Remembrance Day 2020: 100 years of memories
by Linda Kawamoto Reid
One hundred years of people gathering at the cenotaph conjures up so many images, stories, emotions, and memories of tribute. It has become an iconic gathering place to remember the sacrifices, the struggles, the sorrows, the commemorations, the honour and the appreciation of those who fought for human rights, freedom and democracy. It has grown to be a meaningful place of Remembrance for all Canadians, and has attracted about 500 people in recent years.
This year was different of course. Due to the pandemic, the centenary event planned for April 9, 2020, exactly 100 years after the cenotaph was dedicated, was postponed. We are grateful to Veteran’s Affairs Canada’s Commemorative Partnership program for granting us the go-ahead to combine the centenary with Remembrance Day. Not only was it the centenary, but it was also the 75th Anniversary of the end of the Second World War, and the 70th Anniversary of the beginning of the Korean War, in which Japanese Canadians took part, in spite of how they were treated during the Second World War.
How to get creative during a pandemic? We can give David Iwaasa credit for coming up with the live streaming plan and the promise of ‘doing whatever it takes to make it happen’. David did a brilliant job of that and moderating the live streaming event, pushing for us to procure a large screen at the cenotaph so the participants could also see the pre-recorded speech and addresses from two MPs and an MLA. He also enlisted his grandchildren and wife to assist with the production of the event. Thanks David!
The live streaming event planned simultaneously at the Vancouver Japanese Language School had to be cancelled just days before the event, but that did not stop Laura Saimoto, Community Liaison VJLS from organizing media interviews for the one event that was going ahead on Remembrance Day (ours). Brad Kubota and his sister Kathy Enros, both grandchildren of Corporal Sainosuke Kubota (CEF) were media stars with Global, City News and Breakfast TV before the event. They traced the journey of Cpl Kubota from his army discharge to the legislature to win the vote for JC Veterans in 1931, to his last act of returning the Honour Rolls and Legion flag to the VJLS in 1977. It is a poignant story that is covered on a Global TV feature by Squire Barnes
The ceremony itself was limited to invitation only, keeping the number at the event to below 50 as directed by the Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry. Anticipating a longer than normal ceremony, there were 30 chairs distanced from each other in the plaza, and the 20 wreaths behind the cenotaph made for a lovely colourful backdrop to the ceremony. The Amazing Dream Stream team of Adam P. W. Smith, Marc L’Esperance, and Brandon Fletcher set up multiple cameras in and around the plaza in order to capture the activity. With all that technical equipment, we were so very lucky to have a break from the rain and have dry weather for the ceremony!
Hearty thanks goes out to the amazing duet of John Endo Greenaway and his daughter Emiko Newman for a very emotional and moving taiko performance dedicated to the centenary. It was a very powerful start to the commemoration and set the tone for the morning. Piper Edward McIlwaine piped the Lament, and Bugler Bombardier Genevieve Schwarzbach performed the Last Post and Reveille beautifully. Keiko Norisue led the gathering in O Canada, and God Save the Queen with her sweet voice. Reverend Daebin Im of the Japanese United Church gave us great words of remembrance in the Reflections. David Mitsui reminded us of the Act of Remembrance. Lest we forget!
Pre-recorded addresses from Honourable MP Hedy Fry, Vancouver Center, Honourable MP Joyce Murray from Vancouver Quadra, and MLA elect Anne Kang from Burnaby Deer Lake recognized the contributions of Japanese Canadians in three wars. Thank you!
The featured speakers of our centenary promised to attend in whatever way they could. They are descendants of three men who went to Victoria in 1931 to acquire the franchise for the veterans – Sergeant Masumi Mitsui MM, Corporal Sainosuke Kubota, and Saburo Shinobu from the Canadian Japanese Association. Susan Yatabe from Ontario sent us a pre-recorded presentation on her grandfather Saburo Shinobu’s contributions to achieving equality for Japanese Canadian citizens. Kathy Enros spoke (live) on behalf of the Kubota family of Cpl Kubota’s significant achievements towards achieving equality. And David Mitsui, spoke (live) about the amazing contributions of Sgt. Mitsui MM (Military Medal) and his dedication as well as his frustrations. It was like a family reunion sharing stories about our ancestors and finding out more about each other! Thanks to the speakers for carrying the torch! The iconic cenotaph has seen 100 years of these kinds of events.
Having to limit the participation of the public who wanted to pay their respects was particularly distasteful and uncomfortable. We regret having had to turn people away to respect the directives from the Public Safety Officer, and we hope that those who were turned away will understand and return when the pandemic is over. We very much appreciated the presence of six members of the Mounted Squad on horseback at the event: Sergeant Susan Sharp on Apollo, Constables Joanne Hardman on Stanley, Marla Irving on Killian, Chris Spence on Ike, Laura Jacqet on Turbo and Hana Du Temple on Jedi.
On a positive note, live streaming the event gave us the opportunity to reach the few remaining JC veterans who watched the event in the comfort of their homes with their families, as most of them live in Ontario. By virtue of the YouTube video, we have been able to reach descendants across Canada, the USA and even Japan. Many have commented that the ceremony should be done this way going forward, given that our JC community is so spread out.
The wreaths offered this year
British Empire Service League, Legion #9 – David Mitsui
S-20 & Nisei Veterans Association – Makoto Iwaasa
NAJC – President Lorene Oikawa
NNMCC – Executive Director Karah Goshinmon Foster
Consul General of Japan – Consul General Takashi Hatori
GVJCCA – President Judy Hanazawa
JCWMC – Chair Linda Kawamoto Reid in honour of the centenary & all veterans
MP Hedy Fry’s Vancouver Center – Constituency Assistant Veronica Stolba
VJLS & Hall – Executive Director Darius Maze
Tonari Gumi – Patrick Li
City of Vancouver – Deputy Mayor Lisa Dominato
Vancouver Parks Board – Commissioner Stuart Mackinnon
RCMP – Corporal Peter Somerville
VPD and Mounted Squad – Superintendent Michelle Davey
BC Jodo Shinshu Temples – Ted Akune
Japanese Christian Churches – Reverend Daebin Im
Vancouver Konko Faith – Roderick Hashimoto
Seicho-No-Ie Church – Cleusa S. Yamamoto
NAV Chorus – Midori Seo
National Society Daughters of the American Revolution – Nancy McLean
Poppy Wreath – Cathy Yamamoto
Sponsors: Veterans Affairs Canada, National Association of Japanese Canadians, many donors.
In-Kind services: Nikkei National Museum, Vancouver Parks & Recreation, Tonari Gumi, Vancouver Japanese Language School, Sam Yamamoto, John Kamitakahara, Amano Foods.
Volunteers: Hannah Iwaasa, Makoto Iwaasa, Jane Iwaasa, Nathan Armstrong, Meaghan Mitsui, Cameron Reid, Patrick Fujisawa.
Hosted by the Japanese Canadian War Memorial Committee:
Chair Linda Kawamoto Reid
Moderator David Iwaasa
Veteran Tak Irizawa, Toronto Ontario
David Mitsui, Frank Kamiya
View the live stream here:
Nikkei National Museum‘s YouTube channel:
As of press time, it has been viewed 1,533 times!