Calgary & Southern Alberta
Japanese Canadians in Vancouver, 1915
Courtesy of The Japanese Canadian National Museum & Archives Society
Most Euro-Canadian Albertans regarded Japanese settlers, like Black Americans and Chinese immigrants, as racially inferior and unassimilable. However, unlike their Black and Chinese counterparts and unlike Japanese residents in neighbouring British Columbia Alberta's Japanese population generated little nativist attention during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Historian Howard Palmer has argued convincingly that the reason for this general acceptance is that their settlement patterns and their small numbers made Japanese residents virtually invisible to Alberta's mainstream populace. A plan developed in 1908 to establish a sizeable Japanese farm community on irrigated land owned by the CPR east of Calgary did not come to fruition. The degree of public opposition the plan generated suggests that Albertans' underlying attitudes of prejudice differed little from the nativist sentiments that flourished in British Columbia. In B.C., the sizeable Japanese population attracted much mainstream animosity partly because of Japanese success in the highly competitive coastal commercial fishery. A "Gentlemen's Agreement" that Ottawa and Tokyo signed in 1909 severely restricted all Japanese immigration to Canada, thus eliminating the possibility that large numbers of Japanese immigrants would ever pose any such economic "threat" (real or perceived) to Euro-Canadian Albertans. In 1911, Alberta's Japanese population numbered only 244 individuals. By 1921, it had increased to only 493.
A mechanics' strike in Lethbridge in 1909 elicited much adverse publicity for Japanese strike-breakers hired by the CPR. In 1942, the wartime removal to southern Alberta of several thousand Japanese and Japanese-Canadians from B.C. triggered intense public consternation. Prior to 1942, however, Alberta's small Japanese population attracted little public interest. During the 1920s, when anti-Japanese rhetoric in B.C. became more virulent as competition within the fishing industry increased, Alberta's Japanese residents actually found increasing acceptance in Raymond and Hardieville, the southern Alberta towns where most lived.
Japanese labourers in the sugar beets field
Courtesy of the Glenbow Collection
The fact that the small Japanese population was scattered in rural sugar beet farming and coal-mining areas, where its members provided useful services as labourers, also counteracted anti-Japanese sentiment in the province. In contrast to the small but highly visible urban concentration of Chinese people, moreover, southern Alberta's dispersed Japanese community incorporated a higher proportion of females than did the Chinese population. Family-oriented, the Japanese community was far less susceptible to charges of moral impropriety than Calgary's male-dominated enclave living in Chinatown.
During World War II Japanese-Canadians were uprooted by the Canadian government and forced into internment camps, losing all their homes and businesses. Many of those internment camps were located in southern Alberta. In 1988 Prime Minister Brian Mulroney announced the Canadian government's formal apology for the wrongful incarceration, seizure of property, and the disenfranchisement of thousands of Canadians of Japanese ancestry. A redress settlement was also announced which included individual compensation for all survivors. Click on the this timeline link for a detailed account of the history of Japanese-Canadians.
Return to A Province of Immigrants