New website opens window on life in Tashme internment camp
In July 1942, Tashme, the largest of the Canadian internment camps, opened its doors to Japanese Canadians who had been ordered removed from the coast following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Formerly called the Fourteen Mile Ranch, the camp was located 14 miles southeast of Hope, just outside the 100-mile “protected” zone imposed by the government. It covered 1,200 acres and, at its peak, was home to 2,644 internees. It was, in essence, a self-sufficient small town, with wooden tar paper-covered houses, schools, a hospital, a power plant, RCMP detachment, fire hall, churches and a commercial centre.
When the camp closed in 1946, there was nothing left but the memories of those who passed through its doors. Now those memories have been collected in a comprehensive website that looks at every facet of camp life, from its organizational structure; including governance, employment, education, and health care; to everyday life, including commerce and social and sports organizations. It makes available to anyone with a web browser detailed historical records, a diverse collection of textual, photographic, graphical, and multimedia materials.
The website is designed to be accessible to a wide range of visitors, from the children and grandchildren and other descendants of those who lived in Tashme, to educational institutions, teachers, and students.
The Tashme Historical Project website is a collaboration between the Nikkei National Museum (NNM) in Burnaby and the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre (JCCC) in Toronto. Sources include Library and Archives Canada, UBC Special Collections, United Church Archives, and the Nikkei National Museum and Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre archives.
The Bulletin spoke to project leader Howard Shimokura, a former Tashme resident, who has been the driving force behind the Tashme Historical project.
Tell me how the project came about.
It has been an exciting journey which began in 2012 when I was invited to join a group at the JCCC in Toronto who began collecting memories about the Tashme internment camp by inviting the Japanese community to respond to a questionnaire about families who were interned in Tashme. This work became the Families Spreadsheet which is now part of the THP website.
Following a Tashme Day that we organized at NNM in 2013 that brought together several dozen people with an interest in Tashme, a small group of volunteers and NNM staff met to organize a NNM project to complement the work being done at JCCC. We named the project the Tashme Historical Project to clearly distinguish it from the Tashme Project, which was already gaining fame as a play.
My interest in the project stemmed from a lifetime of casual interest because I was interned in Tashme from age four to eight and I always wondered why so little of the Tashme story could be found. Apparently no one had attempted to write a detailed account. In the beginning, we set as a goal the collection all of the available information about the Tashme internment camp in the hopes that we could find sufficient information to tell a story.
How did you set about gathering the information?
Information collection dominated the early activity of the THP committee. We adopted the elements of a small village as the framework for information collection. We first identified and sought information about the physical infrastructure of Tashme: its location, layout, streets and roads, buildings, farms and gardens, and other structural elements of the village. Then we identified the organizational aspects of the village: governance and administration, municipal services, schools, employment and work, commercial activities and recreation. We chose topics that if addressed in sufficient detail would describe the everyday life of its residents. Countless hours were expended in researching and collecting information from all available sources: Library and Archives Canada, UBC Special Collections, books, magazines and The New Canadian newspaper. By the spring of 2015, we collected a substantial amount of information, documents and photographs. We authored and edited additional material to further explain the documents and photographs. At this stage, organization of the information became a major challenge.
How did the idea of a website come about?
The adoption of a website rather than book publishing to exhibit our findings came early. The advantages of instant worldwide distribution of information, the ease of modification and updating and the promise of multimedia audio and video to augment the material were clear from the beginning. Organization for exhibiting information on web pages was the next step. We took care to ensure that the information would display well on all sizes of screens, from desktops to smartphones.
Our hope is that the site will be a permanent repository for present and future generations, especially for those who have more than a casual interest, who are descendents of those were interned in Tashme, and for serious researchers who are interested in the details of what went on in the camp. We consider the site to be a living, evolving database that is continually updated as more information is collected. We invite those with photos, documents or stories to submit them for inclusion in the website.
You were just a kid when you were at Tashme – what are your memories of those years?
As a youngster of age four to eight, my memories of Tashme were mostly pleasant ones of having fun. At the time, I had no idea of why we were there. My parents did not complain or express any concerns that I recall. I attended kindergarten, and grades 1 and 2, played with other kids, accompanied my parents to social events, movies, May Day events, went shopping, celebrated birthdays, and did most things that others of my age did.
I believe your father was a doctor?
My father was the Japanese doctor in Tashme. He worked with another Caucasian doctor and together they provided and directed the hospital services for the community. The 50-bed hospital was built and fully equipped specifically for Tashme residents. There were two or thre Caucasian nurses but most of the hospital staff of nurses, nurses’ aides, orderlies, cooks and others were Japanese residents who worked to serve the community. My father was acquainted with all of hospital staff and I remember many of the nurses and nurses’ aides would visit with our family.
The site is incredibly comprehensive, but I believe you are still looking for more material. Do you have any specific requests?
The THP website is an attempt to portray a clear and factual account of life in the Tashme internment camp. Taking our cue by using a living village as the model for describing the Tashme internment camp, we strived to describe every aspect of village life. I think we have succeeded beyond our initial hopes, thanks largely to the extensive research that we were able to carry out. But we are not finished. Many details are sketchy especially about the social aspects of life in Tashme. We seek additional first-hand accounts of everyday life such as attending school, working, hobbies, tending gardens, participating in sports, social activities, going to movies, shopping, watching baseball games, and skating and hockey in winter. We seek photographs and documents that remain hidden in attics and basements.
We have plans to incorporate additional material in the months to come. In particular there are videos that portray life in Tashme. In addition we are researching the records of the Shinwakai, the Japanese administrative committee in Tashme.
While we are interested in all kinds of stories of Tashme experiences, we are also interested in stories of families who struggled with the demands of internment, the hardships and sacrifices, the emotional and social trauma of living in Tashme and its limited access to life’s normal experiences.
What do you hope to achieve with the THP website?
As we approach the 75th anniversary of the start of internment in 2017, we hope that THP website will create interest and inspire others to recall their internment experiences. We also hope that it inspires the creation and preservation of other important Nikkei historical events for future generations.
Since coming to Tashme, the feeling of bitterness and hurt, that I first felt, has gradually grown dim, and I hope by now completely erased. Being able to walk about without the diffident fear of someone looking at me with disdain, “Another dirty Jap,” has helped. Perhaps it is cowardly to be glad to flee from distrust, but I must admit that in a certain way, there is a sense of freedom even in this confined mountain hermitage, which is ours. – Mary Oki (from Tashme.ca)