Kyowakai: Memory and Healing in New Denver, BC
Japanese Canadians began to arrive in New Denver on May 21, 1942, part of a wave of 22,000 internees forced out of a 100-mile “protected area” on the coast of British Columbia by Order-in-Council P.C. 365.
Camps had been set up in Tashme, just outside the restricted area, and in Greenwood, near Grand Forks, but the majority of camps were in the Slocan Valley, including Sandon, the Girl Guide camp near Hills, Rosebery, around the New Denver golf course, Harris Ranch between New Denver and Silverton, and south of Silverton at Slocan City, Bay Farm, Popoff and Lemon Creek, as well as Kaslo to the east of the valley. New Denver became the third largest camp in the province.
A new book, Kyowakai: Memory and Healing in New Denver, BC, tells the story of the Nikkei Internment Memorial Centre (NIMC), the people who created it and the healing it inspired.
Kyowakai means “working together peacefully.” The Kyowakai Society was formed in 1943, and as the name implies, its purpose was social, cultural, religious, to advocate for and be a nucleus for the Japanese Canadian community in New Denver.
Among all the camps, New Denver was unique in that while most internees were forced east of the Rockies or deported to Japan after the war, detainees from other camps were shunted to the village’s tuberculosis sanatorium along with caregivers and others who were too unwell to move. As a document in the Kyowakai Hall states, the patients were expected to die soon but many survived and created meaningful lives in the Slocan Valley. Others stayed because they had nowhere else to go, showing great courage, conviction and determination as they resisted pressure from the RCMP to move on. As a result of these factors, New Denver retained a sizeable Japanese Canadian population even after all the other camps had closed down. As of January 1, 1947, 900 Nikkei lived in New Denver, and at that point, integration was firmly entrenched. Some had work as loggers or miners, while some were without the means to relocate, since the government had seized their coastal property and confiscated their equity. In spite of the fact that the war was over, Japanese Canadians remained under the BC Security Commission in New Denver until 1957.
When the Commission was disbanded in 1957, the BC government deeded shacks and property to Japanese Canadians who still lived in the Orchard. In 1960, Japanese Canadians gave lakeshore properties to the village for the public to use as a baseball field and park, and now this land encompasses the marina, campground, baseball field, picnic grounds and swimming beach at Centennial Park. In 1977, the village put up a monument in the park to honour Japanese Canadians’ contributions.
The NIMC, the only centre of its kind in Canada, was created by the Kyowakai Society partly to inspire other Japanese Canadians with the fact that they endured and to assure future generations that they too could tap into such inner strength. They did not want to be considered victims, nor did many of the elders think of their actions in creating the centre as political statements—or at least that was the case in the early 1990s when the centre was built. There were phases of response to internment, with reactions varying from shock, anger, fear or resignation during wartime to acceptance (for many) as more time went on. Rather than succumb to bitterness, with the NIMC the elders characteristically wanted to create something positive out of their wartime and postwar experience.
The New Denver Kyowakai Society was, until it finally disbanded in 2018, the only wartime Japanese Canadian internment organization still in operation. The centre’s purpose is to collect, conserve, research, exhibit and interpret objects that represent the life and conditions of the Nikkei living in the Orchard section of New Denver and surrounding West Kootenay internment camps between 1942 and 1957. Displays draw attention to global issues of racism, injustice and resilience.
This book is the final legacy of the Kyowakai society, a way to share the story of those who remained behind in New Denver after the war and those who joined them in peaceful coexistence with the surrounding community. Written by long-time New Denver resident Anne Champagne and designed by Bulletin editor John Endo Greenaway, the book serves as a testament to the fortitude showed by the society members and the guidance they provided as elders in the community, as well as showing their influence across generations. Part history, part cautionary tale, part companion to the exhibits and gardens at the NIMC, this book explores the vision for the centre, elaborates on the interpretive signs that accompany displays, and unravels the symbolic meaning of the Heiwa Teien (Peace Garden) built by the legendary Roy Sumi. The book contains rare photographs and stories about wartime, postwar and ongoing experiences of internees and their descendants, a timeline from 1941 to 2018, as well as some of the artists who found inspiration in the centre and those who built it.
Mrs. Chie Kamegaya
When Mrs. Chie Kamegaya was elected president of New Denver’s Kyowakai Society in 1983, several male members of the society resigned in protest. Despite the fact that Mrs. Kamegaya was a prominent member of the community and her leadership was strongly supported by most community members, some still believed that only men should hold positions of power. The election of Mrs. Kamegaya represented a natural evolution of the society which had by necessity continued to evolve after the war, when the Japanese Canadian community found a way to coexist with the community-at-large.
Mrs. Kamegaya was not interned in New Denver. Born to a samurai family in 1909 in Japan, she taught in Tokyo before moving to Canada with her husband. She was interned in Kaslo then moved to New Denver in 1965 where she worked at the centre for emotionally troubled boys. Her exemplary community service was honoured with the Japanese Emperor’s Medal in 1987. Mrs. Kamegaya was highly respected, not only as a community leader and mentor to younger Japanese Canadians, but as a haiku artist. Her haiku was published in Seasons in New Denver: Haiku, reprinted as An Immigrant’s Haiku Year: Seasons in New Denver. Along with Sakaye Hashimoto, Mrs. Kamegaya was one of the driving forces behind the NIMC, helping guide the creation of it with her wisdom and gentle but firm strength.
On July 23, 1994, Mrs. Kamegaya cut the ribbon to officially open the NIMC. Sadly, she passed away August 20, 1994, just 27 days after the opening.
peaceful now, my ashes
will be cared for
Kyowakai: Memory and Healing in New Denver, BC is available now. It can be ordered by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org