J-C Legacy Cemetery (Cumberland) needs support
On April 16, 1942, all Japanese Canadians in the Comox Valley suddenly vanished. A total of 586 Japanese Canadians, including women, children and seniors, left from the Union Bay wharf on board the SS Prince George for Vancouver, bound for ghost towns in the BC interior. Only Rev. Y. Ono, a nisei Japanese United Church minister in Cumberland, and a half dozen JCs were left behind in order to assist the war custodian.
100 Japanese immigrants had arrived Cumberland in 1891, and another 70 followed in 1892. They were the pioneer Japanese miners from Japan. With Japanese logging camps later developed in Royston and Fanny Bay, the Japanese population in the Valley increased. Unlike Chinese immigrants, many Japanese lived with their families. When Japanese Canadians who had lived for over a half century in the Valley were suddenly exiled to the internment camps, they left behind everything: their homes, belongings and many friends with unforgettable fond memories. For many of them, the Cumberland area was where they were born. When they left, they also left behind the Cumberland Japanese Cemetery, where 198 souls of their grandparents, parents, siblings and even their own children had been buried.
According to the records from 1941, Japanese Canadian students in the Cumberland Elementary School and Cumberland Secondary School accounted for 26% and 36% of the school population respectively. All Japanese Canadian were law abiding and hard working citizen of Canada. Nevertheless, all were branded as the enemy aliens, and forcefully removed from their homeland. They were in fact, missed by many of their neighbourhood families, school teachers and classmates.
Everybody believed that this was the temporary measure and they would be able to return their homes soon. Their dream was shattered as restriction for Japanese Canadians lasted for eight long years. Many former residents of Cumberland and the vicinity lost hope and moved further east. It was an unimaginable hardship and struggle for them to re-start their lives from the scratch in Toronto or Hamilton.
As a consequence, many of them lost the opportunity to revisit Vancouver Island and their family cemetery. 65 years have elapsed since those families left Union Bay Wharf. Families have changed at least two to three generations. For most of the families, the no.1 and No.6 mine townsites in Cumberland and logging camps of Royston and Fanny Bay have become remote places.
Many semi-abandoned Japanese Canadian cemeteries on Vancouver Island have a similar, unfortunate history. This was why a handful of concerned volunteers have been looking after these cemeteries under less-than-ideal conditions.
The Cumberland Japanese Cemetery is spacious and located side by side with the Chinese Cemetery, separate from the general municipal cemetery. The 198 Japanese Canadian souls have all been buried there. As photos show, wooden grave marker poles had originally been erected at each burial plot. However all of them were weathered and disappeared over time. No burial record has been kept in the municipal office. The 198 names were compiled in 1967 by ex-residents in Cumberland and vicinities through the memories of families and friends and recorded in Japanese. The names of the deceased on the wooden grave markers were calligraphically written in Japanese too. This may be one of the reasons why there was no burial records kept.
Since 1957 or so, the Cumberland Japanese Cemetery has been visited by concerned individual at Obon time. Young Vancouver Buddhist Church members visited the graves with a reverend on Vancouver Island and cleaned the headstones and ground. The project was taken over by BC Buddhist Churches Federation in 1986 and has continued till today under the name of the Vancouver Island Obon Bus Tour.
The non-sectarian committee was set up in 1986 to undertake cemetery research and restoration on Vancouver Island. Various projects have been executed by the committee over the past 20 years under the co-chairmanship of Roy Inouye, Cy Saimoto and Y. Richard Yagi. Additional committee members were appointed as needed. Projects include restoration of the Chemainus Cemetery with the erection of a Common Memorial Monument; erection of a Common Memorial Monument in the Port Alberni Cemetery; research of headstones and help plotting the official burial map in the Mountainview Cemetery in Duncan; and continuous improvement of Cumberland Cemetery.
In the early 1980s, the Japanese cemetery in Cumberland was virtually covered by wild bushes and tall trees. No grave markers except a couple dozen of grave stones were in the cemetery. Through the continuous dialogue with the Village Council member and with their great assistance, the Cumberland Japanese Cemetery has been improved considerably, though there are still many improvements to be done.
The cemetery ground has been cleared; the cairn for Japanese victims of mine explosion was erected; the cemetery property has now been enclosed by white wooden hence. Finally, the Village of Cumberland designated the Japanese Cemetery and Chinese Cemetery to be a Village Heritage Site. The Cumberland Japanese Cemetery has not only been a Japanese Legacy Grave but also a Canadian heritage site.
The project, which the Village is going to undertake with the committee’s assistance, is to pave the pathway from the parking lot to the cemetery entrance gate, so that the cemetery will be a wheelchair accessible. The project cost is at $11,000, according to a local paving company. The Japanese Government and the Cemetery Research and Restoration Committee are going to fund some portion of the project cost, so the Village has to raise $6000 to complete the work. The Japanese Government money is for the 80th Anniversary of Canada-Japan Diplomatic relations. The grant application will be disqualified if the project is not complete by the end of March this year. It is a very tight operation in terms of the time. The Village of Cumberland and the CRR Committee urgently ask you of your generous support. Please send your cheque to the following;
Donation payable to: The Village of Cumberland
Notation on the cheque: For Japanese Heritage Fund
Mail to: Village of the Cumberland, 2673 Dunsmuir Avenue,
Box 340, Cumberland, B.C., V0R 1S0
Attention: Councillor Wm. Moncrief