Untold Stories of Powell Street
Did your family live or work in the Powell Street area before the war? The Japanese Canadian community has made important contributions to the history of Vancouver since the 1880s—before the city was formally established. To help celebrate Vancouver’s 125th birthday, the Japanese Canadian National Museum is undertaking a research and exhibit project to gather and share the pre-war history of Vancouver’s Powell Street area. The Museum will create two new exhibits—our main museum exhibit will open in May and a permanent exhibit in the foyer of the Vancouver Japanese Language School will open in July.
A bit of history . . .
This research and exhibit project will focus on the first decades of the 20th century—from 1900-1941—the heyday of Powell Street as the heart of the Japanese community and one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Vancouver.
The first Japanese residents arrived to the Powell Street area in the early 1880s, some working at Hastings sawmill or on the docks of the city’s growing waterfront economy. Individual homes, hotels, service agencies and commercial businesses were quickly established in the area to support the workers, and the burgeoning Japanese community. By 1921, there were 578 ethnic Japanese stores and organizations, making Powell Street the business centre of the Japanese community.
Japanese community members were involved in almost every aspect of life in the area: the busy open vegetable markets, the regular baseball games played by the Asahi ball team in Oppenheimer Park, the taxi companies, the Japanese and English language newspapers, Japanese restaurants, boarding houses, traditional bath houses, drug stores, department stores, and special Japanese food businesses, making tofu or manju. Children attended Japanese Language School on evenings and weekends. There were also several churches and a Buddhist temple specifically for community members.
Can you help us?
We know there are so many wonderful stories—of shopkeepers, families, children, labourers, picture brides—that help to illustrate the diversity and vitality of the community. We are trying to put together a picture of what it was like to live, work, and play in the neighbourhood. What did you see when you walked down the street? What are the unique things you remember? Where did you go to school? What made Powell Street a special place to live and work? We know that some of these stories still survive, or were passed down through families. We are hoping that community members can share stories, memories, photographs and collections with the museum to help make our exhibit a success.
The Japanese Canadian National Museum
The Japanese Canadian National Museum (JCNM) is situated in the National Nikkei Museum & Heritage Centre which opened in September 2000 in a gorgeous multi-use facility designed by renowned Canadian architect Raymond Moriyama. The museum is based in Burnaby, BC but serves all Japanese Canadians across the country, and is an important resource for other communities to learn about the Japanese Canadian experience. Our mandate is to preserve and promote Japanese Canadian history, arts and culture through vibrant programs and exhibits that connect generations and inspire diverse audiences. If you think you can help, please contact us! Beth Carter or Linda Reid 604-777-7000 email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org