On display in the Toni Onley Gallery.
A number of years ago I was visiting the Penticton Museum to talk over a collaboration we were working on for an event and exhibition called SteamFest and I got into a interesting conversation with Manda Maggs about the Kettle Valley Railroad. She mentioned that they had a company policy against hiring Chinese labourers. Pressing further she mentioned that in her research she had also uncovered a movement here in Penticton from the early part of the 20th century call Keep Penticton White. I was shocked and asked if she would be willing to share with me her research. Over the weeks that followed she sent me close to 100 scans of articles and advertisements taken from the archives of the Penticton Herald from around 1905 up to the mid 1920s.
I sat on this information for a number of years contemplating how I might be able to turn it into an exhibition and it was during this time I heard a story on the CBC which talked about the low immigration rates experienced here in the Okanagan. The news didn’t surprise me as one didn’t need to look far to see the lack of visible minorities and cultural diversity we had here in the Okanagan. This got me wondering if there might be any correlation to the Keep Penticton White Movement: was our lack of diversity a result of this initiative? As things began to develop with the eRacism exhibition, I once again revisited this subject and felt to would be an appropriate time to hold our community accountable for our past as well as to see if the there was any of that sentiment still simmered under the surface. I was also interested in seeing if there may be some direct correlation to the lack of visible minorities we see in our community to this day.
I would like thank Petra Höller for stepping up and helping take this exhibition on. A great deal of thanks is due to Manda Maggs, Executive Director Oliver and District Heritage Society, for introducing me to this dark and little known piece of our history and for helping us round up artifacts, displays and the articles. I would also like to thank Dennis Oomen, Manager/Curator; Chandra Wong, Museum Assistant; and Jeanne Boyle, Archivist at the Penticton Museum and Archives for their help with additional research, resources and loan of materials.
While the main focus of this exhibition is The Keep Pentiction White movement of the early 20th century I would like to expand the conversation to a provincial scale taking into account such events as the Komagata Maru incident, the Chinese Head Tax, the Japanese Internment Camps, the taking of Doukhobor children, the residential school system and perhaps there are more examples of our racist practices and policies. I hope we can use this as a public forum to hold a mirror up to our community and examine our past and see where we are as a community today. These are interesting times and I think we are far richer for all the cultural diversity we have and I hope we are not being caught up in the rhetoric and fear mongering being thrown around by so many south of the boarder as it’s a slippery slope and I would hate to see where things could go.
Thank you for your trust, honesty and compassion and I hope you will share your story so we can all grow as a community and learn from our mistakes to build a better and richer future for our children.
At the beginning of the 20th century, attitudes in North America towards non-white immigration were openly hostile. The Anti-Asiatic Exclusion League spread along the west coast of the United States and Canada. Riots, violence and vandalism against Chinese, Japanese and other non-white immigrants were treated lightly by the law and recounted in the press with light-hearted, almost jovial tones.
Both Penticton and Kelowna once had Chinatowns, though they do not remain and their memory is not widely kept. Oliver and Osoyoos were known as treacherous territory - as one clipping from January 16, 1936 states “Oliver - This district which is said to be death on admission of Chinamen and Doukhobors”.
With this display we are quite actually bringing the issue of racial discrimination home. We need to acknowledge this shameful part of our past and examine how its effects may still linger within our present.