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I guess we came back here in 1949 and I remember coming to Mitchell School and there weren’t many Japanese and I remember it was quite tough. We didn’t know the context of the war and I remember being called ‘Jap’ and [hearing] “You Japs go back to where you belong.” Stuff like that. My parents more or less told us, “turn the other cheek.” When we were younger my sister and I, sometimes we would notice if we went to stores... if there were two people waiting, even if we were first a lot of the salespeople would go directly to the Caucasians. They’d wait on us only when they were done, you see. I never said anything, but my sister would and then they’d say, “Sorry, we didn’t see you.” It was always very polite. There was never any overt [discrimination].
Interestingly, her experiences of discrimination while growing up in Richmond were most closely paralleled not by the stories of other Asian participants, but in the recollections of the following Caucasian participant (the same resident, paradoxically, who spoke of the friendliness of his neighbours upon his arrival in Richmond) who had immigrated to
Canada from Germany shortly after World War Two:
I was treated, at times, very badly because... perhaps it extends back to the war. They considered me German—I’m not German, but I speak German, so I was put in that category—so I was treated quite badly at the time of my arrival.
Changes in the Community up to 1986 Whether resident recollections of Richmond prior to the mid-1980s were primarily negative or positive—and the latter seems to be the case—marked by self-defined instances of racial discrimination or devoid of such experiences, residents were mostly in agreement when noting how their community was changing during this period. Although a few people, primarily those residents in their twenties, could not think of any changes that occurred in Richmond during this time when asked, most respondents—twenty-two of the thirty-four Caucasian participants, and six of the nine participants in each of the
Japanese and Chinese resident groups—responded by citing ‘development’ of some kind:
the creation of public facilities and transportation networks, residential, commercial, or industrial construction, slow or fast-paced. Other, often related, changes mentioned were house price increases (by four Caucasian residents), population growth [by two of the Chinese participants, three of the Japanese participants, and four of the Caucasian participants), and ethno-cultural change as a result of immigration from Pakistan and India. In thinking back to the changes that occurred at this time, and perhaps because their immediacy had been tempered by the passing of time, most interview participants simply offered a chronicling of seemingly inevitable changes, with little value judgment
rendered, as in the case of this Caucasian woman in her fifties:
It was that there were more people, so you get more services, more businesses to move in. What we referred to in those days as Brighouse [an area of Central Richmond] was basically Number Three Road between Westminster Highway and Granville. One lane of Granville was a railroad from the old inter-urban line that used to go from Marpole [in South Vancouver] to Steveston. That one had stopped by the time I moved in, but the railroad service was still there. Parts of it are still being used on Railway. It used to come all that way down Granville and Garden City and then go north. So changes happen—where are these people going to go?
And of course, more businesses, more people work around here. It’s inevitable; you deal with it—how else can you do it? You can’t stick your head in the sand.
In addition to those people who made similar observations, there were some who viewed these changes as having a positive impact on the community during this time (“they filled in the ditches, they made the streets safe—four lanes in a lot of areas,” “the bus service got better: instead of running once an hour it ran every half-hour”), but there were also those who expressed misgivings about the direction their community was headed. In some instances negative assessments of change prior to the mid-1980s (registered, incidentally, almost exclusively by Caucasian participants) were associated with specific developments being built close to participants’ homes, and the impression that change was being imposed upon them by the city government without due consultation, complaints forwarded by this Caucasian woman in her forties, and the following Caucasian couple in
I remember in 1975 they decided to add this shopping centre here. I remember going to a meeting, and we were not too keen on it [the shopping centre], really. We were quite happy with Broadmoor [another, more distant shopping centre]: it had a Safeway and a hardware store. We weren’t really too keen on the new shopping centre, really, but it went through anyway. I don’t know why they bothered having this public meeting; they didn’t listen to anybody.
... when Lansdowne (shopping mall) was built there was a lot of controversy. It (the old property, a horse-racing track) was supposed to be a park and then the City Council allowed a shopping centre to be built, so—... and then they said that extra part between the mall and Garden City was going to be left open, that there was going to be some open space there, but now there are two apartments there. Now I notice they have the other corner up for development too.
Investigator: What did you think at that time? Did you think that Lansdowne should have been a park, or did you think that it was okay for a mall development to be built there, or did you even care?
I remember being distressed about it, upset about it. I didn’t think it was the wishes of the people, and council made this decision even though there had been a promise that there was going to be some park land there, so that sort of got me upset.
While a couple of other residents expressed moderate concern about the diminution of farmland in Richmond, the most impassioned statement against growth and development in the pre-1986 period were the conservationist sentiments tendered by this Caucasian
resident in his fifties, in the course of a conversation with his wife during the interview:
The sixties and seventies to me, the biggest change I’ve found... because I’ve always been interested in the wildlife and diversity of bird-life in Richmond. That is something that struck me when we moved here, and to me was one of the changes that I didn’t like. It didn’t matter where you went you had pheasants running across the street. It didn’t matter where you went you had tons of pheasants and hawks and owls, a lot of songbirds and mosquitoes and all that. And that... especially pheasants...
the small area my parents had on Cambie Road—almost six acres—we used to see thirty, forty pheasants out there without any problem at all and the same thing... let’s say down on Number Three Road where you have the McDonald’s and Lansdowne and so on; you take the opposite side from Lansdowne across Number Three Road, that used to be a field that was just loaded with wildlife and ducks and geese and you name it. It was just beautiful. That’s the biggest change that happened to me in the seventies: it was just the tremendous amount of building going on all of a sudden, and the problem is they just didn’t pick one certain area.
Developments were going on all over Richmond from Number Five Road on...
Investigator: It was just all spread out?
It was just spread out everywhere: a pocket here and a pocket there, and it really destroyed Richmond to my way of thinking.
Into the Eighties and Nineties The force of such statements about community change in the 1970s notwithstanding, if the frequency and variety of responses is any indication, residents’ awareness and concern over growth and development intensified in the post-1986 period. All Asian residents and twenty-five of thirty-four Caucasian participants mentioned ‘development’ in some form as a source of community change since 1986, a theme that several residents indicated in their recollections of transition since the early 1980s and before. Although development in the post-’86 period was identified by some as a “continuation of what’s happened earlier,” for many other respondents of all ethnic categories there seemed to be a qualitative change in the pace of development and growth, and a sense that this current era was witness to a
faster, less restrained, series of transformations:
Massive changes. For instance, Terra Nova [a large residential development in West Richmond]—I abhor that. I found it really upsetting when they developed on it. That, and just buildings going up so quickly.
Even now. When I first moved here (an apartment tower, her second residence in Richmond) none of these buildings were up, and that was five years ago. You see how quickly they go up. It’s amazing, especially in the downtown Richmond area.
– Chinese woman, aged twenties As these quotes suggest, the perceived intensification in the pace and scale of development in Richmond over the past twelve years have not been uniformly well-received by longterm Richmond residents of any ethno-cultural background. When asked to comment on those changes in Richmond since 1986, which they considered to be negative ones, thirtytwo out of thirty-four Caucasian residents identified growth and development issues of various kinds as factors reducing their enjoyment of the community. For a handful of Caucasian residents, such changes were opposed because they had erased memories of an older and familiar Richmond. Others had similarly specific complaints: crowding in the school system (mentioned by eight Caucasian participants), loss of farmland or green space (by three), and increased noise (by two). Ten Caucasian participants registered more general concerns about crowding and population growth. Notably, the development of ‘monster houses,’ so commented upon in the Vancouver context, was specifically mentioned by six Caucasian residents as a negative change in Richmond since 1986.
Discussions on the theme of this housing style were heated, and centered on what residents considered to be the houses’ excessive bulk, garish design elements, and their
impact on the social life of existing neighbourhoods:
It changes the neighbourhood. Working class people don’t live in those kinds of homes, so we feel like we’re being pushed a little bit. Maybe it’s a paranoia, a little bit... it’s a beautiful street and basically looks the same—nice, quiet street—but the houses are so huge. We just wish they were houses for the working people and not just the rich, because they’re not working people that buy those homes. What happens is that Richmond is being taken over by the rich, and the working guy... if he can stay, that’s fine, but he can’t afford to stay.
– Caucasian man, aged fifties On the whole, within both the Japanese and Chinese long-term resident groups, negative comments on development were more limited and specific than those issued by Caucasian residents. Ruminating on the topic of changes in Richmond over the past twelve years, four Japanese residents mentioned development in general as a negative change, while two participants expressed offence at high-density development in particular. Interestingly, two of the Japanese participants, like their Caucasian counterparts, criticized the construction of ‘monster homes’ as a negative change in
Richmond since 1986:
Personally, the kinds of houses that are boxes with the pillars at the front entranceway... I’m not offended, I just think they’re ugly [laughter]. It’s typically the home that has had the front yard paved because they have a three-car garage in front of it. The monstrous, monstrous entranceway. A box structure that is two storeys high that goes right to the length of the property. It’s just not my style. I think it’s ugly and there are so many of them cropping up. I don’t know what it is supposed to represent...
somebody’s taste in homes.
– Japanese man, aged forties Among the Chinese residents interviewed the range of development complaints was even more sharply circumscribed, with development in general mentioned by three residents (with one specifically relating this to concerns over environmental degradation) as a negative change over the past twelve years in Richmond. Among all three groups of residents, however, one growth or development factor was consistently mentioned: the rise in automobile traffic, identified by nine Japanese participants, seven out of nine Chinese participants, and by twenty of the thirty-four Caucasian residents.
When asked to assess what or who was responsible for these unwelcome changes
in their community (or when they offered unsolicited explanations), governments of various levels, but especially municipal governments, were taken to task as entities promoting population growth, failing to consider the consequences of their decisions on established residents, and unresponsive to their concerns. Condemnations of government have appeared in some of the passages previously quoted in this paper, as they do more
explicitly in the following citations:
I think the previous council, and perhaps the present one now, from what they said when they first got in, they have become less and less identified with being interested in slowing development here in the city. They’ve been actively promoting development here in the city. That’s part of the reason why developers have put up the type of housing [multi-family dwellings] that I pointed out earlier. It’s your real-estate agents, the market, appealing to perhaps the offshore buyer with the money... the developer with the money to change what used to be two adjacent lots with houses into a townhouse.