and high unemployment, the Vancouver Trades and Labour Council formed the so-called Asiatic Exclusion League (AEL), inspired by an organization of the same name established in San Francisco in 1905. The group counted Vancouver Mayor Alexander Bethune and several city councillors among its founders. Many believed Asian immigrant labourers, who often accepted meagre wages, threatened the livelihood of white workers. Others warned that further Asian immigration would inevitably overwhelm B.C’s white population. The group’s stated aim? “Keeping Oriental immigrants out of British Columbia.”
Violence erupted less than a month later. Galvanized by riots that had driven out hundreds of South Asian immigrants from Bellingham, Washington, three days prior, thousands marched through Vancouver's streets on Sept. 7 in protest of Asian immigration. They held signs that read, “Keep Canada White” and “Stop the Yellow Peril.” The rally, organized by the local AEL chapter, quickly turned into a riot. Swarms of mobs reportedly smashed every window in Chinatown before heading to Little Tokyo, or Japantown, where hundreds confronted them. Armed with sticks, knives and other weapons, Japanese men and boys squared off with rioters until the mob finally dispersed early the next morning. Small skirmishes, however, continued in the area for a couple of days.
Nobody was seriously injured. But according to a government estimate, the attacks cost Asian businesses tens of thousands of dollars in damage and lost revenue. Only one person was convicted for taking part in the riot. While the Canadian government compensated Vancouver’s Chinese and Japanese communities for their financial losses, the government made no effort to root out the racist fervour that sparked the violence. Instead, Canada worked to prevent further Asian immigration. The year after the riot, the federal government negotiated with Japan to put a cap on Japanese immigrants and also implemented the so-called Continuous Passage law, effectively shutting the door to South Asian newcomers.
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