April 12, 2016
Did you know? The United Church once operated a home and school in Victoria for Chinese and Japanese girls and women. Today, many are surprised to learn this. Margery Hadley, a professional archivist and member of First Metropolitan United Church in Victoria, has recently completed a digitization project that makes the images of the Oriental Home and School available online. It opens to us a now distant world and its concomitant issues.
The Oriental Home and School
In 1885, John Endicott Gardner, a young Chinese-born missionary serving in San Francisco, visited Victoria and was drawn to improve the lives of Chinese women and girls working as prostitutes in the port city. Gardner began sheltering women in a rented home on Frederick Street, close to where First Metropolitan United Church now stands on Balmoral Road.
In 1887, Gardner sought the support of Rev. J.E. Starr, the newly arrived Methodist minister, and together the two men managed and financed the rescue of women from the streets. In the fall of that year, Starr reported that the home housed seven girls between the ages of 8 and 19.
Starr also successfully urged the Women’s Missionary Society (WMS) at Pandora Avenue Methodist Church to become involved. In 1888, a home on Cormorant Street was purchased and the Chinese Girls’ Rescue Home officially opened. By 1890 the priority for the home had shifted from rescuing prostitutes to providing refuge for Asian domestic servants suffering enslavement and abuse. Many were young girls sold in their homeland to work in western households.
After twenty years of operation and in response to a rapidly increasing community need, the WMS began construction of a new facility on Cormorant Street. In December of 1908, the new Oriental Home and School opened with residential accommodation for up to 23 women, as well as classrooms, social space, workshops and other facilities.
For the next thirty-four years, the Oriental Home and School offered shelter and Christian education for Chinese and Japanese women, girls and children. The OHS operated a Sunday school, encouraged marriage to Christian Asian men, conducted Canadian marriage ceremonies, found job placements in Christian homes, and generally fostered “white middle-class values.” It remained closely affiliated with Metropolitan Methodist / United Church.
Events of World War II brought an abrupt end to the Oriental Home. With government eviction of all Japanese from coastal BC in 1942, the Women’s Missionary Society was determined to protect its Japanese charges from the internment program. The entire group of 16 to 18 Japanese residents was relocated to a WMS home at Assiniboia, Saskatchewan. The Cormorant Street home was taken over by the federal government for wartime use. After the war, the building was sold and in the 1990s it was demolished.
Meanwhile, in 1942 the WMS purchased a smaller home on Pembroke Street for the remaining 6 or 7 Chinese women, most of whom went on to work in local Christian homes. The Pembroke home became known as a Chinese Christian community centre providing support to the Chinese community.
The Oriental Home and School album
First Met Archives has been privileged to care for two important historical documents from the Oriental Home and School. The first is the Chinese Rescue Home Advisory Committee minute book, 1896-1915. The second is the Oriental Home and School album, a fascinating assemblage of 95 photographs of the Oriental Home community, mainly between 1907 and 1916.
The Oriental Home and School album is now available online. It is part of First Met’s historic photographs digitization project that involved digital scanning and description of over 500 images from our archival collections. These photographs are available to the public on Flickr.com. The Oriental Home and School album is one of ten sets of First Met’s historical photographs available for public viewing.
First Met gratefully acknowledges the generous financial support of the British Columbia History Digitization Program (2015), sponsored by the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre, University of British Columbia.
Archival records of the Oriental Home and School
Most of the records of Victoria’s Oriental Home and School are held by the United Church of Canada, BC Conference Archives in Vancouver. This includes Rev. J.E. Starr’s letters and reports, 1887; the original Woman’s Missionary Society report, 1887; registers of residents, 1886-1942; resident’s files, 1891-1942; financial record books, 1888-1947; building blueprints, 1908-1909; as well as annual … »reports, photographs and other materials.
In spring 2016, First Met Archives will be transferring the advisory committee minute book and the Oriental Home and School album to the BC Conference Archives to become part of the Oriental Home and School fonds. This transfer is timely, as interest intensifies in early Christian outreach activities, residential schools, and women’s history in British Columbia. Also, with the Oriental Home and School photographs now online and several recently-published books with accounts of the Victoria Oriental Home, there will be increased demand for access to the Oriental Home and School records.
First Met is very pleased to be participating in the unification of these records.
Archives and Heritage
First Metropolitan United Church