History of Racism in Abbotsford

Content Warning: White Supremacy, Racism, Ableism, Sexism, Bigotry, Strong Language.

In the December 3rd, 1925 edition of the “Abbotsford, Sumas and Matsqui News”, an article reported that American organizers of the Klu Klux Klan held a meeting recruiting Abbotsford members for a local branch for $10 apiece.  Several notable residents signed up.

Calls for membership were open to those who were white, male, able-bodied, of “sound mind”, over eighteen years of age, Protestant, born in Canada, the British Empire, the United States, or other Northern European countries in order “to promote an honourable clannishness toward each other”, in order to “maintain forever White Supremacy”, and uphold the “privileges, traditions, and ideals of a pure Britishism.”

During the 1920s, the KKK had a large following in Vancouver and the Fraser Valley. Although the organization mostly fizzled out by the 1930s, racist laws and policies continued to guide Canadian society. E.g: Canada, and British Columbia, were founded on the Doctrine of Discovery, a legal framework which gave allowance to European explorers to claim land from Indigenous peoples. Local Indigenous groups endured hundreds of years of colonial and racist laws that are now considered a form of cultural genocide, the effects of which are present today within the systems of Canada.  The fourteen-year old local Stó:lō child Louis Sam was lynched in 1884. In the meantime, anti-Asian immigration sentiments lead to the 1907 Vancouver riots, and the highly discriminatory Chinese Head Tax. The Komagata Maru ferrying 376 passengers from the Punjab, India, was turned away at the Vancouver Port on the basis of the passengers’ country of origin.

The Máthekwi and Semá:th First Nations have lived on this land since time immemorial.  The city was built by resettlers from all around the world, specifically India, Japan, and China, as well as the European countries. Today, Abbotsford is one of the most diverse cities in Canada.

An important aspect of building a healthy community is reckoning with that community’s disturbing past.  It is important to decolonize the history of our local community. To face it, to name the ugliness, to commit to always learn more about how to better listen and amplify the space for histories that haven’t been heard so that our communities truly can transform into a place of belonging for all.

2020/09/02 – The Heritage Abbotsford Society would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the role J.O. Trethewey’s brother, Samuel, and his son Howard had in the foundation of the KKK in Abbotsford. Aside from what is visible in the original article it is not a history we know much about, however we believe it is important to be open and honest about the historical reality. We believe it is important to commemorate and condemn this part of our community’s past. Additionally, we believe it is important to acknowledge that the owners of the Abbotsford Lumber Company enriched themselves while exploiting the underpaid labours of many racialized South and East Asian migrant workers in the early years of the 20th Century.

Heritage Abbotsford would like to unequivocally state that the KKK is a white supremacist terrorist organization that is fundamentally antidemocratic and against human freedom. “The Klan” was formed in the 1860s out of former escaped slave patrols in the American South (Tennessee) and evolved into a sometimes clandestine terrorist organization bent on preventing the hard earned freedoms of African Americans. Since that time it has come to encompass hate and intolerance towards immigrants and anyone who does not confirm to a specific Anglo-European version of Christianity.

For the sake of transparency, the original article is available here.