Hide Hyodo (third from left) was the only Japanese Canadian to be hired as a public school teacher in BC in the prewar era. Other qualified Japanese Canadians had to relocate or change professions.
Isami (Sam) Okamoto fonds. 2000.14.1.1.1
Acts of Injustice
The first recorded immigrants from Japan began to arrive in what we call Canada in the late 1800s. The lands they came to had been cared for by Indigenous peoples for thousands of years. Japanese immigrants arrived soon after Britain colonized these lands.
As seen in Forgiveness, Japanese Canadians faced lots of racial discrimination in Canada. Even Canadian-born citizens of Japanese ancestry were not allowed to vote. Japanese Canadians and other racialized workers were paid less than white workers for doing the same jobs. Laws banned Japanese Canadians from certain jobs. And there were many more jobs that would not hire Japanese Canadians, even if they were qualified.
Canada’s racism became even worse when the country declared war on Japan in 1941. The government used Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor as an excuse to violate Japanese Canadians’ rights. Even though most Japanese Canadians had been born in Canada or had become naturalized Canadian citizens, the government called them all “persons of Japanese racial origin”, ignoring citizenship status.
Leaders of the RCMP and the military said that Japanese Canadians were not a threat to Canada’s security. But the government ignored them. They ordered Japanese Canadians to leave their homes and communities.
In early 1942, the Pacific National Exhibition (PNE) grounds at Hastings Park in east Vancouver were used to temporarily house Japanese Canadians like Mitsue and her family who were being uprooted from the BC Coast. Over 8000 were detained in the exhibition buildings and stables at Hastings Park before being sent to internment sites in the BC interior or to work camps across the country.
For many Japanese Canadians, this was a terrible, fearful experience. They were forcibly removed from their homes, lost all of their belongings and many families were separated. The conditions at Hastings Park were extremely primitive and unsanitary. The primary memory for many people was the horrible smell, followed by the noise, the boredom and the terrible food.
In 2015, four commemorative plaques were unveiled at sites around Hastings Park. The Japanese Canadian Hastings Park Interpretive Centre Society is currently developing plans for an interpretive centre at Hastings Park to commemorate this history and the people incarcerated there.
Below: An image of interior of building with many bunk beds. Photographer: Leonard Frank. Alex Eastwood collection. 19184.108.40.206
Life in the Internment Era (1942-1949)
Japanese Canadians built community in harsh and isolated conditions. In internment camps, they lived in small, quickly built shacks. They had no insulation, running water, or electricity. Many had to share living quarters with another family.
Most had little or no choice about where they lived. The government separated men from their families. Sometimes families didn’t know where their relatives were sent to for months. On sugar beet farms, everyone old enough to work spent long hours in the fields.
Even while imprisoned in internment camps, Japanese Canadians tried to make their new communities better. They set up schools, churches, and activities. They grew food in gardens when they couldn’t buy enough in stores. Young adults volunteered to teach school and coach baseball teams.
The struggle for redress took many years. Throughout the 1980s in particular, Japanese Canadians worked hard to educate all Canadians about the internment era. Many asked whether anything could truly make up for all we had lost and endured.
A redress settlement was announced in Parliament on September 22, 1988. It included:
- an acknowledgment that Canada had violated Japanese Canadians’ human rights
- individual payments of $21,000 to survivors of these violations
- the establishment of a Japanese Canadian community fund of $12 million
- the clearing of criminal records for those charged under the War Measures Act
- restoration of Canadian citizenship to those exiled to Japan
- the creation of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation to help eliminate racism.
The 1988 redress settlement was negotiated between the National Association of Japanese Canadians and the federal government. In 2012, MLA Naomi Yamamoto, the first Japanese Canadian to be elected to the BC Legislature, led a Motion of Apology to the Japanese Canadians in the BC Legislature. This began another redress movement which led to a negotiation process to acknowledge and redress the BC provincial government’s role in Japanese Canadian internment. Premier John Horgan announced a provincial redress settlement in May 2022.
Below: Prime Minister Brian Mulroney shakes hands with NAJC president Art Miki after they sign the redress agreement on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, 1988. Photographer: Gordon King. NNM 2010.32.29
Find out more
To learn more about the history and heritage of Japanese Canadians:
- Visit the Taiken: Generations of Resilience exhibit at the Nikkei National Museum & Cultural Centre in Burnaby, BC.
- Visit the Nikkei National Museum website and our online exhibits and educational resources, including the Hastings Park 1942 online exhibit.
- Visit Hastings Park and look for the four green interpretive panels near historic buildings.
- Check out this great resource about the Celtic Cannery neighbourhood by the Vancouver Heritage Foundation.