The City Walks – Labour Migration & The Creation of Ethnicity in Victoria

On September 29, 2012, I will be leading a Walking Tour of Victoria’s downtown. The theme parallels that of the first of The City Talks from this year’s series, Audrey Kobayashi’s discussion of Labour Migration and the Development of Powell Street.

What: Labour Migration &  The Creation of Ethnicity in Victoria, a walking tour in downtown Victoria
Where: The tour starts at the corner of Store & Fisgard
When: 10:00 am to 12:00 pm

Here’s a map of the route (click on it for a larger version):

At each of the following points, we will discuss the related questions:

1. Store and Fisgard.

  • What do you see from this spot? How would you characterize this corner? Is this spot “typical” or “atypical” of Victoria?(1)
  • In what ways are the various uses of space visible from this corner compatible and/or incompatible with each other? Are high priced restaurants and furniture stores compatible with supportive housing at Swift House? Are surface parking lots and car dealerships compatible with a dense, walkable, liveable downtown?

2. Gate of Harmonious Interest.
“The analytical capabilities of geographic information systems [combined with historical census data]… have given us a relatively clear picture of how space was utilized in and around Victoria’s Chinatown [in 1891]. The picture is striking on several counts: it reveals that much of the property inside Chinatown was owned by the white elite of Victoria; it shows that Chinatown was not occupied exclusively by Chinese; and it demonstrates that a substantial part of the city’s Chinese population resided outside the Chinese quarter. In this view, Chinatown was a transactional space for social and commercial interactions between Victoria’s Chinese and non-Chinese residents.”(2)

  • What is “transactional space”? Does Chinatown still act as a transactional space?
  • How are places like this and ideas about them “constructed” in the urban fabric? What role does heritage conservation play in maintaining Chinatown as a distinct community? What role does tourism play in the economy and labour market of this area?

3. Spindle Whorl & Poles.
“Established in 2008, the Signs of Lekwungen… is an interpretive walkway along the Inner Harbour and surrounding areas that honours the art, history and culture of the Coast Salish people who have resided in the Victoria area for hundreds of years,” notes the City of Victoria’s website about this art work. “The Signs of Lekwungen consist of seven unique site markers – bronze castings of original cedar carvings, conceptualized and carved by Coast Salish artist, Butch Dick. The markers depict spindle whorls that were traditionally used by Coast Salish women to spin wool. The spindle whorl was considered the foundation of a Coast Salish family.” (3)

  • What are the connections between public art, labour and First Nations that this piece of art and the nearby poles represent? Why are they important?
  • What are the implications of siting these artworks near City Hall?

4. Fort Victoria Bastion – Marked in Bricks on Sidewalk.
“In light of the consequences for the Lekwungen, it seems ironic that they welcomed, and assisted with, the building of Fort Victoria,” writes John Lutz, in Makúk: A New History Of Aboriginal-White Relations. “But in the context of the time, the history of the Lekwungen, and the knowledge that was available to them, this was consistent with their own priorities… The Lekwungen likely viewed their assistance as giving them a stake and an interest in Fort Victoria.”(4)

  • Why is it significant that local First Nations played a role in the building of Fort Victoria?
  • How is the role of local First Nations in building Fort Victoria, and the subsequent city, commemorated and/or made invisible in this area?
  • Who is named on the bricks that mark the outline of Fort Victoria and its Bastion?

5. Another Spindle Whorl – and a View of the Songhees.
One of the reasons that Lutz gives for why “the Lekwungen are important” to the racialization of labour in Victoria is “because a uniquely favourable financial situation resulted from the exchange of their original reserve for another in the suburbs of Victoria. As part of the 1911 relocation agreement, every family received $10,000 in cash… [F]or the years immediately after 1911… they were well provided with investment capital.”(5)

  • What is at the site of the former reserve now?  What traces of the former reserve site mark the Lekwungen presence there?
  • What are the implications of moving the reserve? How would Victoria have been different if the reserve had remained across the harbour in Vic West over the past century?
  • For a discussion of the controversy surrounding the reserve, see my post at Vincent’s Victoria about the issue: “‘Progressive Victoria’: 1910 Editorial Cartoons Reveal Racist Arguments for City Expansion

6. Another Spindle Whorl on the Inner Causeway.

  • What role does First Nations artistry play in our current economy? How does public art function in our economy, especially the tourism industry, today?
  • Having seen several of these Spindle Whorls today, how do you think they fit into broader questions of public space and the “politics of visibility”?

7. The Empress.

Victoria was marketed to tourists in the early 20th century as exemplifying an English or British identity, and tourism infrastructure has long been implicated in this marketing.(6)

  • How is the British identity of Victoria symbolized by this building?
  • To what extent is Victoria still marketed and seen by outsiders as “more English than the English”?

8. Spindle Whorl outside RBCM/Archives.
In a critique of the RBCM’s First Peoples exhibit, titled “That’s My Dinner On Display,” Gloria Frank writes that, “It is the shattered times, the bad times, that dominate the mainstream public historical record of First Nations lives. The exceptional wisdom in First Nations communities, to a large degree, is unknown to the non-Native community… At the RBCM permanent First Peoples exhibit there is no logical reason for not displaying extensive community-generated commentary alongside [the artifacts, photographs and videos presented there]. Such supplementary details, along with stories of the collectors and ‘informants’… would strengthen rather than undermine the displays.”(7)

  • Is Gloria Frank right? Have positive images First Nation people been largely written out of the historical record?
  • Are the Spindle Whorl sculptures we’ve been seeing today a useful, though partial, antidote to the racism of mainstream representations of First Nations?
  • What role should museums play in representing various cultures? How should we, as a society, “produce” and “consume” each others’ cultures? How does this relate to the themes of labour and ethnicity that we have been talking about today?

9. CPR Terminal Building.
In a book about the intersection of race, class and legal restrictions on migration, Andrea Geiger writes that, “U.S. and Canadian officials agreed that steamship companies played a key role in encouraging Japanese migrants to travel through Canada regardless of their final destinations. U.S. [immigration official] John Clark complained in 1907 that steamship companies encouraged immigrants bound for the United States to disembark at Canadian ports, not only to avoid the risk of carrying any who were denied entry back to Japan but also to avoid paying the four-dollar head tax imposed on steamship companies for each alien landed at a U.S. port. U.S. and Canadian officials alike accused the steamship lines of making Victoria… a ‘dumping ground for diseased immigrants.’” Policies against this were tested by both sides in Victoria in 1907.(8)

  • How does the fact that some immigrants, companies and foreign governments “subverted” exclusionary laws change our perceptions of immigration, labour migration and ethnicity? How does this relate to current immigration and refugee issues?
  • What does it mean to live in a place where people travel to and transit through?
  • How is the current building related to the previous CPR building on this site?
  • What role has this site played in the local tourism industry until recently? What are its current and future uses? How is the tourism industry related to the issues of labour and ethnicity that we have been talking about during this tour?

After the walk, join me for some coffee and conversation at the RBCM’s Museum Cafe.


1. Thanks to University of Victoria History Professor Jordan Stanger-Ross for offering his interpretation of this site, and for suggesting these questions and a number of other improvements to this tour.

2. Patrick A. Dunae, John S. Lutz, Donald J. Lafreniere, and Jason A. Gilliland, “Making the Inscrutable, Scrutable: Race and Space in Victoria’s Chinatown, 1891,” BC Studies, no. 69, Spring 2011, 58.

3. City of Victoria, “Signs of Lekwungen [website & brochure],” 2008,, accessed September 22, 2012.

4. John Sutton Lutz, Makúk: A New History Of Aboriginal-White Relations, Vancouver: UBC Press, 2008, 71.

5. John Sutton Lutz, Makúk: A New History Of Aboriginal-White Relations, Vancouver: UBC Press, 2008, 50-51. Map published in the Victoria Daily Colonist on October 26, 1910; cartoon published in the Victoria Daily Times, May 10, 1910.

6. Michael Dawson, Selling British Columbia: Tourism and Consumer Culture, 1890-1970, Vancouver: UBC Press, 2004, 32-37, 69-78.

7. Gloria Jean Frank, “‘That’s My Dinner On Display’: A First Nations Reflection On Museum Culture,” BC Studies, no. 125/126, Spring/Summer 2000, 177.

8. Andrea Geiger, Subverting Exclusion: Transpacific Encounters With Race, Caste, and Borders, 1885-1928, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011, 112-113 & 118.

This research was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

This walk presented in partnership with The City Talks and the Committee for Urban Studies, and created through graduate coursework in the History Department at The University of Victoria.

Thanks to University of Victoria History Professor Jordan Stanger-Ross for supporting the development of this tour and suggesting a number of improvements to earlier drafts. Any errors and omissions remain my responsibility.

All photos copyright Vincent Gornall, unless otherwise noted.

This entry was posted in Architecture, Art, Development, Downtown, Economy, Education, Events, First Nations, Historic Sites, Infrastructure, Monuments, Photographs, Public Art, Public Space, Racism, University Courses, University of Victoria, UVic, Vic West, Victoria, Walking Tours. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The City Walks – Labour Migration & The Creation of Ethnicity in Victoria

  1. As a fan of your walks, I am so sorry to have missed this one. I look forward to any walk you do in future and won’t leave your email updates for ‘later”, because now it’s too late for this one.

    • vincentgornall says:

      I’ll look forward to seeing you at future walks. There are two more coming up in this series, and I will make sure to let you know well in advance. Thanks for your support!

  2. qmackie says:

    I read your critique of the AIBC walk with interest and then later found about this walk, which I would have liked to known about earlier – my fault! Hope to attend one in the future.

  3. Pingback: The City Talks III – History, Memory & the Urban Landscape | Vincent's Victoria

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