Ruth Barnett, interviewed by Rebeca Salas, 06 July 2016

Ruth Barnett, interviewed by Rebeca Salas, 06 July 2016

Abstract
Ruth begins talking about her parents, their primary occupation, and how they got involved teaching English to Japanese boys. She describes how the area changed during and after the war, as well as how her family kept in touch with their Japanese Canadian friends. Ruth reflects on the different items her parents stored for her friend Toshi's family until the war was over. Toshi explains her experience moving to Japan due to the war and what the journey back to Vancouver was like. Near the interview's end, Toshi and husband Billtalks about their adopted daughter from Japan.
00:00:00.000
Ruth Barnett (RB)
I don't know if my story is too much good, but,
Rebeca Salas (RS)
Oh, I'm sure it's great. This is Rebeca Salas with Ruth Barnett-Chambers and we are here on July 6, 2016, for the Landscapes of Injustice. So, Ruth, why don't you start telling the story you were just telling me.
RB
Why did I start telling you this story?
RS
Why don't you just start again.
RB
Well, I don't know. I guess, the Japanese population kept growing and growing but they had no money to help to start the children going into grade one. They don't know English. They don't know anything. It's very tough on them. So the one thing that they asked . . . I don't know how mom got, really got started. Oh, I know. We taught the Japanese boys that came here as young men to farm. Mom and dad taught them English in the evenings after they had gone to work all day, they were tired, and they'd have a lantern and we'd see they'd come down Terry Street, I don't know if you know all of the streets, but Terry Street is our street and, first of all, you start hearing the rattle of their lantern and you see the little light flashing and we know the boys are coming so we've got to get, kind of, ready. We never had enough chairs so one boy said, “Well, I can't give you any money.” Daddy said, “I don't want any money.” He said, “Well, I can't give you anything then.” Finally, Daddy, he said “Well, if you can't do anything else bring a chair because we're short of chairs.” Well, he brought a little yellow chair, just a kitchen chair, and we gave it his name because he brought it, little old yellow chair. Anyway, that was the way it kind of started with the boys coming to night school to mom and daddy's. Daddy had a big round table in our living room and there daddy sat with the boys that were a little more advanced in there and mom sat with the boys in the kitchen. Us kids who were supposed to be doing homework. We're sitting around listening to the boys instead of doing homework. Anyway, we managed to get through school but that part was quite difficult. We enjoyed those boys so much and they were so kind, you know, always to us. Christmas time, oh, we'd get . . . They'd bring boxes of oranges and, oh, we loved those Japanese oranges. Of course, they knew we liked them. They'd bring them and then we'd have to hide them because one boy would bring a box of oranges, another boy would bring a box, and another boy. We'd have so many boxes of oranges we didn't know what to do with them so we had to, kind of, hide them so the boys wouldn't see them laughs. Life went on like that for a long time with the boys coming to night school. It was tough on them because they worked all day, very hard, and then they came to night school and started trying to learn again. So, I don't know much. What else should I say about them?
RS
When was that? About what year, do you think?
RB
Boy, I don't know. I was only a little girl in school. I'm a hundred so it's quite a while ago.
RS
How old were you? What grade were you in?
RB
I don't remember.
RS
No?
RB
But I wasn't in a low, low grade. I was a little higher up but I couldn't tell you my age.
Toshi Kajiwara (TK)
Maybe around your teen age, when you were in your teen age?
RB
Yeah, we tried to teach the boys a little bit. I had one and you had to give them an English name. That was the first thing. They'd come for maybe three nights and then we'd say, “Well, what kind of a character does he have?” If he was friendly and did the best that he could we'd all name him. We'd give him a name. We all enjoyed that so much with giving the boys names. Your brother, he was daddy's special . . . They chummed together, Charlie and daddy, they had a good time together.
TK
All the Japanese boys that come to mom and dad's place, they all went to your place to learn English and we lived so close, about ten minutes walk. A lot of them worked on our farm.
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RS
Oh, okay. So your parents' house was in Vancouver?
RB
Pardon?
RS
Your parents' house was in Vancouver, close to here?
RB
My parents' house? No we were all in Mission.
TK
Mission, yeah.
RS
Mission. Oh, okay.
RB
Yeah, we moved to Mission when, well, I was born here. I was born in my grandmother's basement suite. She used to tell people I was born in grandma's house in the basement laughs. I can tell everybody that.
TK
Where did grandma live?
TK
Lived here in Vancouver?
RB
Yes, they lived here but daddy, they always lived in England, his mother and father. We never saw them even, no. So it was mostly mom's family that we tend, grandma and grandpa were right across the road. We were on Mount Marianne. Any of you know Mount Marianne?
RS
Where is it about?
RB
Yeah, well, we were on the side of Mount Marianne remember?
BK
Yeah, that's on the west side. Yeah.
RB
Yeah.
TK
You don't know where the catholic monastery . . .
RS
Oh, yes.
TK
It's close to there.
RS
Okay. Okay, in Mission.
RB
The other side of the bottom. We're on one side and they're on the other side. REBEBCA Okay. So the teaching was happening in Mission. Is that right?
TK
Yes.
RB
Yes, kindergarten. It's beginning there with mom. She did real well. There was a little boy, I always think of this example, he was kindergarten age, of course, and all he did was cry. He would not do a thing, just cry because he felt so sad. So mom worked with him, worked with him, and by Christmastime he was singing and doing everything. She got up and told the Japanese people, maybe some of you remember, you would be kids, but she said “Now, this little boy, I want you to know that when he first came to kindergarten he did nothing but cry. Now, he's going to sing for you.” That little boy, all by himself, mom told him “Now you go out” and he got out in the platform and he sang all by himself. Oh, they clapped and they clapped. They were so happy to hear that he'd did so well because he did well. That little boy, I don't know where he is now. He probably remembers that story, I don't know.
BK
I'm sure all this happened, I think, in the early '30s. Yeah.
RS
Okay.
RB
What did he say?
RS
Was in the '30s?
TK
I think so.
BK
Yeah.
RB
Could be, could be.
BK
Yeah, it would be the early '30s.
RB
Yeah.
RS
Mhm.
RB
When did you come out here to Canada?
BK
I was born here laughs.
RB
Oh, you were born here?
BK
North Vancouver.
RB
Oh, right in Vancouver. Oh!
TK
I was born in Mission laughs.
RB
You were born in Mission. I was born in the basement, my grandma's basement in Vancouver.
RS
Well, if you guys are going to be speaking and helping with the story did you want to just quickly introduce yourself and say your name, just so we know?
RB
Pardon?
RS
I should just mention that you guys are here, right?
RB
What?
RS
Speaking. I'm just going to introduce that they are here so we know who is talking.
RB
Oh.
RS
Yeah.
RB
Oh, maybe they don't know each other?
TK
I'll just say I'm your old, old friend from Mission. No, I'm Toshi.
RB
Oh, Toshi. Yeah, Toshi, not Fumi.
TK
Not Fumi. She was composed with Fumi.
RB
Fumi was my age
TK
Her age.
RB
Toshi was younger.
TK
I went to kindergarten with your mom.
RB
Fumi was my age.
TK
Yes.
RB
A little bit younger.
TK
And Charlie was about your age.
RB
Charlie?
TK
My brother, Charlie.
RB
Oh, your Charlie. Yeah. My Charlie, I had a Charlie, too.
TK
Oh, yeah laughs. Your hubby.
RB
So, um . . .
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RS
Why don't you tell me a little bit more about the relationship your mom had with the children. You were telling me a little bit about, um, when they used to hold her hand and that sort of thing.
RB
Oh, when they liked her.
RS
Yeah.
RB
Oh, yeah. Sensei Kakita, Sensei Kakita. They yelled to the other kids to come running fast because they all loved mom so much. She was like a mother to them since they got to school. They got to know mom, you know, this was wonderful.
RS
And your mom's name, one more time, was?
RB
Mom what?
RS
Your mom's name?
RB
Emma.
RS
Emma.
RB
Emma Barnett.
RS
And your father?
RB
Henry Barnett.
TK
Harry.
RB
I don't know. He called your dad something different, too. You and your dad. Her dad and my dad were great friends. We were neighbors but they were good friends.
RS
You were neighbors in Mission?
RB
Uh-huh.
RS
In Mission.
RB
Yeah. Fumis they were close to us. We would walk to school together, us kids.
TK
We were the Mount Marianne bunch.
RS
Were there quite a lot of you living close together in the neighborhood or just a couple of families?
TK
Yeah, it's a farm so, like, we could live about ten, fifteen minutes away but that's close in the country. We were very close friends, very close.
RS
So the kids, you used to play together, walked to school together, did you play?
RB
They didn't have much time to play. They had to work. Well, we did, too.
TK
On Sundays we used to go for long walks.
RB
Way up around the back of Mission and up. Oh, it was such a long walk. The whole gang of us.
TK
And then Mount Marianne is quite high from Mission. The road goes right into the . . . We used to tie everybody's sleigh together and there were very few cars and we'd all get on the sleigh and go. If our kids did that now we'd scold them laughs.
RS
Was everybody farming at that time?
TK
Mostly, I mean, the Japanese were all farming.
RB
Yeah, we weren't farming because my dad had a bad accident and he couldn't work anymore but he and I were the . . . I was his boy. I had to help him. Is she going? Are you going?
Anonymous Anonymous (AA)
I'm coming back. I'm going to the Superstore.
RB
Okay. I've had these girls coming and helping me out. They've been wonderful.
RS
That's nice.
RB
Ruth talks for 27 seconds about the unknown person who helps her.
00:13:30.000
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RS
What kind of work were your parents doing? Your mother was teaching.
RB
Daddy, he couldn't go to work. See, he's an artist but he painted that.
RS
Wow.
RB
He painted that . . .
RS
That's beautiful.
RB
He painted that. No that was a picture but he's an artist by nature, just natural, but he's done other things, too.
TK
We've got a, you know, a big fungus that grows on the fruit tree and your dad painted a nice picture on the face of the fungus.
RS
Oh, wow.
TK
And I still got it.
RB
Yeah, he liked to go hunting for the fungus. You know fungus, don't you?
RS
Mhm.
RB
Well, us kids watched for them, too. If we found one we thought was big enough and good enough, we'd take it home and then he'd dry it and fix it and really make a beautiful job of it. Yeah, he liked to paint.
TK
He was in an accident. He was fixing a car and it fell on his back.
00:14:53.000
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RB
Yeah. When he was first hurt he was working for Mr. Rutledge on cars. They were old, used cars. As they came in, they came in on a train, it dropped them off at Mission and then went on. One time, the train came in and it was rested there. It ended up, it fell on daddy. I just forget the whole story about it but it fell on him and broke his back. He never could walk much. He could walk but he had to use a cane. We have a picture of Charlie over here and daddy all dolled up on Sundays and daddy has his cane and his hat. But, no, it was pretty tough days where we didn't have very much laughs.
TK
You'd go to their house and it always smelled like bread or something baking and her dad would be baking. It smelled so good.
RB
Yeah, Dolly, when she ran out of bread she'd come up to our place because she knew she would get homemade bread. That's what she liked.
TK
We learned a lot of making bread and baking.
RB
Oh, yeah, he was a wonderful baker. Yeah, a really good baker. So it was a good thing he had that to fall back on, too, as well as his painting. He loved the painting. So, I don't know, it was quite a tough time for them. We don't really realize how tough it was for them to get along.
TK
Remember when we used to, on Sundays, we used to gather around your organ or piano and we'd sing different hymns and . . .
RB
Yeah, mom would pump the old organ laughs. We had an old pump organ. Mom would pump and try to sing.
TK
I guess the first song I learned was like Jesus loves me, this I know. We all sang it. When she starts a class, that's the first song they'll sing was Jesus loves me.
RB
Yeah, she had the children's songs. She had also some of the hymns which she taught the children, too. She had a combination of singing for the local . . .
RS
So did the singing, was that mainly at school or at the house that the two families would sing together?
RB
How did my mom do it?
RS
Was it at school or at home?
TK
It would be at the house but she will teach it at the kindergarten. So I think all the kids knew Jesus loves me. That's the first song they learned.
RB
The kindergarten was the main thing. She had the main thing with the kindergarten but she entered in on other things, too, yeah. To help them out. They had a big Christmas concert each year and there was a platform where the kids would go down and that was where that little boy stood up and sang. He was so scared. He cried and cried all the time. He sang out there like a little band. It was good to hear him sing.
TK
Too bad you forgot his name.
RB
Yes, I don't know. Mom would know.
TK
Your mom would know.
RB
I don't know that she would remember, either. There were so many children.
TK
She had quite a time with them all.
RB
She had lots of little ones to look after. So, what else?
RS
How many years was your mom teaching?
RB
Boy, you know, I couldn't tell you that either. I know it was quite a while. It was quite a long time.
TK
Kindergarten and night school.
RB
Yeah, and then they came to night school, too, the boys, you know, the young men. Like their older brother came out from Japan and he didn't know any English. Charlie was a young man wasn't he, when he came out?
TK
Yeah, in his teenage . . .
RB
Yeah, a teenager but he didn't know English so he had to learn. It was very hard for him. The kids teased him because he couldn't speak English. He had an awful time. Everybody felt sorry for him but what could you do? The kids were mean, just mean.
00:20:08.000
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RS
For the most part, did the kids all play together, all of the kids play together or was there . . .
RB
At school?
RS
Yeah.
RB
Oh, yes. We had, what, we all played together. We had swings and things that we could swing around on and we could do those at recess, noon hour. We used to have a pretty good school.
RS
Were there a lot of kids at the school? How many kids were taking class together?
RB
Up to grade eight.
RS
Up to grade eight all together?
RB
And . . . Pardon?
RS
All together?
RB
No. That was . . .
TK
We had a public school, junior high, and high school.
RS
Okay.
RB
It's a pretty good school.
RS
Okay.
TK
But the surrounding, like, Hatzic and all who lived far out, they'd go to their own school until grade six and then from grade seven they'll be bussed to our school, Mission school, because it was a bigger town.
RS
I see.
RB
There were, I guess, quite a few kids coming to Mission school from Silverdale, came on the bus. And the other ones. It was quite a busy little place. It was a hick town but I miss it just the same.
TK
Like when Fumi was going to school, like, when she graduated high school, the two smartest one in her class was her and Kimina Akashima.
RB
Oh, yes.
TK
And the principal wanted her to go to university but the Japanese were not able to go to . . . I mean, even if they graduated university, they couldn't get any main jobs. It was just, maybe, a working job but not a . . . So that's . . .
RB
Yeah, they had a tough time, real tough.
TK
That was their time, not my time, but my sister, like, her time and my sister's.
RB
And because my mom and dad were kind to them, loved the Japanese, we saw how nice they were and how loving they were and everything. My dad would never let anybody say anything against them. If they did, they'd be in trouble but daddy and mom were very kind to them and they appreciated that, too, that, at least somebody loved them. It wasn't that easy, sometimes, for them, for sure.
RS
Did they keep that attitude during the war?
RB
Oh, yeah. It was just as bad. Didn't they get sent away?
TK
Well, they got . . .
RB
To the prairies or somewhere. Yes, they got sent away.
TK
So they had to leave their house and land and they all got sent to the prairies, but I wasn't here. I was in Japan.
RB
You weren't born then?
TK
No, I was born laughs but I was sent to Japan when I was young.
RB
Oh. Well . . .
TK
And mom was sick and she couldn't travel. They really had a hard time.
RB
Your dad was pretty healthy.
TK
Yeah. That was really sad, and then . . .
RB
He was real strict, her dad, you know, picking berries or whatever it would be, they had to work laughs.
TK
They really worked with nothing. They really had . . . Dad cleared a lot of land. In the summer it would be . . .
RB
Strawberry hills, they were just loaded. How many acres of strawberries?
TK
Golly, about twenty acres or so. Different berries, gooseberry, blackberry, you name it, he grew it.
RB
Yeah.
TK
He worked hard and he built a big house because he had five, six of us and then he had workers living with us.
00:25:08.000
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RB
But it's too hot. I am. Are you hot? Would you like to take your . . . Open the front door?
BK
Are you hot?
RB
Yeah, just open the door. Let a little air in.
RS
What was your father's name, Toshi?
TK
My last name?
RS
Your father's name.
RB
What?
TK
Oh, his Japanese name was Shingo but the Barnetts called him Jack, I think.
RB
Oh.
TK
They called him Jack.
RB
Oh.
TK
My dad.
RB
Oh, yeah, Jack. Daddy called him Jack.
RS
And the last name? And the last name?
TK
Kunimoto.
RS
Kunimoto, okay. Do you need help taking your sweater off? Are you too hot?
RB
Yeah, I'm too hot.
RS
Okay, I'll help you here.
TK
My dad was such a proud man.
RB
Yes, he was but he was very kind and very generous and very honest.
TK
He was a head of this and that.
RB
And the Japanese . . .
TK
He really helped the Japanese people.
RB
Yeah, he was very good.
TK
But he was a strict man. Strict with us, very strict.
RS
What sorts of . . .
RB
Yeah, he liked all . . . Well, my mom and dad were so kind to them all those years that they tried to do the best they could for them and I think they appreciated it.
TK
Of course, my dad would like to hear news from Japan, you know, and we weren't able to have any shortwave radio to listen to it. So he used to go to their place to listen.
RB
And do what?
TK
Listen to the radio at your place.
RB
Oh.
TK
The shortwave radio to know what the war is really, you know, what was going on.
RS
So you were not allowed to have any radios at home?
TK
No. Well, just an ordinary radio but no shortwave radio.
RS
I see. So their family would allow you to go and listen to the radio, your father?
TK
Oh, yeah, they were just like brother and sisters laughs. We were always helping each other. I don't know what we'd do without them.
RB
We'd come home from Mission . . . To go to school we had two and a half miles to go. That's quite a bit for little kids. Some of us weren't very old.
TK
We enjoyed it because we had the gang.
RB
Yeah, there was a whole gang of us and we'll all do it together.
TK
That's right.
RS
Was it just the two families, like, the two groups of children that walked to school or were there other children as well?
TK
A whole bunch of us because I had about four sisters and a brother. And then there were other families.
RB
We were three of us and the Mons kids had six, seven, I don't know. They didn't come with us too much, the Mons boys. They went on their own.
TK
There were other Japanese families that joined us, the Hashizumis and the Sasakes.
RB
And the Nakashimas.
TK
Yeah, we had a whole bunch of them.
RB
Yeah, it was the good old days laughs.
RS
Lots of memories. So when it was wartime, did your parents ever talk about or do you remember how the area, sort of, changed? How it was different? So you had kids playing together and you had parents who were spending a lot of time together.
RB
After the war?
RS
Yeah, did your parents remain in Mission when the other families had to leave?
RB
Oh, yes, we did. We didn't leave Mission right away. When we left Mission it was . . .
TK
It was time to get remarried then. Wasn't it?
RB
Yeah.
TK
You got married not too long after that.
RB
Yeah, we were married.
TK
What year were you married?
RB
What year were we married? You know, I don't remember laughs. Oh, boy, I'm getting so forgetful.
TK
I wouldn't know when we got married either. I know we were married sixty-two years, this year.
RB
You?
TK
Mhm, sixty-two years.
RS
Wow.
RB
Yeah, I guess I've been longer than that.
TK
You'd be about seventy some odd years laughs.
RS
So you left and you got married. Did your parents stay in Mission?
00:30:07.000
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RB
Yes, I was twenty-five when we married and, I guess, we moved there pretty well right away, Charlie and I. He was a wonderful husband. I just loved him so dearly. Everybody loved him.
TK
He was a nice man.
RB
Anyway, he took sick and didn't last very long. It was a sad time for us when Charlie went because he was part of the . . .
TK
He used to come a lot of weekends to see you in the berry patch.
RB
Yeah, that's right.
TK
Right? When you're . . .
RB
And then Mariam, she got promoted to packing in the packing shed. Her job was sort of boosted a little bit but us kids, dumb, dumb, dumb, we just didn't get anything like she did.
TK
But Charlie used to come and visit you, and Bruna's husband, too. Bruna's husband used to come, Will, he used to come around.
RB
Yeah, he's gone, too. Everybody's gone in my family but me.
TK
What happened after you got married and moved to Vancouver? What happened to your parents?
RB
When daddy passed away, mom stayed on at Mission. She didn't want to leave Vancouver.
TK
Mission?
RB
Yeah, she didn't want to leave Mission and go to Vancouver.
TK
Oh, I see.
RB
She just stayed there for . . . Well, she maybe didn't stay too long. I can't remember how long but she didn't stay too, too long there.
TK
See, I was in Japan so I wouldn't know what happened during the war or . . .
RS
Did your mom teach during the war still? Did she keep teaching or did she stop?
RB
I don't think so. I can't remember that she did but I don't think she did.
TK
I think the Japanese had to leave so it was mostly Japanese students she'd teach.
RB
Japanese children. Yeah, maybe she did because they had to learn English somehow and if they weren't taught, well, they couldn't learn it, could they?
RS
So in the classes it was more Japanese students than English students?
TK
It was all Japanese, wasn't it? The kids.
RB
Mission school?
TK
No, when your mom was teaching.
RB
Mom's children, oh, you were thinking my mom's children?
RS
Mhm.
RB
Oh, they were all Japanese, yeah.
RS
Oh, okay.
RB
That's why they got to know a little bit of Japanese. Sensei Kakita laughs.
TK
So once they get out of kindergarten they go into public school.
RS
I see. I see.
TK
And your mom takes in some more Japanese students.
RS
Okay, so she was teaching separately, not in the public school. Is that correct?
RB
No, no, no. She never went . . . She never was teaching there.
TK
It was in the Japanese community.
RS
I see. I see. I see.
RB
No, she wasn't able to teach there because she didn't know any Japanese, just the odd words that they would pick up and teach us.
TK
They'd call her sensei and . . .
RB
Sensei, yeah. Sensei Kakita.
TK
Sensei.
RB
So that's about it. I don't know. Mariam, she's got the better memory than what I have, my older sister.
RS
Oh, I see.
RB
Maybe she stretches it a bit, makes it sound good, I don't know.
RS
I think it sounds great.
RB
I'm too honest.
RS
No, that's good. Honest is good. Do you have any other memories about growing up with the kids near your house that you remember?
RB
The nearest kids to our house were Fumi and her family.
RS
Mhm.
RB
Their family. In the summer, we spent pretty well all the summer with them because we used to go out there and pick berries. That was our summer money for buying new clothes or whatever we wanted. I've made a little bit.
TK
So it made it fun for my family, too, because they'd pick berries with us. Of course, I was small so, I guess, they wouldn't allow me to pick berries laughs.
00:35:04.000
00:35:04.000
RS
How old were you all when you started picking the berries and doing that in the summer?
TK
Teenagers.
RB
At home, we started with mom and we had a raspberry patch on the hillside of Mount Marianne. We started with mom there. She would pick it and then us kids would join her as much as we could to doing the same thing, to pick berries and, just, do all we could to help her out. We worked hard. Oh, boy. I guess life was quite different than now. For sure.
TK
I think my mom and dad used to wait for you all to get out of school for the summer to start working.
RB
We used to often go with him in his little old Ford truck down to . . .
TK
Ship the berries?
RB
Yeah, ship the berries away. We'd get a ride.
RS
Where did the truck go to ship the berries?
RB
Down to . . .
TK
Hatzic.
RB
Hatzic, yeah. The next stop after Mission.
TK
More like a railroad station.
RB
Stopped there.
TK
It'd get shipped all over, I guess.
RS
So how did the families keep in touch after the war?
RB
Which family? Us?
RS
All the, yeah, or the other families.
RB
We did. Kurimotos and us did. We kept in touch all the time. There's some others we didn't see so well but we were neighbors and we stuck together.
TK
A lot of our junk, they took for us and kept it for us until the war was over.
RB
Daddy built, kind of, an old shed, shack. Oh, not an old shack. It was a thing. That held quite a bit of their stuff and that was what we had to do to help out, was to put their stuff in our shed.
RS
What kind of stuff was it?
TK
Chinaware or . . .
RB
All their things from their house.
TK
You know, in those days it's not much but to them it was a treasure, I guess, that they would like to have.
RS
So your family got everything back. Did you go and get it or . . . How did that . . .
TK
No, what we left with them we got everything back. We had a huge house and not too long after that, this is what I heard, that, maybe, some homeless people got in the house, broke in the house, and maybe started a stove or started something that burnt the house down. One night it just . . . It was a three story house. You should see it now. It's right on the hill and it's overlooking Mount Baker.
RB
Yeah, it looks way down over the berry patches. Oh, it's a nice view, yeah.
TK
And down below where dad had had all his berries and whatever is a high school and it's subdivided residential. So it's a nice place, and where our house was there's a lot of . . . The real-estate man was telling me that's where all the rich people are because the view is so nice.
RS
It sounds beautiful.
RB
It was nice.
RS
So after all these years, the families stayed in touch. Did you see each other quite often, years later, or . . .
TK
As much as we can. We live quite close.
RB
Yeah, we live close but we don't see each other too often. We do quite a bit, yeah.
TK
We've got our own thing to do and she's got her own thing to do but we, kind of, keep in touch.
RS
Mhm.
TK
And everybody's gone. My sisters, they're gone and her sisters are all gone.
RB
Mom had lots of trouble with this girl. She cried a lot.
TK
Yeah laughs.
RB
She didn't want to go to school. I don't know what . . . Very shy.
RS
Oh, I see laughs.
TK
No, kindergarten was okay because I had your mom but I was supposed to go to . . .
RB
Oh, when you went to public school with . . .
TK
Oh, even to go to kindergarten. When I first went there was a tall Japanese boy. “I don't like him. Yeah, he scares me” and I cried and I cried and I cried. I thought I'd get heck when I got home, from mom, but mom said “That's okay. Tomorrow she'll go. She's a good girl. She'll go.” She didn't even scold me. The next day I went nice with your mom and went to school laughs.
00:40:40.000
00:40:40.000
RS
So public school was a very different experience then, for you?
TK
Yeah, it was good. I went up to grade . . .
RB
It helps you in your English, I guess, too.
TK
I just got into grade eight and I was sent to Japan.
RS
Okay.
TK
And then I was sent to Japan and that's when all the trouble started because I didn't know Japanese laughs. I got stuck into Japanese school. Never mind writing a test, I couldn't read the question laughs.
RB
Are you forgetting your Japanese?
TK
No, but it was during the war and, so, they'd give me a test, I can't write the answer because I couldn't read the questions.
RB
Yeah.
TK
So it was hard and then no parents, no sister, nobody, you know, just my relatives who I don't know.
RS
So you went by yourself?
TK
No, I went with my older sister, her friend, Fumi.
RB
You mean Mariam?
TK
No, Fumi.
RB
Oh, Fumi. Oh, yeah. Fumi's a little bit older than me.
TK
So, she'll be 100.
RB
Yeah, she's right behind me.
TK
Well, I went back with her but she was about twenty-something, I was only about twelve. So there's . . . So, I was put into school and my sister got married and went to China, Manchuria, and I was left alone, all alone.
RS
Wow.
TK
So I had a rough life.
RS
How long were you in Japan?
TK
I guess about eight, nine years.
RS
Mhm, and then you came back to BC right away?
TK
The first chance I had will I come back.
RB
Are you falling asleep?
RS
Are you bored laughs?
TK
But we couldn't land in Vancouver because the war was over but they weren't allowing any Japanese to come in. So we couldn't land in Vancouver so we landed in San Francisco.
RS
I see. Did you have to stay long there?
TK
No, and then from San Francisco we transferred. My mom and dad, they were all in Alberta.
RS
Oh, okay.
TK
So we'd come through . . .
RB
Your mom didn't know any English, did she? Very little, very little. She was a quiet little lady. Oh, she was tiny laughs.
TK
We'd come through .
RS
So . . .
RB
I don't know if there's any help in any of that or not.
RS
Oh, yeah, it's great to know what life was like and then also how life changes over time, too, depending on what happens, especially during the war time.
TK
But they were all sent into the interior. Now, Mission, they have streets named after, like, my dad is Kunimoto so they have Kunimoto Court.
RB
Lots of the people that lived there, the streets are now named after them.
TK
The streets are named after them. They felt bad.
RB
That's nice that they've done that. I don't know how many there is that they named after other people. How many?
TK
I don't know but there are quite a few, quite a few.
RS
So they were named after the families?
RB
After the people that had lived there, you know, not necessarily in that house but lived in that area. Yeah.
TK
So that was, you know, very nice.
RS
It meant something to people, yeah. I'll have to go. I live in Pitt Meadows so it's not too far. I would like to go and see, if I can see the names on the streets. That would be nice.
RB
You want to see what?
RS
I said I live not too far. I might go see the names.
TK
Yes, you should go to the city planner or the town planner or whatever and they might show you a map.
00:45:09.000
00:45:09.000
RS
You mentioned the area is now subdivided and mostly big houses and that kind of stuff. Does it look very, very different from what it used to?
RB
Big houses up on the hill.
TK
Oh, yes, it's altogether different. We lived right on Cherry Street and both sides of the streets was all farmland where dad grew all his berries and raspberries and whatnot. Now it's just all residential, all in blocks, beautiful homes.
RS
So, many of the families there, early in time, they were mostly farming, so, big plots of land probably with farms? Is that what it looked like?
RB
They're mostly berry farmers.
RS
Okay, with probably big properties.
TK
All over Mission.
RB
All different, strawberries, raspberries, they came one after the other, loganberries, blackberries. They all followed each other.
TK
You name it, gooseberries laughs.
RB
Yeah, gooseberries.
TK
We had a lot of gooseberries.
RS
So most of the families had big properties with farms, it sounds like.
TK
Some small farmers, some big farmers.
RB
Our place is only about nine acres. We didn't have a big place because daddy, you know, daddy had this accident. I was only two when he had the accident. Of course, that really set him back. He had his back broken and he never did really get over that altogether.
TK
That made your mom strong. Wasn't she a strong lady?
RB
Yeah, she had to go out and earn a living. That's where she got started with the kindergarten, I guess.
TK
Yes.
RB
About that same time.
TK
Dad was the head of a lot of Japanese, the Mission community, you know, the Japanese that lived there and, I guess, that's what they decided. “Why don't we get Mrs. Barnett to teach the kids?” and that got rolling and, yeah.
RS
What kinds of organizations? Was it farming organizations that your father was involved in? What kinds of community, I guess . . .
TK
Yeah, farming and trying to get the farmers all together. You know, somebody has to head it. Not a lot of families can do their business.
RB
Your dad had the ability. He was a good . . .
TK
So he was never home. He was at meetings here, meetings there.
RS
Busy, busy, very involved.
TK
Very strict.
RB
Very serious, yeah.
RS
What about your mother?
TK
My mother got sick.
RS
I see. I see.
RB
Yeah, she worked so hard and she was so tiny.
TK
So when I got back from Japan, you'd think I would really enjoy myself. I looked after my mom for seventeen years. She was bedridden. She was a vegetable.
RS
Oh, that's too bad.
TK
I had to carry her in the morning, wash her, bring her back, feed her three meals a day.
RB
Oh, my.
TK
So my niece wrote to Ottawa when they had . . . What was it?
BK
Homecare.
TK
You know, they wanted to give somebody what they did.
BK
Award.
TK
Award, and I didn't want anything, you know, I mean, I just did it for my mom. I didn't want it, but she lives in Calgary. She did it all. One day in the paper that I got the second award.
RS
You got the award? Wow.
TK
Second.
RB
Oh.
RS
Good for you.
TK
I don't know who got the top award but they thought it was . . .
RB
I need to go to the bathroom.
RS
You go right ahead. Do you need help up?
RB
I have a weakness this way now, at 100 years old.
RS
Can you get off of the couch okay, it's pretty . . .
RB
Well, a little push.
RS
Can I help you under your arm? Does that help? There you go.
RB
Okay, thank you.
TK
Could you walk? Isn't she wonderful for 100?
RS
Yes, amazing.
TK
Amazing laughs. So mom was only, about, seventy-seven when she died. So she must have been sick from about 60. When I'd come back from Japan I was twenty. I went back when I was twelve, thirteen and when I'd come back I was about twenty-one. Here, mom couldn't even talk to me. She just cried, cried, cried, cried. Ever since then I looked after her for seventeen years. Poor Bill, he had to marry me laughs.
00:50:51.000
00:50:51.000
RS
He seems okay with it laughs.
TK
And, you know, sometimes I . . . You know, a father, Japanese fathers, they're strict. They're the man of the house. They're not going to carry a sick person. I don't know, it's not in them. So it's up to me. Him, he says “I'll carry her if I'm home” and he carries her. He says, “I got the best mother-in-law in the world. She never says a word” laughs.
RS
I can understand that.
TK
See, what a wonderful guy.
RS
Yes laughs. Oh, my goodness.
TK
Yeah, but she died when she was . . . So, sixty and she died when she was about seventy-seven. So seventeen years. You know, if you thought that “Why do I have to do it? Why do I have to do it?” Well, you can't do it. I had three other sisters and two brothers. If you think “Why do I have to do it?” Just think “I'm the only daughter that could do it.” You could do it. It was hard. I had a nervous breakdown after she died and he had to look after me laughs. He needs an award, I think.
RS
Sounds like it.
BK
Are you working at the Nikkei Center?
TK
No, no, she . . .
RS
I work with the Nikkei Center, and the project that I work for, they're partners.
BK
Oh, I see.
TK
But they're all together.
RS
So I see Sherri a lot, and Linda. Mhm.
TK
So after looking after mom and all that I guess I had a breakdown and I wasn't well and never had a family. So, Sherri is my gift. We adopted her, well, from Japan. She was only a baby when we started the adoption but it was so hard, Japan and Canada, you know, the country. It was the first case of adopting from Japan. Now they're adopting back and forth, whatever.
RS
Sherri was the first case?
TK
The first one?
BK
Mhm.
TK
That's why it was so hard. You know, in Canada it's the mother that's the, you know, more important but in Japan men are the head of the house.
BK
Sit down Ruth.
TK
Well, the father okays it in Japan but the mother's strong. She felt she left, she's gone. How do you get a signature from her or an okay from her?
RS
I see.
TK
That's what was so hard, back and forth. We thought, “Oh, this is okay. That's okay.”
RS
How long did it take before you could . . .
TK
She just about turned four when we got her and we started when she was a baby.
RS
Wow.
RB
You were the baby. Weren't you the baby in the family?
TK
Roy was the baby.
RB
Pardon?
TK
Roy was the baby.
RB
Oh, Roy. That's right, yeah.
TK
He was the baby.
RB
Yeah, great big boy, great big tall boy.
TK
Yeah, not tall anymore.
RB
He's not?
TK
Huh?
RB
He's not?
TK
No, he's got dementia.
RB
Oh, no, not Roy.
TK
Yeah, he's in a home.
RB
Is that right?
TK
The only thing he'll say is “Oh, my sister, my sister.” That's about all.
00:55:04.000
00:55:04.000
RB
Well . . . Oh, boy.
TK
He knows I'm his sister.
RB
Yeah.
TK
But that's all.
RB
Oh, dear.
TK
Then there's Fumi. She just sleeps, and sleeps, and sits on her wheelchair and just . . .
RB
Doesn't do anything.
TK
I said, “Open your eyes. Open your eyes.” She looks up and . . . Before, she used to say “Oh, Toshi.” She used to kind of want to get up but not anymore. She says, “I want to go now” she says.
RB
Yeah, she's getting old with the birds.
TK
So Roy and Fumi was the smart one in the family.
RB
Fumi, she's okay.
TK
No, they're the ones that's . . .
RB
Oh, Fumi and who?
TK
Roy.
RB
Roy.
TK
Roy was . . .
RB
They're the bright ones.
TK
Roy went through university. He was an engineer.
RB
You're fine, your brain is fine.
TK
Yeah, because I'm dumb laughs.
RB
Just like me laughs.
RS
Where did Roy go to university?
TK
Manitoba.
RS
Manitoba, in engineering you said?
TK
Engineering.
RS
Oh, wow.
RB
Well, I don't know where everybody's gone. I guess they're off in the other room.
BK
No, she went shopping.
RB
Hm?
RS
She went shopping.
BK
She went shopping.
TK
She went shopping
RB
Oh, yeah, she should be home by now, shouldn't she?
TK
She comes every day?
RB
Yeah, she's staying here. It's like, um, that's her work. That's her work. She works looking after people. She's very good. If she's all sick, well, then there's somebody else to take her place. Conversation continues about Ruth's caregiver for 19 seconds.
00:57:25.000
00:57:25.000
RB
, I have a question for you.
RB
Pardon?
RS
I have a question for you.
RB
Uh-huh.
RS
Did your mother tell you many stories about her relationship with the Japanese? When you were a little bit older, after the war, did she tell you a lot of stories?
RB
Oh, we talked about them all the time. On and off, not steady. We were always discussing, well, different ones. Kirumuras were so close friends to us and others, the boys that came and learned English with mom and dad they were such good friends. It just has developed into something very nice. Some I don't see but, this guy, where'd he go? I have met him on the street one day but he didn't talk to me. He didn't know who I was laughs.
RS
He remembers laughs.
BK
Down at the grocery store around here.
RB
So, anyway, well, we stayed friends right along I'd say, you know, we certainly had lots of privileges with our Japanese friends.
TK
You know John Kamimura.
BK
Mhm.
TK
He used to go a little while to your place, John.
RB
What's his last name?
TK
Kamimura, that ran that big mill where you worked.
BK
Tashme.
TK
In Hope.
RB
Yeah, I remember John. Not Kamimura.
TK
He was the boss' son, John.
BK
He went to learn English from you when he first came from Japan.
TK
Yeah, to your place. He was going to your place to learn English when he first come from Japan.
RB
Oh, yes, good.
BK
Around 1950.
TK
He lives towards UBC now. That's where I was going to take you one day.
RB
Oh, he lives around here somewhere?
TK
Yeah, he lives in Vancouver.
RB
Oh, yeah, sure. I'd like to go.
TK
But his wife's kind of got dementia laughs.
RB
Oh, she has?
TK
She's not the same person that way. Conversation continues about Ruth's caregiver.
01:00:08.000
01:00:08.000
RB
Oh, boy.
TK
You know, they change.
RB
Yeah, I'm getting more forgetful but I'm not too bad laughs.
BK
You're dang good.
RS
You seem pretty sharp to me.
TK
Yes, she is sharp.
RS
Mhm.
RB
You don't know how dumb I am, really.
RS
Oh, come on.
TK
No, it's just her hearing. It's just her hearing sometimes. Sometimes it's okay, sometimes it's not.
RB
Yeah, it's a nuisance. I've got hearing aids in both ears but they're not particularly good. The hearing aids, they don't do too much.
TK
You know what Fumi does? Takes her glasses off, throws them, takes her hearing aid off and throws them.
RB
Who does that?
TK
Fumi, your best friend. My sister. That's why sometimes she's got no glasses, no hearing aid, because what's the use?
RB
She'll throw them away, yeah.
TK
Don's forever fixing her glasses and loses her hearing aid. You're a good girl.
RB
Well, I'm glad that I don't. I give my boy some patience I guess but I'm not too bad.
TK
Yeah.
RS
Were you best friends with Fumi when you were quite young, too?
RB
Pardon?
RS
Did you stay best friends with Fumi your whole life? Pretty much?
RB
Yeah, pretty well.
TK
Her whole life they've been friends.
RB
She was behind me. She's younger. She's behind me at school but she was brains and I wasn't brains.
TK
Going to school and back.
RB
Yeah, all the time. Yeah, we were good friends and Fumi and Tommy and Toshi and Burna, we were all friends together. That was the rest of her sisters. Charlie was the one that came out later in life. We didn't get . . . Charlie and my dad were good friends and daddy helped him with his English quite a bit, too, because he surely needed it coming out here not knowing any English.
TK
So that was the bad thing in our family between my dad and . . . He thinks he was the black sheep of the family that wasn't loved.
RB
Not loved, yeah.
TK
When he was young, about sixteen, when he'd come from Japan dad caught him smoking.
RB
Oh, is that right?
TK
Yeah, and I guess dad got crossed with him and ever since then . . . So my poor mom suffered. You know, one's her husband, one's her son that she loves. I don't blame her for getting sick like that, you know, it was hard on her. Two men, they both wouldn't give in. Dad wouldn't give in and my brother wouldn't give in. That was a mark on our family.
RB
Well, I should be giving you a cup of tea or something but I think, well, I guess we better just talk and forget about tea.
RS
Oh, we can take a break.
RB
When you get home to Fumi, she can have a cup of tea.
RS
We can take a break. Do you want to take a break?
RB
Well, I don't want to myself but I have nothing to offer you, only tea. I'm excusing myself but I haven't got anything.
RS
Oh, that's okay, that's okay. I can turn the recorder off. If you want we can stop if you have any other . . .
RB
If you can think of anything else you would like to know about, I don't know.
RS
Well, I guess that depends if you have any other special memories that you would like to share that you can think about. It's up to you. If you feel like you've talked about everything that you can talk about then that's fine, too.
RB
I think we've covered quite a lot of mom's experiences as a kindergarten teacher. She was good and they all loved her. As I said Sensei Kakita, Sensei Kakita, they all get excited about it because she was coming.
RS
Okay, well, if that's all you can remember, if everybody else is okay or if they want to share anything else I can say thank you and turn it off and then we can just sit and relax. Does that sound good?
TK
Mhm.
RS
Okay, thank you.
01:05:21.000

Metadata

Title

Ruth Barnett, interviewed by Rebeca Salas, 06 July 2016

Abstract

Ruth begins talking about her parents, their primary occupation, and how they got involved teaching English to Japanese boys. She describes how the area changed during and after the war, as well as how her family kept in touch with their Japanese Canadian friends. Ruth reflects on the different items her parents stored for her friend Toshi's family until the war was over. Toshi explains her experience moving to Japan due to the war and what the journey back to Vancouver was like. Near the interview's end, Toshi and husband Billtalks about their adopted daughter from Japan.

Credits

Interviewer: Rebeca Salas
Interviewee: Ruth Barnett
Interviewee: Toshi Kajiwara
XML Encoder: Stewart Arneil
Publication Information: See Terms of Use for publication and licensing information.
Setting: Vancouver, BC.
Keywords: Vancouver ; Mission ; Hatzic; Berry Picking; Japanese; Language; Teaching; Chinaware; Mount Baker; Alberta ; Cherry Street; Tashme ; Hope ; Adoption.; 1940s – 1960s

Terminology

Readers of these historical materials will encounter derogatory references to Japanese Canadians and euphemisms used to obscure the intent and impacts of the internment and dispossession. While these are important realities of the history, the Landscapes of Injustice Research Collective urges users to carefully consider their own terminological choices in writing and speaking about this topic today as we confront past injustice. See our statement on terminology, and related sources here.