Henry and Connie Sugiyama
“I was born in Vancouver, Canada, which should have made me a Canadian but having parents who were Japanese, although they too were citizens, made me an enemy alien. As a result I was made to leave the school in mid May 1942, a mere month before graduation. This was from a school with such a lofty motto, “Pro Bono Omnium.” This is a school whose mission statement states that it values individuality while reflecting and celebrating the diversity of our multicultural community! Our family was forcibly removed from Vancouver to the interior of BC, losing or leaving behind all they had worked for and owned. It is now 70 years since but the pain is still there. In May 1942, when sadly the day arrived for our enforced incarceration, exiled from Vancouver and mine from the security of the school, not a single teacher came to say goodbye or proffer good wishes. The situation was further saddened by the fact that not one of my school chums came to the train station to see me off to exile.”
excerpt from a letter to Templeton Secondary School from Henry Shohei Sugiyama, M.D., November 28, 2012
On Tuesday, September 23, 2014, in a special ceremony at St. John’s College at the University of British Columbia, Dr. Henry Sugiyama was officially admitted as the first student in Asian Canadian and Asian Migration Studies in the Faculty of Arts. It was a long time coming – 69 years to be exact. When he first applied for admittance to UBC in 1945 he was rejected despite having earned an entrance scholarship through his high school in Kamloops. The reason for his rejection: Japanese Canadians were still considered “enemy aliens.”
The Sugiyama family was living on the outskirts of Kamloops and Henry attended Kamloops High School, where the principal, Mr. Gurney was very supportive. In his final year, his teachers, recognizing his potential, encouraged him to apply at UBC.
Although the war was winding down, Japanese Canadians were still facing restriction on their movements and weren’t allowed within 100 miles of the coast. UBC rejected him on this basis, as did universities in Saskatchewan and Alberta. He was finally admitted into medicine at the University of Manitoba, an act, he says today, of courage on their part.
As one of 500 students applying for 80 seats in the medical college the odds were not good, but he made it through on ability and spent eight years studying medicine at the University of Manitoba, graduating in 1952 and going on to practice medicine until retirement.
On July 9, 2014, at the age of 87, his acceptance letter to UBC finally came through in the form of an invitation from Dr. Henry Yu, a UBC professor, who invited him to attend one of his classes as a registered student and as an honorary guest, with UBC paying for his flight and his stay.
Henry attended the ceremony with his daughter Connie who was honoured earlier this year as one of 86 people appointed to the Order of Canada by the Governor General, David Johnston.
A lawyer by profession, Connie was recognized as a member of the Order of Canada “for her achievements as a lawyer and for her extensive civic engagement.”
One of the most well-known and respected corporate lawyers in Canada, Constance Sugiyama is a partner and former deputy chair of Fraser Milner Casgrain LLP. She has served on numerous public/private sector boards and advisory committees, including tenures as chair and trustee for the Hospital for Sick Children, as well as the Toronto International Film Festival Group, Luminato, and the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre. Sugiyama was praised “for her achievements as a lawyer and for her extensive civic engagement.”
Her roots within the Japanese Canadian community run deep. She has served as an advisor at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre and is a former director of the Japanese Canadian Redress Foundation.
As the first chair of the JCCC’s successful “Building Together” capital campaign she helped raise more than $10 million for the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre in Toronto.
Says her proud dad Henry, This is the same government (back in 1941-42) that denied her grandfather (my father) of his rights of citizenship, confiscated his properties as well as his business, and furthermore deemed him an enemy alien. He was incarcerated, along with his wife and four Canadian born sons, to an exile away from Vancouver and the west coast until 1949. In the meantime, all his assets were sold off at ridiculously low prices. None of his assets or their proceeds were ever returned to him.
Despite these devastating set backs, my father never faltered in his love for this country Canada. It must have been extremely difficult for him to overcome the bigotry and adversity surrounding him to make certain that his sons continue their education and be able to become contributing, loyal citizens of this country.
I can hardly imagine the shirt-popping pride and joy that Connie’s grandfather would have had if only he were still alive to share in it.
74 years from “enemy aliens” to the Order of Canada.
WELL DONE CONNIE!! CONGRATULATIONS