British Columbia

150 years of racism in B.C. chronicled in new book

A new book looks at historically racist policies and how they tie into anti-racism movements in B.C. today.

'This is meant to be a hard-hitting publication that reveals a real, harsher history of British Columbia'

Staff of The New Canadian newspaper in Kaslo, B.C., in 1943. In response to discrimination faced by Japanese Canadians, young activists began publishing the English-language newspaper The New Canadian in 1938. It was the only Japanese Canadian newspaper permitted to publish during the war. (Langham Cultural Society)

As B.C. marks 150 years since it joined Canada, a new book detailing the racist history of the province has been released as a public resource to help teach young British Columbians about an often unacknowledged part of our history. 

The 80-page illustrated book, titled Challenging Racist "British Columbia": 150 Years and Counting, delves into discriminatory policies that have impacted Indigenous, Black and Asian communities, and ties those histories to present day anti-racist movements. 

"This resource honours the activists and communities that have been fighting racism for 150 years and, as the current anti-racist uprising demonstrates, are still having to stand up to system racism on a daily basis," co-author John Price said. 

"Hopefully it serves as a wake-up call to governments that no longer should they engage in divide-and-rule policies." 

Founded in 1906 in Vancouver, the Khalsa Diwan Society brought together Sikh newcomers to build the first gurdwara in Canada, which became an important safe space for Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims and activists. (Submitted by Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives)

"This is meant to be a hard hitting publication that reveals a real, harsher history of British Columbia,"  said Nicholas Claxton, co-author and elected chief of the Tsawout First Nation on southern Vancouver Island.

"Teachers can begin to utilize it and also be used in teacher education programs to help start to teach the real history, not an ethnically cleansed history."

Long term, Claxton hopes it will lead to justice for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of colour) communities. 

The book isn't just about the history of the province, Claxton said, but about ongoing systemic racism and how we can rethink where we've come from, and where we want to go in terms of racial equality.

Indigenous activists, from left, Andrew Paull, Chief William Scow and Rev. Peter Kelly with the First Indian Advisory Committee. (North Vancouver Museum and Archives 2191)
In 1945, Vivian Jung was denied entry to Crystal Pool when trying to fulfill her teachers’ training qualifications there. With her instructor and classmates behind her, they protested the discrimination until the colour bar was removed, and Jung became the first Chinese Canadian teacher with the Vancouver School Board. (Cynthia Kent)

The project is a joint initiative between the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and a University of Victoria research project called Asian Canadians on Vancouver Island: Race, Indigeneity, and the Transpacific. It's available for download to the public at challengeracistbc.ca.

To hear the interview with Nicholas Claxton, click here: 

Tsawout First Nation elected chief Nick Claxton is a co-author of Challenging Racist “British Columbia”: 150 Years and Counting. The illustrated book chronicles the history discriminatory policies, their impact on Indigenous, Black and racialized communities, and the emergence of anti-racist movements in response. 8:53

With files from All Points West

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