545 Powell Street: U. Kawasaki Bro. Biscuit Factory

An Analysis of a 1907 photograph of 545 Powell Street: U. Kawasaki Bro. Biscuit Factory

Kaiki Yoshioka and Richard Cheung

Fig. 1 Building damaged during Vancouver riot of 1907 – 545 Powell Street, $58. 1907. The University of British Columbia Library. Accessed April 1, 2018. https://dx.doi.org/10.14288/1.0048850.

On September 7, 1907, a riot broke out in the Japanese and Chinese neighbourhoods of Vancouver.[1] The riot was the inaugural event of the Asiatic Exclusion League, founded in August by labour organisations and local politicians.[2] The rioters wanted the government to restrict Asian immigration, as they believed that it would cause economic and social troubles for white British Columbians.[3] The rioters vandalised many Japanese and Chinese properties, including the 545 Powell Street site of the U. Kawasaki Bro. Biscuit Manufacturers.[4] This essay connects the story of Kawasaki Bro. to the broader scheme of Canadian history, focusing on Japanese immigration, the rise of Asian exclusionism, and the political impacts of the 1907 Riot.

The beginning of this story is one of economic opportunity and venture reflecting the prosperity of the Japanese community.  “U. Kawasaki” stands for “Utakichi Kawasaki,” the company’s founder and owner who emigrated from Kii, an impoverished region in Japan where many immigrants hailed.[5] According to Henderson’s City of Vancouver Directory, Utakichi founded Kawasaki Bro. between 1904 and 1905.[6] Utakichi’s half-brother–Kawasaki Yasuke–later joined his brother in 1907.[7] Yasuke’s name appears as the inhabitant of 545 Powell Street in the 1908 Directory, which indicates that he could afford his own private living space. Robert A.J. McDonald notes that the Japanese immigrants were primarily single males in low-skill jobs who received lower wages.[8] Indeed, the 1909 record shows that both brothers were single, but they were not “low-skill workers.”[9] As Patricia E. Roy notes, many Japanese immigrants post-1900 were merchants. The Kawasaki merchant brothers saw an opportunity in the 1,800-member Japanese community in Vancouver, as such a substantial population required services such as lodging and retail.[10] The brothers’ venture into business in Vancouver appears to be a response to these needs.

In light of their success within the Japanese community, the brothers wished to expand the company into a large chain of grocery stores and thus adopted the business strategies of successful Asian entrepreneurs. One strategy was to diversify trade by selling “groceries,” “stationary,” and “cigars and tobacco” alongside biscuits.[11] Another strategy was diversifying the consumers to include English speakers; note how neither the signs at the 545 site nor their advertisements contained Japanese characters or cultural motifs.[12] The Chinese Wing Sang Lung Company is a good model for comparison.[13] Their 1929 business card states that they sold general goods including “linens,” “toys,” and even “furniture,” and that “You can take back to U.S.A. $100 worth of new goods.”[14] Their ability to target a wide variety of expensive goods to English-speakers indicates the success of these strategies. The brothers were envisioning success in business by following common strategies within the immigrant community.

The success of Kawasaki Bro. testifies the tensions between the Japanese and white communities. At the time, Asian communities were leading many primary productive industries. For example, Saveliev cites that Japanese fishermen held twenty percent of all licenses issued in 1893.[15] White workers feared that immigration would reduce jobs available to them.[16] The 545 site–the fourth branch of Kawasaki Bro.–further fueled these fears, as it demonstrated the success of Japanese businesses. Consequently, white workers and politicians began expounding anti-Asian rhetoric to preserve a “white” state. The “Asiatic Exclusion League” was unwilling to let Asian people be hired at a low-wage, and some were afraid that their jobs would be taken by Japanese immigrants, who were regarded as industrious and intelligent people [17]. During their first meeting, some participants became mobs and moved to China town and Japan town thus began the riot. What is significant is how the Canadian and Japanese governments dealt with this riot and how the relationship between the two states changed in response to the riot. Before the riot, Canada and the United Kingdom used to criticize the United State for several riots advocating the exclusion of Asian people. The U.K. was in an alliance with Japan, and Canada was still a British dominion and was dependent on the U.K. diplomatically and economically. Therefore, the Vancouver riot confused Canadian government because the government had to find the fundamental cause outside of Canada or the U.K.  in order not to be criticized. As a result, the Canadian government explained that the members of the riot were just influenced by the mobs in the U.S., especially due to the riot happened in San Francisco. Soon after the riot in Vancouver, the Canadian Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier quickly tried to deal with the problem, and the Japanese government didn’t criticize the Canadian government a lot because Japanese government didn’t want to break the good relationship among them because the country wanted to expand its power to Asia by making use of British influence. Therefore, Japanese government just asked the Canadian government to pay reparations for the damage that Japanese people in Vancouver got. Canada accepted Japanese claims and paid reparations. Consequently, the friendly relationship between the two countries was still maintained.

However, the problem lay in Canadian peoples’ mind even though there was a treaty to welcome immigrants. This was not anything that Canadian government could ignore. Thus, Lemieux Agreement was concluded in 1907. The agreement decreased the number of Japanese immigrants to Canada, but it just encouraged Japan to voluntarily restrict the number of immigrants to Canada instead of legal enforcement [18]. The point of concluding this agreement is that it was based on the fact that both countries did not want to break the relationship of something political and economic such as the alliance and trading interaction. On the other hand, it is also true that Lemieux Agreement played an important role as the first immigration policy for Canada, which means that this agreement became a fundamental idea toward several subsequent immigration policies that Canadian government conducted later.

After the riot, the Kawasaki brother migrated first to Seattle, after which Utakichi continued to San Francisco. This story revealed the success of the Japanese immigrant community in Vancouver, which drew attention from the Asiatic Exclusion League. White workers became wary of Japanese competition, thus triggering the 1907 riots. The Japanese suffered great losses as a result. The Canadian government experienced a dilemma in dealing with its aftermath, attempting to balance the interests of the white workers and its international relations.

 

Notes:

[1] Michael Barnholden, “The Lessons of the Anti-Asiatic Riot,” The Beaver 87, no. 4 (Aug/Sep 2007): 14-15, Proquest Version, 14.

[2] Masumi Izumi, “Hyakunenngo kara mita Bankūbā bōdō [Reflecting the centennial of the 1907 Vancouver riot: analyses of the Japanese-language materials and research],” Ritsumeikan Gengo Bunka Kenkyū 20, no.1 (Septmber 2008): 215-235, Ritsumeikan edition, 2-5.

[3] Patricia E. Roy, A White Man’s Province : British Columbia Politicians and Chinese and Japanese Immigrants, 1858-1914 (Vancouver: The University of British Columbia Press, 1990), 157.

[4] Henceforth abbreviated as “Kawasaki Bro.”

[5] Ancestry.com. 1920 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010. Images reproduced by FamilySearch. https://search.ancestry.ca/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=1&dbid=6061&h=95376499&tid=&pid=&usePUB=true&_phsrc=aAi24&_phstart=successSource. Most of Kii makes up what is today Wakayama prefecture, with its eastern flank forming parts of Mie prefecture.

[6] Henderson’s City of Vancouver Directory [1904] (Vancouver: Henderson Publishing Company, Ltd., 1904), Vancouver Public Library edition; Henderson’s City of Vancouver Directory [1905], (Vancouver: Henderson Publishing Company, Ltd., 1905), Vancouver Public Library edition.

[7] Ancestry.com. U.S., Border Crossings from Canada to U.S., 1895-1960. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010, https://search.ancestry.ca/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=1&dbid=1075&h=4368825&tid=&pid=&usePUB=true&_phsrc=aAi25&_phstart=successSource. The 1909 border crossing record notes that they shared the same father, Kawasaki Yagaimori, although they had different mothers; it is also worth noting that they crossed the border together, thus their names appear on the same folio.

[8] McDonald, Robert A.J. Making Vancouver: Class, Status and Social Boundaries, 1863-1913 (Vancouver: The University of British Columbia Press, 1966), Des Libres edition, 210-211.

[9] The National Archives at Washington, D.C.; Washington, D.C.; Manifests of Passengers Arriving at St. Albans, VT, District through Canadian Pacific and Atlantic Ports, 1895-1954; Record Group Title: Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1787 – 2004; Record Group Number: 85; Series Number: M1464; Roll Number: 100.

[10] McDonald, 211.

[11] Henderson’s City of Vancouver Directory [1907] (Vancouver: Henderson Publishing Company, Ltd., 1907), Vancouver Public Library edition, 68.

[12] Henderson’s City of Vancouver Directory [1907], 68.

[13] Wing Sang Lung & Co. [Business card for Wing Sang Lung & Co.], Oct 26, 1929, The University of British Columbia Library, https://dx.doi.org/10.14288/1.0356495.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Saveliev, Igor S. “A question between empires’: the restriction of Japanese immigration in British Columbia and the reassessment of Japan’s foreign policy, 1907–1908.” Japan Forum 28, no.3 (March 2016): 299-319, https://doi.org/10.1080/09555803.2016.1149204, 303; McDonald, 210.

[16] Roy, 186.

[17] “Miraie Tsunagumichinori – Nikkei-Canada Imin no Rekishi to Nihonzinno Seishinsei,” Moon-water.org, accessed March 27, 2018, http://moon-water.org/beautiful/town/20151122canada/index.htm.

[18] Masako Iino, Nikkei Kanadajin no rekishi [A History of Japanese-Canadian] (Tokyo: University of Tokyo Publication, 1997), 40-59.

 

Bibliography

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Building damaged during Vancouver riot of 1907 – 545 Powell Street, $58. 1907. The University of British Columbia Library. Accessed April 1, 2018. https://dx.doi.org/10.14288/1.0048850.

Gilmour, Julie. “Interpreting social disorder: The case of the 1907 Vancouver riots.” International Journal 67, no. 2 (Spring 2012): 483-495, http://www.jstor.org/stable/23266022.

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Henderson’s City of Vancouver Directory [1905]. Vancouver: Henderson Publishing Company, Ltd., 1905. http://bccd.vpl.ca/index.php/browse/title/1905/Henderson%27s_City_of_Vancouver_Directory.

Henderson’s City of Vancouver Directory [1907]. Vancouver: Henderson Publishing Company, Ltd., 1907. http://bccd.vpl.ca/index.php/browse/title/1907/Henderson%27s_City_of_Vancouver_Directory.

Iino, Masako. Nikkei Kanadajin no rekishi [A History of Japanese-Canadian]. Tokyo: University of Tokyo Publication, 1997.

“Inflation Calculator.” Bank of Canada Banque du Canada. Accessed April 5, 2018. https://www.bankofcanada.ca/rates/related/inflation-calculator/

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McDonald, Robert A.J. Making Vancouver: Class, Status and Social Boundaries, 1863-1913. Vancouver: The University of British Columbia Press, 1966. http://deslibris.ca/ID/404287.

“Miraie Tsunagumichinori – Nikkei-Canada Imin no Rekishi to Nihonzinno Seishinsei.” Moon-water.org. Accessed March 27, 2018. http://moon-water.org/beautiful/town/20151122canada/index.htm.

Roy, Patricia E. Roy, Patricia E. A White Man’s Province : British Columbia Politicians and Chinese and Japanese Immigrants, 1858-1914. Vancouver: The University of British Columbia Press, 1990.

Saveliev, Igor S. “A question between empires’: the restriction of Japanese immigration in British Columbia and the reassessment of Japan’s foreign policy, 1907–1908.” Japan Forum 28, no.3 (March 2016): 299-319, https://doi.org/10.1080/09555803.2016.1149204.

The National Archives at Washington, D.C.; Washington, D.C.; Manifests of Passengers Arriving at St. Albans, VT, District through Canadian Pacific and Atlantic Ports, 1895-1954; Record Group Title: Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1787 – 2004; Record Group Number: 85; Series Number: M1464; Roll Number: 100.

Wing Sang Lung & Co. [Business card for Wing Sang Lung & Co.]. Oct 26, 1929. The University of British Columbia Library, https://dx.doi.org/10.14288/1.0356495.

 

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