Nikkei Internment Memorial Centre: The Jewel of New Denver
by Eleanor Quirk
Arriving from England in 1968 my family first lived a block from Hastings Park, later moving to Steveston. When I came to live in New Denver in 1977 I had just seen the photo show 1877-1977: 100 years of Japanese Immigration to Canada which brought me to tears. Living in three places so significant in the internment, I became curious about Japanese Canadian culture. I wrote to the Minister of Multiculturalism asking why the only marker [in New Denver] was a stone pillar under the big cedars by the lake.
I now live in a renovated internment house directly across the street from the Nikkei Internment Memorial Centre, and I have the benefit of wonderful fruit trees planted by the Japanese Canadian family whose house I bought in 1978. We donated their old wooden sled with metal runners to the NIMC and a barber’s chair, horsehair springing from a rip in the leather. When we took it out of the little lean-to, clippers still hung on a stand, a sheer curtain waved in the breeze, and buckets of black hair stood on the floor of the tiny barber’s shop.
Inside all the shiplap walls of our house was glued one layer of newspaper. How cold was the first winter! I found a patchwork silk bag full of tops for geta, which with futons and a packing crate from the move are now in the Langham Museum in Kaslo, which opened before the Nikkei Centre. I found every paper bag and piece of string carefully saved.
My kids grew up hearing Japanese as their second language. Each day a trio of ladies, known locally as the “Three Musketeers,” passed on daily errands, always together. I’ve just made quince pastilles (candy), half the scented golden fruit from my own garden, the rest from Roy Sumi’s dry riverbed at the Nikkei Centre. I feed the fire with kindling “harvested” when the Centre got a new cedar roof.
The Nikkei Centre is such a jewel in my neighbourhood, The Orchard, I can’t imagine life without it. I’ve met so many people visiting to heal this part of our shared past: the daughter of an RCMP corporal charged with transporting hundreds of people from coast to camps, who kept an amazing photo album. A gentleman with a guilty grin who confessed, “Well, I was a teenage boy when I came, I’d never seen so many beautiful girls in one place in my life!”
Since I was introduced to Obon, I have had the great privilege of joining the local Buddhist community in their annual reverence for our ancestors in the beautiful Kyowakai Hall. Although I was away for the NIMC’s opening I was thrilled to garden while listening to the celebrations of the heritage designation. I’ll always remember standing by my pond singing O Canada! with the crowd in the street between my house and the Centre. I look forward to sharing the 20 year celebration with locals and visitors. I hope that everyone takes the time also to visit the Kohan Reflection Garden a few blocks south on the lakeshore.
I still recall those eloquent photos of the 1977 exhibition: the lady in her best coat and hat, much too elegant to give much warmth, bewildered in the steam of the train behind her. Perhaps in Slocan City? Unforgettable.
New Denver represents the many internment and road camps that have long disappeared. She must continue to stand as a sacred memory of those dark years but also as a testament of our community’s indomitable spirit. I appeal to the readers of The Bulletin to make a financial donation to ensure that the NIMC will continue to stand as an important benchmark in the history of Canadian civil and human rights. – Ken Noma, President, National Association of Japanese Canadians
Donate to the Nikkei Internment Memorial Centre
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Nikkei Internment Memorial Centre
PO Box 40
New Denver, BC
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