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Causes of the 1907 anti-Asian riots

Overview of the set

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Primary sources

1. Immigration to Canada, 1906 to 1946 |

2. White Canada |

3. Mob raids Hindus and drives them from city |

4. Drawing comparisons between Vancouver and Bellingham |


5. The aftermath |

6. How does the premier feel? |

7. The outbreak begins |

8. Not enough room for everyone? |

9. The Chinese Western Daily News |


Secondary sources


1. Forging our legacy: Canadian citizenship and immigration |


2. Canada in the Making |


3. Reading the riot act |


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Student tasks

 Question: What were the key causes of the 1907 anti-Asian riots in Vancouver? 

When answering the question, you may wish to consider both the immediate and underlying causes, as well as a variety of social, political and economic factors. 


Teacher notes

The following notes on topics addressed in the History Docs are intended to enhance teachers' understanding of the sources and ability to guide students in interpreting them.

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Historical context for teachers

Asian discrimination in Canada

  • Chinese and Japanese people have lived in North America for as long as many European immigrants. Despite this fact, many North Americans prior to World War II, expected, and sometimes demanded, that Asian immigration be limited. 
  • In addition, many people of European descent considered themselves to be more Canadian than the Chinese people who settled in Canada long before them. 
  • Throughout its early history, many white citizens in British Columbia tried to stop Asian immigration because they believed that Asian immigrants could not be assimilated into mainstream society. They also blamed Asian workers for taking jobs away from white workers because they were willing to do dangerous and dirty work for long hours with little pay. 
  • The British Columbia Provincial Government and the Federal Government both passed anti-Asian immigration laws in the late 1800s. 
  • In 1874, the British Columbia Government disenfranchised (took away the right to vote) the Chinese, and in 1895 disenfranchised the Japanese.
  • After the Canadian Pacific Railway was completed in 1885, the Federal Government introduced the Act to Restrict and Regulate Chinese Immigration into Canada that required Chinese people entering Canada to pay a head tax of $50 per person. Chinese immigrants were the only ethnic group to be charged a head tax; it was later increased to $100 in 1902 and $500 in 1903. 
  • At the same time, employers in the British Columbia fishing, logging and railway sectors, eager to increase their profits, pressured both the provincial and federal governments to ensure that they would continue to have access to cheaper Asian workers. More than 9000 Japanese immigrants entered Canada between 1906 and 1908.
  • In 1907, Canada entered a recession and many British Columbia workers lost their jobs. 

 Anti-Asian parade

  • The Asiatic Exclusion League (AEL) was originally formed by union leaders and trade councils in San Francisco in 1905, and in Vancouver in 1907, to prevent Asian people from immigrating to either Canada or the United States. 
  • On September 7, 1907, the Asiatic Exclusion League (AEL) organized a parade in Vancouver, British Columbia, that began at the Cambie Grounds at Georgia and Beatty streets and ended at city hall. At city hall, politicians, labour leaders and Vancouver’s leading citizens delivered speeches and burned an effigy of British Columbia Lieutenant-Governor Robert Dunsmuir, who employed many Asians in his coal mines and would not endorse the proposed British Columbia Immigration Act that was designed to limit Asian immigration.
  • At 9:00 p.m., the agitated crowd moved from city hall to the alleys of Chinatown, where they began rioting. There was little the 24 police officers could do to contain a riot that included an estimated 9000 people. 
  • After attacking Chinatown, the rioters attacked Japantown in waves, but Japanese residents armed with guns, knives and bricks built barricades at the entrance and were able to push the rioters back. 
  • Calm was finally restored in the early morning hours of September 8. Although English-language news claimed there were no fatalities, a Taiwanese news article reported that four white men were killed by residents. 
  • During the days following the riot, police and armed residents guarded Japantown. On the evening of September 9, rioters once again tried to attack, but were dispersed by the police. A fire was set at the Japanese Language School, but was quickly put out.

 Consequences of the riot

  • Later that year, the Federal Government conducted a Royal Commission (an investigation that looks into issues of public importance) to investigate the causes of the riot and to consider claims of compensation for damages. 
  • The Federal Government appointed William Lyon Mackenzie King, the Deputy Minister of Labour and future prime minister, to conduct the Royal Commission, which became known as the King Commission. King travelled to Vancouver and began a series of hearings and interviews with victims of the riot, witnesses and local government officials.
  • In 1908, based on a report issued by King, the Federal Government awarded $9000 in compensation to Japanese victims of the riots and $26 000 to Chinese victims. His report identified recent large increases in Asian immigration to Canada as the main cause of the riot. The report recommended that the Federal Government severely limit immigration from Japan.
  • In 1908, the governments of Japan and Canada negotiated the Hayashi-Lemieux “Gentlemen’s Agreement” that restricted Japanese immigration to 400 male immigrants and domestic servants per year.
  • In 1923, the Federal Government passed the Chinese Exclusion Act that prevented the immigration of anyone from China.