Vancouver Centennial Plaque #24 – The Anti-Oriental Riots


668 Cambie Street


Formerly Cambie Street Grounds, lately a parking lot, soon to be Vancouver Art Gallery (Chan Centre for the Visual Arts)





On September 8, 1907 participants in an anti-immigration rally organized by the Asiatic Exclusion League stormed from here to the City Hall at Pender and Main. Later, the mob looted Chinatown and marched on Japantown, where it engaged in a pitched battle with waiting Japanese.”

Credit: Vancouver Centennial Commission, Historic Plaque Program – list and documentation plaques 1-49 (June 18, 1986). Courtesy of Vancouver Archives


Racist tensions have always been present in Vancouver. Even before the city was incorporated, the large number of Chinese labourers working on the railway were seen by some white people as “taking their jobs”. The combination of working longer hours for less money, while living in their own community, with “foreign” customs and language, was resented.

The 1907 riot began with a march held by the Asiatic Exclusion League, parading down to City Hall. While the meeting was discussing another race riot that had occurred in Bellingham, Washington, two days before, a young man outside threw a rock and smashed a window of a Chinese business. Others followed and a large group of rioters was soon rampaging through Chinatown, smashing windows and storefronts, as well as looting. When the crowd reached Japantown, the Japanese community were prepared for them and fought back. The riot continued until around 3am.

The newspapers of the time are full of commentary about the calm, sensible members of the AEL and how the riot was caused by “a gang of hoodlums who took advantage of the occasion”, which seems unlikely.

In the days following the riot, the Chinese community called a general strike and many purchased guns for protection. In order to prevent further problems, the federal government stepped in and paid for damage caused – $26,000 to the Chinese community, $9,000 to the Japanese community.

The government also made its first attempt to restrict immigration, by enacting the continuous journey regulation. This prevented immigration from people who had to make a stop between their home country and Canada, but, in practice, it only prevented ships that began their journey in India. This regulation directly led to the Komagata Maru incident in 1914 (which will be discussed later).

For an interactive walking tour of the 1907 riot, visit

Leave a comment

Name .
Message .

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published