On May 21, the thunder of a Taiko drummer opened a speech from B.C. Premier John Horgan announcing that the province will provide $100 million in funding through the National Association of Japanese Canadians (NAJC) to provide lasting recognition of historical wrongs committed by B.C. against Japanese Canadians during the Second World War.
“I haven’t heard the Taiko drums calling the community together for a very long time,” said Ucluelet resident Ellen Kimoto.
Members of the Japanese community gathered in centres across B.C. to watch the livestream broadcast, with about 30 people attending Ucluelet’s event hosted by the Ucluelet and Area Historical Society at the Ucluelet Community Centre George Fraser room. Mid Island-Pacific Rim MLA Josie Osborne welcomed the local gathering on behalf of the Premier.
“I was really happy about the turnout. We ordered sushi from Sake Sushi and people stayed and talked for a long time. It was really important this event happened while there are still survivors left,” said Kimoto, noting that the announcement left her feeling dignified and honoured.
Kimoto is one of almost 22,000 Japanese Canadians who were interned, and one of five Ucluelet-based souls of about 6,000 survivors who remain alive today. The other living Ucluelet survivors are: Mary Kimoto, Suzie Corlazzoli, Ken Oye, and Emerald Shepherd.
It was March 1942 and the early days of WWII when Kimoto, who was just three months old at the time, was swept away from her coastal home and forcibly relocated to an internment camp in B.C.’s interior.
“My mom had me in one hand and a suitcase in the other,” Kimoto said.
They traveled on The Maquinna to Port Alberni, then to Nanaimo by rail and Vancouver by steamship. Her dad was towed on his boat to New Westminster, accompanied by a member of the Canadian military. Her dad’s fishing boat along with about 1,200 Japanese-Canadian-owned fishing boats was confiscated by the Canadian government.
“At that time there were about 3,000 of us that lived from Bamfield to Hesquiaht. We were all connected with fishing, of course. It was a dark time for us,” said Kimoto.
Paul Kariya is an advisor and volunteer for the NAJC. His father, Takeo Kariya, was one of the first Japanese-Canadians to come to Ucluelet to fish. Kariya said his dad, who has now passed, was astute to see what was coming, so he sold his home to a First Nation and his boat before it could be seized by the government.
Kariya was about 15 when his dad told him his story of being sent to an internment camp. One day while they were fishing at Refuge Cove, Kariya recalls, his dad points to a boat at the end of the dock and told him that that used to be his boat.
“I walked down to the dock and then the penny dropped. I saw the name Marine K,” said Kariya. “I came back to the boat that we were on and my dad says, ‘what do you think the K stands for?’ We spent days talking about fishing and what happened to Japanese-Canadians and to him personally.”
Kariya says his dad and mom were separated during the war. After the war ended, they were able to marry, but they had to settle east of the Rockies or return to Japan. Kariya’s parents decided to re-located to the Toronto area and work on a mushroom farm. Restrictions were lifted in 1949 and in 1951, the Kariya’s had enough saved to return back to Ucluelet.
“There were a handful of fishing people that were able to come back when restrictions were lifted,” said Kariya.
He said the $100-million funding initiative will help create curriculum for the schools and that there will be monument constructed in Victoria that will list all the names of the 22,000 Japanese Canadian who were interned.
“It would be like the war memorial in Washington,” said Kariya. “We have also said to the government that it would be nice to give the remaining survivors a modest grant that could help them out as they live out their lives.”
For Ucluelet, a town rich with Japanese Canadian heritage, a symbolic marking on the landscape is planned, but the details have yet to be decided.
“If I have any influence on it, I’d like to call it a “reconciliation site”. It would involve the homestead community, the First Nations community, as well as the Japanese community,” said Kariya.
“I hope it has something to do with the ocean,” said Kimoto. “That’s why we came here.”
- With files from Phil Hood, Andrew Bailey, and Cole Schisler