The “White Man’s Province”

White Canada Crusade, (pamphlet) (1900). Retrieved from

Early BC unions were resolutely opposed to non-white immigration and only accepted white members. Their objections were rooted in racism, but also in past experience. Employers routinely exploited cheap Oriental* labour as strikebreakers and unfair competition, busting unions, driving down wages and increasing workplace dangers.

The notorious BC capitalist Vancouver Island coal baron James Dunsmuir held office both as BC’s Premier and Lieutenant Governor. He refused to ban the use of Oriental labour in BC because he routinely used it in his mines.

One of the first unions in BC, the Workingman’s Protective Association, formed in 1878 in Victoria, was established for the “mutual protection of the working class in BC against the great influx of Chinese”. It pledged to “use all legitimate means for the suppression of their immigration”.[1]

The Knights of Labor engaged in vigilante action in 1885 against the Chinese in Vancouver. Without families and able to live “on a few cents a day,” the Chinese labourers “will make the white man powerless to compete against them for labor.”[2]

In April 1891, the Vancouver Trades and Labor Council passed a resolution calling for total prohibition of Chinese immigration to Canada.[3]

BC’s labour newspaper promoted “us” versus “them” racism in advertisements it accepted for publication. The British Columbia Federationist, September 11, 1914, 4.

*“Oriental” was a term used by the white community to refer to all groups of workers from Asia: primarily Japanese, Chinese and Indian.

  1. Paul Phillips, No Power Greater: A Century of Labour in BC, (Boag Foundation, 1967), 5.
  2. Rod Mickleburgh, On the Line: A History of the British Columbia Labour Movement. (Harbour: 2018), 21.
  3. Gillian Creese, "Exclusion or Solidarity? Vancouver Workers Confront the 'Oriental Problem", BC Studies No. 80 (Winter 1988-1989): 31.


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