Destination Vancouver: Labour Migration and the Development of Powell Street
Japanese immigrants to British Columbia was an extension of the labour migration patterns that characterized Japan during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Japan was undergoing rapid social, economic, political change, including urbanization and agrarian reform. Labour migration extended a rural-urban network both domestically and internationally. In British Columbia, migrant labour became a central part of a new system of cities built on the extractive industries, particularly forest products. These two contexts came together as migrants set out to secure a place in their home villages through migrant labourer, and in the process created a new place: Powell Street. Powell Street became a unique expression of the aspirations of people in the course of modernization of both countries. Its distinctive architectural forms and social networks reflect their insertion into a labour market and their transformation of social and cultural practices. The “boss” system of employment, the boarding houses, specialty stores, and community organizations all represent that transition, all a part of the history of Vancouver. The Powell Street story begins with the establishment of the sawmills in the 1890s and ends with the demise of the community at the hands of the Canadian government.