Merriwake: A historic Japanese Canadian fishing boat to be preserved

March 18, 2019


Slocan, BC—A historic Japanese Canadian fishing boat that is the last of its kind in Canada will now be preserved, thanks to the efforts of the Slocan Valley Historical Society (SVHS).

The Merriwake, a 31’ gill netter built in 1929 by master builder Isamu “Sam” Matsumoto, has been purchased by the SVHS, which intends to restore the vessel for a dry-land display in the Village of Slocan.

“We are grateful to so many people - Joy Kogawa, Ian Fraser and Columbia Basin Trust for the funds needed to purchase the boat; the many amazing people in Kaslo for their efforts in saving her from Kootenay Lake – Marty Lynch, Michael Steinman, Richard De Cruyenaere, Hamish Shaw, Kit Ashenhurst; and for giving her safe harbor and transport - Heather, Jennifer and Michelle Handley, Dave Sicotte, Patrick Guy and Eric Chevalier,” says Joyce Johnson, president of the SVHS. “And finally, we are grateful to previous owner Ted Fitzgerald for entrusting the Society with this important artifact. It truly has taken a village. The next step is to apply for grants and raise funds for the restoration of the boat and the creation of the display.”

The Merriwake had been submerged in Kootenay Lake near Kaslo before being salvaged a couple years ago. Despite being waterlogged, the ship is in good shape, a testament to the quality of her construction.

Local shipwright Eric Chevalier of The Copper Nail in Bonnington will begin the restoration of the Merriwake. Nelson engineer Ted Nunn and Slocan Valley designer Eric Clough will assist with the structure which will house the boat. Slocan logger and SVHS member Gary Burns will donate timbers for the shelter. Kaslo historian Ian Fraser will create the interpretive signage which will detail the boat’s journey and some of the Japanese Canadian history in the area. And former owner, Ted Fitzgerald will create short film/picture montages to document her journey including her restoration.

“This is a local effort but it’s important on a national scale,” says Johnson. We are supported in this initiative by the Village of Slocan, Slocan Valley Historical Trail Society, and Recreation Sites and Trails BC.

“Our hope is that the Merriwake will bring our community together in shared project that will be a place of pride but also reflection, meditation and learning,” says Anitra Winje, vice-president of the SVHS. “The Merriwake is valuable for what she represents: the craftsmanship and social/economic/cultural contributions of Japanese Canadian boat buildings and fishermen. But she is also a poignant and essential reminder of the terrible injustice endured by Japanese Canadians. We must not forget this part of our past. The Merriwake will help ensure we don’t. “

For anyone interested in getting “on board” the Merriwake project or learning more about the SVHS, please call 250.355.2230.

Joyce Johnson
PO Box 28, Slocan, BC V0G 2C0
Phone: 250-355-2230
Slocan Valley Historical Society