The 1907 Arrival Of Many Low-Wage Labourers Precipitated The September, 1907 Vancouver Asiatic Riot

The 1907 Arrival Of Many Low-Wage Labourers Precipitated The September, 1907 Vancouver Riot

First Posted on September 8, 2007
Updated on August 14, 2011

Labour Day, 2017 is the 110th anniversary of the 1907 Vancouver Parade and Riot. For many years, our media and our immigration industry have used these incidents to tell Canadians how terrible the Vancouver population’s attacks were on Chinatown and Japantown. At the same time, they have contrasted the people of 1907 with people today and suggested that the people of Vancouver have “advanced” today—–thanks to the “wonders” of multiculturalism and mass immigration policies.

If anyone were to ask those who are saying these things where they were getting their information, 99% would have to admit they were repeating what they had been told by Canada’s immigration industry and ethnic groups.  So let’s look at what really happened.

Let’s start by asking one important question: Was there a connection between the unexpected arrival of about 11,500 Japanese, East Indians and Chinese in 1907 and the 1907 Vancouver Labour Day riot?

There is clear evidence that there was.  Before the riot, British Columbia had undoubtedly complained to Ottawa about the numbers of new arrivals in 1907.  Sensitive to riots against Whites in China not long before and for which Whites had been compensated, Ottawa listened. Not long  after the Vancouver riot, Ottawa sent its Deputy Minister of Labour, Mackenzie King, to Vancouver to conduct a Royal Commission to determine how much compensation should eventually be paid to (1) the Japanese and (2) the Chinese whose property had been damaged. While King was doing his work, Ottawa asked him to conduct another Royal Commission which would investigate why around 11,500 Japanese, Chinese and East Indians had arrived in the first ten months of 1907.

The population of Vancouver was about 60,000 at the time and an inflow of 11,500 (a sudden population increase of about 20%, most of whom arrived before the riot ) would have been very noticeable. The Chinese in parts of colonized China did not want cultural and economic invasion. Neither did the majority population in British Columbia.

In Mackenzie King’s words, the influx of 8125 Japanese alone had “naturally caused great alarm and, if anything more were needed to occasion unrest, it was found in the simultaneous arrival from the Orient of Hindus by the hundreds and Chinese in larger numbers than in preceding years”. According to Dr. James Morton’s book “In The Sea Of Sterile Mountains”, about 30,000 of Vancouver’s 60,000 people participated in the parade through Vancouver streets that preceded the riot (P. 205)–an indication in 1907 of significant Vancouver support for an end to cheap labour.

Obviously, many people at the time believed that the measures that Ottawa had taken up to 1907 were not having the desired effect of stopping the importation of cheap labour and the unfair employment competition it caused in the labour market. Chinese labour contractors were the key factor in the importing  of Chinese labourers up to 1907. Almost all Chinese labourers in China could never have afforded to pay transportation costs to come to Canada, so the Chinese contractors paid them in much the same way that snakeheads pay the fares of Chinese illegals today.  Although Canada and Japan negotiated “Gentleman’s Agreements” with the help of the Japanese Consul in Vancouver to restrict Japanese labourer inflows, China was in such political chaos that it was difficult for Canada to negotiate such agreements with the Chinese government. Canada therefore took unilateral action  (particularly Head Taxes) against Chinese labour-contractors to discourage them from importing Chinese labourers.  This was also done because the Chinese represented the majority of the cheap labour.

Among the measures to restrict Chinese labourer inflow was the Chinese Labourer Head Tax.  Note that the term “Chinese Head Tax” is incorrect. The term should be “Chinese Labourer Head Tax”. Chinese businessmen and their families, Chinese students and consuls were exempt from the Head Taxes. The first significant tax was  $50 in 1886. Next was the $100 tax in 1901 and the $500 tax in 1904. Prior to 1904, Chinese business contractors had imported Chinese most of the Chinese labourers from China, but individual Chinese also became involved from 1904 on.   When the $500 Head Tax was imposed, Chinese contractors began to find that there was no longer much profit in importing these labourers and obtaining work for them. The result was that in the 3-year period immediately following the imposition of the $500 Head Tax, very few Chinese labourers came to Canada.

With the drop in Chinese labourers,  a Japanese immigration company, the Canadian Nippon Supply Company, saw a business opportunity. The problem was that its opportunity would undermine the measures that Ottawa had put into place to deter cheap Japanese labour. Without telling Ottawa, this company secretly arranged with the CPR to import over a period of time between 500 and 2000 Japanese labourers to work in the CPR’s western Division which at that time employed around 5000 workers. The  newcomers would represent a significant part of the entire western CPR work force. All the Japanese would be paid less than Canadian workers and would probably be displacing higher-paid workers.

The Nippon Supply Company also secretly arranged to import about 500 Japanese labourers to work in the Dunsmuir family’s coal mines on Vancouver Island. These Japanese labourers would also be paid less than their Canadian counterparts.

Rumours about these deals had circulated in 1907, but were confirmed only during Mackenzie King’s Royal Commission investigation after the riot. There is no question that the rumours were a major reason for the high turn-out in the parade. There is no question that B.C. worker frustration with this issue which had built up over many years was also a factor.

In response to the frustration which had started in the late 1800’s, the British Columbia legislature had passed a large number of laws to curb Asian cheap labour, but almost all were disallowed by Ottawa. Because almost all of the Asians in Canada at that time were located in B.C. , MP’s and officials in other parts of Canada, who were isolated from the issue, found it hard to understand what British Columbians were complaining about.  In Mackenzie King’s role as Deputy Minister of Labour, King stated clearly that although there were other minor reasons for conflict, the major factor in the conflict between locals and Asians was the economic advantage Asians had in the labour market.

Labourers’ wages in Canada were considerably higher than those  in Japan, China or India. For example, at cheap-labour wages in Canada, which contractors had set precedents for in the 1880’s and which cheap-labour employees readily agreed to, Japanese labourers received 10 times the wage they were paid in their home country; Chinese labourers, 20 times; East Indians, around 50 times.

Most Asians came to Canada as “sojourner” males, in contrast to the many married local labourers. “Sojourners” were the equivalent of Temporary Foreign Workers. Most wanted to make as much money as possible quickly. They also lived very frugally, and sent money home. Most did not intend to stay. In the 1901 Royal Commission Report, many B.C. residents testified that they had been displaced from work and knew of many other locals who had been forced to leave. Others complained that many potential married settlers had been discouraged from coming to B.C. because of the low-wage labour. A so-called “better life”, the cliched phrase used today by our immigration industry to sanctify and justify high immigration levels, really meant a “worse life” for Canadians displaced from their jobs in that era.

There were several important results of King’s inquiry. One was that his investigation confirmed what the very extensive Royal Commission Report of 1901 had uncovered. That 1901 Royal Commission had heard much talk of Chinese labourers being brought here by Chinese labour contractors. However, there was little evidence about how the Chinese labour contractors operated.  The evidence King gathered on the Canadian Nippon Supply Company provided a picture of how the Japanese contractors worked and probably also a fairly good picture of the methods of the Chinese who had worked in the shadows for over 2 decades. It also showed that the contractors were involved in a very profitable business. In fact, some of the richest Chinese businessmen in Chinatown were involved in labour contracting.

King’s inquiry demonstrated the chaos in Canada’s immigration system in 1907 and how labour disputes in far-off Hawaii could affect Canada. At that time, there were between 50,000 and 60,000 Japanese agricultural workers in Hawaii. Facing a cut in wages in Hawaii, thousands of Japanese labourers were encouraged by shipping companies and others to leave Hawaii for supposedly greener pastures in Canada and the U.S.

Mackenzie King concluded that if thousands more were to do the same thing,  the potential for extremely serious conflict with the resident population in Canada was great. This was because there was clearly not enough employment for those who had arrived, nor was there sufficient  accommodation. King pointed out that even those who had been indifferent to Asian immigration were “alarmed” at the problems the sudden high inflows had caused.

One of the major results of King’s investigation was that Ottawa enacted continuous passage legislation, which required any Japanese who wanted to come to Canada to come directly from Japan. Even before this law was approved,  it was illegal for Japanese who had been permitted to travel to Hawaii,  to travel from Hawaii or from any other place which Japan had allowed them to go to,  without the permission of the Japanese government.

It is not clear exactly how many of the  8125 Japanese who arrived in Canada in 1907 had come from Hawaii, but Mackenzie King estimated that number to be 6398. The remaining 1650 Japanese had traveled from Japan. Of the 1650,  900 were being imported by the Canadian Nippon Supply Company (a Japanese labour contractor) and another 750 were returning to Canada or coming as  immigrants approved by the Japanese consul.

Of the total of 8125 Japanese who arrived in 1907, about 3500 would soon leave for the U.S. while about 4500 remained in Canada.

The illegal emigration from Hawaii, the scheming of the Canadian Nippon Supply Company, and the 1907 riot which resulted from the scheming, were major international embarrassments to both Canada and Japan. To compensate for the corrupt and under-handed actions of its citizens, Japan quickly agreed to Canada’s continuous passage law which required that people coming from Asia (particularly Japan) had to come directly from their country of origin, not from some place like Hawaii along the way. The Japanese government quickly conceded that this law was intended to protect Canadian labourers and that there was ample justification for the law.

That law would later be applied to the East Indians aboard the Komagata Maru who tried to challenge the law in 1914 but lost. That loss has been met with shrill, unjustified claims which failed to look at all the immigration conflict which preceded the Komagata Maru incident.

The most significant and damning thing that can be said about the current interpretations of the 1907 Vancouver Parade and Riot is that they are wrong. In spite of this, they have long been used to elicit guilt from Canadians and subsequently to perpetuate unjustified high immigration levels today.

One positive thing that can be said about the federal government of 1907 is that it did try to correct its mistakes.

Unfortunately, the same thing cannot be said today. Many elected officials at all three levels of government are doing almost nothing to correct the major blunders in Canada’s immigration policies of the past 2 decades.

So we have two questions:

(1) Who are the “enlightened” in the debate over the 1907 immigration chaos and the Vancouver Riot issue: the people of 1907 or those of today?

(2) Will it take events similar to those of 1907 to get a number of current elected officials to pay attention to the complaints of many Canadians?


See the following reference (provided by the Vancouver Public Library) for the 1907 population of Vancouver. It estimates Vancouver’s population to have been 60,100 in that year.



1. The peaceful parade before the 1907 Vancouver Riot riot and the Riot itself are most often portrayed as racial incidents. But they were clearly both economic and cultural incidents caused by the sudden influx of large numbers of cheap Asian labourers.  Rumours about the scheming of employers who were bringing in these Asian labourers contributed substantially to the hostility of the resident population. Up until the late 1970’s, the prevailing view in Canada was that there were good reasons in the late 19th and early 20th centuries for Canadian concern about cheap Asian labour and Canadian gov’t measures taken to correct the problem. Since then, a number of academics as well as immigration industry representatives and their politically-correct supporters have revised Canadian history and have effectively damned several generations of mainstream Canadians to the lowest circle of hell for their efforts to defend themselves and their country. An ongoing example of this damning is the propaganda campaign waged by Canada’s education system, particularly the history departments in Canadian universities. Ironically, Canada’s federal and provincial gov’ts have funded the campaign.

2. The wage advantage that Asian labourers had over their mainstream Canadian counterparts had originated in the early 1880’s with the building of a comparatively small section of the CPR in British Columbia. Labour contractors were a major factor in the hostility expressed to Asians then and later. These contractors made agreements with Canadian employers and imported Chinese and Japanese labourers to serve the interests of those employers. This often meant replacing Canadian workers. The contractors deliberately set the price of Chinese and Japanese labour low so that Asian workers would be more attractive than their mainstream Canadian counterparts to Canadian employers. At the time of the Vancouver Riot, even the Japanese gov’t was sympathetic to the idea that it should not be displacing Canadian workers. It had a very strong hold on emigration from Japan, and it took measures to avoid giving passports to large numbers of Japanese who were interested in working in Canada.

3. Like Canadians today, Canadians in 1907 were concerned about being overwhelmed by large numbers of Asians. In 1907, Canada had a population of between 5 and 6 million. The mainstream population realized that China had a population of up to 400 million and Japan a population of about 50 million. If allowed to enter Canada in large numbers, they would overwhelm this country. Some residents said that if large numbers of Chinese, in particular, were allowed in, British Columbia would have to change its name to Chinese Columbia.

4. In general, mainstream Canadians had a much better sense of their identity in 1907 and had the courage to defend it. Mainstream Canadians today have endured the assaults of so much multiculturalism and diversity propaganda that they have become timid about defending themselves. Negative propaganda about the 1907 Vancouver Parade and Riot is often used to elicit guilt from mainstream Canadians. The people who spread the propaganda are Canada’s immigration industry and its politically correct supporters. These people imply that the only way Canadians can compensate for their wrong-doing in 1907 is to have a virtually-open-door, perpetual, high immigration policy for Asians.

5. In looking back, the big question is this : Were Canadians justified in imposing Head Taxes and other restrictions on immigrants? The answer is that they were  and that they have little if anything to apologize for. As the Chinese demonstrated in trying to get rid of European colonizers of China in the 1800’s, and the Japanese by keeping immigration to Japan to a minimum even up to the present, both the Chinese and Japanese would have introduced much stronger measures to protect the economic well-being of their own populations and to maintain their identities.

6. In order to really understand the conflict in 1907, the Head Taxes, the Gentleman’s Agreement between Canada and Japan, and the resulting continuous passage legislation (which affected Japanese and East Indians in particular), were all about,  Canadians need only heed the claim today from many countries that the Chinese yuan is undervalued and that the Chinese government has deliberately kept their currency undervalued in order to give China a major advantage in trade with all other countries. For well over a century at minimum, China has had a labour surplus and today uses that to keep its own labour costs down. If the rest of the world were to combine efforts to force China to re-evaluate its currency, that would be the equivalent of the world imposing a Head Tax on China. In the 19th century and after, the Head Tax on Chinese labourers was intended to nullify the advantage that Chinese labourers had in the Canadian labour force. A higher value of the yuan would help to lessen the advantage that the yuan now enjoys and would achieve the same effect as the old Head Tax had accomplished.

6. The most important comment that can be made about Canada’s immigration policy today is that many of the things that mainstream Canadians warned about in 1907 have come true. For example, in Metro Vancouver today, low-wage Sikh and Chinese workers dominate the construction industry. Mainstream Canadians are a small minority. Canada responded to the crises of 100 years ago with a number of important measures and gave itself room to survive. That survival instinct has been considerably weakened today, and even though that instinct gets little support from Canada’s political establishment, it is still there, waiting to be organized.

7. Another important comment is that the cheap labour situation that most Canadians opposed 100 years ago is happening all over again through both Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker program and its regular  immigration system. In 2011, about 300,000 Temporary Foreign Workers were employed here. Our federal government bends to employers who are looking for cheap labour and it has withheld important information in order to keep Canadians from finding out about what is going on. In addition, Canada’s regular immigration programme has been bringing about 250,000 immigrants per year for two decades. This is many, many more people than Canada needs. It is no co-incidence that the result has been a stagnation in wages for many Canadian workers for at least 2 decades.

8. Canada’s visible minorities and our federal gov’t have big questions to answer : For visible minorities, the question is “Are we willing to remain a minority? That is, are we willing to support a general major reduction in immigration for a long period of time so that Canada’s population can adjust to the completely unnecessary immigration of the past 20 years?”  It is clear from the actions of several groups that significant numbers within those groups want to increase their numbers so that they will equal or overwhelm the numbers of Canada’s mainstream population. For our federal gov’t, the question is “Are we willing to tell visible minority groups that the immigration free-for-all is over?” Our federal gov’t has been on a path of giving visible minorities what they want and of ignoring the wishes of mainstream Canadians. In fact, in the latest consultations about  immigration levels, it has consulted only with Canada’s immigration industry (immigration lawyers, immigration consultants, visible minority groups and cheap-labour employers). As the events of 1907 demonstrated, this is outright cowardice and gross sycophancy. For the sake of Canada’s future, this nonsense has to end.