The Japanese Canadians of Ucluelet
by Paul Kariya
I grew up here as a child and spent summers fishing with my father as a teenager but know so little about this place I have always called home.
No matter where I have lived I have always made an annual trek home to go fishing, play on the beach, watch the ocean or introduce my children and now a new grand child to the wonder that is Ucluelet.
As a boy, the most beautiful sight to me used to be the annual return of the Japanese Canadian fishing fleet. In the 1960s they would come in waves starting in early April at the start of the salmon season and numbers would pick up by late June when the sockeye would show up. The Japanese-Canadian fleet mostly from Steveston and Vancouver were impeccably kept and colourful. Miss Nikko, Majestic Belle, Salmon Trails, Lillian 2, Rewarder, Sunland, Centennial Star, Miss Audrey, Koki M, Sea Derby, Happy Time, are a just some of the names.
I would sit on the dock at Ucluelet Fish Camp and look down to the mouth of the harbour and even if I could only see the trolling poles and mast I would try to guess the names of the boats and where they had been built. The timber and tone of the engines would help in the identification. The “Jimmy” diesels were easy to hear – the difference between a 6-71 and a 6-53 — harder to differentiate were the Volvo Pentas from the Isuzu engines. For the gas engines, the mufflers made all the difference in differentiating a Gray from a Chrysler Crown.
This past summer, in my 65th year I returned to Ucluelet as a part-time resident. I walked onto the rotting corpse of the dock at Ukee Fish Camp – long since abandoned. From April to June, there was no return of the salmon troll fleet – Japanese-Canadian or otherwise. The return of the salmon are not what they used to be. Periodically a ground fish trawler entered the harbour, rusty hulks, dragging themselves to one of the two hake plants. Ucluelet has gone from salmon trolling epic-centre to hake capital of BC.
At one time in the 1930s Japanese Canadians were by far the largest population of people in Ucluelet. The place hummed with the presence of the Nikkei. Of course there was structural and social discrimination, but there was no denying numbers and the Nikkei community was larger than the indigenous and hakujiin populations combined. What did this dominance in numbers mean to commerce, religious life, education and fishing?
And then they were gone – removed by government edict – dispossessed and kicked out.
After the war and the legal restrictions to movement were lifted, 15-20 Japanese Canadian families returned to Ucluelet but their presence, while significant, was no longer as it had been. Today the landscape of Ucluelet betrays very little about its Japanese Canadian history.
My goal is to research and learn about the Japanese Canadians of Ucluelet. I know there is quite a back-story to be told. While I was immersed in Japanese Canadian affairs when I lived in Ottawa and jumped into Redress in the 1980s and have been involved in the Vancouver Nikkei community I have not looked into Ucluelet.
I would be pleased to hear from you if you have family linkages to Ucluelet – stories, pictures, memories, diaries, etc. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org