Memories of my father
Interview with Carole Ito
What are your childhood memories of your father?
One of the things I remember about my dad was his love of books and libraries. He would come home from the local library with a boxful of books every week. He instilled a love of reading in all of us kids.
I also loved hockey as a kid, so we watched a lot of hockey together. He shared season tickets to the Leafs with some of his poker buddies. We were way up in the greys … but I can still remember the awe I felt, the first time I emerged into Maple Leaf Gardens and saw the arena. I loved going to those hockey games.
My dad also was my school principal when I started kindergarten, so most of my friends knew my dad as their principal. As we grew up, they remembered him as being pretty tough, but fair.
Your dad wrote several seminal books on the Nikkei experience. I imagine as kids, though, it didn’t mean much to you.
When he turned to research and writing, our family was loaded into the car on a long road trip across the country. We stopped in small towns with names like Slocan and New Denver, which were steeped in memory for him. But for us kids — we just shrugged our shoulders with impatience . . . not able to see the import or history.
Did your father talk much about the prewar and war years, or did he reserve his memories for his writing?
I don’t recall him talking a lot about it. Although his war experience was obviously very important to him, I think his philosophy was to look forward rather than back.
Your family donated your father’s papers and memorabilia to the Japanese Canadian National Museum. Did you have a sense than of its historical value?
It took us a long time to see it as Dad did. When he died, we looked at his office with dismay — we saw a room loaded with yellowing papers, covered in chicken scrawl. We were so happy to ship everything off to the Archives here, unable to make sense of it all.
But several years later, many members of our family were able to visit the Archives … and were shown Dad’s work, now properly catalogued. Archivist Reiko Tagami explained the significance of certain items she had selected. And we began to see his work with fresh eyes. Not only did Dad’s work have new meaning, but perhaps more importantly, the man himself was also illuminated. This latest project has only amplified this feeling for us.
Your family created an award for someone to do research and to create a public presentation of your father’s work. What was the impetus behind this?
My mother donated the money to the Archives because my dad had had a connection there through his work. She felt it was important to do something — not only so that my father’s work would not be forgotten, but that he would be remembered also.
I imagine when you created the award that you had no real preconceived notions of the outcome. Now that you have seen the resulting website and exhibit, what are your feelings?
We had no idea what to expect from the award so it was really exciting to hear about the website — a project that is open to the world. To see his work interpreted through creative and artistic sensibilities, once again sheds new light on him as an individual. It speaks to how we often know someone in one dimension only … and there is often so much more to people than what is readily apparent. It is also wonderful that the website interprets his work through art and music — with an emotive style that contrasts the strengths my father had.
I would imagine that this experience has changed your view of history and the importance of archiving our shared history. Your situation is somewhat unique, but is there any advice you have for others out there who are faced with family archives that are gathering dust?
I’m hardly in a position to give advice, but family history just can’t be replaced and it just gets more precious as life goes on. Don’t throw anything away!