Historic racism persists

October 22nd, 2020 3 Minutes
Gateway, MT Railway Depot, Customs and Immigration Office: #0436.0001 – Image courtesy of Cranbrook Archives and the Columbia Basin Institute of Regional History

The question is always, “what can we learn from history?” And more often than not, “nothing” is the reply. At the Columbia Basin Institute, we would argue that history gives us time and distance. Time lets us reflect on what others have done, and whether we want to continue those acts and attitudes. Space allows us to remove ourselves from the passion of the moment, from the dogma of causes and conflict.

The following selections from Basin newspapers of approximately 100 years ago demonstrate some of the ways we might learn from history and bring forward some of the attitudes we may no longer wish to embrace.

The language is sometimes harsh but is instructive of the time. The subject populations still live here, and, fortunately, time has improved the issues and attitudes associated with the people. We always have newcomers, and they will remain outsiders if we don’t include them.

The Donald Truth (1888): A right move: The substitution of white for Chinese help at the Selkirk.

Resident of Moyie #0506.0006 – Image courtesy of Moyie House Museum and the Columbia Basin Institute of Regional History

The Nelson Economist (1898): It is evident that the miners of Sandon do not want John Chinaman, but the method of getting rid of the despised Celestial, while it possesses the merit of being most effective, may conflict with the laws of the land.

The Golden Times (1908): Regarding the complaint of alleged discrimination against Englishmen on city works, Engineer Rust of Toronto says the newly arrived Englishmen are a grumbling lot of men and raise trouble. After they are in the country for two or three years and get settled down, they are all right. He says the city gets better work out of Italians.

The Nelson Economist (1898): An Italian found in possession of a revolver was on Monday brought before Magistrate Crease and fined $25 for the offence and had the weapon confiscated. Chief McKinnon is having a sharp lookout for dangerous Dagoes.

The Nelson Economist (1898): Nelson is to have a Chinatown, and that it is to be in the vicinity of the skating rink. Hard on the skating rink.

The Golden Times (1908): The Hindus are another class that we find huddled in various camps around the province. They do not take up land but work for railroads and sawmills. They live in boxcars or any shelter that comes handy. They will not eat meat and have no respect for Pat Burns, although, around Eholt, I have known them to steal chickens.

The bulk of their money goes back to Punjaub, in India, but for Imperial reasons, we have to tolerate these turbaned subjects of King Edward much the same as we have to accept bedbugs in a country hotel. With the country filled with Japs, Chinks, Hindus, Siwashes, Doukhobors, Grits, and Cheap raised Canadians, British Columbia will ere long resemble the Garden of Eden over-run by swarms of locusts and mosquitoes.

Doukhobor Gathering #0131.034  – Image courtesy of Kootenay Gallery of Art, History & Science and the Columbia Basin Institute of Regional History

The Nelson Economist (1898): The first Chinaman has appeared in Cranbrook, says The Herald of that City, and will act doubtless, as the forerunner of many of his kind. While only one is to deal with, the citizens of that town had better pitch him out neck and crop. Once John gets a foothold, it’s downhill for the town from there. The fewer towns with Chinamen, the better for the province.

The Golden Times (1908): About seventy-five Hindus left the city last week for different points on the coast. We wish the rest of them would take the notion.

The Ledge New Denver (1897): There are no yellow Chinamen left in the lower Slocan country.

Racism is on our minds these days with the arrival of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement. It seems that we have not evolved over much from the days of our predecessors. Though political correctness has arrived, it appears that it remains superficial and a courtesy veiling the underlying racism and hatred that persists for marginalized groups, whether it be ethnic groups, women, or the disabled.

Lempriere Japanese Internment Camp: #0073.0025 – Courtesy of Valemount Historical Society and the Columbia Basin Institute of Regional History


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