Friday, March 30, 2012

They Fought the Law

This is located at 2930 Kingsway and was built in 1923.

When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour during World War II a reaction that the United States and Canada had was to ship all the Japanese living in these countries to isolation camps and to take away everything that belonged to them. These people who had come to Canada for a better life and had lived honorably were now being treated as criminals.

The war ended and the Japanese were released from the camps. But their property was not returned to them, they were forced to start all over.

One of these displaced citizens was Zennosuke Inouye. Inouye had come to Canada in 1900 and joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force in 1916. He was wounded in France while fighting for our country in World War I. He was awarded land through the Soldier Settlement Act (1919) and he bought 80 acres of wild, undeveloped land in Surrey.

He and his wife worked hard to develop this land. But when the expulsion orders came Inouye, his wife and five children were shipped to the Interior and his land was sold. After they were released Inouye fought this decision. After all he was a veteran that had fought for his adopted country. He wrote letters to the Prime Minister and to various officials stating his cause. And guess what happened? He won. Zennosuke Inouye became the only Japanese Canadian veteran to recover property from the Government of Canada.

When we needed help to build the railway we brought in numerous people from China. Once the railway was finished Canada started to impose immigration laws that would deter people coming over from China. First we started a fifty dollar head tax that eventually rose to five hundred dollars. This meant that men who had come here for work could not bring their wives and children over now. It created a bachelor society in Chinatown.

But a Chinese man by the name of Foon Sien saw this as an injustice and he decided to change it.

Sien was one of the first five Chinese to attend UBC although he only lasted a year. He was hired to be a interpreter for the Province of British Columbia. (Interesting note. One of Sien's first cases was to be a translator for Wong Foon Sing, the houseboy that was accused in the murder of  Janet Smith. A very interesting case that I will someday write on.)

In 1937 Foon Sien was appointed publicity agent for the Chinese Benevolent Association’s aid-to-China program. He was labelled as 'Japan's No.1 enemy in North America' when he stopped the export of scrap metals to Japan during World War II.

He also founded the Chinese Trade Workers’ Association in 1942.

It is sad that since his death in 1971 Foon Sien has been largely forgotten. He helped change the laws on immigration. Thanks to his efforts, and others, the racist, unjust 1923 Immigration Act was overturned. But it took over twenty years. It wasn't until May 14, 1947 for the exculsion act to be repealed.

There is a lot of information on Foon Sien and I don't have the space to write it all. The History of Metropolitan Vancouver website has a great page on him.

Foon Sien and Zennosuke Inouye recognized that certain laws were unjust. They fought the law and won. I am impressed by the fact that these two men battled discrimination by using the system. Which is really the only way that true change happens.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Not Our Proudest Moments

I have been writing on the history of Vancouver for a couple of years now and I tend to focus on the positive. I will admit that I do make mention of the negatives in a passing manner or if possible a joking manner. But today while we look at some gorgeous photos of the nature around the city I want to talk about a few things that many Vancouverites would rather forget.
On May 23, 1914 a ship that was ordinarily used for shipping coal arrived in the waters of Burrard Inlet and dropped anchor. Aboard Komagata Maru were 376 Indians: 12 Hindus, 24 Muslims and 340 Sikhs. All were British subjects that had come to Canada to start a new life. Something that happened all the time but this time there was a problem.

The white population of Vancouver, and Canada, were resentful of the non whites. There had been anti-Oriental riots as recently as 1907 and earlier in 1914 the CP steamer Monteagle had brought 901 Sikhs to Vancouver. Fearing the loss of jobs and inability to get more, the whites decided the new immigrants were not coming ashore.

This wasn't the first that the world had come to know about Canada's aversion to non white immigrants. The provincial government had passed laws to discourage these people from coming to our fair shores - they had to have at least $200 on their person to enter and considering that the average Indian wage then was ten cents a day, that would nearly impossible for most. Federally Ottawa also passed laws in 1907 in favor of the white. Indians - I mean those from India - were not allowed to run for office or vote. They were not allowed to become pharmacists or accountants or lawyers. Another thing. The route travelled to Canada had to be directly from India.

The steamer had not sailed directly from India. Instead it had started from Hong Kong with 150 passengers then stopped in Shanghai to pick up 111, on to Moji in Japan for another 86 and finally the last 14 passengers in Yokohama before heading to Canada.

And this was an orchestrated affair. The Komagata Maru had been chartered  by an affluent Hong Kong businessman, Gurdit Singh and the voyage was made in a protest against Canada's exclusion laws. They decided to defy our discriminatory laws and immigrate to Canada.

 People knew the ship was coming. The Province newspaper actually had a headline that stated that 'Boat loads of Hindus on Way To Vancouver' and it was labelled as the 'Hindu Invasion'. So the authorities and opponents were as ready for the arrival as the supporters of these immigrants were. There was no way they were going to be allowed to disembark in Canada. And the people aboard the ship were ready to fight back.

A gunman fired on a tug boat which held passengers and police that were trying to board the ship and force it to leave the waters. The resilient hopeful immigrants stubbornly held out even when there were anti-Asian rallies being held in Vancouver and the good citizens denied the passengers food and water. (Fortunately supporters of the immigrants got food and water to them) When a mob of locals attempted to board the ship they were met with a barrage of bricks thrown at them.

These people from India had taken over the ship and were determined to make Canada their home.

This was a battle but it soon ended. Making its first appearance in Vancouver and on its first official assignment, the Royal Canadian Navy's training vessel HMCS Rainbow entered our waters on July 21 and trained its six inch guns on the controversial steamer. 20 passengers had left the Komagata Maru because they had the right documents to stay in Canada but over 300 passengers set sail and left Canada that day.
However that is not where this story ends. On September 26 the Komagata Maru approached Calcutta where it was stopped by a British gunship and all passengers were taken prisoner. They were taken to a Calcutta suburb named Baj Baj and told that they were all being sent to Punjab on a special trip. Some didn't want to go. They wanted to stay in Calutta and do business there or look for work and some wanted to place something in a holy place in Calcutta but the British officials denied them. The British forced the passengers of the Komagata Maru back to the train.

These passengers had now been through a lot and, not surprisingly, had had enough. Some started on a march to Calcutta to fulfill their mission. But the British soldiers weren't having it and forced them back to Baj Baj and ordered them back on the ship. The man who had started this, Gurdit Singh, led the rebels who refused to get back on the ship. A police officer attacked Singh but when another passenger stopped it, gunfire broke out. Twenty people were killed and nine wounded. And Canada's immigration laws weren't to change for years to come.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

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Monday, March 26, 2012

The Grey Fox

I've told you about Michael J. Fox and another great Canadian, Terry Fox. But today I want to talk about a man that was known as 'The Grey Fox' or 'the Gentleman Bandit'.

This building on West Pender Street downtown was built in 1906. The original name was Empress Rooms.
Bill Miner was born on December 27, 1846 in Onandaga, Michigan as Ezra Allen Miner. (Another source says Miner was born a year later in Bowling Green, KY and his birth name was Macdonald.) By the age of sixteen this charming fellow had begun his life of crime by stealing horses. A seventeen he joined the Union Army during the civil war but Miner deserted a year later. At the age of eighteen he was back stealing horses as well as stealing watches and money from his employer. He had his first conviction in 1866 and was sent to San Quentin for a year.
This was the start of a trend for Miner. He almost always got caught and he also never worked alone. He enjoyed fancier clothes and, when he had the money, he would spend it lavishly. His younger, dimmer cohorts were no doubt impressed with the airs put on by this inept criminal. His charms attracted the ladies as well and Bill Miner never refused their attentions. Though he did desert the one he married.

He may have been a thief but Miner was polite. Not that this trait helped much when he was caught after robbing a California stagecoach of  $3,000. After being sentenced to 25 years in San Quentin Miner often found himself fending off attacks from knife wielding inmates.

At the age of 55, this career criminal was released from San Quentin and Miner fled the US for Canada after he had two unsuccessful attempts to rob a train near Bellingham.

Bill Miner and his gang of the time made Canadian history on Saturday September 10, 1904. That day they robbed a CPR train in Mission and that was Canada's first train robbery. Reports on how much they got were mixed. One source said it was $7,000 while others state the robbers got away with about $300,000 in bonds.

It was the most successful robbery of Miner's career - he even had a boat waiting for the getaway.

For Miner and his gang though the success was short lived. In 1906 they not only lost their horses during a robbery but all they got was $15 and some liver pills!

You'll find this building on Commercial Drive. It was built in 1912 and known as Brandon Block Apartments.

By this time everyone was after the 'Gentleman Bandit' including the Pemberton Detective Agency, the Field Detective Agency as well as a Calgary contingent of the Northwest Mounted Police. They caught him near Douglas Lake. He was sentenced to the BC penitentiary in New Westminster.

Within a year he had escaped (thus earning the nickname Grey Fox) and ran back to the United States. Once home he started robbing trains again. At least he tried to. But Miner's luck was with him again. While trying to escape from authorities he drank some swamp water which made him violently ill and he was captured once again.

In 1913 this charming yet mostly unsuccessful train robber died in prison in Georgia. The locals paid for his funeral.

Interesting note. The leg irons used to hobble Miner when he was captured in Canada have been preserved and are at the Vancouver museum.

Once again I have to thank The History of Metropolitan Vancouver website for the above information.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

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