BCLHC Blog

‘BC Labour History Walking Tours’ App now available on the Apple Store and Google Play

‘BC Labour History Walking Tours’ App now available on the Apple Store and Google Play

‘BC Labour History Walking Tours’

An app to discover British Columbia’s rich and diverse labour history, now available for free download on both iOS & Android devices

May 28, 2018 – Available today, the app BC Labour History Walking Tour offers a journey back in time in British Columbia to iOS & Android device users. It allows locals as well as travellers to visit sites of significance to workers’ heritage and working-class struggle that commemorate the importance of labour unions, individuals, collective actions and much more.

With content based on our existing labour history walking tours, users can download routes directly to their device, allowing them to load content while connected to Wi-fi before heading out on a tour to avoid mobile data usage. Tours can be explored remotely through the navigation bar, or on-site by turning on the Location & Online Maps feature of the app, which will notify the user of nearby stops and provide directions on the walking tour route.

Each stop contains historical information, along with historical photos and at certain locations, short educational videos to enhance the experience. New locations and routes will be added regularly to expand and include routes around the province of BC.

The app is only available for download in Canada and is completely free. It is available in several languages based on the user’s device settings.

Please visit us on the Google Play and Apple Store.

The BC Labour History Walking Tours app is created by the BC Labour Heritage Centre through the MyTours platform, developed by Authentic.

The Asiatic Exclusion League Riot, 1907

The Asiatic Exclusion League Riot, 1907

(Photo credit: Boarded-up businesses after race riots in Chinatown at northwest corner of Carrall Street at Pender, 1907: Vancouver Public Library #940)
 
In recognition of Asian Heritage Month, we remember a painful part of British Columbia’s labour history: The Asiatic Exclusion League.
 
With high unemployment and a recession in full swing, the Asiatic Exclusion League was formed by the Vancouver Trades and Labour Council in August 1907, with the aim of “keeping Oriental immigrants out of British Columbia”, viewing Asian immigration as a threat to non-Asian workers. This ignored the fact that Chinese lumber mill workers had taken part in the city’s two general strikes, while staging several walkouts of their own during the heyday of the OBU – not to mention countless other contributions to British Columbia’s economy.
 
Unfortunately, this type of racist labour organization was not a new idea in BC. In Victoria in the late 1870s, the low wage competition prompted unrest and discussion among many workers with the result that on Sept. 1st, 1878, a general union called the Workingman’s Protective Association was formed in the province’s capital. Apparently, this organization was not very concerned with collective bargaining but rather with: “the mutual protection of the working class of BC against the great influx of Chinese; to use all legitimate means for the suppression of their immigration; to assist each other in the obtaining of employment; and to devise means for the amelioration of the condition of the working class of this Province in general.”
 
The next few months saw considerable activity for the new organization, which attracted several hundred supporters in Victoria. It expanded to open a branch in New Westminster with another forty members. It was avowedly “anti-political”, aside from what they called “the oriental issue” but broke up due to political infighting and personal rivalries after less than one year. Groups such as the Asiatic Exclusion League rose to take their place.

(Smashed window of a barber’s shop with a boy to one side, 1907: Vancouver Public Library #941)
On September 7th, 1907 thousands of League members and members of the general public rioted in Vancouver, marching into Chinatown and destroying homes and businesses. Windows are smashed, stores looted, and many Chinese people are beaten. After venting their fury on Chinatown, the crowd heads to Powell Street to attack Japantown. However, the Japanese community is forewarned and arms themselves and the crowd is beaten back.

(Chinese buildings and businesses damaged by race riots in the 500 block Carrall Street (west side): Vancouver Public Library #939)
By 1921, the Asiatic Exclusion League, somewhat dormant since the 1907 riot, resurfaced and claimed to have 40,000 B.C. members. Pressure from this group led to the passage of the Chinese Immigration Act of 1923, which ended virtually all Chinese immigration to Canada. Only teachers, church personnel and consular staff are allowed in. The impact of this was immediate: Asian workers made up 20 percent of the workforce in 1918, yet only 12 percent by 1925. Over the next twenty years, no more than 50 Chinese immigrants were able to make their way to Canada.
 
It took until 1947 for The Chinese Exclusion Act to be repealed. On April 22, 2018, the City of Vancouver formally apologized to the Chinese community for their role in creating legislation, regulations and policies that contributed to the historical discrimination faced by the community. This followed a formal apology from the Provincial Government of BC in May of 2014 which included the creation of a legacy fund to support educational initiatives.
Wong Hau-Hon, Railway Worker

Wong Hau-Hon, Railway Worker

 

(Excerpt from On the Line: A History of the British Columbia Labour Movement, by Rod Mickleburgh [2018])

The thousands of Chinese immigrants who endured so much helping to unite Canada by rail left little record of their ordeal. But we do have one personal account written by former railway worker Wong Hau-Hon in 1926. Following are some excerpts from his account:

“I first came to Canada in 1882,” he wrote. “We debarked at Westminster. I set out on foot with about four hundred Chinese to join the railroad construction crews at Yale. We had worked only two days when the white foreman ordered our gang to move to North Bend. It rained all day. We were wet and cold. Some arrivals, unaccustomed to the Canadian climate, sickened and died, as they rested beneath the trees or lay on the ground. When I saw this, I felt miserable and sad.”

“At China Bar, many Chinese had died from an epidemic. As there were no coffins, bodies were stuffed into rock crevices or beneath trees to await burial. Some were buried on the spot in boxes made of crude planks. Some were buried wrapped only in blankets or grass mats. The sight of these new graves dotting the landscape sent chills up and down my spine.”

“We were ordered to Hope. The work there was very dangerous. On one occasion, a huge rock had to be removed by blasting. More than three hundred barrels of explosives were used. When blasting, the workers usually hid away in a safe place. But there was one, Leung, who had gone behind another hill, where he thought he would be safe. He lit his pipe while waiting for the blasting to proceed. Unexpectedly, a huge boulder thrown up by the blast landed on the hillside where Leung was sitting. It rolled down the slope, hitting him in the back. We heard a piercing shriek. By the time we reached him, Leung was dead.”

“Another incident occurred west of Yale. Twenty dynamite charges were ignited to blast a rock cave, but only eighteen went off. The white foreman, thinking all the dynamite went off, ordered the Chinese workers to enter the cave to resume work. Just at that moment, the last two charges exploded. Chinese bodies flew from the cave as if shot from a cannon. Blood and flesh were mixed in a horrible mess. About ten or twenty workers were killed.”

“So many Chinese labourers died from epidemics and accidents. I am now sixty-two and have experienced much hardship and difficulties in my life. I am proud of the fact that we Chinese contributed much to the development of transportation in Canada. Yet now the government is enforcing discriminatory immigration regulations against us. The Canadian people must surely have short memories!”

Source: Joe Huang and Sharon Quan Wong, eds., Chinese Americans: Realities and Myths Anthology (San Francisco: The Association of Chinese Teachers, 1997), 14-15.
 
Photo Credit: Collection of Barrie Sanford. Published in Train Master: The Railway Art of Max Jacquiard by Barrie Sanford [2012] with the following caption: “Many of the workers who built the railway between Yale and Savona were Chinese. Photos of Chinese working on the railway are rare, perhaps because there was reluctance at the time to acknowledge the contribution being made by the Chinese workers. Following completion of the rail line many of the Chinese found employment with the CPR. This rare photo shows whites, Chinese and natives from the nearby Chaumox Reserve engaged in rock scaling near Keefers, between North Bend and Lytton, on the newly completed railway.”
The Shooting of Frank Rogers

The Shooting of Frank Rogers

(Photo credit: Past Tense Vancouver)

Late in the night on April 13, 1903, labour organizer and longshore worker Frank Rogers was walking home from dinner and stopped by the Canadian Pacific Railway tracks at the foot of Abbott Street in Vancouver, BC, to check on the picketers from the United Brotherhood of Railway Employees. 
There, he was set upon by the CPR Special Police and a scab. After a brief exchange, shots were fired, and Rogers was hit in the stomach. He died in hospital two days later, on April 15th.

The CPR paid the legal fees for the police officer and scab, and no one was ever convicted for Rogers’ murder in the 115 years that have passed. He is buried in Vancouver’s Mountainview Cemetery near Fraser and 33rd. A labour history project in 1986 placed a new gravestone which reads “Frank Rogers / Murdered by a scab in strike against CPR / Died April 15, 1903 / Union organizer and socialist”. Rogers’ grave location is: HORNE1/2/02/018/0011 – you can find its location using our project ‘Putting Working People on the Map’.

 

The entire trade union movement was shocked and outraged, turning out in masses for his funeral. Longshoreman Fitz St. John was prominent among the mourners who marched through drenching rain to the cemetery and recalled the remarkable variety of vehicles that made up the procession in front of the hearse – wagons, buggies, early automobiles and trucks. He kept the old top-hat he wore at the damp, silent wake to his dying day.

Rogers was profiled in an article featured in the Vancouver Sun this year (2018) and continues to be remembered as one of Vancouver’s first labour martyrs.

 

 

 

Frank Rogers Dividing Road – right next to one named for Henry Thornton, the CPR President in the 1920’s.
(Photo credit: Past Tense Vancouver)

Interviewees Wanted: Solidarity, 1983

Interviewees Wanted: Solidarity, 1983

(Photo: Solidarity rally at Empire Stadium in Vancouver, August 1983: Simon Fraser University Pacific Tribune Collection)

Were you or someone you know involved in the Solidarity Movement of 1983?

Do you have stories to share about your experiences? Consider commemorating your participation by sharing these stories in a recorded oral history interview.

Interviews conducted will be used for education and research, including publications, and will be archived. For further details, contact oralhistory@labourheritagecentre.ca

2018 marks 35 years since the Solidarity Movement of 1983: the largest political protest in British Columbia’s history. Labour and community activist organizations across the province, including unions, environmental, religious, social justice, women’s rights groups and many more, came together over the course of several weeks through escalating actions in what would eventually become the largest action of its kind in BC history. The protests were a response to a series of 26 bills introduced by the Social Credit Party, led by Premier Bill Bennett, which slashed core social and labour rights, including major cutbacks to public services – sparking multiple resistance campaigns (Operation Solidarity & The Solidarity Coalition).
 
35 years later, we can look back at this event and the controversy around it, which shaped many activists and demonstrated the power that solidarity can provide when communities stand shoulder to shoulder against injustice. Many of the community and labour leaders have passed away, making this project a priority while participants remain to tell their part of the story.
 
(Photo: Solidarity rally at Legislature in Victoria, July 1983: Simon Fraser University Pacific Tribune Collection)