Desecrated JC Salt Spring Island Graves Restored
by Sean McIntyre
Eight gravestones hewn from black granite were erected in a section of Salt Spring Island’s Central Cemetery on Sunday July 7, 2013 to commemorate the legacy of the Island’s Japanese Canadian pioneers.
“I just feel that they have the right to be remembered.” Said Rose Murakami. “One of the other reasons that Richard and I did this was because we’re not going to live forever.”
Rose and her brother Richard have wanted to install the headstones for years to ensure the Island’s Japanese Canadian pioneers are not forgotten.
Descendants of a few original Japanese Canadian settlers came and placed stones for their ancestors. The eight graves remained, each marked by a solitary cedar post; six had names of the deceased inscribed and two unidentified graves were inscribed with a Buddhist prayer.
“These posts were carved and installed by our father because initially we did not have the funds to place proper granite headstones on these desecrated graves,” said Rose.
“When our parents, Katsuyori and Kimiko Murakami brought the family back to Salt Spring Island in 1954 after being expelled in 1942, the first place they took the family was to the cemetery,” said Rose. “In the twelve years in which we lived in exile, we found that terrible things had been done to the Japanese Canadian graves. Not only were the markers destroyed but our cemetery was used as a garbage dump”
Our family visited the cemetery every Sunday after our return to the Island to remove garbage and restore the site.
“If our family did not return to the island, these deceased people may not ever have been acknowledged,” said Rose.
Rose and Richard were at the cemetery on Sunday afternoon to witness the final stage of a job that began more than five decades ago as sign maker Warren Langley put the final touches on the stones. They now sit alongside those original cedar posts.
Names of the deceased along with the dates of birth and death have been inscribed on the tombstones when such information is known. In some cases, birth and death dates have been left blank. Stones that mark the two graves of unknown pioneers have been marked with a simple inscription that reads, “Japanese Canadian Pioneer”.
The Murakamis contributed $7,500 to complete the project. The National Association of Japanese Canadians contributed an additional $2,500.