Ellen Crowe-Swords, interviewed by Kyla Fitzgerald, 27 July 2017

Warning

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

  • Details or graphic images of serious illness (mental or physical) or mortality of identifiable individual(s).
  • Details of serious anti-social activity or illness of youth under age of 18.

Ellen Crowe-Swords, interviewed by Kyla Fitzgerald, 27 July 2017

Abstract
Ellen Crowe-Swords is a retired psychologist currently residing in Richmond and Ucluelet, BC. Ellen is a sansei who was born a week after the Pearl Harbor attack. In this interview, Ellen shares her family history in Tofino, BC and their experiences being uprooted and interned in Bridge River including her mother’s memories of staying in Hasting Park. Additionally, Ellen discusses her childhood in Hamilton and Ucluelet after the war and reflects on how the uprooting and internment affected her identity and overall development as an adult. Kyla and Ellen also talk about sharing inter-generational stories, learning about Ellen’s family history, Ellen’s love of Japanese culture and food, her visits to Japan, Ellen’s activist work in Canada, her career as a psychologist, and working with the First Nations population on Vancouver Island.
00:00:00.000
Kyla Fitzgerald (KF)
All right, so today is July 27th, a Monday, and I am sitting here with Ellen Crowe-Swords, née Kimoto. And we’re at her house ███████. So thank you for sitting down with me Ellen, really appreciate it.
Ellen Crowe-Swords (EC)
You’re welcome.
KF
Let’s start, perhaps at the beginning, can you tell me a little bit about your childhood? Your parents, your family, what you remember?
EC
Okay. People don’t recall their childhood until maybe they’re five or six or seven, but I have been very lucky in terms of conversations with my mum. She’s told me all about my life from almost the beginning to, you know, she passed away a uh — in February of this year so I was very lucky to have ninety-four years with my mother. I was born in December of 1941, actually one week after Pearl Harbor.
KF
Wow.
EC
And as my dad said, “Two disasters in one week: First of all, they bombed Pearl Harbor, second of all, my little boy came out to be a little girl!” You know he was a typical, Oriental dad that wanted a boy first, but anyways so that was one of the funny stories my mum told me. I was three months old when the evacuation of Tofino took place and so you don’t remember anything, but she told me about how the tension had been building in Tofino in the west coast for a very, very long time. A lot of families that were living in Clayoquot which is now called Stubbs Island, Tofino itself, Eik Bay where the famous Eik tree is now. A lot of people there knew that there was going to be a situation so a lot of people left. My dad was a fisherman so he just put his nose to the grindstone and he just fished. But anyway one day in March, the RCMP came to their house in Tofino, knocked on the door, took the radio, took the rifles, took kitchen knives, anything that would be considered a weapon and told my mum and dad that they had three days to evacuate and the evacuation was going to happen. They were going to take dad’s boat to Steveston and when he came back then my mom and I had to go on the MKwenna, which is the boat they sent by ourselves. So here’s my mum, without my dad, because dad’s got the fish boat and he’s taking it around to the wharf moorage at New Westminister — The funny story about my dad and every Japanese-Canadian fisherman was given a navy escort on the boat from Tofino to Richmond
KF
Right.
EC
So that they wouldn’t turn the boat around and go to Japan, right? That was the insinuation, anyway his navy guy was a young fella from the Prairies and as soon as they rounded the — got out of the harbour in Tofino and went out towards Leonard Lake, the guy was seasick. The navy guy was seasick for three weeks! That’s how long it took them to bring the boat around to New Westminister. So my dad was one of the very last boat’s to come into the harbour, they sent out a navy boat to see what had happened and they found this one really green sick navy guy and that’s why it took so long, but eventually he got to New West. And then in the meantime, I’m three months old, my mum’s nursing me, she’s on a boat by herself, she’s got — she’s only allowed to take whatever she can carry and keep in mind she has to carry me. So she’s got me tucked here Points to her side. and two suitcases and I’ll show you later on upstairs what she managed to take with her. And then they reunited in Hastings Park after about three weeks.
KF
Okay.
00:04:51.000
00:04:51.000
EC
Dad came. And they stayed in Hastings Park for a good part of a year. So that was March and I think it was a calendar year that went by, I’m not quite sure of that, and then they had to make decisions around, you know, what to do. So I think she probably suffered quite a bit on that trip because she was motion sick that whole time and she was nursing me at the time, Kyla, but the stress of that journey made her very sick and so by the time I got to Hastings Park, I was screaming my head off because I was hungry. I hadn’t had any nourishment since I left Tofino and there was no milk on the Mkwenna, there was no way that anybody was helping any of them, they were given birth not in the passenger section of the boat, but where they stored baggage. And Mkwenna went from Tofino to up the canal to Alberni, got off there and there’s a railway, it’s called the Esquimalt Nanaimo E&N, they got on the railway and they went to Nanaimo. And then in Nanaimo there’s a Black Ball ferry, and they were taken from the black ball ferry into the harbour in Vancouver. Then a truck met them, and everybody piled on the truck and sat on the floor, mind you my mum’s got me and her two suitcases, took them to Hastings Park. And they were put in um. . . There were separate sections, this has been well documented. Females and kids in one building and the men in the other. It took a long time to come around so she was by herself most of the time and we were put into the building that now houses livestock. You know if you go to the P.N.E. every fall, you know the livestock building. So the first thing that the women had to do was to clean out their accommodations because there was hay on the ground and there was animal feces because they just barely moved the cows and the horses just before —
KF
So it was very recent?
EC
Oh, very recent. Right. In the meantime, the people from Ucluelet, Tofino, the West Coast were the second group to be moved. The first group came from Skeena: Rupert, Port Edward —
KF
Oh right.
EC
They came first.
KF
Okay.
EC
And my mom’s brother was amongst that first group that moved from Skeena. Now I’m not sure how they came down, but anyway, they were there when mom came and it was uh — thank goodness because they helped her, her older brother was there. But during this stressful time, both of them, her older brother and his wife, contacted tuberculosis and so they opened up another building on the P.N.E. grounds and it is now sealed up, it’s not used for anything, it’s a little further removed from the P.N.E. Playland, it’s in that part of town. And that became the TB place and people who got TB, mums and dads and families were put in there and they weren’t allowed to get out, it was virtually – they were incarcerated, for sure. The people who were in the other livestock buildings could request a pass from the . A day pass, not a night pass, and if you had lots of money and greased the hands of some of the people who were the security, you got a little bit more than what was allowed. My mum talked about lining up with a pie plate for her food. I don’t know whether they had Japanese meals, or whether it was potatoes or — don’t know. But anyway, they were lined up just like summer camp, you know? Just like if you’re — you go to a summer vacation camp.
KF
Like the big mess halls, right?
EC
Yeah it was a huge big hall. . . And then after everybody went to sleep, she used to take diapers into the public washrooms to wash them because there was nobody in there at that time. And she said it was very difficult because they didn’t provide them in the way of laundry detergent or. . . So it was a very stressful time for all of them, yeah. And I think — I’m not sure about how many people were there — seems to me about 5000? I think it’s well documented the people who came. . . And they were mostly from the West Coast because if you were in Vancouver you didn’t go to Hastings Park. You were allowed to stay in your own house until they had the interment camps in the interior ready, then everybody who was in Vancouver climbed on a train and went to camp, whereas the west coast families endured that internment at Hastings Park.
00:10:22.000
00:10:22.000
KF
Because they had nowhere to live. . .
EC
Well I think the authorities could control them. I think it was a security thing. They thought that the Japanese fishermen were here because they were like a fifth column. They were here to help the Japanese air force and navy when they came for the invasion so they branded this one group of people from Bamfield to Ucluelet, the “Enemy Aliens”. So they were treated in a much different way than any other Japanese-Canadian group. If you were a farmer in the Fraser Valley and you grew strawberries, you weren’t considered armed and dangerous so they didn’t get as much attention as the fishermen. And because of the nature of the way people were being treated, the young fishermen who were single became very angry and I’m sure they caused the authorities a great deal of trouble at Hastings Park. I don’t know what they did but they took quite a few of them out of there and opened up a prisoner of war camp in Ontario called Schreiber.
KF
Okay.
EC
And Schreiber became sort of like a road camp and my uncle — youngest two uncles were sent to Schreiber. They weren’t married, they were probably intoxicated a lot of the time and they were going to make trouble so the government in their wisdom, with the blessing of the five major religious groups decided that they should not stay with their families, they should be shipped elsewhere. So they were sent to Schreiber and they were given uniforms, prisoner uniforms, and so on. And they didn’t reunite with their families until after 1947. So that group was treated very harshly and there’s several books that have been written about the young single males and what happened to them, okay? Yeah. In the meantime, the government had decided that they needed to move everybody from Hastings Park inland because they were still afraid that they were going to cause trouble so what they did was they called together members of the far five mainstream religious churches in British Columbia: the Buddhists, the Catholics, the Anglicans, the United, and the fifth group would be probably a collection of Presbyterians, Evangelicals. . . And so they decided to separate the Japanese-Canadians into religious groups and send them to the camps as a religious group. So let’s say you were United then you went to Lemon Creek, if you were Buddhist you went to Sandon, if you were Catholic you went to Greenwood, and then they filled these various locations with clergy to keep an eye and control and to sort of, “help”“help” in quotes. Keep the population because, you know, the internment was going to last some time, three or four years. So depending on when you filled out your forms, if you’d written down you were a devote Buddhist then you went to Sandon. And so Sandon became the Buddhist place. . . and I guess there was some wisdom in that in which, uh, when you’re stressed you need comfort and so they figured, “Well we’re going to have this spiritual comfort.” But from my point of view I always thought that the Japanese clergy were complicit with the government agents in terms of how this whole thing developed. If they didn’t have their cooperation, and they didn’t have the cooperation of the clergy comforting their pastoral flock, none of this would have worked out. People would not have gone off meekly to these camps and said, “Yes, sir, no sir,” you know, situation. So it was probably a good ploy for them to do that. And then of course they did the same thing much, much later with the Doukhobors, right? They separated the Douhkobors into the different sects and so on. So I think there’s a history of all the various agents collaborating on what happened at that time, right? And so there was a backlash afterwards from the community when they found out that this was happening.
00:15:40.000
00:15:40.000
KF
So where did your family end up moving to?
EC
When my dad finally got his boat around Laughs.
KF
Yeah. . .
EC
To New Westminister with a sick sailor boy, he was sent to a road camp.
KF
Okay.
EC
And he was gone for two or three years I think. And then he came back and because he had some private money, he was given the option of going to a self-supporting camp. And that self-supporting camp was up near Whistler. It was a camp that was, uh, there was some cabins there from the BC Hydro installation when they brought the power lines down from the Northern BC. And the place is called Bridge River.
EC
Bridge River, right. And it’s near Lillooet, and Pemberton and that’s where my family went. So they trucked the family from Hastings Park to Pemberton, Squamish, put them on a boat. The boat went up river to Bridge River and they disembarked at Lillooet and then there were all these BC Hydro cabins where the workers stayed while they were building the dam. And that became Bridge River. And that camp was probably interesting place because it was built on three levels. The top level was all the business people from Powell Street and the Vancouver business elite came to Bridge River and they had beautiful homes on the top level. They had money and they had connections and they had friends in powerful places and so they got to spend their time living in houses with insulation and, you know, nice shelter. Then there was the middle layer, which was made up of people who were economically okay, but not extremely wealthy or connected and they were sort of the laborers and the technicians and people who, you know, who run the country; people with talent and skills. Then on the third level, right at the bottom were the fishermen. That was my family. And they had the poorest arrangement: tar papered shacks. I think the shacks were twelve by twelve, twelve by twelve by twenty-four and not insulated; it was very cold. That’s where my mum and dad stayed until I think the decision – they had to make a decision: go back to Japan or stay there. So they needed something to do so my dad grew tomatoes, he became famous in Bridge River for growing tomatoes. So he often talked about fishermen, you know, “They can do other things, Ellen, besides fish. I grew tomatoes when I was in Bridge River,” he used to tell me.
KF
Oh interesting. . .
EC
Very interesting all the time that I grew up listening to these stories, there was never any anger or bitterness that came out.
KF
Okay.
EC
These stories were all told matter-of-factly, okay? And there was never any thought given to the injustice of it all. I was thinking to myself that if that was me, there would be no way that I would be meekly taking my suitcase off, you know, but that was a whole different mindset, the Niseis, okay?
KF
So your parents were Niseis?
EC
Niseis. Yes.
KF
Okay, so you’re Sansei, then.
EC
Yes, I’m third-generation, right.
KF
Okay. And so your grandparents were Issei?
EC
Yes.
KF
And where did they come from in Japan?
EC
They came from Wakayama.
KF
Oh, Wakayama, okay.
EC
Yeah, my mum’s side. My dad’s side came from Kyushu.
KF
Oh, Kyushu, okay. . .
EC
Yeah, and my grandmother came from Tokyo, she was an accomplished pianist. And she had an arranged marriage with my grandpa and they came to Tofino. I often wondered how she managed that, that kind of adjustment. Imagine being a classical pianist in Tokyo and then coming and living in Tofino?
00:20:32.000
00:20:32.000
KF
I could imagine it would be quite a change. . .
EC
Yeah! Both laughs. That was her way of dealing with the world. As I can remember, you know, visits from Grandma, and she’d bring her cigarettes and then in the evening, she’d roll them, right? Yeah.
KF
Okay.
EC
So that’s how I remember my grandma: being pretty sophisticated, classical pianist who smoked.
KF
Did she ever play over here in Tofino?
EC
There’s no piano here.
KF
Oh, no piano – okay. So she stopped playing?
EC
Yep. Yeah.
KF
Wow. And your grandfather, what did he do?
EC
He was from Kyushu and his family were mikan orchardists, Japanese orange people.
KF
Oh, mikan! Yeah!
EC
But, you know, it was a feudal system back then and he wasn’t the number one or two son so he was given the opportunity to come and be a fisherman. So he came here in the 1890’s to Steveston, yeah. And sent for his wife and she was a classical pianist from Tokyo. I would have loved to been around at that time, a fly on the wall, right?
KF
No kidding.
EC
Yeah. . . She came to Seattle. And he went to pick her up there and he honeymooned her around Seattle for a week and brought her back to Steveston.
KF
Wow. . .
EC
I have all the documents from that – her trip –
KF
Oh do you? Oh wow.
EC
Yeah, yeah. In my place in Richmond.
KF
So you have a place in Richmond as well?
EC
Yeah, yeah. This was my mom’s house and it was the family house. So I’m here now because she passed away in February and you just can’t leave this house empty. So I’m summering here and then all winter in my place in Richmond.
KF
I see, okay.
EC
Yeah.
KF
So going back to Bridge River
EC
Yes.
KF
What is your earliest memory –
EC
I have no recollection!
KF
No recollection?
EC
Until we get to Hamilton.
KF
Hamilton? Okay.
EC
Yes. They chose not to go back to Japan. They chose to go east of the Rockies and because my dad’s oldest brother and younger brother were already back east, they decided to join them. So we could’ve gone to Montreal or we could’ve gone to Hamilton. So my dad and mum chose to go to Hamilton. And he worked at International Harvesters in the foundry there. And, um, my first recollection of being a person was actually when I was in kindergarten in Hamilton. It was the end of the school year and I remember we had a little party because I was thinking I that would graduate and go into grade one. And we had this little party and all kinds of my friends in the room, are all called up and given their grade one papers and I was never given one. And I was told later that I had to stay back because I didn’t learn enough in kindergarten. So I must’ve created a real scene, they had to go and get my dad from work and they explained to my dad, “There’s something very wrong with your daughter. She knows very few verbal skills.” Well it’s because I was speaking fluent in Japanese at the time and no English! So they said, “She has a real disability, her verbal skills are non-existent.” And my dad laughed, and said, “Oh it’s because. . .” you know and he told the teacher my background. So I spent another year in kindergarten and at this point my whole family was now instructed that we only speak English to Ellen now. So now I have forgotten all my Japanese and I only know English. And my first degree at UVic was a degree in English Laughs..
KF
Was it?
EC
I’m very fond of telling people this story!
KF
Oh that’s funny.
EC
Yeah.
KF
It’s so funny that you say that about you learning English because my first language was pretty much Japanese.
EC
Yes.
00:24:57.000
00:24:57.000
KF
And then my father’s Irish Canadian, but my mother’s Japanese, so – but they were quite adamant about maintaining the Japanese ties so my mother would always speak to me in Japanese. And then I remember my father saying, Kyla’s got to learn English!” Ellen laughs. So they put me in a preschool –
EC
Yeah, yeah.
KF
And I’d never spoken any English. And I think it took me awhile to adjust.
EC
Yeah.
KF
And even in grades one and two, I had to get some additional support –
EC
Tutoring?
KF
Yeah a little bit of extra tutoring. Laughs.
EC
Laughs. Yeah, yeah.
KF
Yeah, for sure.
EC
So my siblings that came after me, they had the benefit of English so. . . Yeah. . .
KF
Ah okay.
EC
So I recall that.
KF
Okay.
EC
And then, I guess, in 1947, so I’d be six when the ban was lifted and the news came that there would be money if somebody wanted to go back and start fishing. So my dad’s two older brothers and two younger brothers, five of them, decided to come back to BC. And I remember part of that journey, not much. I was in grade three.
KF
Grade three by this time. . .
EC
Okay. We were here on this property. And I remember the first. . . It was March. There was snow on the ground; there was no global warming at that time. I remember going to school and then growing up here, right?
KF
Can you tell me a little bit about your childhood? It sounds like you spoke a lot of Japanese when you were younger and then you started speaking English after kindergarten, um –
EC
I have no recollection of that at all!
KF
No recollection –
EC
No I must’ve been in total denial.
KF
That’s what your parents told you? Ahh. . .
EC
I only know this because my grandma, when she came to visit, she used to talk to me about stuff. My mum and dad never shared those sorts of, uhh, incidences. They were fairly. . . how would you say? They were typical, uhh, “non-emotional” parents. Just very matter of fact, right? And they never spoke about things that were difficult; never mentioned hardship. When we came here, we lived that first year on rice and crab from the beach, clams from the beach, fish that dad caught. Never knew that was hardship, you know!? I remember taking crab sandwiches to school and changing it for peanut butter, from the kids at school. They would love to have the crab, you know? And I think now, “Yeah, must’ve been –”
KF
Laughs. Yeah must’ve been good!
EC
– taking crab sandwiches. And then, you know, my childhood was pretty normal.
KF
Okay.
EC
There was some prejudice at the school. It wasn’t overt. It was. . . kind of, I guess people were told that it wasn’t a nice thing to be racist. The racism in Ucluelet was more directed at the First Nations people than at the Japanese Canadian community because I think we had a better reputation. I think the people saw us as hard working, clean, honest, trustworthy, friendly. . . sushi.
KF
Sushi. Laughs.
EC
I think sushi did more, particularly age sushi, did more to cement the bonds of culture in this community than anything else that I can think of.
KF
Really?
EC
Because whenever there was a community event, for example my mum and Aunt Mary, Aunt Suzie joined the PTA and whenever there was an event, they always took age sushi. And so this community learned to eat Japanese food. They took Japanese chicken wings and so food, I think, was the cement that really helped us, you know, growing up. And we were good students too. None of us were stupid. None of us were in the remedial reading class, right? So I think my childhood was very peaceful, it was secure because we lived here and town was over there, and there was only a hiking trial. . . we hiked everyday through the bush. Mom and Aunt Mary rowed a rowboat out to Ucluelet to get groceries. We had no electricity, no running water so our lives were fairly primitive. And so everybody had to work hard. I remember going down on the beach and helping my dad bring up firewood because that’s how we kept warm. I remember setting nets so we could go catch perch and little, um, what do you call those little things? Anyway that’s what we did. We went to school, came home, did our homework, went to the beach, I mean, it was idyllic kind of childhood, right? And school in Ucluelet was not highly respected; education never was, still isn’t. School for most people stopped at grade eight. If you were a male, you went fishing, or you went logging or you went to work in the mines. When I graduated, there were only four of us in my grad class. Four girls, ninety-sixty. So we have a reunion every year in the phone booth down at the crow’s nest, just the four of us.
00:31:18.000
00:31:18.000
KF
Oh wow. . .
EC
Nobody went to school past grade. . . Girls went to grade ten and got married; boys quit school in grade eight. By the time they were in grade ten, they had a pickup truck.
KF
So you said graduated with four people total – three others and then you’re the fourth.
EC
Yes, yeah.
KF
Was that grade ten or until grade twelve?
EC
No we did grade twelve.
KF
Okay.
EC
Some of the courses by correspondence because you can’t have a chemistry class with four girls in it. So we really suffered in terms of science. So the four of us turned out to be really well grounded in grammar and history, geography, but math and science was just. . . well we just didn’t get a fair shake. So when I went to first year University of Victoria, I had huge problems with math and science and. . . so I went University of Victoria and during the day I was a nanny when I got home. That’s how I paid for my accommodation.
KF
Ahh. . .
EC
And the people that I nannied for were wealthy people who lived at Ten Mile Point in Victoria. And I got a bike and I biked to – well it’s Camosun College now, that’s where. . . So that was my first four years at UVic.
KF
And what about your childhood home? Like the one here in Ucluelet? Can you describe that a little bit?
EC
Oh, yeah. When we came back from Ontario in 1948, we couldn’t go back to Tofino.
KF
Right.
EC
Right, because of the covenant. So the next best thing was – there was this piece of property in Ucluelet, but it wasn’t part of Ucluelet, it was a former air force space during the war. And it was abandoned; there were lots of buildings on this property. And so they decided that they could afford the rent, twenty-five bucks a month to the Canadian government. And at that time this property had, I would say, livable structures. The structure that I was in was the infirmary; it was the place where they treated, you know, air force guys who were sick. So it was basically a shelter. Aunt Mary and her family lived in the army and there were several other buildings around. The building down at the bottom was the house for the fellow who was in charge of the whole camp, he was the officer in charge. So that’s why we had no electricity, no running water.
KF
And was it –
EC
Outdoor toilets.
KF
Outdoor toilets?
EC
Oh yes.
KF
Wow. . .
EC
Yeah. I remember we had Eatons catalogues out there too. Laughs.
00:35:09.000
00:35:09.000
KF
I see.
EC
The buildings were all torn down and then we built this house in 1980 for my mum.
KF
1980? Ahh. . .
EC
Yeah, she needed to have a nice place to live after all this time. After all she endured, she deserved better. So my brother and sister and I built this house.
KF
So when you guys came from Hamilton to Ucluelet
EC
Yes.
KF
Well first, I’ll ask two questions: What did your mother or your family bring from the camp to your new home? And do you have any fond memories or any recollection of any toys or items in your life that are really important to you?
EC
Mhm, there’s one right here. The treadle sewing machine went from Tofino to Hamilton and back.
KF
Really?!
EC
Yup.
KF
And you still have it?
EC
It’s there Points to the back of her basement.
KF
Oh my god. . .
EC
And upstairs, Kyla. When we go upstairs, I will show you –
KF
Yes.
EC
I will show you stuff. You see that suitcase on top of the. . .
KF
Is that one of your –
EC
That’s one of the suitcases.
KF
Whispers. Oh my god.
EC
And inside that suitcase was, um, her tea set, I’ll show you her tea seat, and some of her Japanese knick-knacky things, yeah. And the other suitcase had her silverware and had her china set. She got married; she was nineteen in 1940.
KF
Right.
EC
Got married in Tofino and they had the big wedding and she got lots of gifts. So she took with her. . . I don’t know, the sewing machine must’ve got on the boat?
KF
That’s pretty amazing!
EC
It is! I don’t know the story about how it got to – but it went everywhere with them.
KF
Wow. Because so far I’ve heard most people say, “Oh we brought clothing,” but you guys –
EC
Well my mum sewed!
KF
She – okay.
EC
I recall even when I was fifteen I was wearing clothes that she made for me and I got teased a lot at school about that because it wasn’t fashionable, right, but I’m in pretty thick skin so it didn’t bother me.
KF
Laughs. Right.
EC
I’m not a fashion plate anyway so who cares, right? Kyla laughs. So yeah she had her sewing machine and she could knit, she knit everybody’s socks for them.
KF
Wow.
EC
She made everybody’s clothes, the only thing we had to buy was outerwear and in Ucluelet that meant rain gear and, you know, lots of stores around here with rain gear. . .
KF
Oh wow, well yeah! We’ll have to take some time and just go through – so it was two suitcases and this is one of them?
EC
That’s one of them, yeah. There was a big trunk. . .
KF
Is that? –
EC
Not that, not that, no that’s a newer trunk. Whose got the – somebody – my nephew bought in Tofino has a lot of the um – when mum died she left a lot of stuff to number one grandson. And number two grandson, number three grandson didn’t get much, they were a little ticked off, but that’s what happens, that’s life. So he got the grandfather clock and he got the old trunk and he got the family silverware from Hamilton, yeah.
KF
And going to question, number two –
EC
Yes.
KF
What are some items that stick out for you as a kid or even when you were in your teens, is there anything?
EC
You know I’m not a commodity person at all.
KF
Okay.
EC
So I can’t think of anything even now that I would consider something that I would miss if I didn’t have it. So I don’t have – I don’t collect anything.
KF
Mhm.
EC
I’m quite strange that way. . . My sister collects things. Turtles and she collects teacups. My brother he collected hats, but I never collected a thing in my life. I was never interested in stuff! It’s because when I was little from the time I was born to the time I was six; I didn’t have a toy! Where was my – where was my doll?
KF
Right.
EC
If you’re being interned and moving around the province, I didn’t even have my teddy! You know how most kids have a blanky and a teddy?
KF
Stuffed toy. . .
EC
Yeah yeah.
KF
Yeah. Nothing. . .
EC
No. Nothing. I had nothing like that to remember, Kyla. That’s a really interesting question. Nobody’s asked me that, yeah. So now if I move, I’m not attached to stuff at all. Yeah. . .
00:40:14.000
00:40:14.000
KF
But you’ve kept a lot of your family’s items –
EC
Here in the house, yeah.
KF
In the house, really?
EC
Yeah, my mum and my sister and my brother’s doing, not mine. No. There’s hardly anything in here that is mine.
KF
Really?
EC
Mhm.
KF
And you’ve got quite a full house, I mean there’s lots of different picture frames and –
EC
Mhm.
KF
Trophies and –
EC
Mhm, yeah. Those are my trophies over there.
KF
Those are your trophies?
EC
Yeah. I’m a golfer and a curler and uh. . . I’m quite athletic.
KF
Oh?
EC
Yeah. I don’t – I didn’t keep those, my mum did, I guess.
KF
Oh she kept those!
EC
Yeah, yeah.
KF
Oh and they were in the house when she –
EC
Yeah, yeah, when she passed away. I just started moving some of her clothes now, she died in February, I don’t move very quickly. So yeah. There’s nothing in this house that is Ellen’s.
KF
Just a mish mash of family things –
EC
Oh one thing: my pressure cooker because I can salmon.
KF
Oh you can salmon!
EC
Yes, yes.
KF
Really?
EC
Yeah, I’ll give you one.
KF
Oh. . .
EC
Just hang on.
KF
What kind of salmon do you can?
EC
Sockeye.
KF
Sockeye? Okay. I love sockeye. Ellen walks to the back of her basement and opens her deep freeze to get the canned salmon.
EC
Just for the interview, Ellen is taking out a can of sockeye from her deep freeze right now. Ellen walks back to the couch and passes the jar to Kyla.
KF
Just for the interview, Ellen is taking out a can of sockeye from her deep freeze right now. Ellen walks back to the couch and passes the jar to Kyla
EC
Last year.
KF
Ohh! Thank you! My father worked in a cannery in Prince Rupert as a young boy. And he’s also really – he studies fishing canneries so we eat a lot of salmon. So thank you! This is amazing!
EC
Yeah, you’re welcome.
KF
I’ll have to share some with my dad, because he’ll –
EC
Yeah, I don’t have very many left.
KF
Oh, thank you.
EC
And this year there’s no sockeye.
KF
Really?
EC
Haven’t got any, yeah. . .
KF
Oh. . . So, okay, so –
EC
Going back to your question about. . . I never learned to walk until I was almost four. You know why?
KF
No.
EC
The internment cabins that we stayed in had dirty floors. They were filthy, dirty, mostly dirt, not even tile so nobody ever put me on the floor. I was carried around ‘til I was four! Terribly spoiled. So when we went outside, say we had to go – this is a story my dad told me – when we went outside in Bridge River and we had to walk to Lillooet to get supplies, I would walk for five minutes and then I would say to my dad, “Dad, you have to carry me, the chickens came and pecked my toes last night, I can’t walk.” So you see I was terribly spoiled because I was the only child at that camp under the age of. . . Eight? Maybe?
KF
So was it –
EC
So I grew up with all these adults. So I was a little nerd already, you know? So my development was really skewed. . . In one direction. So there are parts of me that I haven’t developed very much. Like the – like a lot of people have a silly side to them, I don’t. I have a sense of humour.
KF
Okay.
EC
But I can’t be silly. I don’t know how to be silly, no. And I put that down to being raised with adults all the time.
KF
I see. So okay, well let’s talk about that. So did you have many childhood friends, then?
EC
No!
KF
No.
EC
No.
KF
All adults?
EC
Yup.
KF
Even when you went further into school?
EC
Well I must’ve had some friends in grade kindergarten, grade one in Toronto – in Hamilton, I mean. But I don’t remember ever having anybody around to play with. I played with my brother and sister.
KF
And what are your brother and sister’s name?
EC
Ted.
KF
Ted?
EC
He’s four years younger than me and then my sister, Nina, is five years younger. So they played together, I ignored them most of the time. Because I was older –
KF
The eldest.
00:44:53.000
00:44:53.000
EC
Yeah and to this day, I still enjoy my own company. I like to be alone. Yeah, yeah. I could go for days on end without having to relate to anybody, it’s okay I’m fine, right? So yeah, I think what happens to people in their first four years – well you probably know this anyway – is pretty indicative of, sort of, person that’s going to eventually emerge so when you hear stories of Indian Residential schools, you understand right away what happened that whole group of people. Right? So I was interested in somebody doing some research study around what happened to the children of the internment. How did they turn out? Nobody’s done that work, that work hasn’t been done.
KF
So it sounds like even though you don’t have a lot of memories of the internment, would you say that it’s had quite a large effect on your upbringing?
EC
Oh! Massive effect.
KF
Yeah. . .
EC
If you ask me to talk about effect, I think so, yes. Because it was not a – it wasn’t comfortable, it wasn’t se- it was secure because I think our parents made sure that we were secure. That was a very important thing, for the sake of the children. Now if you read Joy Kogawa’s book, she talks about, you know, the kids all the time. So we had that. There wasn’t a lot of attention paid to material things. We’re not consumers! You know? I go out and buy one pair of shoes, it’ll last me for three years. I’m not interested in having a lot of stuff. And I just wonder if anybody has done a study of the psychological effects of children who were raised in stressful situations.
KF
Right.
EC
Yeah, I think the people who were teenagers at that time they had a wonderful time! It was like summer camp the whole time. They danced and they dated and I remember talking to my aunt about her story, she was fourteen, there were guys around, they played ball. They had a marvelous four years! No school! Right? No worries. So they grew up loving it. “What do you mean I have to go and work!?” You know? They were having a gay old time. But people who really suffered, I think, are probably the Isseis, the grandmas and grandpas. And the Nisei males because they lost ten years of their working lives, which were probably the most profitable for them between the ages of thirty and forty. They were interned. And I can think about my dad and my uncles, they lost ten years, came back and started all over again. Buy a boat, mortgage a boat, buy a house, move the family. Just imagine what that kind of stress is on them, right? They all died very young.
KF
Did they?
EC
Yes.
KF
How old was your father when he died?
EC
He was middle sixties.
KF
That’s. . . Yeah. . .
EC
Yeah.
KF
And your uncle?
EC
Same thing.
KF
Mid-sixties as well?
EC
Yes, they all died young.
KF
From old age – I mean – “old age”?
EC
No stressful, organic, um, debilitating diseases. Diabetes, cancer, heart attacks, lung cancer, yeah, yeah. . . I think the wear and tear on them was terrifically harmful to their health conditions, yeah.
KF
But you said that your parents never shared that with you.
EC
No! We never knew that they had gone through such a stressful time in their lives. Yeah. I remember, Kyla, one day I was sitting upstairs with my mum and Hurricane Katrina came through New Orleans and my mum and I were watching CNN. And she started to cry and my mum never cried. And I said, “Mum! What’s the matter?!” She said, “You know Ellen, I’m thinking about Hastings Park,” and what it was was the picture of the dome in Louisiana with all those-
KF
The people inside –
KF
Inside.
EC
And it triggered that memory.
KF
Massive trigger, flashback to the livestock building at Hastings Park and she was crying. She remembers sitting in the bleachers at the PNE forum now and, you know, being waiting for registration and they took her fingerprints. She remembered that. Huddled on the bleachers. And it was that whole image, well from CNN, that triggered that flashback. And so we – because I’m a counselor, I got her to talk. I gave her all the key words and, you know, allowed her to agonize and cry. It was the first time that she was able to really, kind of, come to terms with that whole thing emotionally, right?
00:50:26.000
00:50:26.000
KF
And how old was your mother when that happened?
EC
Twenty. She had me when she was nineteen.
KF
And then when the Hurricane Katrina, I guess, memory happened, how old was she then?
EC
That was what? Ten years ago?
KF
Yeah, so. . .
EC
Yeah, ‘84.
KF
‘84.
EC
So she bottled up – that whole generation bottled their beings at that point. Somewhere, they buried it somewhere. And it came out in a very positive way. You know, you look after your kids, you work hard.
KF
Can I ask about maybe some cultural aspects of your childhood? You talk about food a lot –
EC
I do.
KF
And some Japanese food. Do you remember what kind of food you ate during your childhood into your teens when you were living with your family? What kind of food did you eat?
EC
It was always nihon-shoku.
KF
Nihon-shoku? Mmm.
EC
Yes. We ate Japanese food all the time. When we came back here, we had to have sandwiches so what happened was my mum went to work in a restaurant in Ucluelet at the hotel and so she had to learn about breakfast, lunch, and dinner, she had to learn about spaghetti, chicken, hamburgers. And so then our menu switched every other day was yoshoku and the next day was nihon-shoku. But our main meal was always Japanese: rice, fish. My mum was a very good cook. I learned how to cook Japanese. My sister had no interest in that, my brother just waited at the table to get fed, but yeah, it’s still a very large part of who I am right now.
KF
Do you still cook a lot of Japanese food?
EC
Oh! When I’m by myself, all I do is cook Japanese food.
KF
Really? What kind of Japanese food in particular?
EC
Fishermen food.
KF
Fishermen food. So-
EC
Your basic comfort food: rice, miso soup, daikon, fish, spinach salad. I have Japanese pickles, five different kinds, in my freezer – in my fridge right now. I buy Japanese cucumber pickles, I get Japanese white beet pickles, I make daikon, I make little onions, I have spinach pickles. So yeah, I never go a day without having Japanese food either for lunch or for dinner.
KF
And that was all taught from your mom?
EC
Yes.
KF
Wow.
EC
Yeah, and my two aunts upstairs are wonderful cooks.
KF
Are they?
EC
Yes. Especially Suzie because she went to Japan and so she’s quite talented in the kitchen so I’ve learned an awful lot of stuff –
KF
Passed that down?
EC
Yeah, she makes the most exquisite sushi.
KF
Really?
EC
And mochi, we’re going to go upstairs later and have her mochi for tea.
KF
Nice!
EC
She brought some mochi down for you.
KF
Oh, that’s so nice.
EC
Yeah, yeah so at New Years this house would be busy from morning to night with people coming by.
KF
So you guys did oshogatsu?
EC
Oh absolutely for three days! Yeah. And we were fortunate because we had this access to fresh crab, oysters, isomono, tuna, yeah.
KF
So osechi was definitely there.
EC
Oh it was a very – that was when we entertained. Yeah.
KF
And any other major Japanese holidays or events that you celebrated?
EC
Uh, not really. We did all the Christian stuff.
KF
Okay.
EC
All the Christian festival days. . .
KF
So there was a bit of a balance there?
EC
Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s really my sisters and brothers all married into a, you know, the main culture so we’re like every other Japanese Canadian household, hapas, eh? Yeah. Half and half.
KF
Yeah.
EC
Hanbun, hanbun?
KF
Hanbun, hanbun, yeah.
00:54:58.000
00:54:58.000
EC
Yeah, yeah. So my cousin, Justin, opened up a series of Japanese restaurants in Vancouver.
KF
Really?
EC
Hapa Izakaya?
KF
Oh yeah! Absolutely.
EC
On Robson street, have you been there?
KF
I’ve heard of it, I’ve never been there.
EC
You’ve heard of it, well yeah that’s my cousin on the Kimoto side. And his restaurant is a fusion of Japanese food with some Korean food and, you know, French from Vietnam. He toured South East Asia, went to restaurants, picked up all kinds of ideas. . . so I think culturally, food is probably number one. For me, number two would be music.
KF
Music?
EC
Yes, I’m associated with the Vancouver Opera.
KF
Okay.
EC
And concerts, and symphonies, and taikos and I have an extensive CD collection of taiko music and Buddhist chant music and old, old tapes of NHK. In my condo in Richmond, I subscribe to NHK.
KF
On the TV?
EC
Yes.
KF
Yeah me too.
EC
And so I can watch sumo and so. . . So music and food um. . . And then I think there’s this unwritten thing about being Japanese that’s cultural. There’s certain values that I think are taught when you’re, you know, about doing your best and. . . There’s not very many English words to describe the kind of, um, instructions that we got. They weren’t explicit, they were implicit and they were somehow told to you in such a way that it was not a matter for discussion or debate. That’s how it was. End of conversation, you don’t do that, you know? So, I don’t know. . . When I went to Japan for the first time, I was amazed. I landed at Narita airport and I got deplaned, and I got into the staging area for customs, it was up on the third floor, you’ve been there, right?
KF
Yup.
EC
And I looked down and there was this sea of people who looked just like me. And for the first time in my life, I thought to myself, “Oh my god! They all look just like me!” And I stared at them and then I went down and got in to them. I just spent that whole – I never – my suitcases were somewhere, could care less. Kyla laughs.
EC
I just wanted to mingle! And be part of that because it was the very first time that I was not. . . Different, I guess.
KF
Right. And how was your experience in Japan?
EC
Wonderful!
KF
Really?
EC
Yes. I loved it! Every time I’ve been. I have a wonderful, wonderful relative there, but the whole ambiance of being there is hard to describe because it’s not – I wouldn’t say it’s better, but it’s certainly different. It’s attitude and its attention to detail and it’s doing things properly. Service, I mean, you know –
KF
Customer service! Oh my god. Like nothing else! Laughs.
EC
Well you go into a shop to buy something? You get greeted as soon as you enter the door, right?
KF
I know.
EC
And you go into Canadian Tire, you know? Good luck lady! Kyla laughs.
KF
Maybe aisle fourteen, right?
EC
Maybe aisle fourteen, right?
KF
Yeah. They are unmatched in their customer service. It’s almost so much that you feel bad –
EC
Yeah.
KF
You know? You go, “Oh you don’t have to go that far,” but it’s. . .
EC
Yeah, it’s a. . . So growing up Japanese, that’s part of the culture. That’s unsaid, okay? I think in Joy Kogawa’s Obasan, she writes that there is a silence that will not speak. That’s so Japanese. Right? You don’t say it.
KF
That sounds like it set a pretty strong foundation in your life?
EC
Mhm mhm. So there was that. Um. . .
KF
How old were you when you went to Japan the first time?
EC
The first time? I was given an invitation by the city of Richmond because that’s our sister city.
KF
Okay.
EC
To go and represent Canada at Wakayama. . . I think it was a hundred years? It was some sort of anniversary and my good friend was the planner for Richmond. She said, “Well you come to Japan with me, I’d love to take and to meet your friends.” And so what happened was that was the first part of my trip and so I was in Japan with her and the Richmond group for probably a week. And then I took off and toured the rest of the stuff with a tour group and I came back in – spent most of August with my family. That was the first time. And I would’ve been. . . Mmm. . . Probably just after I got divorced. It was a good diversion for me. Thirty-something.
01:00:54.000
01:00:54.000
KF
In your thirties?
EC
Yeah and then I went back again this time with my mum and my sister-in-law. And the third time, my nephew got married and I have fourth trip because I have my mum’s cremates to take back –
KF
I see.
EC
To her ancestral –
KF
To the family grave site.
EC
Yeah, yeah in Shimosato so I’ll do that.
KF
So you have relatives in Japan?
EC
I have many relatives.
KF
Many.
EC
Many aunts and uncles -
KF
Okay.
EC
Cousins on both sides of the family.
KF
And you’ve been in touch with both?
EC
Yes.
KF
Nice.
EC
And, you know, it is my one regret is that I cannot, when I’m there, communicate as much as I would like to.
KF
Do they know about your family’s history and what happened to your family?
EC
Oh they were well aware of that.
KF
Well aware.
EC
Yeah, right, yeah. They had gone back to Japan before the war because my mum’s father had a stroke. He couldn’t fish anymore, his left side was paralyzed, but his right side worked. So he went back to Japan and took up painting and script writing. He learned kanji and so he made his living doing all those beautiful big scrolls for Girl’s Days and Boy’s Days. And so he got into the business of flying koi and, you know, stuff like that. And his shop was in Sano, which is south of Wakayama, yeah. And my dad’s side, they’re still doing oranges.
KF
They’re still in the mikan–
EC
Yeah, they’re still doing mikan so, you know. . . There are two things left on my Japanese bucket list. One is the cherry blossoms, but that’s April.
KF
Oh in the high season, yes.
EC
Yeah, that’s April. And then the other one would be around do one New Year’s in Japan.
KF
Oh yeah, that’s nice.
EC
Yeah, so. . .
KF
And what does your family in Japan say about that time?
EC
They don’t know.
KF
They don’t know, yeah. . .
EC
They have no idea about – nobody’s told them. This is not a dinnertime conversation.
KF
Right.
EC
This is hard stuff; you don’t talk about hard stuff to your kids. You protect them from stuff like that, right? So it’s a – I don’t even know that there are – if somebody said, Ellen, what percentage of people your age know what happened?” I would say they know more now, but maybe twenty percent? I don’t know that there is anymore. There’s lots of families here in Ucluelet that they haven’t told their kids what happened.
KF
So can I ask how did you find out about your history then? And your parents’ and grandparents’ experiences because you’re quite involved now with the Japanese Canadian community.
EC
I am, mhm.
KF
So where did you learn your history and the larger JC history?
EC
You know, I’ll have to attribute the first thrust – the first part of the motivation came from Aunt Mary’s husband.
KF
Aunt Mary’s husband.
EC
My Uncle Tom.
KF
Okay.
EC
Every year it was my job to help Uncle Tom cook six dozen crab for New Year’s – or eight dozen crab or – So we used to go outside and he’d have this huge copper kettle full of water and we would cut crab, clean it and get it ready for dinner. And he’d have his bottle of rum there and I’d have my little can of beer and he would tell me all these stories while we were cooking crab because he really suffered.
01:05:00.000
01:05:00.000
EC
And he needed to talk to someone – his two boys weren’t the least bit interested whereas I had shown some interest in people. I’m a people person, not a thing person. So he used to tell me and he would get angry, Kyla, about how he was treated and he and my mum used to use this term in English, Ellen we were pushed around.” Pause. And um. . . He would cry. We were cooking crab; he’s drinking rum – Sniffs. I’m getting emotional telling you about this story, that’s okay. It’s okay for me to cry. So he would say this happened and that happened and I didn’t know. So I kept it to myself and um. . . Went to school, nobody said anything there. Then I met Joy Kogawa. And Joy took me under her, her literary arm and said, Ellen, have you read my book?” I said, “No.” I met her through the opera, you see. We were taking her book, Obasan, and making it into an opera for kids.
KF
Naomi’s Road.
EC
Yes. So I spent two years with Joy while that process was going on. Went to all the – just have to get a Kleenex Gets up to grab a tissue. – went to all the musical stuff um. . . And so she said, “Well Ellen, first thing you do is you go read my book,” I said, “Okay.” So I went and read her book – one night. I said, “Oh my god!” Really and truly I said, “It’s beautiful. It’s a book of poetry, Joy.” She said, “It’s a story about our family in Alberta.” So she said to me, “What’s your family story?” I said, Joy, nobody’s ever asked me that before.” So she guided me through all sorts of things for two years while we saved her house. You know about her house?
KF
Yes, the Kogawa House.
EC
Yes, yeah. I was right there from the very beginning.
KF
Wow. . .
EC
And during that time I brought Joy here to Ucluelet, we brought the Opera here. We had it two years in a row here; the kids came. So the community learned about the Japanese Canadians through Naomi’s Road. We took it to Tofino, we took it to Lethbridge, we took it up North. So all this time I’m learning and being immersed in her culture and, you know, Joy’s a remarkable woman, she really is. And I owe her a great deal to, sort of, bring me out. So we got very active on her committee and then her committee spread out and the Chinese community came and said, “Come and help us with head tax.” So now we’re helping them. And then the Ukrainian community came and said, “Come and help us with Northern Quebec,” where that happened. The Germans came and said, “Come and help us with Northern Alberta.” So it got spread out. This whole activism thing just really grew and because of Joy and her dedication, she had a unique way of gathering in people. . . Yeah. . . She’s very Laughs. – never raises her voice, but she has a powerful presence. As soon as she walks into a room, you know she’s there, you know? And at that time we had wonderful media attention, CBC, CTV, I mean, we had stuff going on all the time. We were down at City Hall, the guy – the mayor was in his wheelchair – what’s his name? I’ve forgotten his name already. . . Um. . . Sam.
KF
I remember him.
EC
Remember Sam?
KF
Mhm.
EC
He invited us to City Hall, we got into the archives, we found out all the houses where the Japanese Canadians lived. We found out how much they were sold for, we wrote letters to the present owners and said, “Hey. Do you know what you did? You can make up for it by donating to Kogawa House.” So that’s how we got some of our funding. So all this stuff started to happen and I got really immersed and I had just retired, I didn’t have much else to do, the Opera stuff, so that’s what happened to me. Then mum got sick and I came here. I’ve been here now for what? Six years, I guess. So the committee is still going strong over there in Richmond and Vancouver. And I fly to Richmond for a week at the end of every month; I’m going this Thursday. Staying for a week because Powell Street’s on.
01:10:15.000
01:10:15.000
KF
Powell Street Festival, yeah. . .
EC
Yes it’s on. So I’ll renew all kinds of acquaintances at Powell Street and, you know, sort of do that. . . But that’s what happened to me. In the meantime, my cousin Laura is at McGill in Montreal. And she’s said to me, “I think I’ll do my PhD and work at the archives at the National Museum in Ottawa,” so she did that.
KF
What’s her last name?
KF
Oh! I’ve read some of her stuff.
EC
Yes, Laura.
KF
She’s actually a part of the project a little bit.
EC
Oh is she?
KF
Yeah!
EC
Oh she’s my cousin on my mum’s side.
KF
Oh small world!
EC
Laura’s grandpa and my mum are cousins.
KF
I see.
EC
Yeah. Actually Laura’s aunt was going to come and join us here today, but she had to work. Yeah, she sent regrets. So then I’ve got another cousin, Dennis, in Toronto, he worked very hard with the Redress Project, Jerry Weiner and Brian Mulroney. And he’s done all sorts of writing. He’s the family chronicler. He writes all the family history stuff.
KF
And he’s in Toronto?
EC
He’s in Toronto.
KF
Okay.
EC
He’s a Buddhist. Dennis, that’s Laura’s cousin, okay?
KF
Laura’s cousin, okay.
EC
Yeah Madakoro. And then Justin, who has the restaurants, goes back to Japan all the time and he researches the Kimoto’s side. So the generation, younger than me, have now taken up quite a bit of interest. And they’ll keep it alive now. I’m the only one of my generation that – and it’s only – if it wasn’t for Uncle Tom and Joy, I would’ve gone off on a different kind of path, I think. I’d still be golfing as a senior, and getting highly involved in golf and curling. So now my winters are spent doing more activism stuff, Downtown Eastside stuff.
KF
Wow.
EC
Yeah.
KF
Can we go back a little bit to–? So you graduated high school –
EC
1960.
KF
1960. And then you went to UVic for your first degree; can you tell me a little bit about your life after that? When you started your degrees, how you became a psychologist?
EC
Yeah I got my first certificate and I went to teach school in Vancouver on 23rd and Main, there’s a little elementary school there called David Livingstone. I was there for two years. And then I got a letter from the Ministry of Education in Victoria and they wanted to sub-con me to come back to Ucluelet to teach because they were going to integrate all the native kids from Itastu. There were something like 200 kids that were going to come over to this side. They had built a huge, big new school and they wanted somebody to help with the integration. So they found me and said, “Will you come? Two year contract, we’ll give you an extra bonus, and you be the main contact person because when you grew up, you played with the Indian children.” And I said, “I did.” All the time, on the beach because we had lots of Indian families living here. They used to come across the straights in canoes to play after school. Kids from the village had to walk, but the Indian village kids they could just cut across. So I thought, “Oh this is a good thing for me to give back to Ucluelet!” So I came back, that was ’65 and ’66 and we tried our best to bring the kids over. It was a huge problem. It wasn’t a good situation, it didn’t work. What happened was they collected the staff and they said to us, “You go over to the village and you tell them how it’s going to be.” Was from the top down. So we went over and we took a list of school supplies and I’m thinking, “Oh dear. . .” Anyway! We prepared them as best as we could and then first day of school came and they were coming across the inlet on the boat so the staff went down to the wharf to wait for the boat to come. Eight o’clock, eight- thirty, nine o’clock, ten o’clock- no boat. I noticed that it was low tide. We should’ve known better, they’re digging clams!
01:15:15.000
01:15:15.000
KF
Oh.
EC
It wasn’t important for them to come to school on time, it was important that they eat clams. So there was a huge cultural problem and finally we went back and said, “No, no, you can’t dig clams just because the tides low. The kids have to get on the school boat, they have to come.” So they came, reluctantly, they were all dressed and they all had lunch buckets and they came to school and it was just like – just like West Side Story. Didn’t work. The main culture here, they had gone so long without having any kind of contact with them. It was a disaster. So after two years, I thought to myself, “This is a much bigger problem than I can deal with myself,” so I submitted my report and I went to Kitimat, Laughs. the next year to teach up there. So now I go back to the school when I’m here and go to their music programs and I notice that they’ve now introduced native drumming into the music program. They’ve introduced native dancing; they now have a woodworking class. So it’s taken a long time, but it’s finally coming around, yeah. And this year there were forty-five kids in grade 12 that graduated; half of them were native. So it’s now been a great success, but it took a long time. It’s 2014. And I think what happened was they put the road in, they put electricity in, internet in so now everybody’s got their device and it’s working. Interesting, took a long time but – yeah. So that was, you know, that’s what I gave back. Then I went to Kitimat and I met a fellow there who was an archaeological student going to Simon Fraser so we got married and so I was with an archaeologist for ten years. And I went on many digs: dug in Africa, Guatemala –
KF
Wow.
EC
Bella Coola, all around Revelstoke, yeah. But then he’s away all the time and I was still working as a suicide specialist and our worlds became very different and he said to me one night, he said, “You know, you knew all along that I was gay,” I said, “Yes I know that.” I said, “I was waiting for you to come to terms with that and it’s okay.” So we split.
KF
Wow.
EC
Yeah, he’s working at the University of Calgary, he’s still an archaeologist and he has a partner. And when my mum was alive, two years ago, he came for a visit. And she brought him into the house and hugged him and so that’s what happened.
KF
Wow.
EC
Yeah and I haven’t had any kind of incentive to re-marry after that, it was just. . . I don’t know, I guess I was in big denial in big shock, yeah. So that’s – that’s what happened. In the meantime, I, you know, carry on with your life.
KF
Can you tell me a little bit more about your career as a psychologist? And, you know, that’s such a big career –
EC
Yeah, it is. What happened in the lower mainland there are pockets of natives who have left the reserve and are living all over the lower mainland and they fall through all the cracks at the public schools because the curriculum is not suited for them and we have the remnants of Indian Residential School and all of that factors – so the school board started to develop some curriculum and they started to get some professional people together to help with the situation. And in Whiterock, right beside the border, is a band called Semiahmoo, Semiahmoo Native Band. And they had five suicides within five weeks. Young people. And so there was an alarm that went off and they decided that because of my background – because I’m Japanese Canadian. In my PhD work I did on suicides because there’s lots of suicides in my family. And so that became something that I should do, right? Because I needed to –
01:20:29.000
01:20:29.000
KF
So you have a personal connection.
EC
Oh yeah, yeah. We’ve had suicides in our family. So that’s where I went after I did my masters, I did my PhD.
KF
Where did you do your PhD?
KF
UBC. So you’ve got quite a strong connection with the First Nations population.
EC
Yeah, exactly.
KF
Yeah and it sounded like it from our first conversation.
EC
Yeah growing up here with them, and then the suicide part and then coming back. That’s why I wanted to introduce you to Mundy, yeah. So went to work and started healing, that one band. The school board took me out of a regular high school and gave me time to go and sit down there and work with them and deal. And then I came back into the mainstream counseling thing and my boss said, “You know, we need to write some protocols,” suicide and all around us there was a lot. This was during the eighties.
KF
Okay.
EC
Lots of drug taking, lot of stuff happened, so we needed to deal with kids in a whole different way. I’d walk into some high schools and the kids would all be out protesting, there would be nobody in the school; it would be all down at the peace arch.
KF
Okay.
EC
That was the time. This is the context in which we set up the protocols. So we got together and got counselors from all the lower mainland consortium through the principal’s association and started to do a series of workshops. Got people who were professionals from all over the west coast, Los Angles people, California people, Hawaii, people from Japan so we had a one week workshop and we invited professionals from each of the lower mainland groups and developed some protocols around suicide amongst adolescence. And then we decided that we decided that we would fan out and do professional days as a group. And then pretty soon we were being invited to the Okanagan, and then pretty soon we were being invited to Prince George and Prince Rupert and so forth. So as it got further and further along, I was getting away from the kids and more and more into teachers and parents and I had to unlist my phone. It was just too much, even when I retired people were calling me. So now we’ve got all kinds of training out there.
KF
Wow. Are you still involved with it?
EC
No, no.
KF
No.
EC
No I burned right out.
KF
Yeah.
EC
I just couldn’t, you know. . . Joshua Labove comes in to check on the interview briefly.
KF
So you settled these protocols, which are still in place now –
EC
I hope so, I don’t know.
KF
Yeah
EC
I don’t know, I haven’t followed up on, you know. . . But I think they were published by the committee, yeah. And I think having the Japanese people come over really helped settle things down because their view of suicide is so much different than ours.
KF
So different.
EC
Yeah, yeah. . .
KF
You mentioned this a little bit earlier in the interview that you had built this house for your mother.
EC
Yes.
KF
Can you tell me a bit more about that? The process, and what it meant for you to build this house for your mom?
EC
Yeah, right. My dad was diabetic and he died in 1979. And it was a huge blow to the family so we needed to do something positive after dad died so the house that we were living in was really inadequate so my sister and brother-in-law said, “Well let’s build your mum a house.” So that became a family project so we built this little house for her. And she lived in it for a very long time and she loved this little house. Yeah. Her house. She took a lot of – I think she took a lot of pride in her house and we asked her, you know, the counters had to be lower, we had to fit it out for her, you know? So and she needed a washroom, all those years of having an outside privy so we built her a little en suite and yeah. And then there was a, you know, she could bring in one of cats. She adopted a little cat called him Fuko, and then turned out that Fuko’s a girl’s name, but he turned out to be a boy cat, but we still call him Fuko. So Fuko and mum lived here for a long time, I was still on the lower mainland, my sister’s in Gold River, my brother, the logger, he was all over the place, so she enjoyed the house, yeah.
KF
To finish up the interview, do you have a message of some sorts for people who are going to be hearing these interviews, or for future generations about your experiences in this time in history. Is there anything you’d like to pass on or say?
EC
Um. . . Probably I should say that we are more alike than we are different. Pause. So hang on to the part that says that “We are more alike” and let go of the “We are different” part.
KF
Thank you.
EC
Okay.
01:26:58.000

Metadata

Title

Ellen Crowe-Swords, interviewed by Kyla Fitzgerald, 27 July 2017

Abstract

Ellen Crowe-Swords is a retired psychologist currently residing in Richmond and Ucluelet, BC. Ellen is a sansei who was born a week after the Pearl Harbor attack. In this interview, Ellen shares her family history in Tofino, BC and their experiences being uprooted and interned in Bridge River including her mother’s memories of staying in Hasting Park. Additionally, Ellen discusses her childhood in Hamilton and Ucluelet after the war and reflects on how the uprooting and internment affected her identity and overall development as an adult. Kyla and Ellen also talk about sharing inter-generational stories, learning about Ellen’s family history, Ellen’s love of Japanese culture and food, her visits to Japan, Ellen’s activist work in Canada, her career as a psychologist, and working with the First Nations population on Vancouver Island.

Credits

Interviewee: Ellen Crowe-Swords
Interviewer: Kyla Fitzgerald
Audio Checker: Natsuki Abe
Final Checker: Natsuki Abe
Encoder: Natsuki Abe
Publication Information: See Terms of Use for publication and licensing information.
Setting: Residence of Ellen Crowe-Swords
Keywords: Pearl Harbor ; New Westminster ; Steveston ; Hastings Park ; Tofino ; Ucluelet ; Skeena River; West Coast; Joy Kogawa ; Schreiber ; Sandon ; Lemon Creek ; Bridge River ; Wakayama ; Kyushu ; Tokyo ; Marriage; Arranged marriage; Clergy; Racism; First Nations; Richmond ; Food; Obasan; Oshogatsu; Japanese food; Japanese culture; Family history; Childhood; Effects of war; Trigger; Flashback; Activism; Social justice; Community work; Powell Street Festival; Kogawa House; Education; Suicide; MKwenna; pre-World War Two, 1940’s to present.

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.