Railtown Japantown

Railtown - Japantown

Railtown-Japantown is a compounded micro-hood that is part of DTES. Its boundaries are Main (some say Columbia) in the west to Heatley in the east and from the railway tracks (hence the name) south to Alexander Street. What was once a thriving industrial zone of warehouses and workshops has become something of a tech/design hub over the last decade. Railway St. itself is now a parade of local fashion houses (Aritzia has its head office here), design shops, tech start ups, interior stores, and even an urban winery. You’ll often find a food truck or three parked hereabouts, too, and a whole lot of Instagramming going down. What does the future hold for it? Either breweries and condos. Probably both.

Vancouver’s historic Japantown, however, is vastly different. Once home to generations of Japanese families and businesses, the area now features only a few remnants of the large community that once thrived there. The history of this cultural enclave is unique, and offers a startling look at the effects of racism, intolerance, and indifference in a city now celebrated for its multiculturalism.

Though the modern diaspora of Japanese-Canadians is now found throughout Vancouver, at one time this neighbourhood was the epicentre of local Japanese culture and business. The site spans from Cordova Street to Alexander Street, between Gore Avenue and Jackson Avenue, just north of Chinatown, with Powell Street as its (former) commercial center. It features several character buildings, primary historic sites, and a handful of municipally protected buildings, each indicative of the neighbourhood’s development – and its subsequent losses – experienced over the last century.

While Japanese (and Chinese) workers had been present in British Columbia as early as the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush in 1858, the first “official” Japanese immigrant to Canada arrived in 1877. Following this, an influx of Japanese immigrants came to Vancouver near the turn of the century to work in the booming fishing and forestry industries. While they were a welcomed labour force for local industries in the city, particularly the nearby Hastings Sawmill at the foot of Dunlevy, many white Vancouverites were wary of what they perceived as a failure of the Japanese to assimilate, observing that they had their own cultural and religious spaces, generally did not speak fluent English, and had a perceived (potentially dangerous) loyalty to Japan. Additionally, many non-Japanese fishermen were concerned about the growing majority of Japanese fishing licenses being granted, fearing that their jobs were at stake. The federal government aggressively limited Asian immigration and originally only men were allowed to enter the country, forcing them to leave their families behind.

While many white Vancouverites tolerated the Japanese community, prejudice found a strong foothold in the Asiatic Exclusion League, a racist organization with aims “to keep Oriental immigrants out of British Columbia.” Following the 1885 imposition of the Chinese Immigration Act, which placed a head tax on Chinese immigrants entering Canada, racism and racial segregation had been a common sight across the country and extended the growing Japanese communities. This tension culminated in Vancouver on September 7th when members of the Asiatic Exclusion League rioted in the streets of Chinatown after being roused by racist speeches at City Hall (then located near Main and Hasting).

They marched into Chinatown shouting racist slogans, smashing windows, and vandalizing buildings. By the time the rioters reached Japantown, members of the Japanese community were waiting with makeshift weapons and bottles, ready to defend their neighbourhood. In response to the growing anti-Asian sentiment in Canada, the Canadian Minister of Labour Rodolphe Lemieux and Japanese Foreign Minister Tadasu Hayashi declared what is known as the “Gentleman’s Agreement” in 1908, wherein the Japanese government voluntarily limited its approved number of immigrants to Canada each year.

As white settlers migrated out of the area and into newer, more affluent communities – particularly the West End – Japanese business, cultural centres, and mixed-use buildings developed in the Powell Street area. Shops along Powell began opening in 1890, but the retail industry of took shape later, during the commercial building boom from 1907-1912. Multiple residential buildings, often with street-level shops, became popular in later decades as the boarding room trend developed. These apartments typically housed seasonal workers; many now function as SROs.

Business development in Japantown – which locals called “Nihonmachi” (derived from the Japanese words for “Japan” and “Town”) – culminated in the 1920s and 30s, when local shops and restaurants flourished, and ties to nearby Chinatown also became strong. A shared sense of Asian identity – and likely a shared sense of the effects of racism – joined these communities. Fuji Chop Suey at 341 Powell, which offered Japanese-style Chinese food, is a unique example of the link between Asian cultures during this period, and is heralded as one of the important locales contributing to the area’s rich multiculturalism from 1931-1942. Japantown’s famous Asahi baseball team, established in 1914, won several championships and were a popular draw during the 1930s and early 1940s for the Japanese and non-Japanese communities in Vancouver. In 2003, the team was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.

Ultimately, Japantown and Vancouver’s Japanese population fell victim to the xenophobia brought forth by World War II. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941, a series of legislations were imposed on Japanese-Canadians under the guise of national security. In addition to curfews, interrogations, job loss and property confiscation, all persons of Japanese heritage were forcibly relocated to Internment Camps in remote areas of the province. Their property and belongings were sold, and all mainstream Japanese newspapers and publications were shut down. In 1944, Prime Minister Mackenzie King declared that all Japanese-Canadians were required to relocate to eastern Canada or face repatriation. By the end of the 1940s, however, many individuals had been granted re-entry to the west coast and, finally, the right to vote. The variety of Japanese shops, restaurants, and vibrant community culture in Japantown never fully recovered from these events, and until the resurgence of Japanese cuisine in the 1980s only two ethnic restaurants remained on Powell.

Today, Japantown still retains a few visible reminders of its past, but has yet to be designated as a Historic Site by the City of Vancouver. This means that many of its remaining historic buildings are at risk. In 2013, the 122 year-old Ming Sun building at 439 Powell was threatened when city officials deemed it structurally unsound. Without proper heritage designation, it was up to the local community to save the site and propose restoration, rather than demolition. As a reminder of the rich history of the area and the continued legacy of the Japanese community in Vancouver, the Powell Street Festival at Oppenheimer Park is the largest annual Japanese-Canadian festival in Canada, and the city’s longest-running community celebration since its inception in 1977.

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Dock freight crane orange-red; the summer grass in Oppenheimer Park: Cadeaux Bakery salted caramel brownie tri-colour; violet neon signage of Cuchillo; the bright yellow facade of Double Happiness Foods; No. 5 Orange exterior; the fleshy yellow and pink two-colour combo of the peameal bacon at Big Lou’s; Vancouver Urban Winery grey exterior; Railway JJ Bean tri-colour; interior paneling at Ask For Luigi.

here-you-will-find

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GENERATIONAL GUILT OVER JAPANESE INTERNMENT DURING WORLD WAR II
A GREAT VIEW OF THE CITY SKYLINE FROM THE BRIDGE AT ALEXANDER AND MAIN
PEOPLE AT REST WITH COLD BEERS IN CRAB PARK (AKA PORTSIDE PARK)
ALL SORTS OF LOUD AND CLANGY NOISES FROM THE FREIGHTER DOCKS AT ALL HOURS
THE SMELL OF AMAZING THINGS EMANATING FROM CADEUX BAKERY
THE AMAZING POWELL STREET FESTIVAL IN OPPENHEIMER PARK
THE NUMBER 5 ORANGE AND THOSE WHO LURK BY ITS DOOR

what-to-eat-and-drink

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ALBACORE TUNA CEVICHE (ABOVE) AT CUCHILLO
THE CLUB SANDWICH AT RAILTOWN CAFE
FRESH VEGGIES FROM SUNRISE MARKET
PASTA AT ASK FOR LUIGI
CHICKEN FRIED STEAK WITH COUNTRY GRAVY AT DEACON’S CORNER
FRAT BAT BEER SAMPLER AT THE ALIBI ROOM
A TOUR OF THE WINE TAPS AT VANCOUVER URBAN WINERY
FOOD TRUCKS FOOD TRUCKS FOOD TRUCKS

cool-things-of-note

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– The first school in Vancouver, opened in 1873, was the Hastings Sawmill School at the foot of Dunlevy Avenue.

– The Roger’s Sugar Factory at the Port of Vancouver (c. 1890) was the city’s first major industry outside of fishing and forestry.

– Herschel Supply Co. – provider of good bags to quality-appreciative students and world travellers alike – have their home base in Railtown.

– The Alibi Room was once co-owned by actors Jason Priestly and Gillian Anderson.

– The old Hastings Mill site was a hotspot for unemployed and transient men during the Great Depression. These squats and shacks were referred to as the “hobo jungles”.

– In 1986 Railtown residents successfully lobbied for a bylaw to allow artists work/live privileges in warehouse studios, the first of its kind in Canada.

– The Japanese name for the Powell Street area (Japantown) is Nihonmachi.

the-things-weve-seen

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The scout Community

49th Parallel Coffee Roasters & Lucky’s Doughnuts Acorn Agrius Ai & Om Alibi Room Ancora Waterfront Dining & Patio Anh and Chi AnnaLena Araxi Arbor Ask For Luigi Au Comptoir Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie Bar Oso Bauhaus Beach Bay Café & Patio Beaucoup Bakery & Cafe Bel Café Bestie Bishop’s Bistro Wagon Rouge Bittered Sling Blue Water Cafe + Raw Bar Botanist Bottleneck Boulevard Kitchen & Oyster Bar Bufala Burdock & Co. Cabrito Cacao Cadeaux Bakery Café Medina Caffè Artigiano Camp Lifestyle + Coffee Co. Campagnolo Campagnolo ROMA Cartems Donuterie Chambar Chefs’ Table Society of BC Chez Christophe Chocolaterie Patisserie  Chicha Chill Winston ChocolaTas Chocolate Arts Cibo Trattoria Cinara CinCin Ristorante + Bar Cioffi’s Cioppino’s Mediterranean Grill Cocktails & Canapes Catering + Events Cook Culture Culinary Capers Catering & Special Events Dirty Apron Cooking School & Delicatessen District Brasserie Dixie’s Authentic Texas BBQ Earnest Ice Cream East Van Roasters Cafe Edible Canada Elementa Espana Fable Fanny Bay Farmer’s Apprentice Fat Mao Fernwood Coffee Company Field & Social Forage Giovane Cafe + Eatery Gotham Steakhouse & Bar Grain Granville Island Grapes & Soda Greenhorn Espresso Bar Gyoza Bar Hart House Restaurant Harvest Community Foods Hawksworth Restaurant Heirloom Heritage Asian Eatery Homer Street Cafe & Bar Hy’s Steakhouse Irish Heather Jamjar JJ Bean Joe Pizza Joy Road Catering Juice Truck Juke Fried Chicken Juniper Keefer Bar Kin Kao Kissa Tanto Knifewear Kozakura Kuma Tofino L’Abattoir La Buca La Mezcaleria La Pentola La Quercia La Taqueria Pinche Taco Shop Les Amis du Fromage Lions Pub, The Liquidity Bistro Lobby Lounge + RawBar Longtail Kitchen Made By Pacific Maenam Mak N Ming Mamie Taylor’s MARKET by Jean-Georges Matchstick Coffee Roasters Meinhardt Fine Foods Miku Restaurant Milano Coffee Minami Miradoro Mission Mister Mogiana Coffee Mosquito Nero Belgian Waffle Bar Nicli Antica Pizzeria Nightingale Nomad Nook Nuba Oakwood Canadian Bistro OLO OPUS Bar Osteria Savio Volpe Oyama Sausage Co. Pallet Coffee Roasters Pat’s Pub & BrewHouse Pidgin Pizzeria Farina Pointe Restaurant at the Wickaninnish Inn, The Pourhouse Railtown Cafe Railtown Catering Rain Or Shine Ice Cream Red Wagon, The Revolver Coffee Rocky Mountain Flatbread Co. Royal Dinette Salt Tasting Room Savoury Chef Shaughnessy Restaurant Shebeen Whisk(e)y House Shelter Siena Six Acres Sophie’s Cosmic Cafe Sorella Stable House, The Tableau Bar Bistro Tacofino Tavola Terra Breads Thierry Thomas Haas Chocolates & Patisserie Timber Timbertrain Coffee Roasters Torafuku Tractor Foods Truffles Fine Foods Two Rivers Specialty Meats UBC Farm Uncommon Cafe, The Urban Digs Farm Uva Wine & Cocktail Bar Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise™ Program Via Tevere Pizzeria Napoletana Vij’s Restaurant Virtuous Pie West Restaurant Wildebeest Wolf In The Fog YEW seafood

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Lorem Ipsum is simply dummy text of the printing and typesetting industry. Lorem Ipsum has been the industry's standard dummy text ever since the 1500s, when an unknown printer took a galley of type and scrambled it to make a type specimen book. It has survived not only five centuries, but also the leap into electronic typesetting, remaining essentially unchanged. It was .