Who was Jennie Kiohara?

We don’t know her real name or where she was born.

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We do know that she was Issei, among the first wave of Japanese immigrants to arrive in Canada.

That she worked as a prostitute in Revelstoke.

That she was brutally murdered in her home in Revelstoke on April 19, 1905.

That she was only 24 years old at the time of her death.

Did she look like one of these “picture brides” arriving in Vancouver from Japan in the early 1900s?

We don’t have a photograph of Jennie.

Like these women, Jennie didn’t have agency in her own life. Picture brides were forced into marriages with men they had never met. Jennie was forced into a life of prostitution.

Why did she make the long voyage across the Pacific Ocean?

Did she have any choice in the matter?

Jennie was born in Japan sometime around 1881.

There was widespread poverty in Japan, and many opportunities in North America. In desperation, families sometimes sold their daughters into slavery and prostitution.

 

Was Jennie already in debt when she came, perhaps owing passage to a husband or master?

We can imagine Jennie arriving in Canada, far from home, very young and vulnerable; thrown into a society where she will not be afforded the same rights and protections enjoyed by men.

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What did Jennie think when she arrived in the still-young railway town of Revelstoke in 1903?

Front Street, where Jennie lived, and all of “Lower Town” was considered less respectable than the new station townsite. 

She lived on a street populated with general stores, hotels, saloons, and several Chinese businesses. The brothels were confined to Lower Town and were well patronized by the large male population of CP railway workers, miners, and loggers.

Jennie lived in a brothel at the north end of Front Street, a two story wooden hip-framed house. This image shows residents of a brothel in Revelstoke around 1900. 

The women are dressed in fine clothes and if you look closely you can see the nudes decorating the room. The red light district was considered “segregated” and the women’s lives were controlled. They were only allowed to shop on certain days and times of the week, and had to be escorted to and from their homes.

Women who managed or worked in brothels were charged under Bylaw 9 Respecting Public Morals and Convenience. This police log book reveals that Jennie was booked twice in 1904.

You can see here Jennie Kiohara (jap) was charged for being a Brothel Keeper. Each time, Jennie was fined $25.00 plus $4.75 in court charges, the equivalent of  $900 in today’s currency.  

In 1904, 62 different women were booked under Bylaw 9, with a total of 79 bookings in this one year. Prostitution was illegal, but nothing was done to remove the brothels from the community. Instead, the women were fined amounts that could be considered police extortion. In stark contrast, men who frequented the brothels were seldom charged, but when they were, they were given paltry fines of $1 to $5.

The brothel where Jennie was a Keeper was owned by this man. Wah Chung was a businessman who owned a number of buildings and businesses in Revelstoke including the restaurant shown here, the Oyster and Chop House, on Mackenzie Avenue. 

There were rumours that Wah Chung was Jennie’s pimp, lover and even uncharged murder suspect but there is no evidence to support this.

On May 12, 1903 Jennie was brutally assaulted by an A. Mallet. Here you can see the report in the Police log book and the informant was S. Fukishima Remember this name, as it will appear later in Jennie’s story. The violence of this attack was graphically described in the Revelstoke Herald of May 28, 1903 and gives us a glimpse into the hardship and abuse suffered by Jennie during her short life.

There were rumours that Wah Chung was Jennie’s pimp, lover and even uncharged murder suspect but there is no evidence to support this.

Just two years later, on April 19 1905 Jennie was violently murdered in her home. She was just 24 years old.

After Jennie’s murder two Japanese men were arrested and detained for 8 days in connection with the crime and then released. One of these men was Fukishima, the same man who was the informant when Jennie was assaulted in 1903.

The Revelstoke Herald reported that one of those arrested was a young man who had been living withJennie for some time, and the Kootenay Mail stated that one of the men arrested (perhaps the same man) admitted to having an argument with Jennie and threatening her life.

We get a glimpse into some of the racism and prejudice Jennie must have experienced in Revelstoke through this newspaper article written after her death.

This racist attitude may be one of the reasons that no one was ever charged with Jennie’s murder.

Amazingly, given Jennie’s status in society at the time, she has a headstone at the Mountain View Cemetery in Revelstoke. This was paid for by Wah Chung. 

The engravings are written in Kyūjitai, the old character forms of Kanji which is Japanese written with borrowed Chinese characters

Left: Deceased on Meiji 38 (1905) April, 19

Center: Grave of Fukushima Gen

Right: Age of Death 24

Fukushima福島 Gen源 of之 Tomb墓
=Fuku (Fortune) Shima (Island) Gen (Source/Origin)

Meiji明治  38th year丗八年  4th month=April四月  19th day拾九日 Death

Age at her death行年 24 years old廿四歳

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Part of this project involves the restoration of Jennie’s gravestone after 116 years of exposure to rain, snow, sun and wind.. The plinth that the grave rests on has completely eroded and has been replaced by a large natural stone. The grave surface has been cleaned and treated to preserve the engravings and protect them from erosion. 

This is our way of honouring Jennie’s memory.