Hastings Park Memories
by Mary Kitagawa
I’ve heard it said that those who have suffered political violence deserve remembrance. As a child of seven, I was one of the 22,000 Canadians of Japanese descent who were victims of political violence. My family, the Murakamis, lived on Salt Spring Island in an immaculately clean, comfortable home, ate the best organic foods and never went to bed without having a bath. A month after my father was pushed onto the back of a pickup truck like a common criminal by an RCMP officer in March of 1942 to disappear into a void, mother and her five children, ages one and a half to 13 years of age, were sent like cattle to the barns of Hastings Park. Mother was allowed two suitcases and the children, one each.
How can I forget the stench of urine and feces that assaulted our nostrils, the crunch of straw under our feet as we were lead to our metal bunk beds, and the children crying? There were families living in the horse stalls where maggots were still crawling. Initially we had no mattresses because the bags were still not filled with straw. Our toilet was an upright board along the long open channel of flowing water that once washed away animal waste. We had no privacy.
Food was served to us in the poultry section of the barn. Rough hewn boards were our tables attached to benches. Food served to us on tin plates gave us food poisoning and diarrhea.
In order to escape the stench and filth, mother kept us out of the barn during the day. Our hair, skin and clothes were permeated with the smell of urine and feces. As we played behind the barbed wire fences, we could see the activities on streets. There were RCMP officers everywhere to keep us from escaping.
My elderly grandparents were separated: grandmother was with us in the barn but grandfather, who was in a state of shock, was placed in the Forum with all males who were over the age of 12 years. The politicians separated the males and females because they said that Japs bred like rabbits. A 12 year old male child would be living alone with a group of men who were strangers or with a male sibling if he had any because his father would have been sent away to a prisoner of war camp or to one of the prison work camps.
Even today, during the PNE, I cannot go near the barns. The memory of having to live there is still much too painful.
This is a brief summary of our journey into hell that began when the federal government enacted the War Measures Act to remove all civil rights to the Canadians of Japanese descent. Our day to day lives were full of misery, anguish and helplessness.