Monday, July 20, 2015

Immigration Ban

During the winter of 1913, the City of Vancouver was spending $150,000 on unemployment relief. Public works were cut down and before spring, the provincial government came to the assistance of the city in caring for the jobless. Jonathan Rogers made a plea, unconvincing, that the depression had "shaken down" the financial structure and business was again on a sound basis.

He did go on to admit that speculation was extinct, no capital and little credit was available for even the soundest business. The Vancouver Board of Trade was pressing the provincial government for that last relief for a business community on the ropes - a moratorium on debts and taxes. The "pause" had become a depression and that depression was close to becoming a calamity.

Vancouver was fortunate enough to escape large-scale labour trouble. However, the shadow of that turmoil hung over the city.

Mackenzie and Mann - notorious "friends" of the McBride government - had taken over the Dunsmuir mines at Nanaimo and Ladysmith. The two were using Japanese and Chinese workers as strike-breakers in a major stoppage, backing them up with "special police".

There was wild rioting in Nanaimo and the Vancouver lawyer who was acting premier, W.J. Bowser, reverted to the old B.C. pattern and threw 1000 militiamen into the town to break the strike. For the previous six years, Oriental immigration was limited and that made the Chinese and Japanese much less of a threat to Vancouver workers in hard times. The Dominion government now banned immigration in B.C. but the threat was to be suddenly and dramatically revived.

The ban on Chinese and Japanese immigration was within in the powers of the government of Canada. However, the ban imposed on East Indians by order-in-council in 1913 was found invalid by Chief Justice Gordon Hunter of the Supreme Court of B.C. The East Indians were British subjects and therefore Canada could not exclude them. A special new orders-in-council applied only to entry into British Columbia and it was a complicated by a requirement of "direct passage" from the land of the immigrant's nativity. 

This ban insulted the pride of the Indians and a Sikh, Gurdit Singh, decided to test it.  Singh has identified as a wealthy landowner, as a "Punjabi agitator" and as a secret agent of the Japanese government. (The Japanese was insulted by Canadian immigration policies and resentful of the riots of 1907.)

Singh recruited 375 Sikhs, partly farmers and partly time-expired veterans of the Indian Army. The East Indians chartered the Japanese steamship Komogata Maru. The Indians boarded the steamship at Hong Kong, stopped at Yokohama en route and arrived at the William Head quarantine station (on Vancouver Island). The ship was granted permission and sent on to Vancouver. There she anchored in the stream, waiting immigration examination.

So what happened with the people aboard the Komogata Maru? Wednesday, I will tell you more.

Thanks to the book Vancouver, From Milltown to Metropolis by Alan Morley for the above information.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

Karen Magill


  1. Love the piano painted. Love the story and your knack of giving us just enough info to keep us intrigued. You have a real knack for that. Karen you do z great job. lol

    1. Thank you Lee. That was so sweet of you to say.