Hastings Mill – Otasuke Kaisha

The Asahis’ community grew out of the first Japanese immigrants who arrived to work at Hastings Saw Mill on Burrard Inlet in the 1870s and 1880s. Mostly single young men, they worked in the mill at the foot of Dunlevy Street and lived in nearby rooming houses in the earliest part of the city of Vancouver.

Powell Street neighbourhood

Through the 1890s, the Nikkei continued to settle in the Powell Street neighborhood as earlier residents of the area moved to build homes and businesses to the west. The Nikkei established themselves along Powell Street, Alexander, Jackson, Cordova and Gore. Some men had wives already; others went to Japan and returned with brides.

Establishing an urban centre

Some mill workers used their savings to become merchants. The commercial core of Vancouver’s Nihonmachi began in the 200 block of Powell Street, gradually radiating outwards. The entire block of b Read More
Hastings Mill – Otasuke Kaisha

The Asahis’ community grew out of the first Japanese immigrants who arrived to work at Hastings Saw Mill on Burrard Inlet in the 1870s and 1880s. Mostly single young men, they worked in the mill at the foot of Dunlevy Street and lived in nearby rooming houses in the earliest part of the city of Vancouver.

Powell Street neighbourhood

Through the 1890s, the Nikkei continued to settle in the Powell Street neighborhood as earlier residents of the area moved to build homes and businesses to the west. The Nikkei established themselves along Powell Street, Alexander, Jackson, Cordova and Gore. Some men had wives already; others went to Japan and returned with brides.

Establishing an urban centre

Some mill workers used their savings to become merchants. The commercial core of Vancouver’s Nihonmachi began in the 200 block of Powell Street, gradually radiating outwards. The entire block of businesses, mainly general stores, restaurants and labour contractors’ offices, was the urban centre of the Nikkei in Canada.

Families and school

With economic independence, Nikkei families began to grow. The Vancouver Nippon Kokumin Gakko – Canada’s first Japanese school – was founded in 1906 to educate the children of the Nikkei community, the Canadian-born nisei.

1908

A year after the 1907 anti-Asian riot in Chinatown and on Powell Street, Canada and Japan made a “Gentlemen’s Agreement” limiting Japanese immigration. Because many men in the community couldn’t travel to Japan, the “picture bride” system developed. Women were integral to Nikkei businesses, running rooming houses and shops.

Powell Grounds

At the heart of the neighbourhood was the Powell Street Grounds, formally named Oppenheimer Park after the city’s second mayor. At the turn of the century in 1900, Vancouver’s first professional baseball club played here. Later, the Vancouver Nippon Baseball Club and then the Asahis made it their home.

The park

The Powell Street Grounds was an important site for the community and the city. There, baseball drew great crowds of fans from 1900 to 1941. In the 1930s, demonstrators seeking employment often rallied at Powell Grounds, and the famous Nikkei opera singer Aiko Saita gave concerts there.

A vibrant community

In the 1920s the community grew. Neighbourhood businesses prospered, there was plenty of work and many renters became property owners. Churches, schools and clubs flourished. Through the 1930s hard times, nisei helped support their families. By 1941 the Powell Street hub was home to nearly half of 22,000 Nikkei in Canada.

© National Nikkei Museum and Heritage Centre 2007. All Rights Reserved.

Audio - Hastings Mill

It was a thriving ’little Tokyo’ then. Main Street, Powell Street, then. This drug store now used to be, used to be Okura Laundry. Japanese bath, and ah, about five fish stores, department stores everything was there, just like a little Tokyo. You could do all the shopping there, all the Japanese foods you want and there were three Chinese chop suey houses… bakeries and shoe store, book stores, ice cream parlours, you name it, we had it, within that, ah, five blocks. Oh yeah, there was a club for gambling, yes. But we never frequented that place, though.

CBC Radio
1993
© CBC Radio


Portrait of Yo Oya

Portrait of Yo Oya.

Japanese Canadian National Museum collection
1888
© Japanese Canadian National Museum


Video - Families and Schools

From "A short film on Vancouver and the Vancouver Japanese Language School."

[Original silent film, showing students and their teachers, with principal Tsutae Sato and his wife, teacher Hanako Sato, at the Vancouver Japanese Language School and Japanese Hall on Alexander Street, Vancouver.]

Shinkosha
1938
© Shinkosha


Video - 1908

From "A short film on Vancouver and the Vancouver Japanese Language School."

[Original silent film, showing neighbourhood street scenes in the Powell Street district, Vancouver.]

Shinkosha
1939
© Shinkosha


Video - Powell Grounds

From "A short film on Vancouver and the Vancouver Japanese Language School."

[Original silent film, showing Oppenheimer Park, known as the Powell Street Grounds and Powell Street, Vancouver.]

Shinkosha
1938
© Shinkosha


Video - The Park

Frank Moritsugu in "Watari Dori: A Bird of Passage." CBC Television

The cultural heroes were mixed, there were the Hollywood movie stars, there were the sports people, there were the top niseis, you know, the best judo men, the best baseball players, etcetera, in our own little community. But, uh, then there was a a real orientation to English things or British things, so we were real crazy mixtures. You know, I still have very much the British thing in me, you know, I have an emotional need to maintain and keep the throne and the monarchy.

CBC Television
1973
© CBC Television


Parade Route

View of parade route heading east along the 400 block of Powell Street, to celebrate the royal visit in 1939.

Gift of Shoji Nishihata. Japanese Canadian National Museum.
1939
© Japanese Canadian National Museum


Floats and Girls in Kimono

Floats and girls in kimono on parade heading east along the 300 block of Powell Street, 1937.

Gift of Shoji Nishihata. Japanese Canadian National Museum.
1937
© Japanese Canadian National Museum


Girls in Kimono

Girls in kimono assembled at the Vancouver Japanese Language School on Alexander Street to celebrate the royal visit in 1939.

Gift of Shoji Nishihata. Japanese Canadian National Museum.
1939
© Japanese Canadian National Museum


Video - A Vibrant Community

From “Watari Dori: A Bird of Passage.” CBC Television

[Original silent film clips, showing neighbourhood scenes in the Powell Street district, Vancouver.]

CBC Television
1973
© CBC Television


Learning Objectives

The learner will:
  • Identify and discuss the social conditions of the Nikkei in Canadian society;
  • Describe the influence of Asahi on Canadian population;
  • Explain the positive aspects of such a sport organization;
  • Deduct, from the information given in the exhibition, an overview of Canadian society before the Second World War.

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