The Taste of Home
It was once known as the Powell Street Grounds, later changed to Oppenheimer Park, after Vancouver’s second mayor, David Oppenheimer. Depending on what website you’re looking at, it was opened in 1898 or 1902. From the latter part of the 1800s up until the end of 1941, the park sat at the centre of the Vancouver Japanese Canadian community, starting with Tokutaro Chikamura and Tsukichi Kato, who purchased 230 Powell Street in 1898, becoming the first Japanese immigrants to own property on Powell Street. It was the home of the legendary Asahi baseball team, of single men and families, bath houses and assorted businesses.
Then, with the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the subsequent forced removal of all Japanese Canadians from the coast, it was all gone – the cheering fans, the smell of fish and shoyu, the unique cadence of the Japanese language; the businesses and houses, the cars, all sold at bargain prices without their owners’ knowledge or consent.
In 1949, with the lifting of wartime restrictions, Japanese Canadians were allowed back on the coast and little by little, some began to return, looking to rebuild their lives. Scarred perhaps by their wartime experience, most chose not to return to Powell Street, instead dispersing throughout the greater Vancouver area.
They say you can’t go back, and in the case of the Japanese Canadians, it was mostly true.
And yet we do come back, for one weekend, year after year, to this dusty little patch of land in Vancouver’s downtown eastside, in the middle of Canada’s poorest postal code. Like salmon returning upstream to the spawning beds, we are drawn by the smell of yakitori and shoyu. We gather together on the spot where the Asahi used to play, to laugh and cheer on the sumo wrestlers, the taiko players and the oh-so-cute hapa kids with their pompoms spinning in the sun. We catch up with old friends, make new ones, wonder where the last year went. Back, for a brief moment, to a “once was” most of us never knew. It’s sweet, mixed with bitter. And it tastes like home.