To Name or Not to Name? Alan Webster Neill and Anti-Japanese Canadian Racism on Vancouver Island, Canada

Authors: Ian Baird*, The University of Wisconsin - Madison
Topics: Ethnicity and Race, Immigration/Transnationalism, Historical Geography
Keywords: Japanese, White, Naming, Honorific, Canada, Vancouver Island
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM
Room: Roosevelt 3, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Every society periodically reassesses who should be publically honored and memoralized, and who should not. Here I focus on recent and ongoing efforts to change the name of a street and a public school named after Alan Webster Neill in Port Alberni, British Columbia, Canada. AW Neill was an influential Independent Member of Parliament who represented Comox-Alberni on Vancouver Island between 1921-1945. Before that he was a Federal Indian Agent and mayor. He was popular among voters, although First Nations and people of Asian descent could not vote, and successfully advocated for various socially progressive policies, such as a shorter work week and unemployment insurance. He is especially known as the leading advocate for old-age pensions in Canada. On the other hand, he was deeply racist, and seemed to particularly dislike people of Japanese descent. In the beginning of the 1920s, he was instrumental in advocating for annual reductions in the number of fishing licenses allocated to people of Japanese descent. He also wanted to stop Asian migration to Canada, and he even proposed deporting all people of Asian-descent, whether or not they were Canadian citizens. As World War II approached, Neill mobilized wartime fear to advocate for the internment of Japanese. In this paper, the complex and somewhat contradictory personal history of AW Neill is assessed, as well as the politics associated with the renaming efforts associated with Neill.

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