Midori Bruns, interviewed by Erin Yaremko, 21 January 2015

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The LOI Research Team has flagged this record for containing sensitive information. This record contains the following sensitivities:

  • Egregious stereotyping (positive or negative) of a culture, group or person (beyond outdated language), especially vulnerable individual(s)/group(s).

Midori Bruns, interviewed by Erin Yaremko, 21 January 2015

Abstract
Midori begins the interview with her earliest childhood memories, where she was born, and her early career development. She then moves on to recall her experiences during the period of internment and dispossession when she was as young as thirteen years old. Midori then moves on to talk about her educational experiences while living in Victoria and also provides a brief history of how her family arrived in Canada. She then reflects on the various possessions that her family left behind as they were forced to leave British Columbia for Winnipeg. Near the end of the interview Midori discusses how the non-Japanese Canadian community played a positive and influential role in her life.
00:00:00.000
Midori Bruns (MB)
Maybe it’s the angle, is it on?
Erin Yaremko (EY)
Oh no it’s good now, it’s stable. Today is January 21st, 2016. We are in Winnipeg Manitoba and my name is Erin Yaremko and I am here with Midori Bruns recording for Landscapes of Injustice. Would you like to begin by discussing your childhood.
MB
Yes, you want to ask me all the basic things, like where I was born.
EY
Sure, we can start with that. Would you like to begin discussing where you were born?
MB
Yeah. I was born in White Rock, BC October 23, 1927 and Dad worked at the lumber mill until it closed down so we moved to Vancouver Island. Where he worked as a lumber grader and his boss became his best friend. Scottish gentlemen. And life went on quite well until Depression set in in early 30s but somehow we managed to get through on few cents. There’s one incident tells a story of the hardship at that time. Dad had to use a BB gun to shoot a snowbird to make stock for soup, which my mother made. Anyways, Dad used to walk about 30 miles to earn just few cents so that the family can survive. And then the Depression was over finally and life became easier. Dad still worked as a lumber grader until 1942, 1941 Pearl Harbour which was a total shock. And set the family on turmoil in more ways than one and because my father was the age – between the ages of 18 and 45 we had to act quickly so that he won’t be sent to road camps and we’ll be left to fend for ourselves. So we packed up and moved to Mount Lehman which we thought would be safe because it was away from the island, but then soon the word came that all the Japanese on the West Coast would be moved. And we were given the option, if we agreed to go to beet farms in the prairies then the family would stay intact so we opted for that naturally. And we boarded the train CPR train to Winnipeg and we ended up in the old immigration hall, there like cattle. Anyways, the first farmer who came to hire us was Mr. Karl Schalk, a German farmer. And he took us back in his old truck to his home, where we occupied half of his house and they had the other half. But the first impression of the house was a shock because it was April, still winter and there was manure all around the bottom for warmth. But anyway the reception was very warm, his wife and the children were very, very friendly and we got along fine. We not only did sugar beets but my brothers did other farm work like cleaning the barn and apple harvesting, wheat.
00:05:05.000
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MB
Anyways, the family did sugar beets for three years and that was a back-breaking work. Two younger brothers were able to go to school but Freddy and I, we had to stay with the beets. One thing that pulled us through while we were hoeing was that my parents insisted that we sing, and that’s what we did. We sang out loud and of course to boost our egos you know our parents would say “Oh that’s very good, oh what a passage!” And we got through that. Very hard hard back breaking work but music sung helped us go through for three years. Then we tried moving to Selkirk but that was not allowed, there was RCMP would not allow that. We were not to go the perimeter of Petersfield, it was four miles out. But finally things got little easier and we finally moved to Selkirk where my young brothers resumed their education and Freddy and I, we tried to help supplement the income and Dad worked cutting cordwood three dollars a cord but, that was not enough so I went to Winnipeg to work as a housemaid, which didn’t last long because my father disapproved of the living condition of the basement so he brought me home. And that night we had a family conference and Freddy insisted that I go back to school, resume high school and I said I argued that Freddy should go and I will work and we argued all night until my parents said “If you think that much of yourself, each other then you both will go to school and we will manage somehow.” And they had tears in their eyes. But things worked out because I worked at the Selkirk Mental Hospital, part-time after school, weekend, holidays. And Freddy worked at different jobs, cordwood, whatever was available. And even the two other brothers, they mowed the neighbor’s lawn and that sort of thing, helped supplement the income. And Dad got a job at a tannery in Winnipeg, and so the three years went by and Freddy and I graduated, Freddy started at the United College and anyway. I couldn’t find a job, so when we finally got permission to move to Winnipeg. The only job I could find was in a sewing factory. I didn’t mention anything about high school graduation but it was a sad occasion because of one incident. But anyways, worked in the sewing factory for four years because I couldn’t get a job, at that time when I applied for an office job I was told that more or less because I was Japanese that they weren’t ready to hire Orientals. And I was told that I shouldn’t feel so bad because the cripples don’t get a job either.
00:09:58.000
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MB
And that hurt. Pause. But one... But I did work hard. I hadn’t given up hope for going to university. So I took a night school course at Daniel Mac after work. I rushed to classes, taking language and the full course with the hope of getting a first year degree. At that time grade 12 was considered first year. But it worked out that life had something else planned and my mother got sick, she was hospitalized and she asked me not to pursue the education because it was affecting my health and I approached my chem teacher about this and that I had to leave and he felt really bad. But he said “at least get your practical, that lab part,” so he himself stayed after school, this was at Gordon Bell and waited for me to arrive to do my practical. Which I really appreciated Mr. Walker, Gordon Walker. But still I couldn’t write my finals even though it my exam fee was paid, I think 75 dollars or something because well I was really worn out and my mom made me promise that I wouldn’t go through with this because it’s going to kill me. So gave that up. And later on I got a job at Oriental, it was a new Chinese gift shop. Then one night we were open nights at this, a couple, a middle aged couple came to the store and we discussed oriental arts and literature and anyway. For a long time I didn’t know who he was but that was a very enlightening evening. And around that time my sister-in-law was doing office overload job at Imperial Oil, and she told me that the wages were really good, so why don’t I apply, so I sent a letter of application there and Mr. Penny the personnel manager wrote back and said “There was no opening,” he didn’t know who I was, “but in the meantime could you fill out this form.” Which I did and when he got that letter he realized who it was who was applying. Immediately Monday morning he said “When can you come in for an interview? And when can you start?” And I said “Well I have to give two weeks’ notice to my boss.” Which I think impressed him. So two weeks later I started at Imperial Oil. So those were really and they told me that I was the first Japanese in Canada to be employed by Esso, Imperial Oil. I stayed there and oh it was a really uplifting feeling to work in, it was in the IBM room and doing, retail breakdown clerk, that was the title. Midori laughs. But I enjoyed working there. Then I met my husband in 1954, in 1956 he was working for Northstar Oil so and he was transferred to Grand Prairie, Alberta.
00:15:00.000
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MB
So I had to follow him, Imperial Oil to Northstar Oil. Before I left, they gave me party and everything but the personnel manager, not Mr. Penny was already gone to Toronto by that time, Mr. Nisbet called me to his office and he said “I wanted to tell you something it was really great having you here,” but he said I was a test case. Because there was a Jewish girl hired there but nobody liked her and they made her so miserable that she quit, said, “I am very pleased that you fit in so nicely, I can recommend you highly.” So that was my stint with Esso, at least I thought so, then I moved to Grand Prairie and my husband decided that after a year he would like to go back to pharmacy where he started out in Germany. So he asked me to write to Imperial Oil and get my job in Edmonton branch, which I did and they immediately told Edmonton to hire this girl. Well in the meantime I had worked a year in the CFGB radio station doing continuity writing and oh it was a lot of fun writing all of those BSs to sell products. Laughs. But that was, I loved that that one year in Grand Prairie it was fun, small town. I like small towns. Anyway, we got to Edmonton and I settled into a job with Imperial Oil for the next three or four years and became the bread winner, yeah. And they paid me well, ah there was one time they I didn’t notice there was too much in my paycheck so I went to tell payroll department that they made a mistake, there’s too much money in my paycheck, and my boss said “oh I forgot to tell you Midori you’ve been promoted!” Laughs. So it was a very pleasant association with Imperial Oil, I’ll be forever grateful, yeah. But you know one thing leads to another when I left Imperial Oil in Winnipeg, I wrote to Mr. Penny in Toronto who hired me in the first place to explain that I’m leaving the company. And even though my husband is with Northstar Oil, I will look to Imperial for the best. You know that was our slogan and the Toronto office liked it so much I guess that it pays to leave the company with good words and yeah. It bounces back at you positively. So that was it, he graduated from university and then my family came and we moved to – he decided to move to Vancouver. We moved to Vancouver and it was very nice but it was very different atmosphere from the atmosphere in Edmonton or Winnipeg. It was – different vibes there, but it was shocking to discover that a lot of people we met were from Edmonton or mainly Winnipeg. They wanted to escape the cold I guess. Anyway the life in Vancouver was very challenging and pleasant. I still worked and my love of gardening came back and I could do gardening to my heart content. There’s something that I was going to mention. Oh yeah!
00:20:13.000
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MB
Yeah so in spite of all this hardships through the sugar beet years we had made many friends that kind of balances the hardship side and negative side. The people we worked for in Petersfield, in the farm fields and the people we met in Selkirk at the school, the teachers they all had a positive effect on my way of thinking. They cared. So at this stage I can only be grateful for the experiences we had since 1941. I think it if anything it enriched my life and helped me to understand people, as well as life. It gave me chance to really explore into their world of religion as well as culture. I think that’s what inspired me to travel so much. To find out how people thought and worked, so there isn’t a place in the world that I travel that I wasn’t excited about, it was all exciting. Like China and Turkey and Morocco, its all history and you see it before your eyes. The structures, the building, the artwork, the writings. Yeah, it really enriched my life and at this age I have photographs and journals to remind me and to remember. Very often I’d forget “What’s the name of that place, what’s the name of that person?” And I just go to my photographs and recapture those moments. Midori pauses.
EY
You mentioned earlier, that you were 13 when the internment began. Can you speak to your memories of your childhood home and childhood school in Victoria and on the island?
EY
Yes sorry.
MB
It was Duncan. Well the actual village was Hillcrest it was owned by Hillcrest Lumber Company and all the houses were company owned and was up to the person – the family that lived there, how you improve your house to be livable and enjoyable and live to the full. My dad fixed it up because of course he’s working for a lumber company so whatever lumber that was rejected he’d bring it home and make summer house and build all those things that really enjoyed. We had our own summer house and also had our own sewage, septic tanks – sewage. Never heard of septic tank but it, we had a huge pit where all the sewage went to and you know how Japanese always had to have bath every night, so Dad made a rectangular bath made of wood. And it was our job to fill that from the pump, that wooden tub and underneath there was a fire that had to start and so it was our job to start the fire so that the bath would be ready after supper. Yes so it was very – each one had a job to do. And that the water in the tub got rid of, washed away the sewage that was in the toilet that was adjoining in the next room.
00:25:28.000
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MB
It was very ingenious you know, making use of the water to get rid of the sewage into a pit that was further out. And that sort of thing, it was challenging to my dad. He was very creative and he made a duck pond for us with the same idea, and the little swimming pool for us with the same wood. So that’s why I say my childhood was very very pleasant because Dad made it so and like life is what you make of it and that was fully applied right there. And my mother was a tremendous cook. Everything was fresh from the garden and there there was a weekly – butcher used to come through to the town and all the village – women would go there and select their meats and the fish too. Fish monger would come around. And a vegetable, the Chinese vegetable man would come from Duncan, we’d buy whatever we don’t grow in the gardens. It was a small town thing you know, now when I come to think of it it was an idyllic existence because we had the whole woods, the trees and the creeks and we’d go and we’d hike. Those days never even heard of crime, child molesting, you know, we went in a gang! We’d go to the creek and splash around and swim and go to this huge rock that there was and make houses there out of tree bark. And it was one time the Japanese school, we went to – made that trip and wrote composition about it. Oh yes! I should mention about it was Japanese language school, went to after the public school and that was enjoyable. I used to just love reading Japanese books. There was a monthly publication from Tokyo that one from a magazine from what was more than a magazine more in book form. For the men, the women, and young boys, young girls, and kids. I went through all that, of course I liked the book for the young boys better than the girls because – Midori laughs. Anyways I enjoyed Japanese school and I’m glad that I learned the language I have a lot of music over there from the Japanese. So that was an enrichment in my life too. Knowing the language, being bilingual. Ah, what was the question you asked me?
EY
Can you describe your education on the island and the schools you attended? Other – outside of the Japanese language schools.
MB
Oh yeah yeah I started the public school at age five, learning the English language. The usual thing, geography, literature and all that. So yeah I enjoyed that very much and we were talking about injustice when the Native girls were brought into school they were asked to leave and that was my first encounter with prejudice against the natives.
00:29:46.000
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MB
And the teachers, they couldn’t do much about it because it was over ruled you know they had to abide by the school board. I’m sure they felt badly and then when I finished pubic school grade eight I entered grade nine in Duncan, Duncan high school. That was a big school. But that was midway through December, Pearl Harbour happened. But my friends Ruth Campbell, Barbara Cochrane and Iris Robertson, they were true friends till the end. We still hung around together, yeah. Although there was one refugee girl from England that was staying with one of the families and she hated the Japanese and pushed me off the sidewalk. But my friends came to the rescue and said “Wou don’t do that to her.” And I had wonderful friends there, wonderful teachers. So – yeah my education was cut off right there in grade nine. Until we went to Selkirk in Manitoba, yeah. That was reasonable. But the teachers from Hillcrest school, Mr. Yard, they were just wonderful, they just helped me, helped us all. And especially Miss Hodson, Barbara Hodson. Gave me this it’s called Simply Life, remember I was talking about that book, I still have it. And when we were in on sugar beet farms she sent us these whole encyclopedia. Book of Knowledge so that we could continue on. Hmm. Now what else were we talking about. Pause.
EY
I do have another question.
MB
You have a question? Yeah! What is it?
EY
Where were your parents born in Canada and–
MB
No they weren’t born in Canada. They were born in Japan.
EY
So when did they come to Canada?
MB
1925, yeah. Mum was 17 and Dad was 26. That’s got nothing to do with evacuation and all that but they both have mind of their own. My Dad was the second son in the family of seven and he actually wanted to go to arts school in Tokyo but my Grandpa said, “No you’re a farmer.” They had a very lucrative mandarin orange farm but the Grandfather said “No you’re a farmer’s son, you’ll stay, your life is in the farm so you can’t go.” But in Japan at the time the oldest son inherited the farm, the second son usually got married into son-less, a family that had no son to take over. And Dad didn’t want that so he sailed for Canada and he – for nine years he worked in the lumber mill and saved money, went to night school, learned English and he refused to go gambling and go carousing with some of the buddies there and he saved enough money but then his father wrote to him and said “You come back to Japan and marry that girl we picked for you, it’s an order.” So he dutifully went back and met the girl, didn’t like her. Midori laughs. So he got sick at that time because of the change in water or something so he went to a clinic where my mother was working as a receptionist nurse. Immediately fell in love there, went back to his father and said “I’ve found a girl I want to marry.”
00:35:05.000
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MB
And of course his father immediately disowned him, but anyway he married my mother, the wedding was only attended by her side. They sailed for Canada, ended up in White Rock where he had bought a house for 400 dollars. 400 dollars, and it was still standing there when we went back to Vancouver, I was living in Winnipeg and went back to Winnipeg ah to Vancouver. House was there and I said “You know what, one of these days the house is gonna be a shrine because I was born there.” You know what happened? Right across from the house they built a secondary sewage treatment center. Midori laughs. So I said “Well that’s what they think of you Midori.” Yeah, is it still on? Oh my goodness! So what was your question?
EY
I have quite a few.
MB
Oh! Okay then. Stop me when I talk to long!
EY
While we’re on the topic of British Columbia, do you remember any belongings that you had within your home that your parents would have had that may have been left behind. . .
MB
Oh!
EY
When you were forced to leave?
MB
We we left behind just about everything, the appliances, the furniture. We took things like photographs, things that mean something and I brought things that I wrote when I was a kid in the composition and essays and what not. Those were the things that meant something. So – no I don’t think material things no, because we were only allowed so much. Like clothing would being a family of six would weigh a lot but the saddest thing was leaving our cat. Pet, he was a white Persian with two different colored eyes and when we left she was sitting on the fence post. Oh yeah that was the hardest thing. And I just prayed that neighbors would feed the cat you know. Yeah that’s the one thing I regret. Midori pauses.
EY
You mentioned your parents had friends who lived nearby who had asked if your parents would like them to take you in during the internment–
MB
Oh yes yes.
EY
Did you want to discuss them?
MB
Yeah they were, well one was Mr. Dickson. Adam Dickson. He was my dad’s boss and good friend and the other one was Iris Robertson’s parents. Dad worked with them in the mill. Yeah but dad refused because “Family has to stay together,” he said. But they were good friends, yeah. What was I going to say now? Pause. Now.
EY
So were you able to bring any smaller items with your or was–
MB
Yes smaller items that would fit in the purse or whatever you know.
EY
But what items other than your cat do you remember leaving within your home. Furniture?
00:39:21.000
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MB
When you’re in that situation you don’t think of the furniture and those things because you don’t know where you’re going! It’s just black and you can’t see, you don’t know what to expect, but things like furniture and stuff that’s – that doesn’t figure into your plan. Pause. Yeah like figurines, I’m sure I have some stuff here that – like in back there. Midori points to a shelf in the corner of her living room. It would be things that mean something you know. What do I–
EY
Do you remember, prior to leaving do you remember your parents hiding things? Hiding items within the house or maybe burying items?
MB
Laughs. Yeah, not things. Mum used to make sake. Homemade sake, used a crock and all the things. Yeah and ready made sake too, you can’t take that along so they went into the woods, dug a hole and left it there and covered it over. And just in case we come back so we’d remember where we buried it. Dad did put some kind of a marker and years and years later when we went when mom and dad came to visit us. We went to Vancouver island, Duncan, Hillcrest, we finally, Hillcrest was no longer there because it’s, the lumber mill was gone. But we did find this hole that dad and the boys dug and indeed there was the sake, well-aged. Midori laughs. It’s all funny isn’t it. I don’t know if, what happened to it. But I guess we all laughed about it you know. And that nobody found it.
EY
Do you remember or know stories of other families you know, who had to leave for the internment, hiding things underneath boards within their homes or burying things?
MB
No, I don’t remember. The only one I remember is the sake in that whole in the woods. Gee I’m glad you’re asking me these things because it triggers what happened.
EY
Speaking on the topic of loss. . .
MB
Loss?
EY
Loss of items. Can you describe how losing and leaving behind the items made you feel and does that still affect you today?
MB
Ah. No the thing I regret the most is my cat. Oh yeah, I love cats you know. My daughter has three. And I dote on them, I grow catnips for them! Laughs. Material things–
EY
This including the home.
MB
The home, it was a company home to start with and actually the only sentimental value is in my head. What Dad had done to make life so pleasurable with having a summer house and inviting his friends to have beer and what not under the tree and you know. That was, the very nice memory and Dad building us a wee waiting pool and I mentioned before and a duck pond. Oh yes, that’s one of the saddest, we had three ducks. Beautiful ducks. Oh god, anyway. We can’t take the ducks out so Dad said we had to kill them and eat them. And none of us could, how can you eat your pets? Oh god we just refused. Yeah that’s the saddest thing leaving, pets and living things behind. Yeah. And also I regret Dad’s beautiful garden and flower garden and vegetable garden in the back but that’s–
00:44:51.000
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MB
Yeah when you’re faced with a harsh reality of not knowing what’s coming, yeah. Pause. The living things that you leave is the one you regret the most, your pets. Yeah.
EY
When your family came to Manitoba, in what ways were you able to stay close to your Japanese culture?
MB
There wasn’t much, because we were placed in the middle of nowhere so to speak. You know, ten miles from Winnipeg beach and so many miles from Netley Creek and middle of nowhere. The next neighbor is about a mile away and you’re in this in this farm. There’s a barn and what not. But it’s a good thing you’re, our boss was very nice and his wife. So – and my brothers, they made their own fun, they’re very creative so they made out of wood tractors and trucks. Wooden wheels and everything, I still have pictures of what they did. Yeah it was, you make your own fun, you laugh at your own jokes. So it was isolated, we didn’t see Japanese, oh there was a family named Sano, they lived far away so we didn’t. They went back to Japan later. Yeah that was the only family that was there but we didn’t see much of them because they were far. We didn’t have a car either. Without transportation and you have to walk everywhere, it’s a harsh thing yeah. Before when we lived on the island, we never needed the car because we were in a village you know yes, so. Period of isolation, but as I said before, life is what you make of it. When you become friends with people you meet, you know it kind of makes you feel you’re living. There was a funny thing, the one neighbor that was about a mile from us, McFarlands. When he heard that the Japanese were coming to live there, oh so upset they had a gun ready and everything “In case they come attacking I’m ready to shoot them.” Yeah, Midori laughs. yeah. Yeah, thinking back there’s so many things that pop up that you forgotten. But anyways.
EY
On the topic of bystanders..
MB
Yeah?
EY
On the topic of bystander can you, there were individuals who you spoke of who helped you, who you met throughout your life. Especially to do with education. Can you maybe speak to few of those people including Pauline McCarthy and Miss Anderson?
MB
Oh! Yes, yes there were quite a few people who had an influence – positive influence on my life. Yes, starting back from my high school days. Miss Anderson who was strict but very caring, Mrs. McCarther who’s really all fire up about justice and everything. She – I think she felt, that we were wronged or something I dunno what went through her mind but she picked me to help her set up the library and the Dewey decimal system. And she also went to the same church that I started going to. Yeah. She was – very hot tempered, but very just, and caring.
00:50:09.000
00:50:09.000
MB
And even after she left Selkirk and I left – I graduated, we always sent Christmas cards to each other. And a few quite a few years down the road when we were living in Vancouver, she and her husband looked us up and came to visit. That was such a, one of the highlights, from my memories of the past in a positive way. And another person who meant a lot was Mr. Marshall, nobody knew him, I knew him just briefly because it was in the final year. But he was very much interested in my life after graduation and he assumed that I was going to university. We caught the same bus by accident, I was coming home from factory and he was coming back from – oh going to his evening class I think he was. He saw me and asked me if I was going to university and I told him the situation and he was so upset. He said “Are you going to be on the same bus tomorrow?” I said “Yes.” And so next day he got the address and phone number of Success Business College and he said “Phone them and get to a class and get an office job.” That was the last I saw him, I hope he got his degree too. And Mr. Bonham is French teacher, oh he was a great guy. Yeah he was so interested and concerned that I should go to university and he was hired in the my final year to teach at the U of M. So he asked me when he left “Are you going to be at the university?” Oh he said “I’ll see you at the university next year!” But of course I never got there but he was so caring, oh he taught Latin and French. No he– I guess I met, he was interested in me because I had high marks in French and also in the final grade 11 I decided to take up Latin because they told me that I had to have Latin to get into medical school. So I had missed two years of Latin, nine, ten. But Mr. Bonham gave me Latin text to study through summer holidays. So I took that text and studied because I was working full time at mental hospital summer job but very minute I had, I was pouring through it, learning, learning, learning. So grade 11 the final year when I had to write the exam to qualify for grade 11 Latin, so I did and I think I scored something around 90 something on that and he said in front of the class, he used to do it purposefully to make sure the other class would be inspired or something. He said “The only mistake she made were the things that wasn’t in the textbook.” It was things he taught in class to do with, that those are the points I missed so. But I don’t regret that I took the Latin, you know studied all that. Because I understand the English language so much better because you see the derivative. And especially when I got so interested in botany, you’d say “Oh yeah, there’s a botanical name that’s a Latin name.” Yup, it helps me associate the general species by those Latin nomenclatures.
00:55:01.000
00:55:01.000
MB
There’s another sample “Nothing is ever lost when you earn things.” I’m so grateful that I had taken Latin, of course a lot of the things are Greek too but I never got to learn Greek. Oh yes and I got botany book when I went to Japan, Dr. Matsumoto who became a friend. He sent me a Japanese books on wildflower. Those are the things I keep. Midori walks to her bookshelf to find the book she is speaking about. It weighs a ton too. Would you believe they have Japanese name, and a Latin? Microphone interference. Yeah anyways, this is most complete book of plants in Japan, wildflowers of Japan. Yeah and I got quite a few of those botany books, and I got an interest in that because my – as a kid, I went into the woods and having such a great time looking at wildflowers and the trees. That’s why I have a sort of a miniature wood thing in the bottom of the willow tree, fig tree. Funny thing is that you do things, what triggers, what pleases you. So those plants are, I brought from Vancouver and they’re still thriving. Plant nut, everybody calls me plant nut. Anyways, what was the question you were asking before?
EY
Well your plants are beautiful.
MB
You should have seen the plants I had before, oh. I love my garden in Burnaby. I had all kinds of things growing, this got nothing to do with what we’re discussing but this is so funny. I really got interested in different types of plants and one of those was mosses. So many different kinds of mosses. So every time I went into the woods or anywhere and found anything, the moss that was quite different I would take that and plant into the shaded area in my garden. So I had about what I dunno 10, 20 different mosses. Beautiful! Then one day I came home and that moss garden was all plowed over, oh dear. Looking at it horrified then my kind neighbor came to me saying “Oh Dori, were you surprised I thought I’d do you a favor.” By, mowed the lawn mower all over my grass and my mosses!! He mowed the grassy part too in on this side but he completely destroyed my moss garden. I didn’t have the heart to tell him all this, he destroyed my . . . Big sigh. moss garden. Cause that would have deflated him so I kept quiet, but I was so upset. Anyway. My interest in botany and everything goes back to the childhood and back to Ireland. That would be an ideal place to retire but I also like Winnipeg because that’s where we first encountered some warmth after the war. You know they welcomed us here, well as I said before the Northend Ukrainians and Poles, Germans, Jews. They were there and they were the first ones to accept us so. You don’t forget those things you know, your loyalty remains the same.
01:00:33.000
01:00:33.000
MB
Same as friendship. True friends will always be friends. And it to me it applies to things too. I’ve carried around a purse I’ve had for about nine or ten years, it’s old, old fashion. Laughs. But it served me well so I still carry it around because I know where things are in my purse, same thing with the people. You sorta put people in their proper places, not bad places but things that they have done for you and you remember them for what they have done in your life. Positive things. And I’m glad that I can forget people that were mean. But it takes the positive force in your life to eliminate that feeling, and so it’s best to remain positive. Which my parents were, they you know when we lived in Vancouver Island , this is before the war. My Dad especially was so against young people dancing you know, oh never know what that would lead to and he was, but you know after the war when he got integrated into the society you know they were the first ones to embrace dancing, so Laughs. their friends, they were going to dances like with us you know it was such a wonderful thing. Yeah I wrote about that too. My son wanted to know his ancestors, what were they like? Did I tell you it took five emails to sorta bring him up to date from his great grandparents, great uncle and all that to the present? And after that, I thought “Oh! I should mention this and that,” Laughs. added an addendum. The sixth email, I forgot to mention this and that you know. This family history. Yeah but the world is changing so much I wonder who would be interested enough to read about us? Midori pauses.. This technology really scares me, you know I don’t even have a cellphone! I guess I’m, its not, it would be so hand I should have one at my age especially. But I said to some friends, Warren Buffett and I have something in common, he doesn’t have a cellphone either. That’s about the only thing. He’s a billionaire, I think I’m pretty rich too, living in this surrounding. Riches are not always money and wealth, it’s a quality of life. Yeah. See that Japanese doll there that must be about 100 years old. Midori points to her glass cabinet where the doll stands. Yeah, Dr. Matsumoto who sent this to me Midori points to the previously mentioned Japanese Botany book. he sent that to my parents in gratitude, he stayed in connection with the board of commissioners here. He was a serial cast, doing research work on grains I think. Anyway. He came to do some work with Board of Grain commissioners but he couldn’t he didn’t like the western food and he felt so lonely he was just married and he missed his wife so much. So my brother Bob who was working in the same lab, arranged for him to come and live with my parents, where he could eat Japanese food. And they’d have sake and enjoy. So in gratitude he sent that. To my parents, and I still have it. Midori pauses.
01:05:51.000
01:05:51.000
EY
Would you mind describing your parents a little more? And tell me your parent’s history?
MB
Parent? Oh my mother she was a person with very inquisitive mind. Quick to learn and adapt. Anyway her family was quite well to do, but her father was a playboy and her uncle too – well not as much as her father, but they lost all their wealth so they ended up very poor. But my grandmother, my mother’s mother, was a very strong independent mind person and she wouldn’t let the situation get her down. She had four children to support, her husband died at age 42 and so she had to gain a living – make a living. So my mother was going to school and she was very bright and she realized that she can’t continue onto further schooling but the principle of the school recognized her talent and her mind. So he approached my grandmother to see if she would allow my mother to accompany him and his family to Korea to Dangjin where he was appointed as principle. Dangjin was occupied by Japan anyway. So my mother went. She was only 14, as au pair. And so she studied at night time and looked after the kids during the day and finally got her high school diploma, and she came back to Japan after three years later and she got a job at the clinic, Whichino Clinic as nurse receptionist. And that was my mother till then, and then Dad, well, I told you about Dad. So they came to Vancouver, now what else? Did I cover my Dad before? Yeah, yeah. Yeah they were my Dad was also, he taught himself how to play violin. So we had the evenings on the porch, like he would play the violin and we would sing along to him the summer evening, and mom would make lemonade from fresh squeezed lemon. We couldn’t get anything at that time you know, powder or anything. It was all fresh squeezed, very real. Yeah, and Pause. dad was quite an artist. He made these scrolls, yeah paintings he didn’t need any subject to model, just came out of his head. He used to tell me “If you have to have a model to paint or draw, you’re not an artist cause it’s up here and you transfer it onto the paper.” Well anyways, he came– I wish he had the proper paper to paint on at that time. I’m talking about way back in the 50s.
01:10:10.000
01:10:10.000
MB
But he made a lot of these scroll paintings and gave them to his friends, some to me. My daughter has the ones I had. But they were really really good paintings. And horses were his pet, he would paint the horse in different positions, dumping. Yeah too bad that, he would have become an artist, had he been allowed. Sometime he had the artist temperament too, he had hot temper. Midori laughs. Yeah, my mother was very good cook, and good hands too. She made all this stuff, crochet, sewing, she made all my clothes when I was a kid because we were in a village where there was no– are you comfortable? Would you rather sit over there?
EY
No, I’m good thank you.
MB
She made even my brother’s clothes, of course we’re all pioneer women at that time and she was the quintessential pioneer women, she made everything by hand. Grew her own vegetables and everything here and I think some of the pioneer spirit must have rubbed off on some of us. I still like to make my own apple sauce and do my own pickling, I make beet pickles every fall. Homemade stuff just resonates me with me, I don’t buy ready-made things. I think your grandmother is like that too, yeah. Yeah stubborn as hell, it’s me. Yeah, I think my daughter shakes her head. “Why doesn’t she throw that away?” I said “No you can’t!” I’m one of those, waste not want not people, from that generation. Yeah, they’re not many of us left.
EY
If you could pass on a message to future Canadians, what would it be? Or to future generations.
MB
Of Canadians or Japanese Canadians?
EY
Just in general.
MB
Well, hmm. I would say have faith, you have to have faith regardless of what denomination of religion or philosophy or whatever that you embrace but you have to believe that there is a God. I mean how how can there be creation without a creator, so it’s infinite. It’s so infinite that we could never even envision what God’s force was or is. Its God is, never was or will be, we’re living in this God’s world. And he has spoken to mankind, since day one or there was no beginning so it can’t be day one so. To Aboriginals to Australia, Māoris in New Zealand, Natives in this country, Natives in America, all those people in India they have their own name for them, they’re all from emanated from God’s force so you have to believe in that and believe in yourself. I mean I could go to any church or temple or anywhere and I would feel perfectly at home. I go to Buddhist church the only thing I can’t take is the incense, they make me sick. Laughs.
01:14:57.000
01:14:57.000
MB
But I go to a Roman catholic church, Presbyterian church, I mean it’s– you don’t bother with a building, it’s an outward embodiment of your faith. It’s you can’t embody faith, the faith is there. It’s just a house that you see. So I pray to God everyday but it’s to make a connection there to give some direction and I feel that God has been with me right from the beginning and it’s what saw me through the hardships which is no longer hardships it’s wonderful pleasant memory. And I feel as though I was guided all along even though at that time it was hard to understand, but it now becomes clear in the end and right now I’m the happiest person in the world all to think I just appreciate I keep them because they remind me of the people who have given me this or circumstances which presented me with these things like the Delph and the Hummel figures and the vases from Japan and the Kootenays. All those are just symbols of what gave me pleasure in life. I have a oh! You’re into Scotland, I have a Heather in resin, I got that from a flower shop, a Scottish lady and we connected right away. I think we were in a past life we were good friends or sisters or whatever. Just want to show you this. Heather in resin. And this is more like Yorkhire the thistles. Midori continues to show Erin items she had collected on her travels around the world.
EY
That’s beautiful.
MB
That’s the kind of thing I collect when I’m - Pause. Oh yeah and all of these things. You must have noticed a lot of these baskets and these weird things that I have. It gives me pleasure because it’s made by hand, these natural stuff.
EY
Are a lot of them collected from the places you’ve traveled?
MB
Yes! A lot of them, oh! This is one thing we brought from Japan during the war. Midori shows Erin something. Abacus, my Dad used to–Midori demonstrates how to use an abacus. and Mum too. Yeah, a lot of the– when I went to Japan with Mum and Mum’s nieces Pauses. one of them was a botany nut like me. So these all real flowers– Midori pauses while showing them to Erin.
EY
Pressed flowers.
MB
Yeah. Pause. And that’s from Greece, and not the real thing I’m sure. Midori holds onto something from her shelf. It’s from Corinth, 659 BC, handmade Greece. But recently. Midori and Erin laugh.
EY
They are all beautiful items.
MB
Yeah, and this is a –whoops Midori drops something small. sea shells from Okinawa.
EY
Oh wow.
MB
Oh yeah, I’m crazy about sea shells, as if you can’t tell. Sea shells over there are collected from beaches from different parts of the world. Pause. A lot of them I have identified from what country they’re from. Anyways Pause. Oh! I don’t know how you feel about crèche. Midori pauses as she pulls something out to show Erin. Now this I did not buy, a good friend went to Peru and this is I think the world’s smallest crèche.
EY
Wow. It’s so small Both Midori and Erin laugh. Pause. Well I think I’ll end the interview here.
MB
Yeah, yeah. This is just talk, so–
01:20:18.000

Metadata

Title

Midori Bruns, interviewed by Erin Yaremko, 21 January 2015

Abstract

Midori begins the interview with her earliest childhood memories, where she was born, and her early career development. She then moves on to recall her experiences during the period of internment and dispossession when she was as young as thirteen years old. Midori then moves on to talk about her educational experiences while living in Victoria and also provides a brief history of how her family arrived in Canada. She then reflects on the various possessions that her family left behind as they were forced to leave British Columbia for Winnipeg. Near the end of the interview Midori discusses how the non-Japanese Canadian community played a positive and influential role in her life.

Credits

Interviewer: Erin Yaremko
Interviewee: Midori Bruns
Audio Checker: Natsuki Abe
Final Checker: Natsuki Abe
Publication Information: See Terms of Use for publication and licensing information.
Setting: Paget St., Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
Keywords: Hillcrest; Okinawa; Japanese; Canadian; Ancestry; Country Life; Vancouver Island ; British Columbia ; Canada ; Logging; Island; Fishing; School; Education; Work; Racism; Bystanders; 1900-2015

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.