One of the most interesting stories about William Lyon Mackenzie King happened in 1907 when he was Deputy Minister of Labour.
On September 9, Ottawa heard that there had been a race riot in Vancouver. People in British Columbia were greatly disturbed because thousands of Asiatics were coming to live there. In a single year, 8,000 Japanese, 2,000 Sikhs and 1,500 Chinese arrived. The Japanese were feared because they were very proud of their homeland which had become strong enough to defeat Russia in a war. It suspected that the Japanese settling in Canada were the advance guard of a full-scale invasion.
Vancouver citizens formed the Asiatic Exclusion League, and on Saturday, September 8, attacked the Chinese and Japanese sections of the city. The Chinese showed only passive resistance, but the Japanese put up a fight and rove out the attackers with sticks, bottles and knives. The fighting continued on Sunday, September 9.
Prime Minister Laurier decided to send Deputy Minister of Labour Mackenzie King to Vancouver to assess Chinese and Japanese claims for losses through the rioting and, more important, to study the reasons for the recent influx of Japanese. The Government moved cautiously because it was trying to work out a trade agreement with Japan.
When Mackenzie King was in Vancouver, he raided the office of the Japanese immigration agent. Later he told Governor-General Lord Grey that he had gone to Vancouver prejudiced in favour of the Japanese, but had changed his mind after studying documents he took from the immigration agent’s office. It was clear that the Government of Japan knew immigration quotas were being exceeded, and that there was a definite danger of an invasion.
Mackenzie King’s official report on the situation has never been published, but Rodolphe Lemieux, Minister of Labour, went to Japan and managed to work out a satisfactory immigration agreement. The anti-Asiatic feeling in British Columbia simmered down over the years. The Japanese were evacuated during World War II, but that’s another story, for another day, for another post!
To read more about today’s post, there are a few good sites that offer more information. So I suggest the Sedai – The Japanese Canadian Legacy Project, and then the INitiative for Student Teaching and Research in Chinese Canadian studies, and the People of the Valley: Japanese Community. All good places to start.