“Honouring Our People: Stories of the Internment” is sponsored by the National Association of Japanese Canadians and the Greater Vancouver Japanese Canadian Citizens Association.
This conference will pay tribute to those generations of Japanese Canadians who, despite experiencing racism, restrictions, uprooting and loss during and after WWII, demonstrated resilience and the capacity to survive and overcome.
The purpose of this conference is to provide a venue for survivors to share their stories and learn methods of preserving them for future generations. Although the focus of this conference is on surviving elders who have strong memories from their internment years, we strongly encourage younger generations of Japanese Canadians to participate. Both community members who were not interned and non-Japanese Canadians are also welcome to attend.
The conference program is structured so that survivors of internment may tell their stories in small groups. We will encourage participants to choose a group they will feel comfortable being in. We will also try to accommodate requests from participants who prefer to share their stories on a one-to-one basis. Each group will have a facilitator to guide discussion. Following the sharing of stories, storytellers who are comfortable with engaging in discussion may dialogue with listeners. The story-sharing time will occur on Saturday, September 26.
We believe documentation is valuable, because sharing our family stories will benefit not only the descendents of survivors but, also, other community members, such as postwar immigrants. In addition, these stories will benefit all Canadians, regardless of ethnic background. Documentation may include the recording of stories via audiotape or, if the storyteller is comfortable with it, videotape. Each storyteller will be asked for consent before having his or her story recorded. We are sensitive to the needs of our elders. Although we may not be able to accommodate all requests, we will do what we can to meet their needs.
Download Brochures (English and Japanese) and Registration Form
I was 9 yrs old when the orders came for evacuation. The ultimatum was to go to Hastings Park to await dispersal to the various internment camps, self sustaining communities like Bridge River and Lillooet or to the sugar beet fields on the prairies. My father chose to go to the beet fields as he felt that the family would be together. He was concerned that being idle in concentration camps was not an ideal situation for young children.
My initial excitement on being on a train to a place called Diamond City was soon tempered when the reality set in. Diamond City consisted of three grain elevators and a General Store/Post Office. We were housed in an abandoned shack that was less than 600 square feet. There was no electricity or running water and the shack was uninsulated. A pot bellied coal stove along with the coal-fired kitchen stove heated the shack. Our lives for the next six years were spent in this primitive environment.
Our contract with the farmer was to nurture 30 acres of sugar beets. This entailed the back-breaking job of thinning the sugar beets to leave a single seedling 8 to 10 inches apart.
As the beets developed, we had to hoe the weeds two to three times during the summer. Harvest of the mature beets occurred in late October and November. This process involved shaking the beets from the heavy soil and piling them in a row after the farmer lifted the beets with a mechanical device. The next process was to top the leaves from the beet with a machete-like knife which had a pointed hook on the end. We stabbed the beet with the hook, cut off top and threw them into wagons drawn by horses. For this back breaking labour, we were paid a meager $30.00 per acre. Our family survived on this measly amount for a whole year. My father was forced to seek alternative employment as a carpenter to earn additional money to survive. This form of labour was akin to share cropping that black Americans endured on the cotton fields in Mississippi, Alabama etc. before the civil war.
Freedom to seek other forms of employment or to move was not granted until 1948, three years after the war ended! I am sure that there are many other survivors who experienced similar experiences or worse. I encourage those who were in Picture Butte, Turin, Magrath, Cardston, Raymond, Coaldale, Barnwell and Taber to come and tell their stories.
Tosh Kitagawa is on the organizing committee of “Honouring our People: Stories of the Internment” Conference in September. “We encourage all survivors to come to tell their stories. We already have many registrants from the various internment camps like Greenwood, New Denver, etc. Our family chose to go to the beet fields in Southern Alberta.”