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.
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.
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 (video): Watch Video
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.
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
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.
1900 – Tomekichi 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.
1931 – World 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.