December 1 Hastings Park Commemorative Event
By Lorene Oikawa
Braving wind and rain, a determined crowd stand near the front steps of the Livestock Building in Hastings Park to witness the unveiling of a plaque commemorating the “over 3,000 Japanese Canadian women, children and tuberculosis patients who were unjustly detained here” 70 years ago.
Many in the crowd have family connections or were here as children. “Most of the people who had to suffer the indignity of being incarcerated in the barn – treated no better than animals – are no longer alive,” says Mary Kitagawa. Kitagawa, who along with her mother, three sisters and a baby brother were forced to live in the filthy conditions, remembers being “assaulted by the smell of urine and feces.”
The weather conditions on this cold, wet December 1, 2012 are similar to what was experienced by the first of the Canadians of Japanese ancestry who were incarcerated and taken to the Livestock Building after the Canadian federal government declared Canadians of Japanese ancestry as enemy aliens on January 14, 1942.
Near the Agrodome, the Livestock Building which became a federally authorized wartime marshalling site in 1942 would see thousands of innocents from March 1942 until March 1943.
Earlier in the afternoon, the group had been welcomed by Carla George, Squamish Nation Councillor and Judy Hanazawa, Chair of the Japanese Canadian Hastings Park Commemoration and Education Committee. Hanazawa explained the work leading up to this day and how “our [Japanese Canadian Hastings Park] project is basically about bringing people together so that a community’s experience can teach others…”
Outside the Livestock Building the crowd is cold and shivering, but they wait patiently for the unveiling of the plaque. Marta Farevaag representing the Vancouver Heritage Foundation who sponsored the Places that Matter plaque gives brief remarks and then Kitagawa, a member of the GVJCCA Human Rights Committee, reads the text of the plaque. The plaque specifies the significance of this building, one of four buildings used to hold Japanese Canadians at Hastings Park.
The plaque notes, “The incarceration, confiscation of property, and forced dispersal from the coast of 22,000 innocent Japanese Canadians from 1942 to 1949 was officially acknowledged as unjust by Canada in 1988.”
Kitagawa continues to read the plaque “In commemoration of all Japanese Canadians interned. Gaman (Endurance) • Giri (Duty) • Ganbare (Perseverance) “ and when she is finished, many move closer to take photos of the plaque. One woman holds a picture frame with photos of her mother, grandmother and uncle who were held in Hastings Park. She says they would have appreciated the commemoration.
David Iwassa, Executive Director of Tonari Gumi (Japanese Community Volunteers Association) is pleased to be here for the commemoration and says, “…those dark days…will not be forgotten and that the sacrifices and suffering of those who passed through Hastings Park at that time will continue to be remembered and serve as a reminder to all of us that our freedoms should not be taken for granted.”
There is one more site to view near the corner of Hastings and Renfrew by the Momiji Garden Wall. As Dan Tokawa, a member of the Japanese Canadian Hastings Park Commemoration and Education Committee, reaches closer to the site it is with mixed feelings. He is satisfied with the co-operation that culminated in today’s event which is “so good compared to 25-30 years ago when every tiny bit of recognition of the injustices of internment seemed to require a fight.” He expresses “sadness and disappointment that it has taken this long for…the Livestock building to be recognized…and [that] the deterioration of the internment plaque was allowed to happen…”
In 1989, the Japanese Canadian Internment commemorative plaque was sponsored by Parks Canada to mark Hastings Park as one of Canada’s Historic Sites and Monuments. The plaque had been neglected over the years. It was covered in grime and illegible and hard to find in its location set back from a lower trail to Momji garden.
The Japanese Canadian Hastings Park Commemoration and Education Committee who spearheaded the work to get the Places that Matter Livestock Building Plaque also worked with Parks Canada and the Pacific National Exhibition (PNE) to get the internment plaque cleaned and then moved to a more prominent location near the entrance.
Parks Canada representative Matthew Payne helps to unveil the refurbished and remounted internment plaque. The crowd is quiet and a few use their phones to record as Dan Tokawa reads the text of the plaque.
“In 1942, wartime politics brought to a head mounting discrimination against some 22,000 innocent people of Japanese ancestry on this coast. Their properties were confiscated and sold without consent, and they were forcibly dispersed to internment camps in the BC interior and to farms in Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario. From March to November, 8,000 men, women and children were confined in livestock barns on these grounds before being relocated. Few voices opposed a federal government policy which denied civil liberties to Japanese Canadians until April 1, 1949 – the day they were finally free to return to the coast.”
Payne then addresses the attentive crowd with information about Parks Canada’s support for the plaque.
The rain has still not let up and after the group has spent time viewing the plaque and taking photos, the walkers with their umbrellas start to form a colourful trail back to the Hastings Room at the PNE Administrative building.
Assembled back in the room where they started that afternoon, hot coffee and refreshments are a welcome relief to the cold and numb hands. As people warm up, they check out the photos on display and greet familiar faces. The room is humming with chatter and laughter and is filled with over 75 people.
During the programme, the experiences of those who were at the Livestock Building at Hastings Park crystallize through the memories shared by Mary Ohara. Her memories evoke the challenges faced by the women who had to care for their children in cramped and unsanitary conditions. Her hope is people will know and not forget the story of Japanese Canadians so “this will never happen to anyone else.”
Dan Tokawa shares the story of his aunt Haruno Tokawa who grew up in East Vancouver not far from Oppenheimer Park and who died of miliary tuberculosis at Hastings Park in 1942. Jessica Quan shares a sansei’s view of her family’s experience.
Judy Hanazawa describes the journey to this day as an “exercise in collaboration, coordination and support” and an opportunity to “ensure a social foundation where communities cannot be victimized by racial profiling,…and as the Declaration of Human Rights states, where there is recognition of the inherent dignity, equality and inalienable rights of all members of the human family.”
She asks for sustained support “as we aim to develop [next] phases of our Japanese Canadian Hastings Park Commemoration and Education project over the next five years.” She says the committee also supports the Hastings Park master plan and working with other stakeholders.
She expresses appreciation for the collaborative effort between the Japanese Canadian community, City of Vancouver (planner Dave Hutch, councillors Kerry Jang and Raymond Louie), community activist Ellen Woodsworth, the Hastings Park Redevelopment Project, the PNE, Parks Canada, and the Vancouver Heritage Foundation Places That Matter project (Jessica Quan).
Dignitaries representing the city of Vancouver, and provincial representatives and the acting Consul-General of Japan are in attendance. The formal programme includes some brief words from the special guests including the president of the GVJCCA, Gary Matson, and speaking on behalf of the National Association of Japanese Canadians (NAJC) president Ken Noma is Tosh Kitagawa.
Noma’s words also take the audience back 70 years. “If we close our eyes for a moment, we might feel their suffering, hear the cries of babies, and see the look of confusion and expressions of anger and shame on the adults’ faces. Lives were in disarray and many dreams dashed…Japanese Canadians had been abandoned by their own government.”
He pays “tribute to the determination of our elders, who after the expulsion, struggled to rebuild their lives…creating a better future for their children…our roots continue to dig deep in this country after 135 years.”
Japanese Canadian Hastings Park Commemoration and Education Committee: Chair Judy Hanazawa, Jean and Walt Kamimura, Dan Tokawa, Leslie Komori, and representatives from the Greater Vancouver Japanese Canadian Citizens Association, Tonari Gumi, Nikkei National Museum & Cultural Centre, Vancouver Japanese Language School, Powell Street Festival Society, and Vancouver Japanese Gardeners Association.
Lorene Oikawa is a member of the GVJCCA Human Rights Committee, and is one of the GVJCCA representatives on the Japanese Canadian Hastings Park Commemoration and Education Committee, and was MC for the December 1, 2012 Hastings Park Commemoration event.