Monday, 6 July 2009

Museum Exhibit Musings -- The Darker Side

Continuing with my posts, this is some early research into the years 1906-1913. Please keep in mind that this is just bits and pieces and includes musings and early ideas for the exhibit. As always, please let me know your thoughts, concerns, ideas.

When I started I tended to look at the 1906-1913 boom as generally a good thing. But there is a lot more going on beneath the surface. Certainly not everyone benefited equally. How to balance the story to tell both the good and bad of the time period?

Looking deeper at immigration and diversity in Lethbridge shows us many of the issues facing the community and its response to these issues. On Christmas Day 1907 a riot took place in downtown Lethbridge. As the Lethbridge Herald of 1 January 1908 (p6) reported “there was a spontaneous movement to clean out the supposed murderers of Harry Smith and all their fellow-countrymen.” Approximately 500 people (many of whom may have been observers) smashed through the Columbia Restaurant, damaged the Alberta Restaurant and Joe Fong’s restaurant and accosted several Chinese workers. Other Chinese workers were forced to lock themselves into the basement of the restaurants for their own safety. Mayor Galbraith called in the Mounted Police, swore in special constables and made a speech to the rioters. “By ten o’clock everything was quiet and one of the most unfortunate and disgraceful affairs in the history of Lethbridge was over.” [Lethbridge Herald 1 January 1908 p 6]

In January 1909 City Council ordered its engineer to employ English speaking workers in preference to “foreigners.” Several restaurants, including the Hub Café, Castle Hotel and Hotel Alexandra, promoted themselves as hiring only white staff and one café went so far as to call itself White Man’s Café in recognition of its hiring policies. Even the Fashion Café, with Quon Sang proprietor, stated in its advertising that it had white waitresses.

In 1910 City Council passed by-law 83 (on the books 1911-1916). All laundries were consigned to a specifically designated area (west of 4th Street South and between 1st and 6th Avenues South). This by-law was presented as being about the prevention of fire and putting laundries in an area where there were good sewer connections. The fact that a white-owned laundry, Lethbridge Steam Laundry, while outside the area, was not required to move highlights the real purpose – to segregate the Chinese businesses and limit the number of Chinese laundries.

Why? Was it based on fear? Unemployment and economic concerns? Prejudice? Sense of superiority? What was going on then? And what is different today? Still a lot more to research.

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