The Politics of Racism by Ann Gomer Sunahara
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Throughout the spring and summer of 1942, special trains left Vancouver for the Interior mountains of British Columbia. To the casual observer the trains seemed no different from any other passenger train: an engine, day coaches, baggage cars, and a caboose. A more experienced train watcher might have noticed that the coaches were old, indeed sometimes overdue for retirement, and that while the trains left Vancouver fully loaded, they returned empty. Only those close enough to see the black-haired figures at the windows would have known for certain that those special trains were carrying Japanese Canadians into exile.
In March and April 1942 the trains carried only men whose ages varied according to their destination. If their destination lay west of the Caribou Mountains, most of the passengers would be young or middle-aged, Nisei and naturalized Japanese Canadians destined for road camps along the Hope-Princeton highway or what became the Trans-Canada Highway west of Revelstoke, B.C. If their destination lay along the Canadian National Railway between Blue River, B.C., and Jasper, Alberta, there would be many more old men and very few young men, since the camps along what would become the Yellowhead highway were reserved for Japanese aliens. If Ontario was the destination, most of the passengers would be young Nisei, destined either for the road camp at Schreiber, or for the internment camps at Petawawa and Angler, camps they would share with German prisoners-of-war.1
By late April 1942 trains filled with Japanese Canadian families had joined the trek east. To avoid the pain of family separation, over six hundred families from the Fraser Valley signed up to labour in the sugar beet fields of Alberta and Manitoba. Others – more fortunate Japanese Canadians with private financial resources – chartered special trains in May to move their families and friends to autonomous self-supporting communities in the Interior. These fortunate 1,400 thereby avoided most of the restrictions imposed on the rest and lived under minimal supervision at the resorts and on the farms they had leased with the government's permission.2
Also by late April, the wives and the children of the men in the road camps had begun moving from Hastings Park into the ghost towns of the Interior. The decaying buildings of Greenwood, Kaslo, Sandon, New Denver and Slocan City – relics of B.C.'s turn-of-the-century silver boom – were marginally better than Hastings Park. While the women and children were still overcrowded and were living and eating communally, they were at least free from the stink of the livestock barns and from the fear of violence by white British Columbians. In the ghost towns, at least there were doors on their cramped rooms, doors they could close against the world.
The sugar beet scheme was the result of a chronic farm labour shortage on the Prairies. Both Alberta and Manitoba had lost 44 per cent of their prewar farm labour to the war industries and the armed forces by 1942.3 In Alberta the labour shortage was further compounded by the threat of a strike by the Alberta Sugar Beet Workers' Union. To the Alberta Sugar Beet Growers' Association, which strenuously opposed the union, the Fraser Valley Japanese were an ideal solution to their labour problems. They were experienced, were reputed to be cheap, and because they would be under government control, could not be organized by the union – assuming the largely Eastern European union could overcome its prejudices against non-whites in the first place. Accordingly, in early February W.F. Russell, the secretary of the growers' association, approached the government about the possibility of using Japanese workers in southern Alberta.4 To the beet growers the stereotype of Japanese Canadians as efficient farm labour overrode the "dangerous saboteur" stereotype promoted by B.C.'s politicians and press.
Others in Alberta, however, firmly believed the ravings of the B.C. press, if only because they had no other basis on which to judge the B.C. Japanese. As soon as the growers' interest in the coastal Japanese became public knowledge and a trickle of B.C. Japanese began arriving in Alberta to take refuge with friends and relatives among Alberta's 534 Japanese Canadians, opposition to the importation of Japanese labour rapidly escalated. Through March 1942 the beet workers' union, town, city and labour councils, Legion locals, Boards of Trade, and citizens' committees throughout southern Alberta passed resolutions demanding either the exclusion of the B.C. Japanese or their supervision by the army and their removal after the war. Even the small communities in which Japanese Albertans had lived since before the First World War were not immune. Making careful distinction between "their" Japanese and the B.C. Japanese, Raymond, Lethbridge and Taber all held public meetings to protest the importation of B.C. Japanese as beet labour. Such a program, they felt, would simply export British Columbia's "Japanese problem" to Alberta.5
The protests were based on a mixture of ignorance and the identification of British Columbia's "Japanese problem" with Alberta's "Hutterite problem." The Hutterites were German-speaking pacifists who lived on communes in southern Alberta. In view of the war with Germany, local "patriots" damned the Hutterites as enemy aliens, shirkers of their patriotic duty, and because of their communal way of life, as unfair competition.6 To Alberta nativists, the B.C. Japanese were worse than Hutterites. Not only were they unassimilable, economically competitive "enemy aliens," like the Hutterites, but they were also damned as non-whites and potential traitors. To both the nativists and the public at large, whose only source of information was biased press accounts from the west coast, the fact that the federal government was moving Japanese Canadians from the west coast was proof that they really were as dangerous as the press reports claimed.
In March 1942 a committee of prominent Albertans7 associated with the sugar industry took upon itself the task of explaining why the B.C. Japanese were enough of a threat to be moved from the Pacific Coast but not a threat to Alberta. The sugar representatives appealed to the patriotism of southern Albertans. The B.C. Japanese, they informed public meetings in Raymond and Lethbridge, were dangerous in B.C. because of a threat of a Japanese invasion. It was, therefore, the duty of patriotic Albertans to do whatever was required to alleviate that danger. Sugar beet production, they pointed out, was a necessary part of Canada's war effort, and the B.C. Japanese, while undesirable, were the only available source of experienced farm labour. In any event, they assured their audiences, the federal government had agreed to remove the B.C. Japanese after the war.8 Only Alberta demanded a written agreement guaranteeing the removal of the B.C. Japanese after the war. At the instigation of Alberta's Social Credit Premier, William Aberhart, the Alberta government demanded a contract stating that the federal government would assume all health and education costs and would remove the Japanese at the war's end. By contrast, Manitoba's Premier, John Bracken, thought that a formal agreement was unnecessary, since constitutionally there was nothing Manitoba could do if the federal government decided to renege at a later date.9 The existence of the Alberta contract, however, helped to convince southern Albertans to tolerate, if not accept, the B.C. Japanese.
The existence of an agreement to remove them after the war did not disturb the Fraser Valley Japanese. To them the sugar beet scheme was simply a means of avoiding family separation. Having made their living for years through stoop labour on their berry and vegetable farms, the Fraser Valley Japanese assumed that beet work on the Prairies would be a relatively stressless alternative to family separation and confinement in detention and road camps in B.C. They also assumed that their exile from B.C. would be temporary, a year or two at the most. Once West Coast paranoia had calmed or a treaty had been signed with Japan, they were confident that they would be allowed to return to their homes in the Fraser Valley. Promised decent housing, a reasonable standard of living, relative freedom of movement, and placement on farms in close proximity to one another, entire Japanese communities in the Fraser Valley volunteered for beet work in Alberta and Manitoba. By 11 April 1942 they were on their way: 2,664 to Alberta, 1,053 to Manitoba.10
The B.C. Japanese were moved directly from their homes in groups of 75 to 125 people, an arrangement that had several advantages. Group movement meant that experienced and respected leaders in each community handled the negotiations, freeing the majority to concentrate on the practical problems of moving 3,600 people. By cooperative effort, many of those practical problems were eased: baggage was assembled, goods were stored in churches and community halls, Caucasian tenants were found for the already planted farms, and agreements were negotiated with the tenants to assure the continued viability of existing cooperative marketing schemes. Group movement also meant that unqualified families could be smuggled into the scheme. In order to have the required ratio of four workers to every dependent, young couples with small children formed family units with their parents and unmarried siblings, while the youngest children of widows travelled with other families to give the impression that no one had too many dependents. The object, as far as the Fraser Valley Japanese were concerned, was to maximize the number who could benefit, while minimizing the trauma of the move.11
The move, however, proved far more shocking than expected. To begin with, the process by which farmers selected the Japanese labourers was very arbitrary and led to serious mismatching. Two Nisei sisters recalled their selection experience on arrival in Alberta:
They stopped [the train] at the elevators and we were just herded out. The baggage was just all dumped on the grass there. It was a windy day and sunny. And the farmers came and they saw a likely family that they wanted and they took them home…. The farmers didn't want families that had small children [or only girls]…. They were just left at the station. The farmers took families that had more working people…. So we were there sitting on our baggage. We were all bawling because nobody wanted us – being four workers against ten of us…. This Hungarian farmer … he says, "All right, I'll take a chance on you, on you girls." And he took us.12
Once they had been selected by a farmer, the real shock set in. The Fraser Valley Japanese had pioneered in the 1920s. By 1940 their farms were established and they had, in the words of BCSC Commissioner Taylor, "been living under modern conditions."13 The conditions under which transient beet labour lived, however, were crude at best. As a consequence, the B.C. Japanese arrived to find that they were expected to live in old, uninsulated granaries and chicken coops, to wash in and drink alkaline water from the sloughs and irrigation ditches, and to perform stoop labour far more strenuous than that to which they had been accustomed. Sometimes they also had to work for growers who felt that the Japanese should suffer as the growers had when they were beet labourers in the 1930s, or for growers who regarded the B.C. Japanese as prisoners of war or slave labour, and treated them accordingly.14
The B.C. Japanese drowned their disappointment in hard work and complaints to the Security Commission representatives: William Andrews in Lethbridge and Charles E. Graham in Winnipeg. Fortunately, Austin Taylor had anticipated the housing problem. In April he had instructed Andrews and Graham
to see that these people are accommodated with habitable, clean houses such as our own class of worker would expect …. I may say, for your guidance, that the Japanese race cannot be compared, in any sense, with the average European worker that the Alberta beet growers have been accustomed to meeting. The Japanese are a very clean, dependable, industrious race and with kindly treatment can be guided most advantageously.15
Accordingly, Andrews and Graham were prepared to supply building materials with which the B.C. Japanese could improve the granaries and shacks assigned to them, or build new houses where the farmer was willing to bear the added cost.
Even improved housing remained woefully inadequate. Eleven people, including elderly grandparents and very small children, crammed into an uninsulated granary was not unusual. With one small stove at one end and sleeping platforms at the other, families ate, slept, washed, dressed, loved, fought and, in winter, shivered within inches of each other. The evacuation from British Columbia, a mother of ten asserted, "made you angry, very angry. But the anger killed the sorrow and the hurt, and the anger itself was destroyed by making a living. I became too busy to be angry."16
The B.C. Japanese also threw themselves into improving the standard beet contracts under which they had come to Alberta and Manitoba. They soon discovered that those contracts were inadequate to support families with dependent children, especially in Alberta where the local school boards were demanding fees of seventy dollars per year from Japanese high school students. In addition, the opportunities for off-season employment open to the Eastern European beet workers were not available to the Japanese. Employment in Lethbridge and Calgary was closed to them under the agreements by which they had been brought to Alberta, agreements that the anti-Asian City Councils of both cities were in no mood to change. As a consequence, only 15 per cent of the 2,664 B.C. Japanese in Alberta found winter employment, mostly in logging, domestic service, or caring for livestock on or near the farms assigned to them. By the spring of 1943, 90 per cent of the uprooted Japanese in Alberta were in dire economic straits, with 42 per cent on relief, and more borrowing on their next beet contract to avoid the shame of accepting relief.17 Similar destitution could be found in Manitoba. There the Security Commission attempted to control access to Winnipeg because it feared reprisals against the B .C. Japanese by the relatives of the Winnipeg Grenadiers captured at Hong Kong in December 1941. Accordingly, the first Japanese Canadians allowed into Winnipeg in the fall of 1942 were female domestics placed by the Young Women's Christian Association in the homes of influential Winnipegers. The Security Commission hoped that these influential Winnipegers would protect Japanese Canadians if trouble developed.18 As the winter progressed and family savings were consumed, more and more Nisei sought work in Winnipeg and other centres in order to feed their parents and siblings. Although changing employment or residence without permission was forbidden, once the Nisei had illegally established themselves in Winnipeg, the Security Commission recognized that it was unwise to punish them, especially since North Winnipeg was CCF territory. The Ô'infiltration" of Japanese into Winnipeg, nonetheless, was considered dynamite by the general supervisor of the Sugar Beet Projects, J. N. Lister. Fortunately, in Winnipeg, one of two centres in Canada where a substantial number of people had a genuine personal grievance against Imperial Japan, there were never any ugly incidents.19
The movement of entire Fraser Valley communities into Alberta and Manitoba had important implications for the subsequent organization of Japanese Canadians in those provinces. Although expressly forbidden to form any organizations, the B.C. Japanese did so clandestinely. Because they had been moved to Alberta and Manitoba in village units, much of the prewar social structure remained intact. The men who had led each Fraser Valley community before and during its uprooting were still trusted and available to speak for the people from their community. In addition, because the communities in the Fraser Valley were close to one another, the leaders already knew each other, easing organizational problems.
The B.C. Japanese also had among them experienced organizers. In Manitoba Shinji Sato, Ichiro Hirayama and Harold Hirose all had extensive experience in marketing cooperatives in the Fraser Valley or in the Japanese Fishermen's Association at Steveston. Appreciating the value of collective bargaining, they understood that demands from a Japanese association representing all Japanese in Manitoba were more likely to succeed than the efforts of individuals. In August they requested permission from the BCSC to organize such an association. While Charles Graham, the Security Commission's representative in Manitoba, thought the suggestion had merit, the authorities in Vancouver and Ottawa feared that local whites might be offended by Japanese meeting together.20 Denied the right of assembly, Sato, Hirayama and Hirose began meeting secretly with other Japanese leaders in Chinese hotels in Winnipeg to work out the details of an association and the issues it would tackle. By spring Japanese in most of the areas around Winnipeg had secretly elected district leaders from whom the executive of the Manitoba Japanese Joint Committee was elected.21 Presented with a fait accompli, the Department of Labour, which had taken over responsibility for Japanese Canadians in February 1943, could do little to oppose the Japanese committee. Aware that the illegal committee had raised Japanese morale and that the district leaders would lighten the administrative load by taking care of the small difficulties in their districts, the Department of Labour officially recognized the Manitoba committee in May 1943.The Manitoba Japanese Joint Committee then plunged into the task of securing freedom of movement and freedom of employment for its members. Arguing that the original beet contracts had covered only the 1942 crop year, they contended that Japanese Canadians were under no obligation to continue in the beet fields if they could find other employment. Since most of the B.C. Japanese stayed in beet work in 1943 and since the beet farmers did not object to those who left, the government chose to go quietly along with the Manitoba Japanese Joint Committee. By the fall of 1943 life for Japanese Manitobans began to seem relatively normal. Within the bounds of the government's restrictions, they had begun to rebuild their lives.
In Alberta much of the organizing fell to Seiku Sakumoto, the former English-language secretary of the Japanese Camp and Mill Workers Union. Arriving in Alberta on his own initiative in February 1942, Sakumoto immediately set about trying to improve the lot of the incoming coastal Japanese. He first tried to arrange for the B.C. Japanese to join a local vegetable cooperative in order to support themselves by growing vegetables as they had in the Fraser Valley. Frustrated in this attempt by local whites who objected to land being rented or sold to the B.C. Japanese, Sakumoto turned his energies to organizing the Japanese beet workers north of the Old Man River. In his efforts he was helped by Sadayoshi Aoki and Minoru Kudo, who had been highly respected Japanese-language school principals in Vancouver and Mission City before the uprooting.22
Sakumoto, Aoki and Kudo laid the groundwork for an organizational meeting for all Japanese beet workers in the Northern Irrigation District, a meeting held in an open field near Picture Butte. The meeting was both secret and illegal. Consequently, when the local RCMP constable and William Andrews, the BCSC representative in Lethbridge, arrived, the organizers were both surprised and apprehensive. Neither man, however, interfered with the meeting. Rather, both men quietly watched as Sakumoto was elected president of the Shogo Endo Kai or Beet Workers Association. Andrews, the B.C. Japanese discovered, was a reasonable man who recognized that elected spokesmen among the beet workers could ease many of the petty administrative problems.23 Along with a similar organization, the Shinwa Kai or Benefit Association, organized among the uprooted Japanese south of the Old Man River, the B.C. Japanese plunged into the task of trying to improve their lot.
In Alberta the major problems facing the uprooted Japanese were poor housing, inadequate beet contracts, school fees, and off-season work. The first two problems were solved simultaneously in the spring of 1943. The original allocation of families to growers had resulted in some serious mis-matching. By the spring of 1943 some 175 families had requested transfers to other farms. The Growers' Association, however, chose to interpret its contract with the BCSC to mean that the B.C. Japanese must remain on their original farms for the duration of the war. Recognizing that arguing with the growers was useless, the Japanese beet workers calmly negotiated their 1943 beet contracts and then refused en masse to sign them until the growers agreed to allow a proper redistribution of misplaced families.24 The Japanese, the growers painfully discovered, were not about to act like docile slave labour. By importing the B.C. Japanese, they had traded one union for another possibly tougher "union," tougher because without an alternative to beet work the Japanese had no choice but to maintain their solidarity.The attempt to rectify the schooling problem was less successful. It arose because the agreement between the federal government and Alberta covered only primary education. The B.C. Japanese, however, had interpreted the government's promise of a "normal family life" to include public education for their high school-aged children. To avoid the whole issue, the federal and Alberta governments left the question of fees for high school students to the local school boards, who began by charging the Japanese parents seventy dollars per year per student. Arguing that as productive labourers they were already contributing to the tax base of the area and therefore deserved the same privileges as any other labourer in the area, the B.C. Japanese entered into long negotiations with the school boards in each district. As the war progressed, they gained concessions, and most districts either halved or eliminated their fees. By 1946 only the Raymond School District still charged the full fee.25
The issue of off-season work was never satisfactorily settled during the war. The ban on working in Lethbridge, Edmonton and Calgary was the most damaging and produced a series of ugly encounters between Japanese trying to earn a living and anti-Asian city councillors. Every time Japanese Canadians, whether B.C. Japanese or Japanese Albertans, tried to work or study even temporarily in one of those centres, the city councillors, mouthing nativist rhetoric, vehemently protested. Systematically, city councils resisted and often rejected applications by Japanese Canadians, usually Nisei, and by their prospective employers for permits to work in the canning factory or the hospital at Lethbridge, to study at the Normal School in Calgary, or to work as domestics in all the major centres.26 While in the last case the women usually ignored City Council and worked illegally, the Council's overt and publicized discrimination only served in the long run to win allies for Japanese Canadians in Alberta.
While many of those who helped the B.C. Japanese in Alberta were Caucasians, their most important allies were the "old timers", the 534 Japanese Albertans residing near Lethbridge and in Calgary and Edmonton in 1942. Japanese Albertans opened their homes, churches and associations to the uprooted B.C. Japanese. They helped them to find employment or better beet farms, to join the food cooperative at Raymond and to set up another in Coaldale, to establish Buddhist churches in Picture Butte and Coaldale, and to form new, or join existing, mutual assistance associations.27
For their efforts Japanese Albertans paid a price. By mediating between the B.C. Japanese and the general public, they were often identified by the public with the uprooted Japanese. This tendency to make no distinction between Alberta and B.C. Japanese was exacerbated by the policies of the federal government. Not content with libelling only the B.C. Japanese as traitors, the federal government extended the restrictions on the coastal Japanese to all Japanese in Canada on 8 September 1942.28 Like their B.C. counterparts, Japanese Albertans could not travel more than twelve miles without a permit, could not sell their homes or move without permission, could not buy real estate or enter British Columbia, and had their mail and telephone calls censored. The pettiness with which these regulations were enforced is best illustrated by the case of a long-time Japanese resident of Raymond, with two sons on active service with the Canadian army, who waited from 1944 to 1946 for permission to buy a field adjoining his farm.29
In Manitoba the problems were less severe. The placing of Nisei domestics in the homes of Winnipeg's civic leaders had guaranteed the latter's support, or at least their neutrality. In addition, Winnipeg was a far more cosmopolitan city than any of the Alberta centres. Japanese Canadians in Winnipeg also had the assistance of the YWCA, the YMCA and influential individuals in that city's large Jewish community. In a pattern that would become common elsewhere, the first to employ Japanese Canadians and the first to rent to them in Winnipeg were Jews. To the Jews who helped Japanese Canadians, what was happening to the Japanese in Canada and to the Jews in Europe were two sides of the same coin.30 Being Japanese Canadian in Winnipeg during the Second World War was not easy, but at least there they had friends.
In fact, Japanese Canadians had a few friends everywhere, although sometimes very few. While the hierarchies of the churches and the government had apparently turned their backs on them, there existed individuals and small groups who knew the Japanese were innocent and were sympathetic to their problems. Within the British Columbia Security Commission, RCMP Assistant Commissioner Mead worked constantly to ensure fair and lenient enforcement of the restrictions imposed on Japanese Canadians. It was in part because of his efforts that Japanese Canadians were able to bend, and on occasion to break, those restrictions. Even as the BCSC was being dissolved in early 1943, Mead tried to ensure continued fairness by informing Ottawa of the men who, in his opinion, should not be placed in authority over Japanese Canadians because of their anti-Japanese attitudes.31
In general the RCMP tried to be as lenient as possible, enforcing the letter of the law where the spirit was repugnant. For instance, when enforcing the Department of Fisheries ban on fishing by Japanese Canadians – a ban that included even sport fishing – the law required that the officer confiscate the offender's tackle. Often, however, the officer would take only token tackle: a stick, some line and a hook. The fact that the local RCMP constable was merely an agent of the Department of Justice and was required to carry out government policies was often lost on the inmates, to whom he was the symbol of the government. Often the inmates would attribute actions like the denial of travel permits to the local constable or the RCMP in general, unaware that it was the Departments of Justice and Labour in Ottawa that set policy and that the local constable could not change it.32
In the camps and the major centres, it was individual Jews and Christian ministers, and groups like the YMCA, YWCA and the Women's Missionary Societies, who tried to help. The Jews were often the first employers and landlords of the Japanese at a time when employing or renting to "Japs'' meant social condemnation by local patriots. As one Nisei who had relocated to Montreal explained to his wife in Kaslo: "The Jews are kicked around a lot in Eastern Canada and realize our situation more than you can imagine. Most of the Japanese here work for a Jewish firm, for they are the only ones fair-minded to employ us."33 The YWCA first coordinated the placement of Japanese domestics, then initiated social programs for the displaced Nisei. In addition, in Toronto the YMCA ran a hostel for Nisei males. The Women's Missionary Society of the United Church helped right from the beginning. In March 1942 the WMS pledged to "stand behind any action taken in the field for the welfare of the Japanese in Canada." The WMS then placed workers in the detention camps and the major centres, and funded a high school and two kindergartens in the Slocan Valley.34 Often the WMS workers were missionaries repatriated from Japan after 1940, whose language skills were useful in dealing with the Issei. The high school they operated enabled some of the Nisei to finish their education. Working at the interface between the exiled Japanese and the communities in which they were trying to settle, the few friends who helped Japanese Canadians in 1942 were unknowingly the vanguard of a growing movement that in time would help to restore the civil liberties of Japanese Canadians. In 1942, however, those who helped Japanese Canadians were not always appreciated by the government, other Caucasians, or indeed by those Japanese Canadians who blamed all whites for their problems. To some camp administrators, the WMS workers in the detention camps were a nuisance they would rather do without, especially after they joined the inmates in protesting the absence of schools, decent housing and recreational facilities.35 Sometimes the friends of Japanese Canadians helped them at risk to themselves. When Rev. James Finlay of Toronto's Carlton Street United Church took Muriel Kitagawa, her husband and their four children into the manse, kept them there for the nine months it took Ed Kitagawa to find a decent job, and then opened a social centre at the church for the Nisei in Toronto, some of his wealthier parishioners objected, claiming Finlay was lowering the social standing of the parish. Finlay wisely left the issue to a vote of the entire congregation, who overwhelmingly rejected the idea that either Finlay or the Nisei should go.36
Ironically, one of the most important allies of the uprooted Japanese was the federal government. In order to avoid trouble from unions and criticism from other workers, the Department of Labour insisted that, except when employed by the Department of Labour itself, Japanese Canadians must be paid the going wage. While the government itself paid only twenty-five to forty cents per hour when the going wage in the B.C. Interior was better than sixty cents per hour,37 it enforced equal pay for equal work elsewhere. In the summer of 1942, for instance, the government organized "swing crews" of uprooted Japanese to pick fruit in the Okanagan Valley. When one of the first crews arrived at its first location, however, the Japanese workers discovered that the fruit farmers had arbitrarily slashed their wages to half of those of their white pickers. While a few of the crew were willing to work as scabs, the crew leader, John Kumagai, persuaded most of them to walk the twelve miles back to their base camp with him. Kumagai had correctly assumed that Okanagan whites would be more alarmed if there were "Japs running loose in the Valley" than they would be if non-whites were paid the same wage as whites.38 As he expected, in the ensuing uproar, the government insisted that the Japanese workers be paid the full rate. While some employers continued to try to exploit them, Japanese Canadians finally had a strong, if inconsistent, ally against the traditional double standard in wages.
In the Ontario internment camps, it was the Red Cross that helped, in accordance with the Geneva Convention. By supplying cigarettes, reading material and recreational equipment, the Red Cross eased some of the boredom of like in those camps. Intended for prisoners of war, the internment camps at Petawawa and later Angler, Ontario, were governed by rigid regulations and schedules: reveille at 6:30 A.M., muster parade, breakfast, parade for morning work parties, sick parade, inspection of the compound, lunch, parade for afternoon work parties, muster parade, supper, lock-up and roll call, and lights out at 11:00 P.M. Dusk until lock-up at 11:00 P.M. constituted the men's free time. Their work duties included both maintaining the camp and voluntary outside work assigned by the elected camp leader, Tokikazu Tanaka. For outside work they were paid the same rates as the German prisoners-of-war, who were held separately in the same camp.39 In the closed world of the internment camp, hut-mates became surrogate family. Meals, work, recreation, lessons in German, Japanese, English, kendo, judo, woodworking, tailoring and so on were shared with hut-mates. The closeness eased the loneliness of separation from families, but it also meant that there was a great deal of social pressure to conform to the opinions of the majority or, at least, of the most vocal. If an inmate happened to be assigned to a hut where the men were bitter over their treatment, or for any number of reasons supported the Axis rather than the Allied cause, he might soon find himself under considerable pressure to resist leaving the internment camp to take employment in Ontario. As one young internee recalled: "Among the internees there were some very, very strong people there. So once you open your mouth, ÔI like to go out,' they say you are anti-Japanese."40 To pro-Japan patriots there was honour in imprisonment in an internment camp. On occasion, however, the strongest pressure on an interned man to remain interned came not from his hut mates, but from members of his immediate family. Isolated in the unreal world of the detention camps in B.C. and convinced that Japan would eventually be victorious, family members urged the interned men to remain imprisoned for the honour of the family.41 Nonetheless, within a year 244 of the 470 Nisei detained for disobeying the orders of the BCSC had left the internment camps for employment in Port Arthur and Fort William (now the City of Thunder Bay) and southern Ontario, along with 71 of the 225 Issei interned in 1942.42
Only one incident marred the uneventful detention of the interned Japanese Canadians. On the night of 1 July 1942 the Nisei inmates of hut 10 at the Petawawa camp left their barracks in the early hours of the morning to discipline an inmate they felt was toadying up to the camp commandant. As one participant explained:
Dr. Hori… tried to cooperate with the government and the camp commandant…. He was trying to talk to the young guys, Ô'You should go out… because of the manpower shortage during the war." He was trying to work against us. So some of the Mass Evacuation Group went into [his hut]. I don't think that we meant to harm him in any way, but just to … persuade him not to work against us. This was after the curfew in the camp. I suppose the guards thought we were trying to escape or something…. We could hear the shots coming…. It was a wonder nobody got killed.43
Without warning, the sentries fired three volleys at the internees as they moved between huts 10 and 11, aiming above their heads. The bullets penetrated the thin wall of hut 10, grazing the blankets of one bed and the pillow of another. Fortunately, both of the men who should have been in those bunks were among the men outside the hut. Shocked and furious, the inmates complained about the excessive zeal of the sentries to the camp commandant and the Spanish consul and reinforced their complaint by refusing to participate in roll call for three days.44
No explanation was ever officially given for the incident, although an inquiry was held three months later. It seems most likely that the incident resulted from the abnormal status of the Japanese internees. Ignorant of the fact that the Japanese in the camp were Canadian civilians, not Axis troops, the guards reacted as they had been trained to do. Perhaps because of this incident, the Japanese were transferred soon after to Internment Camp 101 at Angler, Ontario, where their status as Canadians "detained at the pleasure of the Minister of Justice" was made clear to their guards.45
The Petawawa incident, the resolution of the Nisei Mass Evacuation Group protest in Vancouver on the same day and the boredom and black flies of northern Ontario all combined to compel some inmates to leave the internment camps. They were not permitted to return to their families in B.C., however, but were required to seek employment in Ontario or Quebec. Once they had found suitable housing, they were told, their families could join them in eastern Canada.
In seeking employment in eastern Canada, the released internees joined 467 single Nisei who had been recruited for the road camp at Schreiber, Ontario, in the spring of 1942. Most of the men at Schreiber were supporters of the Japanese Canadian Citizens' Council and had volunteered for Schreiber as an act of loyalty. The Schreiber Nisei went to Ontario looking for opportunity and found it. The labour-hungry forest and mining industries of northern Ontario quickly attracted the physically fit, seasoned labourers among them, while the city-bred men just as quickly abandoned the black flies of northern Ontario for farm labour and factory jobs in southern Ontario.The movement of Nisei into Ontario gave birth to a new social entity: a Nisei nucleus separated philosophically and geographically from the bulk of Japanese Canadians. Largely Christian in religious training, the Ontario Nisei were soon befriended by liberal Caucasians from organizations like the YWCA and the major churches. Within a year these Nisei would develop Nisei organizations headed by former members of the Japanese Canadian Citizens' League as well as a new network of social ties with concerned Caucasians in Ontario.
In the Interior of British Columbia, Japanese Canadians helped themselves. There is an expression in Japanese that is normally used to describe the attitude of Japanese Canadians during their uprooting: "shikataga-nai.'' Shikataga-nai is usually translated as "It cannot be helped'' or "I must resign myself to my fate." Given this philosophy, past chroniclers of the wartime history of Canada's Japanese minority have assumed that the detention camps were filled with apathetic people resigned to their fate. In fact, while the resignation and apathy suggested by shikataga-nai existed from time to time, it was neither as permanent nor as pervasive as has been assumed. Shikataga-nai was a short-term reaction to an immediate situation over which the individual had no control. It helped the individual to cope with immediate tensions, but it, by no means, extinguished the resolve to do whatever could be done to improve the situation. In 1942 Japanese Canadians were resigned to the extent that they recognized that they were powerless to stop the uprooting. As the Nisei resistance demonstrated, however, they were not resigned to being moved without some input on their part or to remaining acquiescently in camps over which they had no control.
In the summer and fall of 1942 the principal concern of almost all Japanese in B.C. was shelter. The existing buildings in the ghost towns were too few to house everyone and required considerable repair. For example, in June 1942 Chiyo Umezaki, wife of the Japanese-language editor of the New Canadian, was sharing the dance hall portion of an old saloon with two other families. With thirteen children and four adults in one room, there was no privacy.46 "Everybody who saw the place …," she wrote her husband, "name[s] it No. 2 Hastings Park and it is worse than Hastings Park as we have to cook our own meals in [the] same room we sleep in and we can see the people in the toilet while we cook and eat as said toilet is right at the back of our so-called kitchen."47 Yet Chiyo Umezaki was not immediately eligible for anything better. She had a roof over her head. Others were not so lucky. Hundreds of families spent the summer and early fall of 1942 in tents on the Popoff farm in the Slocan Valley, waiting for shacks to be constructed for them.
The shacks being thrown up through the summer of 1942 were rudimentary. Built from green wood, there were two types: small shacks, sixteen feet by sixteen feet, divided into a common room and two bedrooms; and large shacks, sixteen feet by twenty-four feet, divided into four bedrooms and a common room. The small shacks were to house a minimum of four people; the large ones, a minimum of eight. Where families had less than the quota of four or eight members, they were expected to share with strangers. The construction was simple and uninsulated: stud walls with one layer of green wood and a single sheet of tar paper for protection from the elements. Additional wood was supplied to the occupants to build beds, tables and benches. Since it was green wood, the furniture quickly warped, and moisture from the bed slats seeped into the mattresses. Apart from that green wood and a small stove, the inmates were to supply everything else themselves.48 After housing, the principal problems were food and income. While construction proceeded, the men could earn between twenty-five and forty cents an hour from which to support their families. For the women there was even less opportunity. Aside from the educated Nisei women who worked for the Security Commission as typists, store clerks or welfare workers, the only employment was sewing on a piecework basis or stoop labour on nearby farms.49 The Doukhobors helped by selling produce and other goods to the Japanese at lower prices than those charged by the town merchants. Nonetheless, the cost of living in the detention camps was higher than it had been on the Coast, partly because the traditional methods of economizing were unavailable. In the Interior it was no longer possible to depend on the family vegetable garden, cheap fish unwanted by the canneries, shrimp and crab caught in English Bay, or fruit picked at the farms of friends in the Fraser Valley and preserved for winter. All food stuffs had to be bought out of salaries of twenty-five cents an hour or with food allowances supplied by the government to the unemployed, allowances that were grossly inadequate. Welfare workers in the camps estimated that food allowances needed to be increased by 55 per cent to meet basic dietary needs.50 As unemployment climbed with the end of the harvest and the completion of the camps, the inadequate relief rates forced the unemployed to dig into their savings to purchase basic necessities.51 In the summer and fall of 1942, as Chiyo Umezaki informed her husband, Japanese Canadians were "too busy thinking about where to live and how to eat and clothe themselves with so little money'' to worry about other things like schools, recreation and community associations.52
As winter closed in – harsher than any Japanese Canadians had known on the Coast – the difficulties of camp life intensified. First there was the cold that penetrated the uninsulated cabins, freezing everything. Each morning ice was scraped from the walls, and the blankets and mattresses were hung near the stove to dry so that the inmates could sleep the next night. June Hirai Tanaka, a Nisei mother of four, still vividly recalls that first winter:
In Slocan we had this house, but there was no windows in the winter [because of the ice], and for fuel we had these ice-covered logs we had to melt first. It wouldn't burn. It just smoked. And the two older children got whooping cough by sleeping on those straw mattresses. They just got soaking wet because [the floors of the cabins were] just one board above the ground…. My job all day was to get enough heat to dry these mattresses for the night. That was an all-day job…. It was just dreadful…. In order to survive, just to be able to sleep, just those basic things, you worked all day at it. Even water we didn't have at first so we had to go someplace for it a mile away to get fresh water. By the time we got it home over the bumpy roads – we used our children's snow sleds – they were only half full. We had to do that kind of thing.53
Wood-burning stoves like June Tanaka's were the only source of heat in the uninsulated cabins. During the day eight or more people would crowd into the central common room to seek warmth, to cook, to eat, to carry out their household tasks. In cabins shared by two families, the normal confusion would be doubled as different families with different attitudes, rules, likes, dislikes and preferences tried to share the same space and facilities. The confusion was also multiplied by the fact that the children, denied access to the public schools by the province, had nowhere else to play when the weather was bad. Even the Women' s Missionary Society workers in the Interior camps were not spared the daily drudgery facing Japanese Canadian women. As they explained in their annual report:
The green clapboard with which the cabin was sealed, slightly warmed by our best efforts to create heat out of sizzling green wood, exuded a sticky moisture. This in turn whitened into a powdery frost which clung, chill and cheerless, on the walls and windows.
Until the rigours of that unusual winter were safely past my chief daily duty was homemaking, fire and food requiring most of my time.54
The arrival of winter marked the awakening of the community spirit of the inmates. The housing coordinator at Kaslo, Katsuko Hideka Halfhide remembered:
One of the reasons the Japanese people were able to adapt… was that they always had this tradition of working in groups…. They did this in Japan. Every little village had its council…. This was the whole background they could draw from: a great stability and a great sense of social values…. Mind you, they had their cliques. They had their divisions. Sometimes you could tear your hair out…. But underlying it all was the old tradition [of working together, tonarigumi].55
In each camp the inmates looked for leadership to the men who had been responsible for building that camp. At Tashme, located fourteen miles west of Hope, B.C., the leadership came from the remnants of Etsuji Morii's "national group", as the RCMP called them. Following the decline of Morii's influence in March 1942 and his departure for the self-supporting community at Minto City, the leadership of this group fell to Shieotaka Sasaki and Frank S. Shiraichi. Along with Rev. Yoshio Ono, an Anglican minister, they co-ordinated the work force for Tashme. At Kaslo and New Denver the Japanese Canadian Citizens' Council had assumed responsibility for coordinating the work force. The JCCC, like the national group, underwent a change in leadership while building was underway. In May 1942 a police informer charged that JCCC spokesman Kunio Shimizu was the real leader of the illegal Nisei Mass Evacuation Group. While that accusation caused some mirth within the Japanese community, where Shimizu was known to strongly oppose the NMEG protest, the authorities promptly shipped Shimizu and several others off to the Schreiber camp in Ontario or to the Interior settlements.56 By July Eiji Yatabe had assumed the task of coordinating the JCCC work force. Also by July the Security Commission had recognized the Nisei Mass Evacuation Group. Led by Shigeichi Uchibori, the Mass Evacuation Group coordinated the work force in the Slocan City-Lemon Creek-Popoff camps.57 The government had recognized the three groups because it assumed that they could be used without granting them any real powers.58 In fact, by assigning different camps to different groups, the government had unwittingly helped to set up Japanese organizations in the camps, as each faction ensured that their supporters, friends and neighbours ended up in the camps they were building.
The method of removal also helped to preserve the local social ties among Japanese Canadians. Removal had been on a geographic basis: first Prince Rupert and the coastal outports, then Vancouver Island, then the Fraser Valley, and finally Vancouver itself. Passing through Hastings Park at the same time, Japanese Canadians from the same areas were often sent to the same camps. Where groups were shipped directly to the camps, it was even easier to preserve social ties. In the case of Steveston, Ken Hibi, JCCL social worker, recalled that different organizations went to different camps. "A person never picked his ghost town," Hibi noted, "they were shipped by group." The United church people went to Kaslo, the Buddhists to Sandon, and the self-supporting to Minto.59 In the camps, they stayed together. Katsuko Hideka Halfhide, recalled that "these sort of groupings, which are quite natural … arrived as a group and so whatever accommodation was ready at the time, they would tend to go together to that particular [converted] hotel…. It helped because they were soon organizing themselves."60 The existence of old community ties meant that Japanese Canadians from each area readily recognized their former community leaders as camp leaders. Consequently, most camp committees consisted of those leaders who had coordinated the construction of the camps, along with the prewar local leaders who had not gone to the self-supporting settlements.61
The continuity of leadership was comforting. It created a semblance of normalcy and implied that the social and economic relations within the minority group would be preserved until the expected return to the Coast. Continuity of leadership also meant that the duties the camp committees eventually assumed were carried out by experienced men. In time those duties included explaining government policy, mediating disputes between inmates or between the administration and the inmates, organizing camp social activities, including Victory Bond drives, and, in one case, assigning work duties in the camp. The leadership of experienced men also minimized tensions between the camp committee and the inmates. With long histories of service in their local communities or with their credentials established during the construction phase, camp leaders did not become symbols of the hated restrictions imposed on the inmates. It was difficult to accuse a man who had been leading his community for a decade of collaborating with the government.62
Although Japanese associations in general were forbidden in 1942, there were some events for which the Security Commission could not refuse permission to organize. In October 1942 the camps in the Slocan Valley organized around a Victory Bond drive. As the Arrow Lakes News at Nakusp, B.C., noted: "Many Japanese are Canadian-born and proud of it and they realize that their response in the campaign will be watched with close interest…. Many of them, making the most of the situation in which they are at present, welcome the opportunity to show what they can do."63 The Victory Bond drive established both an organizational structure and good relations between the Japanese and the local white population. Soon relations became quite friendly. Churches were made available for Japanese services, missionary-run schools were set up in church basements and town halls and fund-raising bazaars were organized and attended by Japanese and whites alike. The local merchants were especially pleased with the advent of the Japanese. Businesses that had been marginal were suddenly profitable because of a steady stream of Japanese customers. Good business relations soon became good social relations.64 In the absence of local opposition to Japanese organizations, and recognizing their utility, the Security Commission allowed the formation of legal Japanese committees in the camps. In time those committees would petition the Security Commission for increases in the relief allowance, for materials to winterize the cabins, for water systems and electricity, for the release of the interned men, for the dismissal of unsympathetic Caucasian workers, for improved recreation facilities and, perhaps most importantly, for schools for their children.65
The improvements negotiated by the Japanese committees did not come easily. While most camp superintendents – notably Walter Hartley at Slocan City and later Tashme, and Henry P. Lougheed at Kaslo and later New Denver66 – made considerable effort to improve the camps, others were not so enthusiastic. E.L. "Len" Boultbee, general manager of Interior housing in 1942 and 1943, opposed improvements to the camps on the grounds that improvements made it more difficult to get Japanese Canadians to move out of B.C. as the government wished. "Every move we make to improve these facilities," Boultbee complained in 1943 to George Collins, the commissioner of Japanese placement, "makes it just that much tougher on the Supervisor in getting these families moved elsewhere…. I feel that we should not provide further facilities but make them get along with what they have."67
Some camp superintendents agreed with Boultbee. In 1942 Lougheed's successor at Kaslo, a retired military man, thought the camps should be run along military lines, complete with as much segregation of the sexes as possible. Accordingly, he refused to allow the men rejoining their families from the road camps to live with them, accommodating them instead in a separate bunkhouse. Angered, a few Nisei took matters into their own hands. Warning the other Caucasian camp workers that "anything that happens tonight has nothing to do with you,'' they broke the windows of the superintendent's house to show their displeasure. Within a few days the order preventing the men from residing with their families was rescinded.68
Similarly, at Lemon Creek, J.S. Burns became a very unpopular supervisor. Considered narrow-minded and uncooperative by the Japanese, Burns, like Len Boultbee and George Collins, opposed improving the camps and made changes difficult to secure. In the summer of 1943, for instance, the Japanese committee at Lemon Creek wanted to alter one of the school buildings so that it would conform to the demands of the fire marshal for a recreation hall. The Japanese committee approached Burns and Boultbee, offering to supply the labour if they would supply the $150 worth of materials necessary. They refused. The committee then offered to reimburse the Security Commission for the materials from the proceeds collected from ticket sales for the films they proposed to show in the renovated building. Since it would cost the government nothing in the long run, the renovation was finally approved. Burns's attitude is best shown by the fact that while he was refusing to spend $150 to create a badly needed recreation hall, he spent over $300 on materials for a fence between the camp and the road. The purpose of the fence, he claimed, was to prevent the Doukhobors from peddling their produce in the camp. Doukhobors, he claimed, were thieves and arsonists, who would burn down the camp.69
On only one issue did the Japanese committees in the camps have outside help: the issue of schools for their children. In September 1942 the provincial government of British Columbia refused to be responsible for the education of the uprooted children. Since education was a provincial responsibility, the federal government also refused to act on the matter. A stalemate developed. To the Japanese Canadians, who attached great value to education, the situation was alarming. Temporary schooling had been set up right at the beginning, but everyone recognized that it was inadequate. Camp worker Katsuko Hideka Halfhide described the initial set-up at Kaslo:
When we first got to Kaslo [in May 1942] these children were just playing around. So what Kay Oda did was to collect them all and take them down to the park by the lake where there were a few tables. She sort of rustled together the rudiments…. The older girls were appointed to take charge…. You had to beg and borrow and steal. It was really a wonderful test of their resourcefulness…. and it was really very interesting how girls who were still in high school could do it.70
While high school girls guided by Women's Missionary Society workers supplied stopgap measures, Japanese Canadians appealed for help to the churches and the CCF, and made direct demands to the government. The provincial CCF as a whole remained silent on the Japanese question. Grace Woodsworth MacInnis, wife of Angus MacInnis, the CCF Member of Parliament for Vancouver East, however, undertook a speaking tour through the Interior to drum up local support for schools in the camps.71 The Roman Catholic, Anglican and United churches all responded to the situation by setting up stopgap schools while pressuring the Security Commission to provide proper schools.72 The teachers from the Vancouver school system who had voluntarily worked at the temporary school at Hastings Park in the summer of 1942 also deplored the denial of education to Japanese Canadian children.73
From the government's perspective, the establishment of schools would be counterproductive. By the fall of 1942 the federal government had no intention of allowing Japanese Canadians to return to their homes on the Pacific Coast. It was not yet prepared, however, to tell that to the Japanese. Rather, the government was leaning toward the dispersal of Japanese Canadians across Canada, at least for the duration of the war. With workers and their families dispersed and employed, the government would be spared the expense of keeping them in camps. Schools in the camps would inhibit dispersal because, as Len Boultbee, the general supervisor of the camps, told his superiors, Ô'Had we not set up the school facilities we now have I am quite certain many of these families would have gone elsewhere where school facilities are available "74
Recognizing that denying schooling to children would only alienate the churches, the federal government reluctantly agreed in the spring of 1943 to fund primary schools in the camps. High school students would have to make do with correspondence courses and the tutoring of Women's Missionary Society teachers.
The schools that evolved were rudimentary. They were staffed by under-trained teachers drawn from among the inmates. Housed in the same type of shack as the inmates – or in the case of the Tashme camp, in the barns that had formerly housed the single men – the schools used discarded textbooks donated by the Vancouver School Board. Since only two Japanese Canadians had ever been allowed to obtain provincial teaching certificates, the staff of the Vancouver Normal School developed and gave short training programs in the summer of 1943 and 1944 to the high school-educated Nisei who staffed the schools. Supervised by Hide Hyodo and Terry Hidaka, the two certified Japanese Canadian teachers in B.C., the classes were kept small both because of the inexperience of the teachers and because the shacks housing the schools would not hold more than twenty pupils.75 The 140 Nisei who became teachers represented something of a setback to the government's plans. As single persons, they would normally have been denied employment in the camp unless they were the sole support of their family. Thus denied, they would have been prime candidates for resettlement east of the Rocky Mountains.
The schooling victory announced early in 1943 added to the post-crisis euphoria in the camps in the spring of that year. As the days lengthened through February and March, activity in the camps increased. The melting snow raised the spirits of the inmates as they turned their attentions from the never-ending task of keeping warm to planning gardens and getting ready for spring bazaars and the traditional spring festivals: Boys' Day and Girls' Day. The worst, they were sure, was over. They might need to spend another year in the camps, but this time they were determined that they would be ready for winter. The mountains, they consoled themselves, were a crude but not a totally unpleasant place to pass a temporary exile. Within a year, most believed, they would return to their homes on the Coast. Isolated in the mountains, euphoric over having met and overcome the crisis of their uprooting, few were aware of events outside the camps. None realized that shortly there would be nothing to return to on the Coast.76
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