Kootenay Sign Unveilings: Slocan Extension, New Denver, Kaslo | A Personal Perspective
by Howard Shimokura
On June 15, the third, fourth & fifth roadside interpretative signs out of eight were unveiled to commemorate the three clusters of Japanese Canadian internment camps in the Kootenays: Slocan Extension (Lemon Creek, Popoff, Bayfarm & Slocan City); New Denver (The Orchard, Harris and Nelson Ranch, Rosebery & Sandon; and finally, Kaslo. The ceremonies were attended by 200 government and municipal dignitaries, local community organizations, seniors and visitors, and school children from local schools.
This Signage Project commemorates the 75th anniversary of the Internment and is a partnership project with the Ministry of Transportation & Infrastructure and the Japanese Canadian community. The Kootenay region was very important in the history of the Internment as it had the largest cluster of Japanese Canadians. Grouped together, about 8,000 of the total of 22,000 Japanese Canadians who were forcibly removed from the coast where interned here.
The Washington Post’s states on its masthead: “Democracy Dies in Darkness”. Committed to democratic ideals, I would like to shine a personal light on this dark chapter in Canadian history. I am old enough to have lived through internment but at the time I was too young to understand what was happening. My memories of attending school and having fun playing with my friends were happy ones. My parents destroyed; and once thriving communities were obliterated. In hindsight it is clear that there were no national security risks and it was racism that drove political action. went about their business and did not complain. When it was over we all packed our bags and moved on.
However, the significance of internment nagged at me for much of my life. I found myself experiencing an emotional reaction to seeing or hearing anything related to the internment. When I was given an opportunity to do something I jumped at it. I wanted to help make the internment story more public. What really happened? Why did it happen? What are the lessons for all Canadians, especially for our leaders? So for the past few years, I have been actively doing what I can to tell the story of the forced removal and dispersal of Japanese Canadians. One of these projects was the launch of the website: www.tashme.ca which tells the story of the Tashme internment camp, where my family was interned.
The internment of Japanese Canadians happened because of the actions of racist politicians who were driven by national security hysteria in response to Japanese military expansionism. The attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec 7, 1941 triggered extraordinary action to forcibly remove all Japanese persons from within 100 miles of the west coast of North America. Over 100,000 Japanese Americans and 22,000 Japanese Canadians were herded first into staging camps then to internment camps for the duration of the war and beyond. All persons of Japanese origin were painted by the brush of guilt by association.
In BC, at first families were split apart by having the men sent to road camps while wives and children were sent to camps. Families could remain together if they opted to go to sugar beet farms in Alberta or Manitoba or to self-supporting sites. Property assets were confiscated and later sold without consent to help pay for the internment. Livelihoods were destroyed; and once thriving communities were obliterated. In hindsight it is clear that there were no national security risks and it was racism that drove political action.
So, what to do about this injustice? For years, this dark chapter of history was hidden. Through bold actions of dedicated persons, the federal government in1988 and the provincial government in 2012 issued formal apologies for their actions against Japanese Canadians. Knowledge and education of this injustice continues to grow. Private, community and government projects have been launched to raise public awareness. In 2016 Heritage BC sponsored a project to recognize 56 Japanese Canadian Historic Sites on the heritage registry. This Legacy Signage project is the physical outgrowth of this virtual heritage registry.
What does this all mean and where to from here? As a Japanese Canadian, I am very grateful for the opportunity to help raise awareness of the rich history of the Japanese immigration to Canada and to highlight the internment. We hope that local communities where the signs are located will embrace the internment story as part of their own story. We also hope that everyone and especially school children learn the lessons of history. Finally, we hope that the signs will serve as permanent reminder of a lesson in social justice for all of us.
The last three unveilings are:
Sunday July 29, 1:30pm – Greenwood
September 7 – Hope Princeton Road Camp
September 28 – Revelstoke-Sicamous Road Camp
Please support this project by donating to the Nikkei National Museum – Legacy Signs Project.