Canadian Holy War: A Story of Clans, Tongs, Murder, and Bigotry
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Scottish nursemaid Janet Smith was the victim of a 1924 tragedy that ignited racial tension in a very young Vancouver. At the core of the issue were the mysterious circumstances surrounding Smith's death, particularly the fact that the only other adult in the house at the time was the Chinese houseboy. When Smith's death was followed by the assassination of Davie Lew, a well-known Chinese man, it only strengthened the European view that Vancouver's Asian community was a hotbed of violence and corruption.
Newspaper editors and most of Vancouver's white community raised an outcry, charging the police with incompetence and demanding arrests, while Presbyterian indignation called for law and order as well as an end to Chinese immigration. Before the summer was over, the tongs of Chinatown and the clans of Canada's West Coast were set to defend their own, and one Scottish minister went so far as to declare it a time of "holy war."
Senkler I don’t see how any court could convict on it. ” He agreed that Wong was in the house, that there was blood on his clothes, and other evidence was offered to refute suggestions of Smith’s suicide or accidental death; under the law, however, the magistrate could rule as he saw fit. This was a major win for Senkler, who immediately demanded bail be set. Carter, the deputy attorney general, was left with little choice and agreed, “Candidly I think it is a case for bail. ” Discussions on the amount of bail required began, and Senkler immediately asked Chinese community leaders to put up the money.
Lake said he last met Smith at a dance two days before her death and had walked with her from the dance hall to a streetcar. He said he had always found her vivacious, attractive, cheerful, and fun-loving, but he explained that when he thought back on their conversation that night, he was disturbed by some of the things she told him. His misgivings were not disclosed in precise detail in the newspaper story, but emerging from it was the tantalizing hint of an affair between the young white woman and the Chinese houseboy.
For years it was known as the Stoker Farm and was home to a prominent North Vancouver family. Many were horrified to read that one in twelve marriages was ending in divorce. Vancouver already had many widows and single women who had been the fiancées of men who marched off to war in 1914–18 and didn’t return. Some feared the onslaught of a more permissive society, heralded by everything from the fourteen-year-old cutups at English Bay to the unfortunate Evelyn Campbell, who died at age nineteen from an “illegal operation” in which four men were charged.
It also seems highly unlikely, despite Baker’s contentions, that she would have taken the gun to the basement and stopped in the middle of her ironing to inspect it. There were those who thought she might have taken the gun in order to protect herself against Wong, or in fear of another intruder, but both of these suggestions seem far-fetched. If suicide and accidental death are discounted, murder is all that remains. Forensic medicine was in its infancy in 1924, and methods in Vancouver were far behind what was then state of the art.
C. legislation. Speaking on Mary Ellen Smith’s proposed bill in the House in early December, Attorney General Manson made another outrageous comment, saying white women should not work in close proximity to Chinese men because the latter were “so often addicted to the use of narcotic drugs. ” A. W. McNeill, Member of Parliament for Comox-Alberni, a leader in the campaign against Japanese immigration to B. C. , took the opportunity to jump into the debate when he talked to the press during a visit to his home riding.