For the week of Monday, May 23, 2022
On May 24, 1935, spectators filled the stands of the athletic stadium at Con Jones Park (now, Callister Park) in East Vancouver to watch the Vancouver Asahi Baseball Team play a rare exhibition game against the Tokyo Giants, a visiting professional team from Japan. Although the Asahi Baseball Team lost this game, between 1914 and 1941, they became an important symbol of athletic excellence and perseverance in the face of anti-Asian racism in the city of Vancouver.
The Vancouver Asahi (or Morning Star) Baseball Team was founded in 1914, under the leadership of coach and manager Harry Miyasaki, building on the example of an existing senior baseball team called the Nippons. The players came primarily from the Powell Street neighbourhood of Vancouver, where many Japanese immigrants and their descendants had lived since the late 19th century. They regularly practiced and played at the Powell Street Grounds (now Oppenheimer Park).
The Vancouver Asahi Baseball Team joined the International League, which was established in July 1918, and won the International League Championship in 1919. By the late 1920s, they were the main gate attraction playing in Senior Leagues. They emphasized their speed and defensive ability in a style of play known as “brain ball,” which involved bunting and stealing bases, relying on discipline and teamwork to triumph over the bigger and harder-hitting Euro-Canadian teams. This proved to be a winning formula, as the Vancouver Asahi Baseball Team won the Championships in the Terminal (1926, 1930, 1932, 1933), Commercial (1936-1938), and Burrard (1938–1940) Leagues, as well as the Pacific Northwest Japanese Championships (1937–1941).
At the time, Japanese immigrants faced legally enforced racism, including disenfranchisement and social segregation. In baseball, they had to contend with biased umpires and occasional verbal abuse from spectators. Even when praising the team for winning a game, newspapers still used derogatory language to describe the players and never referred to them as “Canadians,” even though most were born in Canada. The Asahi persevered in the face of such racism, continuing to demonstrate honourable sportsmanship, becoming a source of pride and joy for Japanese Canadians, facilitating intergenerational bonding, and serving as a rallying point against racism—a legacy that continues to inspire to this day.
During the Second World War, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, inflamed anti-Asian sentiment in Canada and led to the government-ordered removal of approximately 22,000 people of Japanese descent from the Pacific Coast, including members of the Asahi Baseball Team. Some moved east of the Rockies. Others spent the war years in internment camps. Among the few possessions they took with them were their baseball gloves, bats, balls and uniforms. In 1943, teams they helped organize in four different camps competed in the Slocan Valley Championship.
After the war, many former Asahi Baseball Team members had relocated to Toronto and Montréal, where they continued to contribute to the sport as umpires for children’s leagues or as members of teams, and to inspire through their athletic skill, strength, and perseverance. As former player Kiyoshi Suga said: “Despite all the hardships … imposed on us, they showed us we could fight; they showed us we could overcome anything.” The legacy of this team lives on in the new Asahi Baseball Association (formerly, the Canadian Nikkei Youth Baseball Club).
The Vancouver Asahi Baseball Team was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum (2003) and the British Columbia Sports Hall of Fame (2005), and designated as a national historic event in 2008. The Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada (HSMBC) advises the Government of Canada on the commemoration of national historic events, which evoke significant moments, episodes, movements, or experiences in the history of Canada.
The National Program of Historical Commemoration relies on the participation of Canadians in the identification of places, events and persons of national historic significance. Any member of the public can nominate a topic for consideration by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada. Learn how to participate in this process.