Jack Gilmore and Maureen Beestra, interviewed by Eglantina Bajac-Gondia, 03 May 2016

Jack Gilmore and Maureen Beestra, interviewed by Eglantina Bajac-Gondia, 03 May 2016

Abstract
Jack Gilmore and Maureen Beestra begin the interview describing their earliest childhood memories. Jack talks about what life was like during the war and how they had to have blackout curtains to prevent potential bomber planes from targeting their home. Maureen then explains her family’s involvement with the Steveston Community Center Society. Both interviewees reflect on their experiences working in Steveston. Jack points out how his father was able to buy an acre and a half of land after returning from the war due to the Veteran’s Land Act. Both Jack and Maureen move on to illustrate the resilience of the Japanese Canadian community as they worked together to raise funds for the construction of the Steveston martial arts/community center. The interviewees also think about what they felt when all of their Japanese Canadian childhood friends disappeared after the beginning of the war as well as what it was like when many Japanese Canadian families returned to Steveston after the war’s end. They explain how the community changed during and after the war. Jack and Maureen recall what happened to the personal belongings of interned Japanese Canadians. Near the end of the interview both Jack and Maureen describe their family’s first home and what might have happened to it after they left.
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Elgantina Bacaj-Gondia (EB)
This is Eglantina Bajac-Gondia with Landscapes of Injustice. It is May 3, 2016, and I am here with Jack Gilmore and Maureen Beestra. We are at Maureen's house in Steveston, British Columbia. So, I would like for either one of you to start with just whatever you can tell me about your memories of your childhood.
Jack Gilmore (JG)
Well, I did write down a few things here and I don't know what pertinence they are but I'll just babble on with it. I went to Lord Byng Elementary School here, right in Steveston. We only lived about three blocks away from it and we had lots of mixtures of races of people at the school, Japanese being one of them until they were forced out. I have memories of, as a kid, the community of Burkeville on Sea Island, which Boeing moved into to build planes for the war effort. These kids were bussed to our school because there was no school over there and they were all there to work at the boating plant. These kids would come on this big bus and I was mesmerized by this big kind of a, it wasn't a school bus I guess but it was a bus. Anyway, that's one of the little things but we used to have a sports day at Lord Byng School and we would have a parade through the community, through Steveston. We'd get on our bikes or walk or ... Everybody would be in the colours of the group that they were in or whatever team you were on. So those were good memories. Our school burned down at one time during our thing and we had to go on, I think I was in grade five, we had to go on shifts at the old Japanese hospital, no, school, the Japanese school on Chatham Street in Steveston. You'd go either morning or afternoon and we did that for a couple of years until they rebuilt the school again. I remember walking to Steveston, a block away mind you, and picking up the mail. There was no mail service. It was at a post office that's now a fish and chip shop in Steveston but it was our post office.
Maureen Beestra (MB)
And the actual building is still there-
JG
Yes.
MB
Where we used to get our mail. Even when I lived here with my children, we'd walk down to Steveston to get our mail every day.
JG
Um, and I'm going to ramble a bit here because that's the way I'm routed. We were in the Gulf of Georgia Cannery yesterday and people talk about playing in it and jumping up in the can lofts. A lot of people tried to get into the can lofts up top. I used to get into a lot of trouble with my friends by getting on logs and getting a pole and just going underneath the canneries. It wasn't the most pleasant place to be but it was exploring. For young boys it was magical and it was something to do. Our mothers always thought we might drown but we'd go out and play in those days. We'd be gone all day. I think Maureen relayed it yesterday and I'll leave it to her about the cannery whistle. We skated on the river. Not always, the Vancouver climate is fairly mild. It doesn't get the harsh winters but the ponds that weren't as flowing as the main channel, they froze up and we actually had little pickup hockey games in that. We did a lot in the fields, of course skating, because the farmers' fields have ponds in them, too. We used to go Christmas tree hunting out in the bogs of Richmond. That was later on. Our dad had to take us because you had to get into the car to go there but you'd just go out in the box and chop down the jack pines and that was your Christmas tree. That was outing. That was being a kid. If you wanted to play hooky from school and especially in high school, um, we caught the tram, the interurban tram tracks to Brighouse which our Richmond High School was about five miles away from here. There were two Chinese cafes on Number One Road right across the street from the tram station and we'd always go there for our cokes or floats or whatever if we had five cents or ten cents in our pockets. If you weren't going to school that day they would sneak your books under the shelf there and then you can pick them up at the end of the day and your parents never knew anything about it. So that was our little way of skipping. We didn't do it that often, I didn't. At the time we're going to high school we moved up to Number Two Road which is a mile from Number One. We caught the tram at what they called Steveston line so we didn't come into Steveston necessarily to catch the school tram that used to take us.
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MB
You were a lot braver than me. I never played hooky at that age because I was scared of getting caught.
JG
Well, I only did it once or twice. I mean, I'm talking about it but my friends did it quite often. That's how I knew about it. All along the dike in Richmond ... The Steveston cannery channel is about a mile and a half long. It's a big channel or a big harbor. It was all fish boats, of course. There was a boardwalk of just planks laid to walk because it had to be raised to keep ... otherwise ... and most houses were all on stilts because they did get wet if it flooded. I had a bike paper route there when I was in my teens. They paid me extra because it was a hazardous place to be, not people-wise, it was just riding my bike down this boardwalk was very hazardous so I got an extra ten cents a paper or something for it.
MB
Now, I can interject here and say one of my memories is Jack was sick one day and I had to deliver his papers. I knew where the papers went because I had gone with him before but the kickstand on the bike I didn't put it all the way back so when I went to go across the bridge to drop the paper off at the house the kickstand gave way and all the papers went sliding down. None of them into the water part but all of them there and they started blowing away and I was frantic. I was just grabbing all these papers and trying to get up the hill. Of course, I was scared that he was going to find out because he'd give me trouble.
JG
It was an itinerant population. The cannery houses were owned by the big canneries themselves and all around where we were, the Gulf of Georgia, there was lots of them but they were all up and down the river. They were itinerants. They'd come in and work during the summer. So collecting wasn't always easy either. Not that they didn't have money, not that they didn't want to pay, but if you weren't persistent and knocking on doors it was, yeah, it wasn't the easiest thing. I mentioned earlier about air raids, we talked about the Japanese leaving and that, but we had air raids. The sirens actually went but we had wardens that came around and, as I explained, if you have a little bit of light coming out of a curtain you'd put blackout curtains on your windows if you're going to light the room. We used to play on the dike along here and it was just a narrow, narrow path but every so many miles or part miles they had lookout stations to see if people were landing. They actually had the army stationed up here at one time. We had a small navy base here too at Garry Point. It wasn't big. It had a couple of small ships, I think, but they were kind of protecting the river I guess for intrusions. I'm going to leave it up to you now until I think of something else laughs.
MB
Okay, Jack was saying about the cannery whistle. The cannery whistle, when we were kids and also when my family were kids out here playing, if it was a twelve o'clock whistle they came home and had lunch. They'd be playing god knows where but they would come back on their bikes and have lunch. The quarter to five whistle meant it was dinner time. Time to come home for supper and that was just ... With everybody that lives in Richmond, when that cannery whistle went everybody just scooted. “See ya!” and they all went home. Our family were very, very involved with the Steveston Community Center Society. My dad was president twice at different times. My mom was president of the women's auxiliary and they, at that time, were building the new community center. Jack, later on, was president. I was president. So, it was ingrained in us to be involved in the community.
00:10:22.000
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MB
We still are involved in the community. We've been involved with the community center for years. Finally we decided, both of us at different times, that let the young ones now take over and do their thing but we've been involved and can say that we're still involved in things. Ditch tag was something that we always did. We played tag but you had to jump the ditches and, nine times out of ten, somebody would fall in. We used to say, when my kids were young, we used to say that you weren't a Stevestonite or a Richmondite, actually, until you had fallen in a ditch and then you knew what the word soaker meant. A soaker meant you got your boot full or your shoe full of water when you fell in. I can remember when we lived on Number Two Road we were playing ditch tag as we were waiting for our school bus to pick us up to bring us to Lord Byng School. I jumped across and slid back in and then I had to go into the house which was right there to change, meanwhile, the bus came so I had to walk a mile and a half to school. I didn't play ditch tag before school then anymore. We all worked in the canneries in the summertime when we were old enough. Before that we used to work on the fields. We picked peppers, picked tomatoes, picked beans but jack said he was bigger so he got to work on the potatoes. The sacks were too heavy for us.
EB
And how old were you when you were working in the summertime?
JG
In our teens, in our later teens, going to school still but ...
MB
For the cannery we had to be, well, we're supposed to be sixteen but most of us fudged and started at fifteen. It was good money at that time.
JG
Oh, it was very good money.
MB
You made good money for working in the summertime. You bought your clothes for the year. Before we were able to work in the cannery that's when we worked in the fields. I can remember the bike I had. We both had bikes that were balloon tires. Everybody else had other fancy bikes but ours were balloon tire bikes, both of them. I can remember riding my balloon tire bike. We used to ride the mile down to Steveston, play at Steveston Park, and then go back again. My bike would hold a person sitting on the back fender, a person sitting on the seat, the person that was actually riding, so they were standing up and a person sitting on the handlebars. Now, when I really think of it, that took a lot of balance and we would go ... But one time with my bike there was just two of us. I had my girlfriend on there and it wasn't my bike and I was driving. We got stopped by the police and I got a ticket for riding double on a bike and what had happened was the magistrate at that time had, just a few days prior to that, had just about hit somebody that was riding double on a bike. So he told the police force “anybody riding double, you give them a ticket.” Now, that took a lot of babysitting for me to pay that five dollars that I had to pay for my ticket laughs. The ditches on the main roads, Number One Road, Number Two Road, all the way up Three, Four were like a canal. We always used to have a skiff, a little boat that the boys had and we used to go in that skiff up and down the ditch.
00:15:14.000
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JG
I can remember one day my girlfriend and I went in this boat that we weren't supposed to be in because it was the boys' and they were all older and we saw something in the bottom of the ditch. We're both leaning over saying “Oh, look at that dish down there. I wonder how that got in there” and the boat flipped. We went in this big ditch. Now, it was quite deep because it was right where the milk house building was from the farm that was there. So that water made it quite deep. We weren't concerned about drowning. We were concerned about what are we going to tell the boys about the boat that we had now sunk.
EB
Did they ever find out?
MB
Oh, yeah, they found out.
JG
Oh, they did. Richmond, because it's low, it's basically under sea level and that's why it's diked all around and the ditches were the way of drainage. At low tides the gates would open and the water would flow out and then when the tides came in the gates were programmed or so the gates would close. They were the way everything was drained. Well, they disappeared now because they put big sewer systems in and that.
MB
I can remember helping my dad and the fellow quantus members building the first set of slings in Steveston Park. They all raised enough money and then the members all put the first set of swings in there and the park is still there. I'll take you down and show it to you later. You have anything else?
JG
Well, I can just think of a few things. When we moved out of here ... When my dad came back from the war he was offered, I don't say it's compensation, but the opportunity to buy, under the Veteran's Land Act, property and it apparently had to be an acre and a half because my uncle in the Brighouse area he did the same thing. So dad got back and found this property that was available because it had been confiscated from the Japanese when they were disposed from here. The government took it over and then they claimed ... like they did all their fish boats too. They took all their fish boats and sold them off to other people. Anyway, we were going to move from here a mile and a bit away to a new home which was really removed. There was nothing up there. A few houses and roads but I wasn't going to go. My grandmother lived just over here on Number One Road and I think most of this was told to me later but my mother said that I would refuse to go. I was going to go live with grandma. My friends were here. Now, we were going to be bussed back to the same school we were going to. I was ten years old at the time. I settled down and we met new friends up there. There were other families there with kids our age and they became our best friends but I was going to rebel. Not that I was a rebellious youth but it was just part of it. Later on again in our teens and that we had a theatre here in Steveston called the Steva. It was the greatest place for us teenagers especially if you sat in the back row with your girlfriend. They changed the movies three days a week, three movies a week and it was ...We'd go to the mall, I think, I don't know where we found, well, it wasn't expensive but I don't know where we found ...
MB
Probably a nickel.
JG
It probably wasn't much. A local family owned it. They lived in a house in the back of the theatre. It wasn't any big fancy ... The building is still there today. It's being used for other purposes but the building is still there. It was part of my memory.
EB
Do you remember any movies that you liked back then?
JG
Lots of westerns I think; shoot 'em ups; banging laughs.
MB
And we all used to take sunflower seeds, packages of sunflower seeds, and sit and eat them. From time to time when you went back and if you sat in the same seat your pile of sunflower seeds were still sitting there on the floor. They'd get swept up, probably, once a month or something laughs.
00:20:00.000
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JG
Maureen relates and some of this subject is the Japanese and that. I mentioned earlier about the martial arts center and whatnot and the cooperation of the Japanese. They actually ... When my dad was president they were putting up money, the community put up money for the park. They bought land so that the park could be put there. The city basically kind of built the community center but it was all local money. Through our Canada Day celebrations and that the society made money and put it back all into the community but the Japanese pledged ... Remember when they built the martial arts or the community center with a big total of $15,000 and this was in the late, well, the place was built in '57 so, the community center, so that was a lot of money. The total cost was something like $75,000 or something. So their contribution was very strong. When they finally came back here and became part of the community they didn't exclude themselves from the community. A lot of the seniors never had learned to speak English but the young kids all went to school and, of course, they all picked up on the language quite a bit. They were very involved and the martial arts center was built in '72 and it was built because of a large contribution not only from local Japanese but Japanese companies and the government of Japan even put some dollars up. So, the strength of their community is very, very appreciated in Steveston. They congregated in this corner because, again, the fishing that was their livelihood. I know a lot of the families never did. They ended up in Ontario, a lot on the prairies, and they became farmers or whatever and stayed there. The good lot of them came back. I haven't got a heck of a lot unless you can prod us somehow laughs.
EB
Sure. Did your parents have any friends in the Japanese Canadian community?
JG
With their involvement in the community, yes definitely. Dad was a member of the quantus for most of his adult life, I guess. There were Japanese doctors and other businessmen that belonged to quantus also and they became friends. He sold part of that VLA land off to one of the Teraguchi brothers and he built a house there and they were very good friends. We went to school with the Teraguchi kids. They were one of the first families that came back to Steveston after the war. They were housed up in the cannery houses up at the Great West Cannery on Trikes Road. Them and the Teranishis, I think, were two of the first ones back but ... So, yeah, the community has always had ... They moved part of the old Japanese hospital that was sitting behind our museum in Steveston. The city has done that recently and made a display of the Japanese and there's a good historical feeling to it because they relate different things on how they have things here. They had hospitals, they had schools, they had everything. They were a big enough community that supported that before the war. Now, after the war it wasn't as big a population.
EB
Did you have any friends before the war who were Japanese Canadian?
JG
Oh, yes, definitely. I went to kindergarten and I think, now I could be wrong in numbers but it doesn't really matter, there were ten or eleven in the class and there were only two Caucasians. The rest were Japanese. Oh, yes. We grew up ... but there were a lot of natives because of the canneries they moved here to the cannery houses to work. A lot of those were our friends, too. The Japanese were very prominent.
MB
So the war impacted us, as far as children, by taking all our playmates away because, like Jack says, out of a class two Caucasians, now all those other kids are gone.
JG
Oh, I don't think I mentioned that part, did I?
00:25:00.000
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MB
It was a different situation but then, because the cannery houses are now empty, people like Eileen was saying yesterday their families came from the prairies and then they heard of empty houses in Steveston. That's the place to go and that's where they came and they all came and then the families, with the kids, started arriving again. There was a time there that, you know, all of our playmates were gone.
JG
I missed ... Yeah, I'm glad she jogged my memory here because I missed on here talking about when the Japanese were shipped out of Steveston. Now, not all of them went at once, I don't think, but the big event was that our mother took us down to watch this train come into Steveston. We were used to the interurban tram because that was the only way you could get to Vancouver by public transit. This train came onto the tracks with a big puffing smoky engine that we had never seen before and my mother took us down to say goodbye to the friends. I can remember, vaguely, I was six probably at the time, not knowing whether I was more excited about this monster train or all my friends hanging out the windows waving at us goodbye. It was pretty emotional. I do what I can but, yes, like Maureen says they were our life. They were part of us. We never thought any different of them they were just people, you know, you didn't get into these things, at least we never did. I know there was some resentment because of the war effort that they suffered a lot, probably because of that, but you never felt that in Steveston.
MB
When they came back it was, it was just like they hadn't left. Now, there was quite a few years in between there but we were all still friends. We weren't divided. We did different things with the communities. The Japanese, when you have a Japanese neighbor, are very gracious. You can never get one up on them. For instance, when I lived here before I bulldozed my house down and built a new one, I had a Japanese family that was right beside me and one day her clothes, it was really windy, and her sheets and that went flying off the line. Now, I went and picked them all up, and she wasn't home, I folded them all. When she came home I went and I took them all over there. The next day, over she comes, knocks on my door. Now, she hardly spoke any English but she knocks on my door with a big platter of shrimp. You could never do a favor for them without them paying you back. They're a very gracious race.
JG
Mhm.
EB
Did your mother explain what was happening before she took you to say goodbye to your friends, I wonder?
JG
Yes, we knew it was coming. I don't recall of any sitting down and saying things but she must've figured it was certainly significant enough to go there. It wasn't that far, mind you, but it was still ... Yeah, I don't remember anything of that type but it had to be significant and I never talked to her as an adult later about it either. Sometimes you wish you had but we lose those things. Another thing is our mother worked at the cannery, the Gulf of Georgia Cannery specifically. In the war effort when they were canning herring and pilchards to be shipped to Europe to feed the troops and I guess she did that maybe for a couple of summers. I don't want to say I remember but that was the only time that cannery had been open to canning for quite a few years.
00:30:06.000
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JG
It was built in the late 1800s and it canned for quite a while but it was shut down before the war. It wasn't canning fish before the war so they opened it up again for that purpose. I guess they were the only available workforce. The men were all, not all men, but a lot of them were shipped out of course for the war effort. The Japanese were all gone. So they couldn't contribute.
MB
Lord Byng School, it's in Steveston here, is a new school but on the same site as where we went to school. Our dad, our mom, Jack and I, and our sister and brother, all of my family, my kids, my husband all went to Lord Byng School. It was an elementary school and then my son taught there for a year. I said that that's classified as roots.
EB
Do you remember any of your friends' names who were interned, who were on that train that day?
JG
Not specifically.
MB
No, I wouldn't.
JG
I wouldn't ... No, at the time I was probably six years old. I remember them coming back, a lot of them, they were, of course, they were in my school and high school later on. We reestablished ourselves but whether they were actually my classmates I'd have to have a picture here to see who the actual people were that were in there. All of the families that came back here had their roots in Steveston at one time or another. They weren't newcomers as such.
EB
Do you remember what it was like when they came back?
JG
Um, kind of exciting in a way but ... Well, I guess we knew a little more. We lived up at, like I said, Two Road and the first two or three families that came back only lived really close to us. So we were impacted because we would walk together to get on the tram to go to school. Yeah, I was in high school then I guess. So, yes, and we started playing together with, like I said, the Teraguchi family had ... I graduated from high school with one of the sisters who still lives here. Yuki is my classmate and still comes to our reunions. We just had our sixtieth school reunion just recently. So, yeah, so it's ... but to name families per se, no, there's many of them and most of them were working with us at the community center and involved with our Canada Day celebration. We've always had a salmon festival here and it's gone on now for an awful lot. It started in '46 I think is the first one so we're talking ... this is our ... I wonder what that'd be, sixty, seventy years this year?
EB
I wonder once the Japanese Canadians were interned, what did the town feel like? Did it feel empty? What happened to those buildings when they left their houses?
JG
Well, a lot of them were boarded up or just left vacant. The government slowly would rent some of them out. The house that dad bought was a Japanese house on Lake Ridge. The fellow that was living in it before, that was the local oil distributor Orville Hammon and they were renting it from the government. So I would assume that that happened to lots of houses around. Their other buildings were taken over by the government. The old hospital was up at Number One Road there. The one building they had there it became the army-navy club, veteran's club, after, you know, later on. So what actually happened to all of them I don't know but their boats, they lost everything.
00:35:01.000
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JG
They didn't ... It wasn't a good time and I think I relayed it earlier that I don't have feelings one way or another about it because it happened then and at the time people were scared, I think, and the stories went out that there was a U-boat out there and it was shooting on Vancouver Island. Of course, that got in the headlines and everybody panicked and that's why, I guess, they shipped them out instead of weeding out the bad ones if there were any. The whole group suffered, big time. They've come back and, like, their life, again, was pretty admirable, really, yeah.
MB
There's a video and I don't know whether it was made into a book or just a video but there is a video, Obasan's Garden, is quite interesting. It's about this bride that came from Japan to marry a Japanese fisherman and the house that they lived in, that house is still there. It's being made into a historic site. It's by Britannia Shipyards and it is still there. It was very well done.
JG
It's a good book. I don't remember seeing the video.
MB
I don't know whether I've got the video or not. I have to look.
EB
So it's a book and a film?
MB
Yeah, I think it was done into the film but I don't know whether it was a book.
JG
Okay, I think I remember reading the book. We had it at home. A lot of the Japanese were boat builders, not only fisherman. They built the boats. Steveston was full of little family shipyards that produce the boats to go out on the fishing fields. That's where we all played as kids and, like I said, logs under the floats but we would go down to where they were. There were lots of them because they were small operations. They weren't very ... They weren't huge. Those families, some of them, went on to evolve onto, I think Oscar Yamanaka up to a year ago he moved to Delta with his shipyard but he was still building fiberglass boats for the public. It was ingrained in them as that part of their life. It was, yeah, a different world. A whole different world. You go back seventy years it's big changes and for the better or for the worse, who knows? Still a good place to live.
EB
What are some of the biggest changes you both seen over the years during the war, after the war?
JG
Well, Steveston from a working-fishing community, it still is, they bring a lot of fish here. There's no canning done anymore. The big canneries have all disappeared. From that to, now, a tourist town. A lot of us that live here we have to pay to go and park in our own town now but we put up with it. My oldest son runs a garden shop in Steveston and they're doing quite well with it and they're in an old building. The Harbor Authority owns it so they lease it from them but it's an old ... It's history goes back to the Japanese. A lot of the buildings are still standing or in disrepair, some of them now, but anyway ...
MB
Where the canneries were it's all apartments, townhouses, and condos. The whole thing and it was all canneries all up along the shore.
JG
Another very influential place in Steveston was Hong-Wu Company. This was Chinese, of course, when there weren't too many in the area. Well, they did work here in the canneries but, anyway, they have lots of land up near our place in Two Road and that's where Maureen says we did a lot of work for them. They had a store on the waterfront and the fishermen would run their boat right to the back of the store, put their order in, they would come back or do it at the time, and then they would transfer it right to the boat. On the other side was the walkway that you could ... But they sold dill pickles. I remember the tanks. They were huge big tanks and those pickles would be there and you'd go and look and see if they were ready yet and they'd be all kind of frothing with whatever, the brine they used.
00:40:35.000
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JG
That was a big enterprise here for a long, long time outside of the cannery because the canneries were by far the main. Anything else ... There were boat shops that made engines in Steveston because of the fishing but they made it for the fishing industry. Everything was related to fishing. Our family never got into it because my dad worked for the government he was in the surveyor crew for many years and then he got his masters ticket and that's why he ended up ... Going in the war he was too old. He was in the naval reserve and he was over aged but because he had his masters ticket they took him to Kingston and trained him for a year. He went as leftenant commander on the Atlantic convoy duty which he never talked about too much. It was pretty scary I think. There were bits and pieces of stories. He'd have pictures of some guy they had ... I remember one vividly of a picture he had of this sailor they saved from a torpedo tanker. He was the only one that survived, you know, that type of thing. Yeah, he said in his experiences, and this has nothing to do with Steveston, but he said his experience on the North Atlantic, in the wintertime they'd have everybody including the cooks out cutting ice off the superstructure because the boat tended to be heavy in the top and it could go over. They weren't very big boats, these corvettes that they had.
EB
How long was your father in the war for? You said he was shipped to fight in the war?
JG
He was away from ... I don't think he went right away. Maybe around '40, he didn't come home until '46. Well, he came home once or twice on leave and he was waiting for a new corvette to be built in Midland, Ontario. We as a family, Maureen and I, and my mother went back east on a train. He got us on a train to go back and spend the ... We spent the summer at a camp there at little cottages that we lived in while he was waiting for this ship to be ... It was built in Midland and called to Parry Sound so it was dedicated in Parry Sound and I can remember that as a kid. Then he came back and went back to work for the government and took over one of the big dredges in the river here with the government, Public Works Canada, that I worked for too. He took over a big ... It was a paddle wheeler dredge and he had to have his captain's papers to run it because it was self-propelled. Later on they built one that was towed around so it didn't need a certified captain. His story was quite interesting, too. I think Maureen relayed that she had copies of ...
MB
Yeah, I've got them. I've got them all.
JG
I don't know if she's going to give them up to you or not.
MB
Nope laughs.
JG
Well, you can make them maybe.
EB
Is this his story? Did he write something?
MB
Dad was interviewed a couple of times because at one time ... Well, both my dad and my brother Jack have both been good citizens of Richmond for different years which was an honor being both of them. Dad was interviewed a few times. We got the tape of the interview and wrote it all, typed it all out and that. It wasn't like this will probably be because the fellow that was asking the questions held the mic and you had trouble at times listening and hearing what dad was saying but we've got his history. We've got his scrapbook that he had.
00:45:02.000
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EB
Who was he interviewed by?
JG
Richmond Archives once or twice. I do know that. I don't know who did the ... Well, Susan put together something didn't she?
MB
Yeah, my sister put this all together.
JG
Our younger sister. Our family is interesting as we called it the prewar and postwar family. Maureen and I were born before the war '36 and '39 and Susan and Danny were born after the war. When dad came back they weren't born until '48 and '49 so there's thirteen years between me and my youngest brother but we're good friends.
MB
That's our dad there in the war.
EB
How old was he?
JG
Dad was born in 1903 so at the first of the war he would have been thirty-six or so in '39. Is that right? Yeah, that's right.
EB
It says under here, underneath his photo, “a handsome commanding officer.”
MB
laughs. And that was the corvette that he was on. That's the main sweeper that he was on.
EB
What is the name of the corvette?
JG
Parry Sound. Oh, that one might not have been. That might have been another one. He was on the Parry Sound.
MB
That's the Parry Sound.
JG
Okay, that is the Parry Sound.
MB
Yup.
JG
I went to, when we went on one of our holidays ... We traveled all over North America on a fifth wheeler, had a great time. We went to Parry sound and I dug in to try to find out ... When I got into the archives there they had this thing all on video picture or whatever they call it. I could not break them and then I found out the machine was broken. I couldn't copy anything. So I'm busy scribbling notes out of different things that happened and then we went to the legion there and my wife was smart enough to figure that out to see what they knew about it and damned if they didn't have the ship's bell hanging over the bar of the Parry Sound. He only commanded that for just over a year because it was built late in the war. He took it over and then the war ended later on but anyway, yeah.
EB
So after that, after the war ...
JG
His name was William James Gilmore.
EB
And after that he left and you said he worked in government after?
JG
He worked in government here until he retired in '67, I think. Yeah, he would have been seventy, or, no, sixty.
MB
He was a captain of a dredge.
JG
Yeah, and then they went ... They went on a few big trips and did their things. He died young, he died at seventy-one. My mother was eighty-nine when she died. She didn't die until the 2000s.
MB
That's the school we were going to.
EB
What's the school's name?
MB
Lord Byng.
EB
Oh, okay. And this is a photo from 1931?
MB
Yup.
EB
Would you like to share any of the interviews? The item you've transcribed from your father's interview?
JG
Well, we could copy it I guess.
EB
Or just something if you would like to share anything now.
JG
I'd have to read it again. I've got a copy at home.
MB
My dad was very involved with both field and box lacrosse. Jack played lacrosse. Our kids all played lacrosse and my son, now at fifty whatever he is, fifty-two, fifty-three he still plays box lacrosse. My memory of ... When dad played lacrosse they didn't have all the padding that the kids then got and then when my oldest son started playing lacrosse he was so excited to go and show granddad his lacrosse stick and his helmet and everything. We'd go down to his house and Rick's showing him how he learned to pick up the ball by going forward and back to pick the ball up and dad's standing there with a grin on his face. He says “oh, let me see that stick” and he picks the stick up and he gets the ball and he does a flip with the stick and the ball, of course, was right in the stick there.
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JG
In the webbing, yeah.
MB
In the webbing and the look on my kid's face it was like “oh!” They didn't realize their granddad could do that laughs.
JG
Well, it would be yeah. It would kind of startle you that ... They were so excited about that and then he had the knowledge of how to do that stuff laughs. This old man, you know, to a kid that's high. They don't realize that you could do those things too at times. I don't know if there's much other ...
EB
What was the first address of the first house you lived in?
JG
The what?
EB
The address of the first house you lived in?
JG
I don't know the address but it was at the corner of Fourth and Chatham in Steveston. Right on the doorstep to the Gulf of Georgia Cannery and it was a double-story house on a fairly good size lot. Dad was a hunter also so he always had hunting dogs out in the yard. We were there until, like I say, until after the war and then we moved up to Moncton and we stayed there until we got married and left the house. It was a big house. It still sits there. A lawyer has bought it since then and did some mega renovations to it so we're quite happy that the house is still there. It's a beautiful house and it sits back of the road so it's not one of these take up all the ... Today it's filling every space with a house now on land. They're allowing them to do that where they don't have gardens like this. So that was my grandmother ... His mother and dad lived on Number One Road which was the main street coming in to Steveston and they were in a little bungalow and I can remember they had a boardwalk going out the back and my grandma's brother lived in this little shack, I call it a shack. One bedroom, that's all it was because he ate his meals in the house but he always lived there and I always would go out there and visit him. The place was full of smoke because they smoked pipes and whatnot in those days. I always was intrigued by this whole little shack out there and you'd sit there and talk to Alec and that. I never did know my grandfather. He died before I was born. My grandmother lived until quite a good age. She moved later on. Dad bought a house for her in the Brighouse area later on but, anyway, yes. Her brother still continued to live with her in the basement of this house. He was a ... I don't think he ever married.
EB
Did you ever go back to the first house that you owned?
JG
Oh, yes. I sold it to a local family. I don't remember ever going ... Yes, I did probably go into it once or twice.
MB
I've gone back a couple of times.
JG
Oh, no. Oh, to the second one?
MB
The second one.
JG
Okay, no. I'm talking about the first house in Steveston.
MB
Oh, the first one.
JG
It was torn down quite a few years ago and then a modern house sits on that property now like a lot of Steveston is. Steveston's laid out on a different grid than the rest of Richmond. The smaller lots, they could be thirty-three feet here. That's the way it was laid out to begin with. Vancouver city is like that too but the rest of Richmond sixty-six is probably the minimum for the width of the lot whereas in Steveston you can put two houses on that same lot. So his house went for that same reason. They built more than the one house but the one on Two Road, no, I have never gone back there. Maureen has been there. I should go and knock on their door sometime because he's always told us if we want to just to let him know and they would accommodate us but ...
EB
What was it like when you first moved into the house after the war, the new house?
JG
Uh, overwhelming probably because it was so big. There was a big shed at the back. He did ... I don't know if he did farming or agricultural stuff. No, it wasn't. I can't remember what it was all about. It was a huge building connected to the house and dad slowly tore it down and built a garage there and a shed for his tools and everything. He was an avid gardener. He won prizes quite a bit for his gardens. Maureen and I suffered from that too because we always had to cut the lawn and if you didn't do it properly you would get heck. You know, you had to have rows. You have to be symmetrical.
00:55:22.000
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MB
One of my memories of cutting the lawn is I was going out to a basketball game or some sports because we were very sports-minded and it was my turn to cut the lawn so I was out there and I was literally, we were on half an acre, and I was literally running up and down behind the lawnmower to get it done quick. Dad came home early and drove in the driveway, it was a big long driveway, and he looked and he saw me and I had to do the whole lawn over again properly and walking because it wasn't done right. Dad never had a weed in his garden. Sometimes I, even now, will think and I'll look at my garden and think “oh, if dad saw that he'd have a fit.”
JG
But it was his hobby. That was his relaxation. He was not a T.V ... Well, we hardly had a T.V. in those days but it was his relaxation and that's how he enjoyed it so much. Yeah, I can tell stories about that, too. In my later teens I maybe drank a little too much on a Friday or Saturday night and dad would always seem to know when I came home late because my car was kind of noisy I guess coming in the driveway. He would ... “Jack, it's time to cut the lawn. Get up.” The last thing I wanted to do was get up and then the second last thing is I wanted to sit behind this darn motor that just chugged along and went here and there and everywhere else but that was my punishment. He never said much. That was done by ... He just showed me that he knew. Just behave yourself, you know. Good learning.
EB
You said the house was very big, the second one, remind me of the address. After the war, your second house.
JG
577 Moncton Street. It would be now 5771 Moncton Street because the city had to put another number on because of too many houses. There wasn't enough numbers in the block laughs. So all the odd houses ended with a one. All the even addresses ended in a zero. Yeah, 577 Moncton Street. You can't miss it because it sits back from the ... Well, you could miss it because it sits back from the road but it's almost at the corner of Number Two and Moncton.
EB
This is the house as it looks now or ...
MB
It still looks the same.
EB
The same, okay.
JG
Basically, the exterior doesn't look any different except the pink colours and that type of thing.
MB
The wisteria that we had, that dad always used to keep, so when I went by there a couple of days ago it was all unfolded and all hanging and I'm thinking “oh, no wonder I still love wisteria.”
JG
There was a big road over in the other corner.
MB
Yup.
JG
There's no basements in Richmond. No dug down basements because of the water plain being high we can't, you just can't do it. So the house is really three stories. The bottom level sits on the ground and it was all ... Well, there was a Japanese steam bath in there when we moved into the house and left there from the Japanese that had owned it before. Dad built a huge rec- room there, party room, that Maureen and I enjoyed because we would have a lot of parties. We were the only ones with a big house for all our friends and that. Mom and dad were very happy that we were staying home to party. So, sure, bring your friends over. Anyway, the next floor was one bedroom, living room, kitchen, den, dining room. Upstairs were four bedrooms but it only had one and a half baths in it. Today they'd have a bath for every room. Every bedroom would have on-suite plumbing and everything but you've got to remember it was built many many years ago, too.
EB
Was it furnished when you moved into the house? Do you remember?
JG
No, no.
EB
It was empty?
JG
I'm pretty sure it was empty. If it was furnished it would be just cabinets and that. No, I think the cabinet and that that dad and mom had ... They bought the dining room suite, I think.
01:00:06.000
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MB
Yup, which I still have.
JG
Maureen still has it, yeah.
MB
I got the dining room suite that mom and dad bought for the house and they bought it at an estates sale.
JG
That's right.
MB
In Downtown Vancouver somebody was having an estate sale and they bought this dining room suite for there because it was a big dining room. Mom and dad entertained a lot. Family things were always held there. Family dinners every Sunday. We always had Sunday dinners. Always. Roast beef and as my brothers say all the time now, overcooked roast beef laughs. Roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, gravy, that was every Sunday and there was usually not just our family. There was either one of her sisters. My mom's from a family of ten that were very close. There were six sisters and they were very close.
JG
You're going to squeeze in there whether you like it or not, anyway.
EB
And who was the cook in the family?
MB
Mom was the cook, dad was the barbeque. My dad used to barbeque salmon on big spits like the Native Indians do. He made a rack and it would have the salmons.
JG
I don't remember dad ever cooking in a house. Maureen and I did dishes, I know that. That was always our job. One would wash one day and the other would dry. We'd have competitions.
MB
And if you saw a spot on it when you went to dry you put it back in the sink.
JG
Yeah, put it back in the water just to say you would do it right laughs. But, no, mom did all the cooking. Well, she was a stay at home mom, actually, too. She didn't work that much like in our generation when we knew. So she, yeah, she did most or all of the cooking except, like Maureen says, when dad did the barbeques for different things.
EB
So I wonder what the house on Moncton, you said it was empty, what do you think happened to all the items and the possessions in the house?
JG
I was too young when we went there to really ...
MB
There was a Caucasian family that was renting it and living in there before we got it so they would have rented it from the government after the Japanese. So we didn't get it right from when the Japanese people left.
JG
No, we didn't. Uh, I have never heard and, actually, I guess I never was interested in it but it's a good question. I would think whoever the person in charge what if they would have sold it off or, like they did wish the fish boats and all the other assets, that they must've had a way of disposing of those things. I don't know. Whether Orville or Hanna when they were renting that there, he must've supplied their own furniture I guess to, you know.
EB
So the house was given through the Veteran Land's Act to your father or did he have to pay ...
JG
Oh, no, he had to buy it.
EB
Oh, he had to buy it.
JG
Oh, no, they were ... Which would be at a good price at the time, I would think. I think I relayed that there was an acre and a half of land. The house sat on half an acre and then they got the acre beside it so it was all owned by the Japanese family. Well, there was more land that was owned by the Japanese family but they subdivided that up for other houses to be built on.
01:04:15.000
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MB
I think the people that used to live in that house, the Japanese, councilor Jinro or something. It was a high up Japanese person.
JG
We should have probably known what it was and you could research, I guess, a way back but ...
MB
Through the census maybe.
JG
Yeah, there could be some way.
EB
So I guess they never came back then?
01:04:52.000
01:04:52.000
JG
No, no, it wasn't available to them. See, most of the ones that came back here had to go into new housing or buy up. Maybe their family houses were still there and they could buy them again I don't know. That's a good question. I do know the first families back lived in a row of cannery, we called them cannery houses, they were on stilts out by the water and that's where they first lived because we became friends and would play up there at times at their place. If they got their own places back it would be a surprise to me because they were gobbled up by other people. The government just sold them off as assets. Sad.
EB
Maureen, you mentioned you went back to the house. You've been back since you moved out.
MB
Mhm.
EB
How has it changed?
MB
Well, the first time I went back, um, the lady that lived next door was babysitting the children of the family that lived there at the time. It has since changed hands again. We went back and one comment I can remember my boys saying was “I thought this basement was so much bigger, so much higher.” I said “Yeah, but you guys weren't six feet at the time. You were little kids running around in this basement.” Those people, the first people that had the house from when we were there had everything in red velvet and not to our liking at all. The next family that have got it now redid it back to what it would have been. It was very well done. It's very nice. They changed, in the kitchen, they changed the door and put a sliding glass door and that but most of it's the same. It sure brought back memories of ...
JG
The house was built to a pretty good standard. Well, as houses were in those days, there weren't great rooms or anything. The living room, we were never allowed in the living room to play. It was formal, a big fire place, at Christmas time the tree was there but if we were in there it was only when there was company and not just family but they would have to be a little higher up company. We lived in the den part of it and the dining room and of course the kitchen was big enough for a little table in there, too. It was formal. There was actually a swinging door between the kitchen and the dining room when we moved there and dad removed it pretty fast, I think, because it was a pain. It was always in the wrong position when you wanted to go through or something. I'm sure mom complained about it a bit but it was, yeah, so it was a well-built structure. It's got a very steep roof. It's quite prominent in its construction. It looks like a well-built ... You know, even today you look at it from the road.
EB
The photo you showed me, was that a recent photo?
MB
No.
JG
No, that would have been one of our photos.
MB
That would have been one of ours.
EB
Oh, so around what time would you say that was?
JG
Mom sold it in sometime around '78 maybe? Dad died in '74 so it might have been '77, '78 that she sold it to the original owners. I don't know. That picture's probably one of dad's or something that was taken.
MB
Yeah, I don't know.
EB
You said that the house was sold to the original owners. What do you mean by that? The original owners?
JG
Well, my mom sold to the first couple. They sold it later on to the family that's in there now. So it's the second owners from us.
EB
I'd be curious to know what you two have done. Where did you work. What did you do? We talked a lot about your childhoods. I'd be interested to know.
MB
I was a preschool teacher. I taught preschool at the Steveston Community Center for thirty-four years. I ended up getting students of their children, like the second generation that I was teaching. I loved it. I loved my job. I loved everything about it.
01:10:00.000
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JG
I was training ... Well, I got out of high school and never went to university. Our family didn't dwell on those types of things, I guess. I went to BCIT to become a marine engineer with engines and my dad was the captain of Ossand on the dredges and one weekend I was lazing at home. I didn't have a job. I was looking for a job after I finished with school and he says “Jack, I've got a job for you.” I said “What?” He says, “Well, my watchman quit. Got drunk last night or something on the dredge and he quit. I need somebody to go and sit there.” It was out in the channel out off Steveston. To go there and they had to have a person aboard all the time to make sure the lanterns were going, that the other ships know where they were. There was no electricity on the boat overnight. So I reluctantly went there and ended up a career at it. I worked on the government boats. I went up north all along the coast to Queen Charlotte, Rupert, to get my sea time in so I could write progressive tickets and then I came back and worked on the second dredge that was built for the river here. We had three dredges in the river plus other workboats. Part way through my career I decided I really didn't want to be in the engine room anymore. It was bothering my ears and I wear hearing aids today because of it. I went on the deck side and became the boss on one of the ships and then they asked me, fifteen years from retirement, they asked me into the office to be a manager. So I ended up running the whole division in the end which was good for me because it was something I enjoyed more than doing the ... Well, I don't mind the practical work but this was better. I was using my mind. So I retired at fifty-five with thirty-five years of service and that's the maximum you can pay into a government pension so I'm on pension now. We bought a fifth wheeler and a brand new truck, a '91, and we went traveling. Like I say, we've hit almost every state, every province in Canada, almost every state, and every state in Mexico in our travels. At that time the fifth wheel sits down in Mexico and doesn't move anymore. We wintered down there. Maureen comes because our young sister has a place where we are just south of Playa Del Carmen in the Yucatan. Great place, good water, lots of good snorkeling and swimming. So we've had ... It hasn't been a bad life and growing up here was all part of it, too. Simple in those days, mind you. We played outside at night until our mom or dad would call us under the light of the corner. There were maybe a light bulb hanging on the corner post. We played tag and that with no worries, different world. Today, poor kids can't go anywhere.
MB
We supervised each other.
JG
We did, yeah, we did and did it pretty well.
MB
We would ride our bikes to Steveston Park and there would always be somebody around to play baseball or a pickup game or soccer or whatever. We made our own rules and then we'd bike home for dinner.
JG
And that was a mile away.
MB
Yeah.
JG
Oh, yeah, we'd go out on Halloween and the houses were far apart. We'd go around a square mile just to collect a bag full of candy because you could walk, like this house here might be, you know, a few blocks down before the next farmer's house or the next house. I can remember doing that later on. It's not like we did it that often but I had some big guy beat me up once and take my bag right here in Steveston. He was bigger than I was so he ...
EB
He took all your candy?
JG
He took my candies, yeah. I was on my way home by myself. I don't know why I was by myself but, anyway, he needed it more than I did, I guess.
EB
It sounds like it was a good place to be and to grow up in at that time.
01:14:45.000
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JG
Well, I have no regrets. Let's put it that way and, looking back, yes it was. I mean, we seem to have everything. We didn't go into Vancouver that much. Richmond was small. It was a farming community, um ...
MB
We didn't go out for dinner. We didn't go to restaurants or anything.
JG
No, no, no. Nothing like that until our teens.
MB
Yeah.
JG
Our mom and dad never went out to restaurants very often.
MB
No.
EB
Were there any favourite restaurants of yours?
JG
No, there weren't that many. I remember the first drive-in in Richmond. I went in and it was very popular because all the teens, or later teens, wanted to be there. It was the place to hang out. Of course, you'd sit in your car and smoke and do everything and get served food by these guys that would come with the trays, you know. The white spot was big in Vancouver but it wasn't out here it was just a local shop in the Brighouse area.
EB
Do you remember what it was called?
JG
Garden City Drive-in, I think. Probably is what it was.
MB
And then there was the one that was the Chinese food place, drive-in that we used to go to.
JG
I don't know. I can't think of the name. Anyway, no, there wasn't a lot of selection. Well, there wasn't a demand. Home cooking was and in our families it probably still is. We go out for dinner when, you know, when spirit moves us or we've got company coming to town, we take them out but we're more comfortable sitting around a dining room table and having a conversation and entertaining friends. We do that back and forth.
MB
We've always been very family orientated, very family orientated. My mother's family ... My mom grew up with, there was ten in the family, kids, and there were six sisters that were very close. We would holiday together and so us cousins are very close. I am now in the midst of organizing a family reunion for this summer and we will probably have over a hundred people there of just family from the different aunts and uncles that we had. We have stayed close.
JG
Yeah, there's none of the original family. The originals left our parents' era. There's none of them left but we are now the older people in the family laughs. I have to go pretty soon if ...
EB
Oh, sure, sure. No, I think this is a great time for us to pause. I thank you both so much for your time and for sharing your stories and your memories.
JG
Well, I hope it proves that, you know, it isn't a waste of your time either. You've come a long way to do this and that's great. That's why I didn't want to say no yesterday laughs.
EB
I really appreciate that.
JG
I was kind of reluctant so you did good.
EB
Thank you to both of you. Are there any last words you'd like to say? Anything about Steveston, your childhood, anything else at all?
JG
Just to repeat myself, I guess, it was always a ... Even though they had some dark history with different things that happened in my lifetime it was a good place to live and, probably, the worst part was the Japanese leaving during the war but I'd have to appreciate there was a reason for that; or so-called 'reasons.' But, no, I think, like Maureen says, we had full lives. Our brother and sister grew up in a different era in Steveston and I think they probably have different perspectives of it but we're a very close family. Maureen travels with Suzan or comes down and visits us in Mexico. Danny is the youngest and Danny and his wife and my wife and I went to Ireland to see our roots last September for three weeks. We found a branch of the Gilmore family that still lives in Ireland. The youngest brother didn't immigrate to Canada so his family, removed lower down, are still there. It was fascinating visiting them but, no, it was ... Steveston, for its ups and downs it was a very rough town in the early days because they were all hard-working fishermen that would take no ... I can always remember stories of, and I don't know how much of it was true, well, I do know some of it was true because I saw the results of it but guys from Vancouver coming in their fancy cars looking to pick up the local girls. Well, they didn't stay around very long. They got run out of town. Things like that, you know.
EB
Where did they come from?
JG
Well, higher up in Vancouver like in the better parts because they'd have a fancy car or something. They stuck out like a sore thumb is what they did.
MB
The sports teams that we played against from the Vancouver teams in high school always called us the farmers. “Oh, you've got shoes on today, have you? Where's your boots or your bare feet?” or whatever. We were always a grade down and we used to be so proud of beating them in the sports teams because, as far as they were concerned, we were the bottom end of the stick laughs.
JG
Anyway, this has been good. Yes, thank you.
01:21:09.000

Metadata

Title

Jack Gilmore and Maureen Beestra, interviewed by Eglantina Bajac-Gondia, 03 May 2016

Abstract

Jack Gilmore and Maureen Beestra begin the interview describing their earliest childhood memories. Jack talks about what life was like during the war and how they had to have blackout curtains to prevent potential bomber planes from targeting their home. Maureen then explains her family’s involvement with the Steveston Community Center Society. Both interviewees reflect on their experiences working in Steveston. Jack points out how his father was able to buy an acre and a half of land after returning from the war due to the Veteran’s Land Act. Both Jack and Maureen move on to illustrate the resilience of the Japanese Canadian community as they worked together to raise funds for the construction of the Steveston martial arts/community center. The interviewees also think about what they felt when all of their Japanese Canadian childhood friends disappeared after the beginning of the war as well as what it was like when many Japanese Canadian families returned to Steveston after the war’s end. They explain how the community changed during and after the war. Jack and Maureen recall what happened to the personal belongings of interned Japanese Canadians. Near the end of the interview both Jack and Maureen describe their family’s first home and what might have happened to it after they left.

Credits

Interviewee: Jack Gilmore
Interviewee: Maureen Beestra
XML Encoder: Stewart Arneil
Publication Information: See Terms of Use for publication and licensing information.
Setting: Maureen’s House in Steveston, BC.
Keywords: Burkeville Sea Island; Steveston ; Lord Byng Elementary School; Chatham Street; Richmond ; Number One Road; Number Two Road; Air Raid; Garry Point; Steveston Community Center Society; Gulf of Georgia Cannery ; Veteran’s Land Act; Brighouse; Martial Arts Center; Lake Ridge; Obasan’s Garden; Midland; Ontario ; North Atlantic; Navy Reserve.; 1940s – 2000s

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.