The New Canadian – A History
“We had a sense of mission in the sense that it was very important to do everything we could to sustain morale. We had to tell people: Look, in spite of all these terrible things that have happened to you, stand on your own feet. Look within yourself to your own strength and self-respect and your own sense of dignity.”
from the Langham tape collection
When The New Canadian began publishing on Kaslo’s Front Street on November 30, 1942, it became the primary source of news for a community that had been exiled from their homes on the west coast. The only Japanese Canadian newspaper allowed to publish during the war, it carried news of friends and family members in the various camps, along with official proclamations and government policy directives.
The New Canadian originally began publishing in 1938 in Vancouver, home to the vast majority of Japanese Canadians. Over 60% were Canadian-born, English-speaking nisei. Billed as the “voice of the Nisei,” the English-only paper carried news of interest to the younger nisei, a generation caught between the expectations of their parents and the lure of the mainstream Canadian culture.
Once the evacuation from the coast began in earnest, the government decided that it would be prudent to allow the paper to continue publishing, with heavy oversight and censorship of course. Realizing that it needed a way to communicate with the Japanese-speaking issei, the decision was made to turn The New Canadian into a bilingual publication.
Tom Shoyama, who had taken over from original editor Peter Higashi in 1939, carried on as English editor and Takaichi Umezuki was recruited as Japanese editor.
Remembers his daughter Marge Umezuki: “I was seven when we were forced to leave Vancouver. On the train, an Italian Canadian conductor befriended us. He said that it was a real shame what they were doing to us. They weren’t doing it to the Italians or the Germans. We stayed in Slocan for about five months I think. My father was apparently still in Vancouver because he was ill. When Tom Shoyama called him to set up a Japanese section of The New Canadian we moved to Kaslo to join him.”
MUNISUKE IKENO WAS SENT BACK TO VANCOUVER to retrieve the Japanese fonts needed to print the Japanese-language section of the paper. The trip also had an unexpected outcome. As former New Canadian Staffer Noji Murase told the Nikkei Voice in 2002, “Amongst the articles confiscated by the Custodian of Enemy Alien Property, warehoused together with the fonts of Japanese type which had belonged to his printing business prior to the evacuation, Mr. Ikeno found a box of harmonicas. With the beginning of the Japanese language section of The New Canadian, the Lemon Creek Harmonica Band was also founded.”
While The New Canadian staff set about preparing to publish, the newcomers and the townspeople were getting to know each other. Says Aya Higashi, “Most of the people in Kaslo had never seen Japanese people. With the propaganda, they had heard terrible things about us. Suddenly a town of 500 was to receive 1100 or 1200 hundred new residents. Were they enemy or foreigners? You could see why the townsfolk would be apprehensive. But most of them treated us very well.”
Marje Umezuki has fond memories of those days: “We moved into a house up the hill on Sutherland’s Farm along with the staff of the New Canadian. My mother used to cook for the whole gang. There was Tom Shoyama, Roy Ito, Harry Kondo and a gentle older man who spoke Japanese, who used to be a photographer and had a collection of beautiful photographs. And I remember Junji Ikeno, Noji Murase and others. They used to play poker in the evenings. I remember it as a very pleasant time. It was like having a bunch of fun-loving uncles who used to kid us all the time . . .”
THE SITUATION WAS FAR FROM IDEAL OF COURSE. Government policy dictated that all copy be vetted by censors, which added an extra strain on top of the pressure of publishing on time week after week. As Frank Moritsugu wrote in a 1958 edition of The New Canadian, “The week’s issue could not be ‘put to bed’ on the press until the wire arrived from the censor (usually late Thursday) giving approval or suggesting certain deletions. What the Censor of Enemy-Language Publications, based in Vancouver, got from us were carbons of all our copies—English and Japanese. And accompanying the Japanese copy were English summaries, which the assistant editor had whipped together on Wednesdays with help of the Kenkyusha dictionary, help from the Japanese editor and a lot of curses.”
Moritsugu says that as the assistant English editor under Tom Shoyama “It was my job to collect all the carbons of items in the issue, and also translate all the nihongo items from Messers Umezuki and Mayeda, so that the Censor of Enemy-Language Publications could do his checking more quickly to meet our weekly deadlines. And that translating for the censor was begun by Roy Ito, my predecessor as assistant editor in Kaslo, and author of We Went to War, Storfies of My People, etc. Noji Murase who succeeded me when I left to join the family who had moved from Tashme to Southern Ontario told me recently he wasn’t able to do such translations, so am unsure who looked after that from early 1944 until the end of the war.”
Any criticism of the government and government policies was forbidden and in 1944, the censors threatened to shut down The New Canadian for criticizing the racist tendencies of Vancouver’s mayor. Shoyama responded to the threat with an editorial that began, “Despite all the things that have been said and done since Pearl Harbor, and despite all the things that becloud the horizon, this Dominion Day serves as an appropriate time to re-affirm here the fundamental purpose for the existence of this Newspaper. That purpose, simply, is to lift a voice and fight to establish the right and privilege of every citizen, irrespective of his racial origin, to walk with equal dignity, freedom and service amongst his fellow Canadians.”
TOM SHOYAMA AND THE REST of the New Canadian staff saw it as their duty to try to keep morale high and to reaffirm the sense of themselves and their fellow internees as Canadians, despite being labelled “enemy aliens.” Treading the line between advocating for their readers and serving as a forum for government directives was often difficult.
As Shoyama said many years later, “Our people were filled with such great feeling of fear, dread, bitterness, anger, and resentment. And we all wondered what the future held for us. To try to create some stability and to try to fill in that huge gap of the unknown was the role of our newspaper.”
IN 1945, FOLLOWING JAPAN’S surrender, The New Canadian moved to Winnipeg, in line with its own editorial policy advocating eastern relocation for Japanese Canadians. Kasey Oyama took over as editor when Tom Shoyama volunteered for the Canadian Army.
In 1949, the paper relocated for the final time, to Toronto, where Toyo Takata took over as editor. The New Canadian, under various editors, continued publishing until 2001, when it closed down due to a combination of declining readership and decreasing advertising sales. The last issue was published in September of that year, nearly 63 years after it first appeared.
An exhibit now on at the Japanese Canadian National Museum looks at the Kalso years of The New Canadian. Developed by the Langham Cultural Society in Kaslo and curated by Ian Fraser, the exhibit features 40 images of New Canadian newsroom staff and Kaslo life between 1942 and 1945, summarizing the Japanese Canadian newspaper story and the careers of the leaders who created it.
All quotes from the Langham tape collection except where noted, courtesy of the Virtual Museum of Canada. Copyright the Langham Cultural Society.
THE NEW CANADIAN Newspaper
March 28-April 19, 2008
Japanese Canadian National Museum
Friday, April 18, 7pm
Presentation by Ian Fraser “A tribute to THE NEW CANADIAN Heroes”
Saturday, April 19, 2pm
Gallery tour by Ian Fraser followed by a closing reception.