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BC@150: Anti-Asian sentiment ran high in B.C., despite the desperate need for Chinese workers

July 23, 2021

B.C.’s first official working day as the newest province of Canada dawned over the port of New Westminster on July 21, 1871, and the Mainland Guardian newspaper greeted the future with unguarded optimism.

“Yesterday formed the turning point in our destinies,” its lead editorial declared. “If the late government had many faults, it achieved one great act, and one that will always mark its existence among us as noteworthy; it secured for us the union with Canada.

“We have thus opened for us a great future, as, we firmly believe, when the Dominion Pacific Railway is completed, that we shall become the most populous and thriving of the confederated provinces. We have everything essential to this end. We have a glorious climate; inexhaustible mineral wealth; boundless forests of magnificent timber; the most valuable fisheries; the finest harbours on the Pacific coast.”

In a shrewdly prescient forecast, it predicted the rise of trade with Japan, China and the East Indies as the key to B.C.’s future prosperity.

“We shall become the great commercial depot of the Pacific in spite of all the praiseworthy efforts of our Republican neighbours.”

It was a bold observation in a province already infused with anti-Chinese sentiment that had washed North with the gold rush from California where, in October of 1871, a Los Angeles mob of 500 would murder 19 residents of Chinatown.

Racialized violence in the new province was largely school boys throwing stones and young men jostling people on sidewalks then vanishing into the street throng — and newspapers sanctimoniously decried the criminal assaults while stoking the furnace of prejudice with articles about “the Chinese Evil.”

Stories referred condescendingly to “Celestials” and “John Chinaman.” Indeed, the major story in the Cariboo Sentinel in the final days of the colony was the trial of Jean Boulanger in Barkerville for murdering Ah Mow after being ejected drunk from a house of “ill-fame.”

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