Spirit of the Nikkei Fleet
For many fishermen, the lifting of restrictions against Japanese Canadians on April 1, 1949 was bittersweet. While they were now allowed to move anywhere in Canada, including back to the BC coast, it wasn’t that simple. Eight years had passed since they were ordered off the coast. All fishing boats had been confiscated and then sold or sunk. Some fishermen had taken up other careers in the east. Some were too old to return to fishing. And some were just too bitter at the way they had been treated by their own government to want to return. Close to half did return eventually, though, but it was not easy. The returning fishermen faced many of the same obstacles they had before the internment including pervasive racism. They quickly found out that “Japs” were not welcomed by other fishermen or even the canneries who had hired them before, for fear of a backlash. Eventually, though, the canneries did begin to hire the Nikkei fishermen back and in fact began recruiting in the prairies and in the east.
Chapter Nine of the Spirit of the Nikkei Fleet: BC’s Japanese Canadian Fishermen is titled Return, Re-entry and Rebuilding and deals with the gradual return of fishermen and their families to the coast. It examines the many challenges of starting over, as well as some of the things that worked in their favour, including the support of the United Fishermen and Allied Workers Union under the leadership of union President Homer Stevens, whom Buck Suzuki credited with opening up the union to Japanese Canadian fishermen.
Excerpt from Spirit of the Nikkei Fleet: BC’s Japanese Canadian Fishermen
While working in a sawmill in Lumby in 1949, Yoshio “Joe Teranishi” heard on the radio that Japanese were allowed back on the coast.
My uncle Mo-yan [Mosaburo Teraguchi] and I applied for a travel permit at the RCMP Headquarters in Bridge River and became two of the first to come back to the coast to have a look around. There was nothing to return to. We didn’t have a car and had to walk everywhere. We had one day to find a place. We found 6 acres with a shack on Moncton Street which we bought from Mr. Sopel.
Teranishi had spent the last seven years moving from place to place. From Steveston, he and his parents relocated to Minto Mines and from there to Bralorne, Bridge River, Westwold, Kamloops and eventually to Lumby. He had worked in various jobs including picking mushrooms and building houses for incoming internees as well as on a chicken farm, in a tomato factory and in sawmills.
Teranishi and Teraguchi spent the night of March 31st at the Patricia Hotel in Vancouver with Yasuichi Sakai and his cousin Yoneichi Sakai. Early the next morning they walked to the Fisheries office and waited outside in order to be there when the doors opened. On April 2, A.J. Whitmore, Chief Supervisor of Fisheries reported to the Deputy Minister, Department of Fisheries in Ottawa that “six British subjects of Japanese racial origin applied at this office for commercial fishing licences and obtained a total of eleven licences: five salmon gillnet, three salmon trolling, two cod and one grayfish. These applicants all stated that they had not yet procured fishing boats but that it was their intention to obtain a fishing licence first then look around with a view to acquiring a boat.” To get their licenses, they had all produced birth certificates or naturalization papers; each license cost $1.
reproduced by permission of Harbour Publishing,