A Trip Into the Past
A VISIT TO THE FORMER INTERNMENT SITES IN THE INTERIOR OF BC
July 28 To August 1, 2008
This year is the 20th anniversary of the Japanese Canadian Redress Settlement of September 22, 1988. It‘s been 62 years since my family and I left the New Denver Internment Camp and moved to Edmonton Alberta. Our move had been part of the federal government’s resettlement program, removing all people of the Japanese race from BC. Dick Nakamura, Roy Katsuyama and I planned to celebrate this 20th anniversary by taking a car trip and visiting the former internment sites.
There had been eight internment sites in the Slocan Valley in 1942—New Denver, Rosebery, Nelson Ranch, Harris Ranch, Slocan City, Bay Farm, and Lemon Creek. East of New Denver along Highway 31A was Sandon; on Kootenay Lake was Kaslo, the administration center of the BC Security Commission. There were also two self-supporting internment sites in the Kootenays: Greenwood and Grand Forks.
July 28, 2008
After boarding the ferry at Swartz Bay at 6:00AM, Roy Katsuyama and I crossed over to Tsawwassen and drove to Hope. Unfortunately, Dick Nakamura was unable to join us for the trip. We took Route #3, the Crowsnest Highway, to Osoyoos, where we stopped at a lakeshore gazebo for an obento lunch before driving to Greenwood where we took pictures of the town. In Grand Forks, we interviewed Saburo Nakade (Roy’s Uncle George) and his wife, Kikumi. They had been living there since internment in 1942. Saburo was a spry 85 years, with a full head of hair and wonderful memory. He was the only one of his family of nine siblings, parents, grandmother and other relatives to remain in Grand Forks after the internment. He was presently upset by the bureaucratic obstacles in trying to subdivide land he had at Christina Lake and was busy trying to surmount them. He obviously was not going to let age slow him down. We arrived at Ainsworth Hot Springs at 6:30pm. There we enjoyed an hour long soak in the hot springs with its unique, cave/tunnel steam bath setting. Our travel-weary bodies were refreshed and we enjoyed a leisurely late supper in their restaurant.
July 29, 2008
After breakfast, we enjoyed another half hour morning soak in the hot springs. The drive to Kaslo was only 22kms. We arrived early for our meeting with Ian Fraser, curator at Langham Cultural Centre museum. A large new building was noted along the beach. After finding our way into the compound of this spa/condominium we met one of the owners, who was busy with electrical wiring. Rene Renaud introduced himself as one of the investors. He had spent five years in Japan and claimed to be an aikido master. One of his disciples was setting up shop in Victoria. Most of the condominiums were being sold to Albertans and Americans.
Ian Fraser and Alice Windsor, the administrator, met us at the Nikkei Museum in the Langham Cultural Centre and gave us a tour. Along the walls of stairwells and corridors were historic photographs of The New Canadian staff, their offices and copies of stories and front pages dating from 1942-1946. All the staff seemed enthusiastic and determined to publish the only Nikkei newspaper allowed. They were pictured not only working but also having fun. The Langham Hotel had been used as housing for internee families and single men. Now it was a museum, art gallery and a theatre. The play Naomi’s Road was performed here. Walking down the main street, Ian pointed out the 1898 building which had housed 200 internees but now was being renovated into a hotel; the Kootenian Building, where The New Canadian newspaper had been published during those years; and a building which had been a warehouse and became the first internment school. At lunch at the Silver Spoon we met Aya Higashi, age 85. She had been a teacher in Slocan City, New Denver, and then Kaslo, where she had been a teacher at the Kaslo High School for many years. Aya had been an extraordinary and effective community volunteer, and had received a special BC citizens’ award, the first person outside the Vancouver area to be awarded such an honour.
Going west on Highway 31A we came to the junction where we turned south onto a small road leading to Sandon. As we approached, we thought that it was deserted, but not so. There was a home-made sign on the side of the road which said “89 brothels & 28 saloons” (that was many years ago). At the museum, Judith Maltz, a lively lady, showed us photographs of the internment. 1000 Nikkei internees lived in the camp guarded by one Mountie—an Irish Canadian (in a newsletter, he noted that if there had been 1000 Irish, 2000 Mounties would have been required). Along the opposite bank of Carpenter Creek there were piles of shiplap lumber (could they have been from some of the internees houses?). On the main gravel street there were still some abandoned, derelict houses. Sandon must have been a dreary site in the winter time since the high surrounding mountains blocked a lot of the sunlight during the day.
Arriving at “Sweet Dreams” B&B in New Denver, Jeff, the owner, gave us each a clean, modern room with ensuite bathrooms. The house had been the administration building during the internment. Looking out from my bedroom window there was a lawn and fruit trees—this had once been the site of the baseball field. The chicken-wire backstop would have been just below my window. A flood of memories of exciting plays and cheering crowds filled my thoughts as I stood outside looking over the area. Across the street, towards the lakeshore, was the old cenotaph. Many of the Nikkei internees had their pictures taken at this site. That evening Jeff cooked us a delicious halibut dinner with peach pie and ice cream for dessert.
July 30, 2008
After a breakfast of cheese, potatoes and mushroom omelette, fruits, juice, cereal and coffee, we drove over to the Nikkei Internment Memorial Centre where we met with Sakaye Hashimoto (manager) and Nobby Hayashi, the former manager. Nobby was a friend from the internment days. The Memorial Centre has two original shiplap/cedar shake houses and three buildings. One of the buildings, which was the original community hall, is now a museum with historic photographs and artifacts from the internment years.
The centrepiece is a beautiful Japanese garden with a small bridge over a dry bed. We toured the site on a boardwalk which connects the houses and the buildings. The houses are furnished as they would have been during the internment—a virtual reality show—with two outhouses!! There were several tourists viewing the Memorial Centre, some from eastern US. The Chamber of Commerce in New Denver told us that the Centre is the most popular attraction in this area.
Nelson Ranch is on a hill about a mile east of the town. At this site the old single men’s bunkhouse with its original cedar shake wall is still standing but is now used as a barn.
Sakaye took us across town to meet Mrs. Kuri Takenaka, 96 years old and still living alone. She remembered my mother in the Camp—noting that she was a very beautiful lady. Visiting her was her niece, Emi Mori who lived across the street. Both women still reside in the original renovated shiplap internment houses. These had been relocated from the Orchard to the town site of New Denver. Emi was a school teacher in Lemon Creek and when that camp closed, she moved to New Denver and stayed.
In the afternoon we drove south along the spectacular road to Slocan City. At times we were over 1000 ft. above the lake. In Slocan City there are still some old false-fronted buildings along the main street. They looked like the abandoned buildings used as housing for the internees. Driving south, there were some open fields which were on the west side of the highway. Could they have been Bay Farm and Popoff? We later learned that the new highway had been moved further east from the old road which had been closer to Slocan River. Further along, we encountered the sign for the Lemon Creek Lodge. Turning onto a gravel road and traveling some distance, we came to the Lemon Creek Lodge & Campgrounds. Judy and Barry Derco have operated this lodge since 1996. Barry told us that during the 90s they gave a course on the Nikkei Internment every year for the Elderhostel programme. He showed us a large photographic layout of the Lemon Creek camp which showed the location of houses with the names of the families, bathhouses and high school. The area of the present campgrounds impinges on the site of the original internment camp. An old Japanese garden was the only remnant to survive. Barry informed us that the new highway had been placed further east of the old road. This made it difficult to identify the sites of the internment camps.
That evening we visited Tsuneko (Koko) Kokubo and Paul Gibbons, who live on the side of a mountain about 20 kilometres south of New Denver. They have built a large modern home using found lumber and material left by a timber company on their site and have their own hydro system for electricity and a water system. Koko, a talented artist, led us up a hill to a separate cabin which was her studio with its tatami floor. We enjoyed a wonderful Japanese supper made by Koko. She told us that after the internment her family had returned to the west coast and Steveston.
July 31, 2008
After breakfast, we drove to the Orchard and toured the Kohan Gardens. The garden is located along the shores of Lake Slocan. Several ponds, some with floating lilies, were scattered through the area. A teahouse stood on a lawn at the centre of the garden. Everywhere, there were different types of trees and shrubs. Benches were placed in spaces where one could sit, reflect and meditate. This garden was a joint project of the town of New Denver and the Slocan Lake Garden Society. As we drove to Nakusp, we stopped to look for some trace of the internment in Rosebery. All we could find were pieces of shiplap along a grassy knoll overlooking the beach in an open area which was being used to store logs.
Approaching Nakusp, we detoured to the Hot Springs road. The Nakusp Hot Springs is half the size of Ainsworth, but the facility appears newer. The spring water is hot and crystal clear. Lying deep between forested mountains there is a wonderful ambience with nature. In Nakusp, we walked along the Promenade to a Japanese Garden established by the town. It was well-tended and looked out over a scenic view of Upper Arrow Lake.
As we sat down for lunch in Fauquier, we entered into a conversation with Harold Mori. Originally from New Denver, he had become a teacher, but with post graduate studies at the University of Alberta became involved with volleyball and was now an international referee in that sport. He and his wife live in Vegerville but he returns often to New Denver.
After crossing to Needles and Highway #6 to Kelowna, we arrived at Merritt that evening.
August 1, 2008
Driving the Coquihalla Highway to Tsawwassen, we boarded the 2pm ferry and completed our trip into the past. Both Roy and I felt that we had accomplished our goal—to re-visit the past and see what has happened to sites of the Nikkei internment after 62 years. Personally this experience has given me a chance to add an epilogue to my book Images of Internment.
Henry Shimizu MD.,FRCS.,CM
Victoria, August 11, 2008