Thursday, November 13, 2014

Montreal's First Chinese Policeman

Montreal Standard, 12 January 1907, page 16.

Montreal’s Chinatown accepts the installation of the new Chinese policeman as an official recognition of the dignity and importance of the district. It is as great a matter to crow over as if a Celestial had been elected alderman in the City Council.
“Oh, yeth, we have policeman now. He” – with a swell of pride – “he carry revolver and baton, too!”

Chinatown is having much to play with the new toy. Fan-tan has for the nonce lost a little of its absorbing interest. All sorts of tiny troubles are taken to the policeman for arbitration, and he is expected to be a library of miscellaneous information, while if some Chinamen are having a little wordy spar at 3 am, another Chinaman will bolt round, waken up the policeman, and gravely inform him that there is a stupendous case on hand, and that it would be wisdom to telephone for the patrol wagon and a detachment of constabulary, and to bring the revolver.

While Chinatown on the whole, accepts the policeman as a compliment, a safeguard, an oracle, and an encyclopaedia, there are a few individuals who regard him as an unwarrantable burden and a traitor to his nationality. These few are the hobos of Chinatown, the men with the gorilla faces, who carry the little hatchet in the belt, and whose deeds are dark. That a Chinaman should assume the role of police constable over fellow-countrymen in a white man’s land is unmanly, vicious, treacherous. Wait!

Lee Johnson, the constable in question, accepts all with that bland smile of his. He knows that as a constable he should be dignified on all occasions – but he can’t keep his enthusiasm from bubbling over at times. He may be reserved at first. It is “yes,” and “no,” and “perhaps,” and “don’t know.” Gradually he melts. The he chuckles and tells with voluminous detail the story of the first Chinaman arrested for drunkenness in Montreal.

Johnson is a man of considerable intelligence, and speaks English and French in addition to his own tongue. His father was the principle of a village school in the Province of Canton, and Lee came to Canada 12 years ago, when 17 years of age. He has been in business, particularly the laundry business, in various parts of the country, and now represents in addition to law and authority, a number of firms dealing with the Chinese in Montreal.

He dresses like an ordinary white, and in his little office on St Urbain street, close to Lagauchetiere street, and right in the heart of Chinatown, he has a roll top desk and a telephone, to both of which the attention of the visitor is tactfully drawn. The rest of the office is perhaps a little at odds with the rolltop desk and the telephone, but that does not matter.

Asked whether he will be expected to lay information about, and take part in raids on opium and gambling dens, Lee shrugs his shoulders, and smiles, and talks about the weather. Whisked back to the original subject by the interrogator. Lee will speak at great length of the law regarding the opium traffic, but never by any chance commit himself. Once thoroughly thawed he will say that “most Chinamen like him, but two or three wastrel – bum bom, you call it? – Chinamen don’t like.” But he says nothing of fear and apprehension.

It is said that the need of a Chinese policeman in Chinatown was badly felt. Whether the appointment of one is going to make an improvement along certain lines, remains to be seen. In the meantime, it can be said that Constable Lee Johnson is intelligent and enthusiastic.


Interestingly, I can't find the Montreal Standard in Google Newspapers to back this up, but by the tone of the article, it was more tabloid than broadsheet. This may make it a great means of exposing players to more sensational reports of the weird and the bizarre, and other adventure hooks and red herrings.

Ok, so the tone of the era shines through in what is rather blatant racism in the original journalism, but this gives a little insight into the culture of the time. Especially on the existence of gambling an opium dens in Chinatown, and that this was seen as a problem for other Montrealers.

I want to hear more about these Hatchet Hobos of Chinatown. What were they? were they local enforcers, used to their own way of keeping law, either for the population, or the gangs, of those who held power in Chinatown? Were they really hobos, and the axes were for self defence? I love these guys. The adventure title "Hatchet Hobos of Chinatown" seems very pulpy in tone but it surely must be written!

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