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Chinatown Riot of 1887

The Chinese first came to British Columbia (BC) from California with news of gold on the Fraser River. They arrived in Victoria and continued northward into the interior. However, the migration directly from China didn't begin until the spring of 1859 when the first arrival from Hong Kong took place. By early 1860's it was estimated as many as seven thousand Chinese were living in BC. They were almost all men. However, as the rushes were over economic recession set in and the Chinese became scapegoats and discriminatory laws were instituted to restrict their entry.

In 1871 BC agreed to enter Confederation as a province of Canada, on the condition that a transcontinental railway be built to link it to the rest of the country. The construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway brought the second wave of Chinese immigrants. The 1885 Royal Commission on Chinese Immigration reported that 15,701 Chinese entered Canada between 1881 and 1884. In 1882 alone, eight thousand arrived in Victoria.

However, the long journey extracted a heavy toll. The travellers faced with numerous hazards such as storms, pirates, insanitary conditions, starvation and scurvy. It was estimated that nearly ten percent died of scurvy. In December 1859, the Lady Inglis was lost on her voyage from China to Canada. The Lawson arrived at Victoria in June 1860 with 68 passengers, although its list showed 280; the missing passengers couldn't be accounted for. The captain was later charged with having no clearance paper and no medicine chest on board.

The majority of the immigrants came from the two southern coastal provinces of Guangdong (ň╗íZíZČšíZíZ), particularly the four adjacent counties of Xinhui (íZíZ░ŠíZíZ), Taisan (íZíZ░ň▒▒), Kaiping (íZíZíZň╣íZ) and Enping (íZíZęň╣│)- collectively known as Siyi (íZíZíZíZíZíZ), and Fujian (šŽíZň╗║šíZíZ). The similar dialect spoken by these Siyi people are commonly referred to as Taishanese (íZíZ░ň▒▒ŔęíZ). It became the defacto Chinese language in North America up to and until the early 1970's Then Hong Kong became the primary source of Chinese immigrants and Cantonese (ň╗íZíZ▒Ŕę▒) is now the most commonly spoken dialect in the communities. However, majority of Chinese immigrants now come directly from China. This shift will not only impact the spoken language but also the written form as Simplified Chinese, standard in Mainland China, replaces the current popular Traditional Chinese.

Here is a listing of the Chinese in British Columbia 1884 - 1885 by surname and county of origin as compiled by the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association.

Taishan íZíZ░ň▒▒   219 119 64 122 25   163 446 1,158
Kaiping íZíZíZň╣íZ 408 24 56     35 82   344 949
Xinhui íZíZ░ŠíZíZ 38 123 61 33 40 21     299 615
Enping íZíZęň╣│   22 19 39   32 18   361 491
Panyu íZíZ¬šŽ║ 55 39 56 34 13 22 65   513 798
Hsshan ÚÂ┤ň▒▒   48 41 12 45 31     125 302
Others íZíZÂńíZíZ 33 48 63 68 15 39 27 8 442 743
Total šŞŻňíZíZ 534 523 415 250 235 205 193 171 2,530 5,056

By 1886, Chinese begun to settle at the corner of Carrall and Pender (was Dupont at the time). The main business was laundries. Slowly the settlement spread eastward along Pender. However, all was destroyed during the disastrous Vancouver fire of June 13, 1886.

Because of the depression at the time, the local unemployed white workers, through the Knights of Labour, expressed strong feelings against Chinese labour. The Knights of Labour were adamant that Vancouver should excluded all Chinese. In early 1887, Anti-Chinese Leagues were formed and meetings held throughout British Columbia. On February 24, 1887, an Anti-Chinese meeting was held in Vancouver because it was rumoured that at least a hundred Chinese had landed in Vancouver. This eventually led to the February 24 Chinatown Riot.

The Vancouver Anti-Chinese League held a meeting on February 24, 1887 when twenty-four Chinese arrived from Victoria to clear the Brighouse Estate. After the meeting was formally adjourned, someone called for "Those in favour of running out the Chinese tonight." The crowd responded with a roar and they, estimated at three to four hundred strong, marched through the snow to the Chinese camp at the western end of the Coal Harbour Bridge. The Chinese were roughly herded outside and the camp destroyed. To escape the kicking and manhandling, some of the Chinese jumped into the icy water and the rest were chased onto the CPR right-of-way without shelter. Not satisfied, part of the mob returned to Vancouver and set fire to some of the Chinese buildings on Carrall Street. The mob returned to Chinatown the next day and forced the Chinese to leave for New Westminster.

The Chinese didn't return to Vancouver until the Attorney General in Victoria introduced An Act for the Preservation of Peace within the Municipal Limits of the City of Vancouver and brought 36 constables from Victoria to Vancouver. By 1887 present day Vancouver Chinatown began to take shape along Dupont (present day Pender) from Carrall to Main (was Westminster Avenue at the time) with thirty-two businesses. For the next eighty years the Vancouver Chinese community remained in this area which expanded later to Gore St. on the east and Keefer on the south.

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