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How well do we know our own city and its history? It’s a question that has fueled much discussion and given rise to a variety of cultural tours over recent years, exploring everything from heritage buildings to salacious urban legends. It is one of the questions that the 360 RIOT WALK project addresses in its focus on the 1907 Anti-Asian Riots, in which an angry mob wreaked havoc through Vancouver’s Chinatown and Japantown neighbourhoods over the weekend of September 7-9, 1907. Consisting of a 360º narrated video tour that blends together present-day footage with archival images and documents, 360 RIOT WALK leads people on an immersive, educational walk through the oft-abridged early days of Vancouver.
Right: “Hastings Street and Columbia Street, southeast corner after anti-oriental riots of 1907.” University of British Columbia Library. Rare Books and Special Collections. Left: 100 E. Hastings St. and Columbia St., early 2019
Putting together this audio-visual experience involved dozens of hours of research. For lead artist Henry Tsang, each new finding provoked more questions to explore; each new phase presented new challenges, themselves offering revelations about the power and politics of the period in question. Family stories and anecdotes, sourced through community consultations, helped to flesh out the official accounts told in the City’s archives and provide individual perspectives. Jean Kamimura shared her grandfather’s experience with the riots in Japantown:
“[My grandfather] was living on Powell Street on the 200 Block…in a roominghouse. He took part in the street riot. The next day, he and some men feared a larger resistance would be back so they decided to leave the area for safety. My father told me that they took a skiff at the end of Boundary Road, crossed the Fraser and eventually got to Steveston and hid amongst the nets on the wharf.”
A key part of the process also involved working with 360º technology, which enables the audience to compare and contrast the space around them. Tsang and his production team of Arian Jacobs, Adiba Muzaffar, and Evan Craig first scouted the riot route, locating sites shown in archival images and determining ideal tour stops, taking into consideration the urban rhythms that characterize these neighbourhoods today. The concept of 360º is inherent in the video tour, not only in the way it employs the technology, but also in its inclusion of multiple viewpoints to create an immersive experience.
Participants starting the tour at Maple Tree Square in Gastown, once the site of a seasonal camp for the local First Nations
The launch of the project in July has been followed by a limited number of free guided tours, offered for those without access to mobile devices, or who prefer a communal experience. The first of these took place over the BC Day long weekend, as part of the 2019 Powell Street Festival. Led by Tsang and volunteer guides, and equipped with mobile devices and headphones from Emily Carr University, participants traced the footsteps of the rioters, their path taking them from Gastown, along Hastings and into Chinatown, before stopping in the former Nihonmachi (Japantown). By following the route of the riots, the tour not only allows participants to retrace the physical steps of this specific event in Vancouver’s history, but also the socio-political contexts that shaped these neighbourhoods and the experiences of the people living in them. For many tour-goers, it proved to be an eye opening deep dive into the city’s past, as well as its impact on the present reality.
Two more guided tours will take place on September 7 and 8, marking the 112th anniversary of the Vancouver Anti-Asian Riots. The video tour is also available for online streaming at https://360riotwalk.ca.
360 RIOT WALK is produced by Henry Tsang in collaboration with Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden. Partners include the Japanese Language School and Japanese Hall, the Chinese Canadian Historical Society of BC, Carnegie Community Centre, and the Basically Good Media Lab at Emily Carr University. This Project has been supported through the Neighbourhood Matching Fund of the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation, SSHRC Explore Grant, and Emily Carr University of Art & Design.