Nisei : Summer Jobs
“What? I have to travel 400 km to work all summer? I will call family services!” No, no, that didn’t come out of the mouth of a Nisei. They followed their parents’ orders. The Child’s Labour Code was not discussed back in those days. Parents just said, “Mo, ichi-nen mai dakara, ichigo chigiri iki nasai. ‘Go Homu’ kuro tara hazukashii kara, issho keme hataraki nasai!” – Now, that you are grown up, it’s time to go berry picking. It’s embarrassing to get fired so work hard. That spelled
the end of summer holidays for Nisei kids.
In the early 50s, many children from Vancouver went to work in the Fraser Valley to pick berries. My cousin, Yvonne Wakabayashi, recollects her memoirs of working at the Fukawa Farm with her cousins, Sanny Hirano, Yoko, Lurana and Monica Tasaka. Working in the field all day, she sang songs like Oh My Papa at the top of her lungs. The other girls would join in, and she felt like the Von Trapp family on the Alps. Coming from a cramped quarter living behind her mom’s dress-making shop in Vancouver, she loved the wide open spaces of Mt. Lehman. The girls had to budget their food expenses, to do their own cooking and washing. Mr. Fukawa tallied the wages after expenses and gave the girls bonus at the end of their seasonal work. The cousins took their hard-earned money and gave it to their parents. They had enough extra money to take in the P.N.E (Pacific National Exhibition).
As for my sisters, they went to Cawston to pick fruits, Magna Bay to pick berries and sometimes pick beans and tomatoes in Kamloops. Working at Magna Bay was much harder, especially when they were only around eleven years old. It was a 10-hour bus ride to Kamloops and then to Magna Bay. There was no shade and the climate there was desert-like. Some days, they had to work 14 hours a day during peak time. Some of the boys returned home to Greenwood because they didn’t agree with the working conditions. Lurana thought that Mt. Lehman was much easier because of the milder climate.
Marion (Hamaguchi) McQueen travelled by bus to Magna Bay in 1952 and she worked at the Nabata farm. She thought it was an adventurous journey with busload of kids from Greenwood. In the summer of 1953, after berry season, she went to Kamloops to work for Skelly’s Cannery, picking beans and tomatoes. Marion then spent the summer of 1954 and 1955 working at Goose Bay Cannery. The pay she thinks was $1.25 per hour union wage.
There were many large families from Greenwood so it was a great place to recruit migrant workers. In 1959, the first group consisted of older sisters with younger brothers. They worked at the Ishikawa Farm. Rice and shoyu were provided and that kept the food cost down. The wage was 4 ½ cent a pound. Mr. Isamu Ishikawa drove the truck to Transport Café so that the girls could buy more canned soup and bread. The boys bought burgers and fries. It was a hang-out for the berry-pickers. After six weeks of work, the final food budget came out to $8 per person! Of course, lunch was diluted canned soup over rice. The girls added a sprinkling of bologna for dinner. There was one farm where the girls hung old teabags on the clothesline to dry so that they could be used again the next day to squeeze out as much tea as possible.
The following year, only the boys went to Ishikawa Farm. That was a challenge when 14-year old boys had to cook, budget their expenses and to shop. Luckily, we had Tony Imai who drove us to Transport Café with his learner’s license. He made can soup on rice meal and sandwiches for lunch and dinner. After work, we were able to enjoy soaking in the ofuro (bath), drive the tractor around the field, play the guitar and listen to the Top 40 songs. We even had time to visit the Midway girls at Okabe Farm.
When older kids turned 15 or 16, they were fortunate to get a job at the cannery. They went to Goose Bay, Klemtu, Great Northern Cannery and even to Port Edward.
Yvonne worked at Great Northern Cannery in West Vancouver for the Millerd family. It was convenient for her since aunt and uncle Hirano lived nearby. Her brother, Jack, also worked here. At the cannery, she learned to skin and fillet fish which came in handy in later years. She even knew the whole processing system of canning salmon. They even made cat food with leftovers. At the end of the day, everyone smelled like fish!
As for Lurana, she and her friends went to Goose Bay in Rivers Inlet (Reba-sheen) to work in the cannery. Mr. G. Tanaka recruited workers from Greenwood by contacting Arizo Tasaka. The work was significantly an upgrade when Canada Fish Co. paid them well with overtime. The workers made big money, especially for young teens! For a special treat, Bing Crosby and Phil Harris would be up there fishing for king salmon. Bing even sang High Society to the workers.
The following year, my sister Lucy and other Greenwood girls went to Klemtu and earned $1100 for the summer’s work! Regular sawmill workers only made about $300 a month. Some of the girls refused to eat canned salmon thereafter.
Other summer jobs that Yvonne dabbled in were peeling shrimps for Uncle Sakai at docks near Ballantyne Pier, secretary’s helper, baby-sitting and massaging aunty Rose’s shoulders (katamomi).
As for Jack Tasaka, his working days were like tracing old Vancouver history! He delivered the News Herald in the Kitsilano area from Alma down to Kits Beach. Jack’s favourite memory was to stop in at Austin’s Donut Store on 4th and Alma. The free doughnut and the smell that permeated for blocks was what Jack remembered most. He then worked at Chapman Bowling Alley on West Broadway on the weekends. It was a dangerous job when people rolled the ball so hard that the flying pins would give him bruises! In those days, a boy had to pick up the ball and set the pins manually. His high school job was getting up on the ladder and setting letters for the up-coming movie at Hollywood Theatre. Jack was paid a few dollars but he was given the privilege of watching the movie and eating stale, leftover popcorn. Other summer jobs he held were Canadian Fish Company at the foot of Gore Street in Vancouver and Koby’s Collision owned by Dave Kobayashi. Jack remembers siphoning little bit of gas from rental cars that were being repaired to give to the driver of the carpool who took them to U.B.C.
Some of the Greenwood boys worked in the Okanagan picking fruits. It was over 100 degree F. in the afternoon. Therefore, the boys took time off from noon till 4:00pm. They resumed work from 5:00 to 9:00pm. They called the outhouse, the Leaning Tower of Pisa. The peach fuzz on the sweaty skin was terribly painful.
Was it financial necessity or did parents wanted to be ‘free of children’ over the summer? No matter what the parents’ intentions were, the children learned tremendous life skills to help them in their future employment. The children learned responsibility, frugality, perseverance, hard work and endurance. Those qualities really helped out in their adult working lives.
Omu-sto-bu: Most families had a kitchen stove and another stove in the parlour. Why omu-sto-bu? To the Issei, this meant ‘warm stove’. That was the stove in the parlour to warm up in the winter and to even dry your wet clothing. Each stove had a damper to control the heat so that it doesn’t get too hot. I have seen ‘omu stobu’ become red hot if anyone put too much wood. A guard railing would wrap around the stove so that children wouldn’t get ‘ya-ke-doh’. Issei called damper, ‘jumpa’.