Early History

In the Eighteen Hundreds . . .

Early Arrival of Immigrants

During the Meiji era Japanese society became more liberal, allowing young Japanese to venture to other countries. The first known Japanese to settle in Canada was Manzo Nagano in 1877, although there were reported cases of Japanese fishermen shipwrecked along the coast of British Columbia prior to that date. Waves of immigrants followed, young men in particular, to seek adventure, wealth and, in some cases, independence from family obligations.

Arrival in early 1900's
Japanese immigrants arrive by sailing vessels in early 1900s. (photo: Vancouver Public Library)


Japanese immigrants from Hawaii landed in Victoria,1907.(photo: Ken Kutsukake, Toronto)


Yo Oya
The first Japanese woman to immigrate to Canada, and mother of the first child born in Canada, Yo Oya arrived in Vancouver 1887. (photo: Mrs J. Oya, London)

Settling in Canada

By 1901 nearly 5000 Japanese were living in Canada. As early as 1885 the Canadian government attempted to discourage Chinese immigration by applying a Head Tax, but such restrictions did not apply to the Japanese. Between 1905 and 1907, Canada saw the largest influx of immigrants. By 1907 the Japanese population rose to over 18,000. Most immigrants were farmers and fishermen; some were business people. Only a few were well educated and from the aristocratic class. Most found employment in logging and lumbering, mining and fishing, while others started businesses.

Canada's first Nisei (centre)
Canada’s first nisei, Katuji Oya (centre), born in 1889, with his father Washiji and younger brother Jiro, born in 1890. (photo: Mrs. J. Oya, London)


Workers at Hastings Sawmill
Workers at Hastings Sawmill in Vancouver, in 1892. The man, second from the left, was the first Japanese to be hired. This mill located near Powell Street was the major employer of Japanese labourers.(photo: Vancouver Public Library)


Early logging in BC
Early logging near New Westminster,B.C. 1900. (photo: Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre)


Early salmon fishing boat
Early salmon fishing boat requiring an oarsman or “puller”. (photo: Vancouver Public Library)


Nikkei Coal Miners 1920
Nikkei coalminers at Canadian Collieries, 1920, Cumberland, B.C. Some of these men were killed in the 1922 explosion. (photo: Tatsumi Iwasa, Vancouver, B.C.)


Japanese Whalers at Rose Harbor
Many Japanese worked seasonally at a whaling station at Rose Harbour in the Queen Charlotte Islands. (photo: UBC Archives, Vancouver)


Nikkei Sawmill Workers
Nikkei sawmill workers at Englewood, B.C. on Vancouver Island. Later labour unrest resulted in all the Japanese being fired. (photo: Charles Kadota, Vancouver)


Royston Lumber Company
The Royston Lumber Company was purchased by a Nikkei in 1916. It combined sawmill and logging operations until the forced removal in 1942. (photo: Koichi Kaminishi, Kamloops, B.C.)


Growing and selling vegetables in Steveston
Growing and selling vegetables in Steveston. (photo: National Museum)

1907 Riot

With the large influx of Japanese immigrants in 1907, an anti-Asian sentiment quickly grew within the white community. On September 7, 1907 a large angry mob marched on Chinatown shattering windows, breaking into stores and frightening the residents. The mob then moved towards Powell Street, the home of the Japanese community. Pre-warned, the Japanese were ready for the onslaught and fought back, forcing the crowd to retreat. However, the stores and businesses were heavily damaged. This hostility towards Asians was an indication of the racism that the Japanese would face throughout the early period of history in Canada.

Riot of 1907
Damage as the result of the riot of 1907, Vancouver.(photo: Public Archives of Canada)

Riot of 1907 (video): Watch Video

Restricting Immigration

1908 – With agreement from Japan, the government of Canada limited the number of male immigrants to 400 per year. No limits applied to women and children.

1928 – The restriction on immigration was changed to 150 persons annually, a quota that was rarely met.

The early immigrant population was mostly young males. Although in 1908 the number of Japanese men who could immigrate to Canada was limited to 400 yearly, there was no limit on women.

Picture Brides

Through the exchange of photographs and letters, single men arranged for brides from Japan. These “picture brides” began arriving in 1908 and at their peak in 1913 some 300 to 400 came to Canada

Picture Brides 1915
Picture brides en route to Canada in 1915. Husbands, whom they had never met, were usually older and less educated.(photo: Toyo Takata, Toronto)

Struggle for Citizenship Rights

The Japanese faced racism not only from the anti Asian population of British Columbia but also from the government.

1895 – The government of British Columbia denied the Japanese the right to vote even if they were born in Canada.

1900Tomekichi Homma, a naturalized Canadian citizen, applied to have his name placed on the voter’s list. His request was denied and so he appealed to the courts.

1931World War I Veterans finally received the right to vote. They were the only Japanese who could vote.

1936 – The Japanese Canadian Citizens League sent a delegation of four Japanese Canadians to Ottawa to plead the case for the right to vote from the Canadian parliament but was unsuccessful.

This denial of equal rights has a profound affect on a community that is struggling to regain self-respect and acceptance in sometimes a hostile society.

Denial of equal rights
S.I. Hayakawa, M. Kobayashi, H. Hyodo and Dr. E.C. Banno formed the delegation to Ottawa in 1936. (photo:Hide Shimizu)