A contract with China
snowy February evening in 1887, a crew of loggers retired to their tents
after a day spent clearing the dense forest that would one day be
Vancouver 's West End .
They laid aside axes and eight-foot-long crosscut saws and stripped off their
waterproof coats. Before bedding down, they peeled off damp and sweaty
checked shirts and trousers, pulled off muddy boots to change their wool
socks, and tucked valuables like silver pocket watches into trunks for the
crew was just like the dozens of other work crews that were clearing land so
it could be subdivided and sold, except for one small detail.
night, a mob, said by one eyewitness to number close to 300 men, made their
way to the spot where the Chinese were camped. Lanterns in hand, singing the
U.S. Civil War Union marching song “John Brown's Body” they
converged on the tents around midnight.
H. Gallagher was an eyewitness to what followed. More than 40 years later,
when interviewed at the City of Vancouver
Archives , his memories of that night remained vivid.
was snow on the ground, it was quite clear, and we could see what we were
doing,” Gallagher said. “There were many tough characters among the
crowd, navvys who had been working for [Canadian
Pacific Railway contractor Andrew] Onderdonk,
hotheaded, thoughtless, strong, and rough…”
the Chinamen saw all these men coming they were terrified… the rioters
grabbed the tents by the bottom, and upset them, the
war cry 'John Brown's Body' still continuing. The Chinamen did not stop to
see; they just ran. Some went dressed, some not; some with shoes, some with
bare feet. The snow was on the ground and it was cold.”
camp was located near the foot of modern
Burrard Street ,
where a spring tumbled over a bluff into Burrard
Inlet. Several of the Chinese fled in this direction, choosing a 20-foot jump
into bitterly cold water over facing the mob.
tide was in, they had no choice, and you could hear them going plump, plump,
plump, as they jumped into the salt water. Scores of them went over the
cliff,” said Gallagher.
tore down a wooden cook house, heaped the bedding and belongings of the
Chinese into piles and set them on fire.
a reporter for the Vancouver News, saw the riot first-hand. The newspaper
broke the story in its Feb. 25 edition, one day after the riot.
had formed after a Thursday night meeting at city hall, organized by
businessmen determined to “keep the city clear of the Celestials.”
Their aim was to put the Chinese on a boat and send them to