COLUMN: It’s déjà vu all over again

The more things change, the more they stay the same

By BRIAN KIERAN

 

As we get longer in the tooth how often do we find ourselves grousing: What’s the world coming to?

In my case, too often. My dotage-inspired generational disconnect usually kicks in when the evening news subjects me to yet another urban riot. It can be hockey hoodlums in Vancouver, anarchists crushing corporate greed in precious Toronto, rampaging residents on the streets of race-torn Baltimore.

Regardless of the cause of the made-for-TV riot de jour, I find myself yearning for a gentler time, like the days of our forefathers when a good job and a picket fence inspired social calm and peaceful co-existence.

Ya, right. What am I smoking?

I was unceremoniously awakened from this misplaced reverie when I was reminded that May 2015 is the 100th anniversary of one of this nation’s most bizarre and confounding race-inspired riots … and it happened right here on the tranquil streets of Victoria.

I was surfing the University of Victoria’s “acitygoestowar.ca” website and read Ashley Forseille’s piece on the “Anti-German Riot of 1915” that followed the Nazi U-boat sinking of the ocean liner Lusitania off the coast of Ireland.

Ashley has an M.A. in Canadian history from UVic and is pursuing a career as an archival technician and researcher. A City Goes to War is a UVic project made possible by a Veteran’s Affairs Canada grant.

Before the First World War, Victorians largely accepted local Germans. Many were prominent business owners and political figures participating in German clubs that perpetuated the language and cultural.

When conflict in Europe started and Germany became an enemy of Britain, Victoria residents started viewing their Germans neighbours with hostility. Tensions came to a head on May 8, 1915 after the sinking of the Lusitania.

Ashley writes: “What has become known as the Anti-German Riot of 1915 began when a group of soldiers stationed at the Willow’s training camp started breaking windows and mirrors at the German-owned Kaiserhof Hotel.

“The Kaiserhof was targeted because the soldiers thought that Victorian Germans had congregated at the hotel bar to celebrate the sinking. The small group of soldiers grew into a large mob that looted a number of German-owned businesses in downtown Victoria until they were dispersed by the police, fire department and military.

“Further violence continued the following evening when looters once again targeted German businesses culminating in the reading of the Riot Act.”

In the months following the riot, the city continued to alienate Germans, causing some to leave for more neutral cities like Seattle. Others were interned in the Interior.

B.C.’s resolve to target race during wartime strive reached its zenith during the Second World War with the Internment of Japanese Canadians following Japan’s invasion of Hong Kong and the attack on Pearl Harbor. The internment, which included confiscation of property, was deemed necessary by Ottawa but was really racism cloaked in the flag. It happened despite evidence supplied by the RCMP and the Department of National Defence that it was unwarranted.

So, when I see the next riot on the evening news I will give my head a shake and remind myself it is déjà vu all over again.

•••

Brian Kieran is a journalist and communications specialist.

 

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A GoFundMe has been launched in memory of an eight-year-old boy who drowned at a Hotel Zed pool in Victoria on March 24. (Jane Andema/GoFundMe)
GoFundMe started in memory of 8-year-old boy who died at Hotel Zed pool

Child drowned after wandering off to the pool alone

The family of Iris McNeil, shown here with members of her family, has launched a petition to deny parole for the man who murdered McNeil in 1997. (Family photo)
Family fights killer’s release from Metchosin institution

Shortreed serving an indeterminate sentence at William Head Institution

This image shows northbound traffic on Highway 17 looking to turn west onto Keating Cross Road (far right top corner), crossing the southbound lane on Highway 17. A new flyover overpass promises to ease delays and improve safety, but the Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce is calling for revisions in joining other critics. (Screencap/Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure)
Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce calls for revisions to Central Saanich flyover overpass

Chamber deems current proposal necessary but insufficient in calling for full movement interchange

The Capital Regional Hospital District has approved awarding a tender to QM Environmental for the demolition and hazardous materials disposal of the Oak Bay Lodge. (Black Press Media File)
Winning bidder approved for Oak Bay Lodge demolition

Capital Regional Hospital District board approves $4.266 million budget for project

A driver stopped by Saanich police following a road rage incident on April 15 was found to be impaired, in violation of a license restriction and in a damaged vehicle. They received a 90-day driving prohibition and a 30-day vehicle impound. (Saanich Police Traffic Safety Unit/Twitter)
Driver stopped on Pat Bay Highway after road rage reports fails breathalyzer test: police

Several witnesses reported driver to Saanich police, school officer intercepted

Rainbow trouts thrashing with life as they’re about to be transferred to the largest lake of their lives, even though it’s pretty small. These rainbows have a blue tinge because they matched the blue of their hatchery pen, but soon they’ll take on the green-browns of their new home at Lookout Lake. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
VIDEO: Lookout Lake stocked with hatchery trout to delight of a seniors fishing club

The Cherish Trout Scouts made plans to come back fishing soon

Paper Excellence took over Catalyst Paper operations in B.C. in 2018. (Paper Excellence photo)
The plane blasted through an airport fence and down a hill, before stopping before a cement barrier on Highway 5A, right in front of a school bus. Photo submitted.
Student pilot crashes plane onto Highway 5A almost hitting school bus

Aircraft hit pavement right in front of school bus

Eight-year-old Piper and her family were raising money to help Guinevere, the bearded dragon, get a gynecological surgery. Sadly, the reptile didn’t survive the procedure. (Jackee Sullivan/Special to Langley Advance Times)
Lizard fails to survive surgery, GoFundMe dollars help Langley family offset medical bills

Guinevere, a pet bearded dragon, underwent an ovariectomy on Tuesday

B.C. Premier John Horgan wears a protective face mask to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. Premier John Horgan booked to get AstraZeneca shot Friday

‘Let’s show all British Columbians that the best vaccine is the one that’s available to you now,’ he said

Doses of the Moderna COVID‑19 vaccine in a freezer trailer, to be transported to Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Pfizer to increase vaccine deliveries in Canada as Moderna supply slashed

Moderna plans to ship 650,000 doses of its vaccine to Canada by the end of the month, instead of the expected 1.2 million

Dr. Bonnie Henry speaks about the province’s COVID-19 vaccine plans during a news conference at the legislature in Victoria. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
P.1 variant likely highest in B.C. due to more testing for it: Dr. Henry

Overall, just under 60% of new daily cases in the province involve variants

(Black Press Media file photo)
POLL: Do you have a plan in place in the event of a tsunami?

Tsunamis have claimed the lives of more than 250,000 people between 1998… Continue reading

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of April 13

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

Most Read