AN INTRODUCTION TO JAPANESE CANADIANS IN NIAGARA
The following is an edited version of the Introduction to Niagara by Tom Matsushita, Exiles in Our Own Country: Japanese Canadians in Niagara, Addie Kobayashi, Richmond Hill, Ontario, Nikkei Network of Niagara, 1998
Along the Toronto to Niagara Falls corridor are names like Beamsville, Grimsby, Vineland and St. Catharines, names unfamiliar to tourists and even to many Ontarians. For decades the experiences and fortunes of Japanese Canadians who settled there remained untold. In 1998, their stories were captured on tape and in a book: Exiles in Our Own Country: Japanese Canadians in Niagara, a poignant reminder that the newcomers arrived not by choice or by immigration but were exiles from their home province of British Columbia. Although the history of Japanese Canadians in Niagara is only seventy years old, it is a significant chapter of their contributions to the rich and varied history of the Niagara Region. The history began with a gross injustice against Japanese Canadians, but as it unfolded it became a story of success and acceptance and is worth knowing and preserving – a record for future generations.
My husband Bill and I moved to St. Catharines in 1989 and lived there for nine years. Shortly after our arrival came a knock at our door and standing there was Jack Kobayashi with our mail in his hand and a warm welcome. We soon learned Jack was a respected and popular local pharmacist, and thus we were introduced to the Japanese Canadian community. My interest in their histories led us to form The Nikkei Network of Niagara and with funding from the NAJC we produced the first Niagara Region telephone directory in 1996. With a limited budget and the generosity of the NAJC and friends we then undertook interviews with local residents and eventually produced the book.
Among the first known arrivals in 1942 were Mr. and Mrs. Masao Nishikawara and their three sons who were employed at C. H. Prudhomme and Sons, owners of a large nursery, fruit orchard and basket factory in Beamsville. The Nishikawaras were permitted to leave a government detention camp in the British Columbia interior in exchange for agreeing to move to Ontario. From 1942 to 1945, a significant number of Nisei arrived in Niagara but few remained for long. Ko Teshima settled in Beamsville and the Kuraharas in Grimsby where Harry worked for forty-six years in a basket factory. They were the exception. Most people moved to urban centres such as Hamilton and Toronto as soon as permission was granted.
Consequently, the majority of Japanese Canadians who became permanent settlers in the peninsula arrived during and after the second half of 1945 as the war in the Pacific was coming to an end. Local farmers continued to suffer from a severe shortage of workers and were only too happy to hire Japanese Canadians with large families recently expelled from their home province and had few choices open to them. Among the farms hiring them were C. H. Prudhomme of Beamsville, Ted Tregunno of St. Catharines, Martin Boese Sr. of Port Dalhousie, In some cases the families have kept in touch with their former employers throughout the years.
Toshio Uyede had been sent to Schreiber and Glencoe, Ontario, and then made his way to Niagara with his wife Fumiko and the Uyede family to the Tregunno Farm in 1945, the first Japanese Canadians to settle permanently in St. Catharines. Lois, their daughter, was the first sansei (third-generation) born and raised in Niagara. They were soon joined by the Kawabe, Toyota, Kinoshita, Sano, Kajiura, Adachi, Murata and Morimoto families, all of whom were employed by Tregunno Farm. The Kobayashi, Nishimura, Miyagawa and Nagami families went to farms in neighbouring areas.
The newcomers had been living on the west coast of British Columbia or on Vancouver Island when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Among them were farmers, loggers, gardeners and sawmill workers. Some were landowners, shopkeepers, bank employees, salesmen, or fishermen, many owned their own boats. They were generally successful people. But the federal government’s policy of expelling Japanese Canadians from the Pacific coast followed by the confiscation and sale of their homes, businesses and possessions – sold at auction for ridiculously low prices – meant that when they arrived in Eastern Canada they were often penniless.
The coming of Japanese Canadians to Niagara during the height of the war aroused a variety of reactions among the local population. Along with an initial curiosity, there was a good deal of anxiety and hostility. Some politicians did their best to stir up a fear of foreigners, but in the case of Japanese Canadians, 75 percent of whom were Canadian born or naturalized citizens – not exactly foreigners – this fear often came in the form of a mixed message. For example, in a front-page story headlined “Japes arrive in Beamsville,” The Beamsville Express of 23 September 1942 reported that “all these Japs were born in Canada and are very highly educated and were members of the United Church of Canada.” However, on page eight of the same issue, in a column devoted to a meeting of the Beamsville Council, one reads that “the Council of the Village of Beamsville do vigorously protest the transfer of Japanese people to this district and that the proper authorities be petitioned to remove those who are already here.”
Such protests were not limited to Beamsville. In The St.Catharines Standard of 10 May 1945, there is a story headlined “Presence of Japanese is Resented.” Again, on 11 May 1945, The Standard carried an article “Protest Japanese in the Area.” This was in reaction to the thirty or so Japanese Canadians working on the Tregunno farm on Carlton Street. Cecil Secord, the Reeve of Grantham Township and Warden of Lincoln County, was quoted as saying that “The ratepayers in the township are going to put them out bodily if they are not removed. We’re afraid from the way some of the farmers have been talking that mob rule will start, and we’re doing everything we can to prevent such a thing.” Of course, the ratepayers had no such intentions, and the “mob rule” angle was a complete invention. Secord was simply airing the prejudiced resentment of a small group of people, mostly politicians, and turning it into a political act, which he knew beforehand would go nowhere with federal authorities.
The following week at the regular monthly Lincoln County Council meeting, The St. Catharines Standard reported Mr. R. F. Clarke, Manager of the St. Catharines National Selective Service Office, and the Hon. Charles Daly, Minister of Labour for Ontario, were present. Clarke told the council that his office had nothing to do with the placement of Japanese Canadians in Niagara. That was the responsibility of G. E. Trueman, the Toronto-based Placement Officer of the Department of Labour, Japanese Division. He went out of his way to remind the councillors that Japanese Canadians were Canadian citizens and had been refused the right to serve their country in the armed forces, forcing some of them to join the British military. Sadly, the facts got nowhere with the Lincoln County Council and any good Clarke might have accomplished withered in the face of persistent and unfounded criticism of Japanese Canadians.
Fortunately, this politically-inspired tempest petered out as quickly as it had begun. Any fears stirred up by politicians faded into the background, and the wider community gradually accepted the presence of Japanese Canadians. The stoic and hardy issei (first generation or immigrant Japanese Canadians) as well as the older nisei (second generation or Canadian-born Japanese Canadians) deserve much of the credit for having earned the respect and acceptance of the community in such a short period of time. The interviews and the scrapbook section of this book reveal the difficulties they experienced during the early years of Japanese Canadian settlement in the Niagara peninsula.
Some settler families found economic relief when their children were taken into the homes of prominent local families as “schoolboys” and “schoolgirls.”In return for room and board, they provided domestic services that included housekeeping, cooking and baby-sitting. One nisei even acted as a chauffeur and was able to use his employer’s car for outings with other schoolboys and schoolgirls. Rigby, Burrows, Guest, Rankin, Feasby, McLaughlin, Grass, Jackson and Bennett – these were some of the family names of people who took in young Japanese Canadians. The nisei schoolboys and schoolgirls included Toshio Tanouye, Jack, Jean and David Kobayashi; Tak, Alvin and June Sano; Kei (Kaye) Hayashida; Roy Matsushita; Mickey and Kay Morimoto; and Eiko Nishimura. Jack Kobayashi remembers that schoolboys and schoolgirls were well treated for the most part, and in many cases the host families influenced their choice of careers.
The social life of the early settlers was limited because most of them were on isolated farms, and they had little access to transportation or even telephones. Visits by the United Church minister, Reverend K. Shimizu, or the Anglican minister, Reverend G. G. Nakayama, or the Buddhist priest, Reverend T. Tsuji were often occasions for social gatherings. Also, visitors from Toronto or other large cities usually brought news about Japanese Canadians now scattered across the country. Japanese Canadians of high school age held parties at Memorial United Church Hall in St. Catharines, or in the private homes where schoolboys and schoolgirls lived. For most younger nisei, life was more stable and worry free than it had been for their parents and older siblings. Many of them achieved a higher education and entered various professions, including architecture, dentistry, pharmacy, engineering and education. To be continued…
Exiles in Our Own Country: Japanese Canadians in Niagara,
Nikkei Network of Niagara 1989 .