The Nikkei in Canada
The early years
Manzo Nagano lands in New Westminster, the first Japanese person known to land and settle in Canada.
The First Japanese Immigrant
Manzo Nagano was born in 1855, a time when Japan remained locked in self-imposed isolation from the outside world. By the time he had reached working age, working as a carpenter’s apprentice in his hometown, Nagasaki, Japan had opened its doors and was facing the challenge of creating a modern nation. At the age of 22, Nagano became involved in boat refitting and repair, and around that time decided that someday he would set out for Canada. Stowing away aboard a British ship leaving the port of Yokohama, Nagano landed in New Westminster, BC, in May 1877.
He fished for salmon on the Fraser River for three years before moving to Vancouver, where he loaded timber on outbound ships. In 1884, Manzo Nagano returned to Japan, worked his way to Shanghai, crossed the Pacific once again and settled in Seattle, where he set up a tobacco and restaurant business.
In 1892, he moved to Victoria, where he operated a small hotel and a store. He later was connected with other enterprises, including the exporting of salted humpback salmon to Japan. He became a man of property and an influential member of the Japanese community in Canada. Later Manzo Nagano consolidated his holdings into one location on Government Street in Victoria. In 1922, suffering from tuberculosis, he lost all his possessions when the building was gutted by fire. Dejected, he returned with his family to Japan where he died soon after at the age of 68.
Several of his descendants are living in Canada today.
In 1977, as part of the Japanese Canadian Centennial, a mountain in British Columbia was
named after the first settler, Manzo Nagano. The official naming took place October 7 in Alberta,
at the meeting of the Canadian Permanent Committee on Geographical Names.
Mount Manzo Nagano (approximately 1,950 metres high) overlooks Owikeno Lake in the Coast Mountains, about 400 kilometres northwest of Vancouver. It is in the region of Rivers Inlet where Japanese Canadians pioneered in the commercial fishing industry along the Pacific coast.
The first nisei, Katsuji, is born to Yo and Washiji Oya.
The first Japanese consulate opens in Vancouver.
The Japanese Fishermen’s Association is organized in Steveston, BC, with Tomekichi Homma as President.
The first Japanese language school, the Vancouver Kyoritsu Nippon Kokumin Gakko (currently the Vancouver Japanese Language School and Japanese Hall), is established at 439 Alexander Street. At Lord Strathcona School in Vancouver, Japanese Canadian students are enrolled in a public school alongside white students for the first time.
On September 9th a mob of white supremacists gathers in Vancouver and inflicts severe damage to Japanese and Chinese immigrant quarters. Powell Street receives extensive damage. The riot is immediately followed by a general strike of Vancouver’s Asian workers.
The Asahi baseball team is formed. The team quickly becomes famous for its sacrificing, base-stealing and fielding. They become the most popular team in the Lower Mainland with a legion of non-Nikkei fans.
World War I, 1916-1917
Hoping to prove their loyalty to Canada, over 200 Nikkei volunteers attempt to enlist in the Canadian Army. After being rejected in British Columbia, 195 issei volunteers, and one nisei—Private George Uyehara—travel to Alberta to join Canadian battalions of the British army and are shipped to Europe. 54 are killed and 92 wounded.
The Japanese Canadian War Memorial cenotaph is officially unveiled in Stanley Park near Lumberman’s Arch on the third anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. Sitting atop the sandstone column is a marble lantern containing an eternal flame. Says Sergeant Yasuzo Shoji, veteran of the 52nd Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, “We don’t forget what we owe to Canada and we were proud to fight when Britain declared war on the common enemy.”
Lord Byng annex in Steveston, a school attended by both Japanese and non-Japanese students, becomes the first and only school in BC to hire a Japanese Canadian teacher. However the teacher, Hide Hyodo, is only permitted to teach the Japanese Canadian students.
The Asahi baseball team wins the Terminal League Championship—the first of several league championships over the next 15 years.
Japan and Canada agree to establish diplomatic relations. Based on their agreement, Japan opens a legation in Ottawa on July 20.
Canada opens its first diplomatic office in Tokyo.
Shige Yoshida of Chemainus on Vancouver Island forms the first Japanese Canadian boy scout troop in the British Empire. Barred from joining a local troop five years earlier, he studied on his own by correspondence, earning the highest possible rank and a warrant from the Boy Scouts of America granting him the right to form his own troop.
The New Canadian is established as the first English-language Nikkei newspaper with its motto, “The Voice of the Second Generation”.
The war years
Of the 23,303 persons of Japanese origin in Canada, 75.5% are Canadian citizens (60.2% Canadian-born and 14.6% naturalized citizens).
Japan attacks Pearl Harbor. Canada declares war on Japan. Under the War Measures Act, Order-in-Council P.C. 9591 requires all Japanese nationals to register by February 7 with the Registrar of Enemy Aliens.
1200 Japanese fishing boats rounded up by the Canadian Navy. Japanese language schools close. Insurance policies are cancelled. All three Japanese-language newspapers closed down by R.C.M.P. The New Canadian becomes the sole paper allowed to publish. It turns into a bilingual publication and is the main source of community news, and government policy directives.
The light atop the Japanese Canadian War Memorial is extinguished.
After Canada declared war on Japan in 1941, Japanese Canadians on the west coast were given five options.
1) Some were allowed to move to certain self-supporting areas.
2) Men were assigned to work in road camps, a short-lived experiment since the men, were too worried about their women and children to put their heart into roadwork.
3) Women and children who had no support could opt to move to detainment camps in the BC Interior. They were joined later by men from the road camps.
4) Japanese Canadians were urged to move to eastern Canada in the face of hostility in most of the country. A number took this route.
5) Families could stay together if they would contract to work in the sugar beet farms in Alberta and Manitoba. 3,700 people made this choice.
The exodus to the camps was organized by the British Columbia Security Commission (BCSC) and carried out by the RCMP. Most of the camps, were located in ghost towns in the Kootenays. Camps were improvised or built from the ground up by Japanese Canadian carpenters and other tradesmen working under foremen appointed by the BCSC.
The people in the camps, left on their own in makeshift lodgings, developed their own community organizations, schools, recreation and production of food.
On March 16, the first group of Japanese Canadians from the coastal area entered Hastings Park Manning Pool on the Pacific National Exhibition (PNE) grounds in Vancouver.
By March 25, 1,593 persons were confined there. “At the peak of its habitation, on September 1, 3,866 persons were living there and over 8,000 passed through the Park at one time or another” Ken Adachi, The Enemy That Never Was
Order-in-Council P.C. 365 creates a 100-mile ‘protected area’ on the coast of British Columbia from which male enemy aliens are excluded.
Mass evacuation of Japanese Canadians begins. Some are given only 24 hours notice. Cars, cameras and radios confiscated for “protective measures”. Curfew imposed.
By the end of the year, approximately 12,029 persons are in detention camps in the interior of British Columbia, 945 men are in enforced labour camps, 3,991 are placed as labourers on sugar beet farms in the Prairie provinces, 1,161 are in voluntary self-supporting sites outside the ‘protected area’, 1,359 are given special work permits, 699 are interned in prisoner-of-war camps in Ontario, 42 are repatriated to Japan, 111 are in detention in Vancouver and 105 are in hospital in Hastings Park, approximately 2,000 were living outside the ‘protected area’ and allowed to remain in place but required to register and give up prohibited items, and subject to restriction of activities.
British Columbia Security Commission Report: October 31, 1942
Road camp projects 986
Sugar Beets, Alberta 2,585
Ontario (males) 350
(Slocan City, Bay Farm, Popoff, Lemon Creek) 4,764
New Denver/Roseberry 1,701
Self-Supporting Projects 1,164
Independent and Industrial Projects 431
Special Permits 1,337
Repatriated to Japan 42
Evacuated voluntarily (before March 1942) 579
Internment camps 699
In detention, Vancouver 57
Hastings Park, Hospital 105
There were 94 who were partners in mixed marriages, with 100 off-spring, who were allowed to remain on the coast.
The Government announces a program to disperse Japanese Canadians throughout the country, to separate those who are “loyal” from those who are “disloyal”, and to “repatriate” the disloyal to Japan.
At the request of the British government, Japanese Canadians are allowed to enlist. Those remaining in the camps are canvassed for “loyalty”, and told to choose between “repatriation” to Japan and immediate movement east of the Rocky Mountains.
The New Canadian moves to Winnipeg. Editor Tom Shoyama volunteers for the Canadian Army and Kasey Oyama takes over the editorship.
150 Japanese Canadians volunteer for service with the Canadian army in the Far East.
“When I first hit Toronto I went to the artillery regiment recruiting station on Bay Street and I put my name in as a volunteer but they wouldn’t take me. This must have been in 1942, I guess,
when we were forced out. I spent some time in a road camp, about a month or so, until the black flies came. And then I volunteered to work at a sugar beet farm and then we were sent to a mushroom farm near Toronto. We were more or less prisoners there. They wouldn’t let us look for any other work in Toronto. They wanted to use Toronto as a bait for the people still in the internment camps.
“A couple of Mounties came up and asked me if I still wanted to join the army. So I said yeah, and they said the British were looking for some interpreters and I said, hell, I don’t know the Japanese language, I want to get into the artillery! So they said, well, maybe you can transfer once you get into the army. But I was in Brantford for about a month at training camp—learning how to march and take orders—and then four of us got pulled out and got put in with the prairie group—Alberta and Manitoba—and then the next thing you know I was going overseas to India.“
Lemon Creek School Song
In Lemon Creek our fame goes before
Cause we’re the school with esprit de corps
Proud are we of white and blue
For reasons we have, you see it too
Nothing can daunt us, we are the kind
Who work together, we’re of one mind
Yes our school is loyal true
Hurrah for the white and blue
New Denver is a toy-town, resting gently in the middle of all these mountains. Two grocery stores, a butcher shop, a hardware store, a drugstore, the rest are houses, all neat in a row, not new, not old, just houses of wood with neat picket fences and kept gardens.
Yuki and I see some villagers. They stare. We do not speak. Later, I learn they were amazed we could speak English so well, and even wore shoes.
from A Child in a Prison Camp
The least isolated of the camps was Tashme, 14 miles southeast of the village of Hope and less than three hours drive from Vancouver. Three main rail lines, as well as the Cariboo Highway passed through Hope, which was adjacent to the boundary of the 100-mile “protected” coastal strip. Tashme itself, surrounded on all sides by the mountains of the Cascade Range, was situated on the A.B. Trites Farm, whose 600 acres were leased for $500 a month for the duration of the war. The name of the camp was derived by combining the first two letters of the last names of the Security Commissioners, Taylor, Shirras and Mead.
The Enemy That Never Was
August 15 Japan surrenders after atomic bombs are dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The postwar years
Restrictions imposed under the War Measures Act are lifted. Japanese Canadians gain full rights of citizenship and are free to move anywhere in Canada.
The Vancouver Japanese Language School re-opens on Alexander Street, the only building to be returned to the community following the war.
Japanese trading companies open their offices in Canada, marking the beginning of a mass business relationship between Canada and Japan.
The first issue of The Bulletin is published by the Greater Vancouver Japanese Canadian Citizens’ Association. The bilingual publication serves the Japanese Canadians who have returned to the coast.
Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre opens in Toronto.
Canadian Government announces new immigration regulation—a point system for selection. It no
longer uses race as a category. As a result, a wave of new immigrants from Japan start arriving in Canada.
Ken Adachi’s book, The Enemy That Never Was: a History of the Japanese Canadians, is published by McClelland & Stewart, the first book to document the Japanese Canadian experience.
Japanese Canadians renew national community ties by celebrating the centennial of the arrival of Nagano Manzo, the first known Issei in Canada. The centennial celebrations are closely followed by the organization of informal groups to discuss seeking redress.
The first Powell Street Festival takes place at Oppenheimer Park in Vancouver’s downtown eastside, the pre-war home of the Japanese Canadian community.
The Japanese Canadian Centennial Project publishes A Dream of Riches, a photographic history of the Japanese Canadian community. The photographs are also gathered together as a traveling exhibit that tours the country.
This is My Own: Letters to Wes and other Writings on Japanese Canadians, 1941 – 1948 is published. Based on a series of letters between Muriel Kitagawa and her brother Wes Fujiwara and edited by Roy Miki, the book is an eloquent portrait of a turbulent time in Canadian history. Muriel Kitagawa died in 1974 and Wes Fujiwara died on November 6, 2000.
April 14 500 Japanese Canadians rally on Parliament Hill in support of redress. Many prominent Canadians come out to support their cause and the new Minister of State for Multiculturalism, Gerry Weiner, makes a statement that opens up dialogue with the community.
On August 3, the light atop the Japanese Canadian War Memorial is relit during a special ceremony, almost 45 years after it was extinguished. The guest of honour is Sergeant Masumi Mitsui, one of the last surviving World War I veteran.
July 21 The War Measures Act is repealed.
The Japanese Canadian Redress Foundation is established to administer the community funds. Over the next ten years, projects initiated across Canada include community centres and other facilities, cultural and artistic projects, and educational projects.
Redress & beyond
September 22 Prime Minister Brian Mulroney announces a Redress Settlement negotiated between the National Association of Japanese Canadians and the federal government, to acknowledge injustices against Japanese Canadians during and after World War II, provide a payment of $21,000 to all Japanese Canadians affected by the provisions of the War Measures Act, expunge criminal records of those charged with offenses stemming from violation of provisions of the War Measures Act, re-instate citizenship of those exiled to Japan, establish a $12million community fund to help rebuild community infrastructure, and provide $24million, half in the name of the NAJC and half in the name of the government, to establish the Canadian Race Relations Foundation.
To mark the 120th anniversary of the first Japanese to settle in Canada, a group of climbers led by NAJC President Randy Enomoto climb Mt. Manzo Nagano and leave a time capsule at the summit on August 24. Of the 11 expedition members, four are direct descendants of Monzo Nagano.
July 4 Opening ceremony of New Sakura-so seniors housing complex, the first component of Nikkei Place, at Kingsway and Sperling in Burnaby.
The first ever Canadian team attends the PANA American Nikkei Olympics in San Paulo, Brazil. The four-member team returns with three gold medals, three silver, and one bronze.
Keiko Miki becomes the first woman president of the NAJC.
March 26 Groundbreaking ceremony for the National Nikkei Heritage Centre at Kingsway and Sperling in Burnaby.
August 15 a monument is unveiled at Ross Bay Cemetery in Victoria by the Kakehashi Group. The common monument honours the 150 Japanese Canadians buried at the cemetery. The first Is Yoshitaro Muneyama, age 26, January 11, 1887. Included among the dead are Manzo Nagano’s first wife, Tsuya, and their infant daughter.
A new century
Hapa (hä’pä) adj. 1. Slang. of mixed racial heritage with partial roots in Asian or Pacific Islander ancestry.
n. 2. Slang. a person of such heritage.
[der. Hawaiian: hapa haole. (half white)]
June 25 Grand opening of the new Vancouver Japanese Language School and Japanese Hall at 475 Alexander Street. The old building is designated a historic site by the city of Vancouver.
Team 2000, a hockey team made up of young players of Japanese descent, heads to Japan to attend a National Midget Camp and play against Japanese teams. The group returns with two wins and three losses and vows to return in a couple of years.
September 22 The National Nikkei Heritage Centre officially opens in Burnaby, BC. The occasion also marks the opening of the Japanese Canadian National Museum and its inaugural exhibit, Reshaping memory, Owning History, Through the Lens of Japanese Canadian Redress. The Centre houses the National Nikkei Heritage Centre Society, the Japanese Canadian National Museum, the Japanese Canadian Citizens’ Association, the Nikkei Seniors Health Care and Housing Society, ICAS Nikkei TV, the Gladstone Japanese Language School, and the Japanese Immigrants Association.
September Nikkei Week 125 celebrates 125th Anniversary of the Nikkei in Canada.
2002 September Nikkei Week 125
Grand Opening of Nikkei Home , the final component of the Nikkei Place vision. The assisted living seniors residence is a place for seniors to maintain independence within a supportive environment.
The 75th Anniversary of diplomatic relations with Japan.
NHK Nodojiman in Vancouver is held at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre.
Of the approximately 40,000 Nikkei living in the Greater Vancouver area, approximately ½ are pre-war immigrants or descendents, while the other half are post war immigrants.
Toyo Takata was born on Vancouver Island in 1920 and brought up in Esquimalt. His research uncovered the adventures of Manzo Nagano, pinpointing him as the first Japanese immigrant to set foot on Canadian soil in 1877. As a result of his publication and publicity of this discovery and at his urging, Japanese Canadian communities across Canada celebrated a Centennial Year in 1977. His research also culminated in the publication of Nikkei Legacy in which he chronicled many of the interesting adventures and trials of the early pioneers.
Toyo Takata passed away on March 12, 2002, in Toronto.