Interview – Ian Fraser
Ian Fraser is the curator of The New Canadian exhibit. He spoke to The Bulletin from Kaslo.
Ian, you put together the New Canadian exhibit that is on display now at the Japanese Canadian Nation Museum. Could you please tell me what it means to you?
When I first started working on and learning about The New Canadian some fifteen years ago, it was part of larger projects at the Langham and did not receive my full attention. There was a museum to build and employees to manage and deadlines to meet.
With the opening of the Kaslo show on the 50th anniversary of the 1st Kaslo issue of The New Canadian in 1992, I was fortunate enough to spend time with Tommy and Frank and got hooked on the “Great Canadian Newspaper Story.” I was fascinated by both the depth and speed of change: Both the Japanese Canadian community and The New Canadian as its voice had to adjust to crisis on an ongoing basis. Most social or community change is slow business. Kaslo and all the ghost towns were suddenly totally different places, peopled by new and very shocked people. Naomi Klein’s recently developed analogy of massive rapid change as Shock Therapy comes to mind.
As A. P. Allsebrook, a great Kaslo friend of the Nikkei said in a NC letter in 1943, (responding to a recent “Jap baiting” letter in the Nelson News): “Defending our leading citizens from contemptuous intolerance is my duty and pleasure . . . The majority of our able-bodied young Nisei are homeless, driven, bewildered, shamelessly robbed of their possessions, reviled and humiliated, yet remain willing to vindicate their honour and loyalty to Canada by enlisting for service: But our priceless politicians will have none of them.”
Though the NC writers had to toe or move the censor’s line, Tommy’s understanding of his mission, his power and his responsibility to lighten the burden of his people made the paper a critical and pioneering voice in the “Canadian Civil Rights Movement.” A newspaper of national and lasting importance.
And some “accidents” are important. Imagine my surprise in Victoria, years later when Tommy walks down the street in front of my brother’s house and I am able to introduce him to my brother’s wife, a recent immigrant from Japan and his neighbour. While I was able to visit Tommy a couple more times in Victoria, his health was fading. When I called to tell him about the short New Canadian section I had done for Aya’s Story, I realized that it was too late for his good advice.
Like most small town non-profits, the Langham Cultural Society goes through its ebbs and flows, depending on the interests and energies of the people involved. As a multi-use facility in a town of a thousand, there have been discouraging times when paying the bills and keeping the wheels on the road seemed major issues. Lately with some key and competent people like Alice Windsor noting the constant stream of Nikkei visitors and understanding the historic importance of our ecomuseum, we are working towards its significant renewal. We have gathered many new images and voices from the past over the winter. The Langham Collection contains over 200 images and 30 interviews on ghost town life—a collection of national significance. As I digitize this legacy and update our museum, time’s march (leki tei) makes The New Canadian the ultimate authentic source document on internment. The seniors I’ve interviewed this winter were teenagers or youngsters during internment and their voices also will soon be stilled.
Although some pieces of the funding puzzle are slow falling into place, this summer’s visitors to the Langham will note new material tastefully presented, new lighting and the increased coherence of our presentation. Information or financial assistance as always, is welcome at The Langham Cultural Society, Box 1000, Kaslo BC, V0G1M0 and should be directed towards the Japanese Canadian Museum Renewal Project.