Tosh Kitagawa, interviewed by Rebeca Salas, 26 June 2017

Tosh Kitagawa, interviewed by Rebeca Salas, 26 June 2017

Abstract
Tosh narrates his life, beginning with childhood memories from growing up on a berry farm in Mission and going to school there. Tosh's family went to the sugar beet projects, an experience he calls six years of slave labour, in Diamond City, Alberta. Tosh describes the sugar beet farming process and the extra work he would do for the farmer who employed them. Tosh tells of graduating high school in Lethbridge, finding work to help his family, and moving to Vancouver in 1954, where he met his future wife, Mary. He and Mary got involved in the Japanese Canadian community later in life as supporters of the Redress movement, and subsequently as part of the JCCA Human Rights Committee. Tosh has handled fundraising for the committee, and supported Mary in activities where she took the lead. Tosh reflects on what it has been like to think about his and the community's history later in life, and his involvement in initiatives like UBC's Asian Canadian studies program and the Landscapes of Injustice project.
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Rebeca Salas (RS)
This is Rebeca Salas, I'm here with Tosh Kitagawa. We're at his home in Tsawwassen, on June 26, 2017. And we're here to record his oral history for Landscapes of Injustice. Sound of adjusting microphone; undertone. Round two. . . Alright. Um, so you wanted to start with your grandfather's story.
RS
Okay.
TK
So, my grandfather's, name was Takejiro, Kitagawa. And he was born in 1872 in, in Japan. And, uh. . . in 1907, him, he and his son, Yosekichi, who's my father, um. . . who was fourteen years old at the time, uh, came to Canada, and um. What happened is that. . . he put my dad into a Catholic school to learn English, while he went to work um, in the sawmills. And, that's how they started. My um, father. . . went to school as I say to learn English, and then when he became an adult, he went to work at the Hammond, uh, cedar mill. And um, so he was working in the uh, cedar mill and I guess he, was uh, very proficient, because he was uh, uh. . . kept getting promotions until he became a supervisor at a very young age. And uh, in 1918, my grandfather, purchased five acres of land in Mission City, BC. And he farmed this, um, particular um, five acres, and, um, actually. . . I think he, passed away in uh, in 1921. And so, when that happened, my dad quit the sawmill. And went to uh, work on the farm. And then 1930, my dad bought the five acres adjacent to the existing farm, so we had a total of uh, ten acres. And he farmed that, until um. . . incarceration, happened in 1942. So, I was born, on, on the farm, in Mission City on July the third, 1932. And so I have um, uh. . . two older brothers. And an older sister. And. . . two younger brothers. And, my mother - um, died giving birth to my youngest brother. Uh, Yukio. And, uh, so. She tragically, died, in. Let's see, um. . . 1936. I guess that was the year my, my, um, kid brother was born. Um. So we actually lived on this farm, and, my dad grew strawberries, because that was, the main crop. . . that was grown, in that particular area. Uh. . . we all went to. . . the school, which was called Cedar Valley. And some of the things that I recall from, my early days, is that, my mother used to always make us, peanut butter and jam sandwiches. And, and, in those days, um, peanut butter wasn't, wasn't homogenized, like it is today. And uh, the oil was always on, the top. And it used to be uh, I guess it was about a five-pound tin of, peanut butter. And, when you opened it, there was, probably, an inch of oil on the top. And, and what you were supposed to do is, stir it up, and, so, mix it up so that uh, the whole, can would be so, but e-eventually what would happen is that the oil would rise to the top and, all the oil would disappear and the last half of the can, was just, just goo. Rebeca laughs. And, what I, used to do is, if you just ate it like that, it would stick to the roof of your mouth I mean it was just, just horrendous. Anyway, my mum would spread that on the bread. And uh, and we always had strawberry jam, so. We always had uh, peanut butter and jam sandwiches. I don't eat peanut butter and jam sandwiches to this day. Rebeca laughs. Uh. In the early days, I guess this must have been, in grade one or grade two, uh...what I recall is, in those days we, and my mum made rice balls. Okay? And my sister, took my, two brothers and I, at lunchtime, and she would uh, take - because, the school's situated, in the forest area, it wasn't cleared all around the, the school, and she'd take us in the forest to, so we could eat our rice ball. Because she was embarrassed.
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TK
Everyone else was bringing. . . sandwiches to school, and we were eating rice balls. And so she was, embarr - and I, I couldn't figure out what, what was happening. Why, Laughs. were we eating in the forest. It wasn't until years later, it dawned on me that she was embarrassed that we were bringing, uh, rice balls to work. So. . . not work, school, sorry. Um. That's about all I recall about uh, the early days uh, at the Cedar Valley School. Because. . .that was grade one, grade two and grade three I guess, I spent at uh, that particular school. Um, as far as um, after school life, uh, essentially, it was quite idyllic in the sense that uh, I'd come home and many times, I'd just go and dig for some worms, and we'd uh, head down to the, the creek which was uh, not too far away, and we'd catch trout. You know, and they were, maybe eight or nine inches long. And so, we did those sort of things. . . When the food was in season, we'd climb the cherry trees and, feed, uh, have a feast of cherries. Um. . . one, one of the other things Laughs. um, that I, can recall now, is. . . is my brother, my older brother, uh somehow or other. . . he, and I don't know how he did this, but, without my father knowing, but he um, stole a can of tobacco. Uh, from by dad. And he was able to roll, the, cigarettes by himself. And I remember um, we'd go in underneath the garage, which was very dangerous I guess. And be smoking after school. And then we'd, climb up the cherry tree. And uh, eat cherries so that uh, um, they wouldn't, recognize the. . . that we'd been smoking, the smell of smoke. So, Laugh. that's one of the things I, I can recall from, Both laughs. that particular period. And...and I don't think we were ever caught. Um. Um...but um. That stands out in my memory. Laughs. I was sitting under the garage smoking. And, and I couldn't have been any more than, seven years old, seven or eight years old. Both laugh. But um, I guess, um, from that period, uh. . . 1941. Uh, happened. Or 1942, I guess. But things were. . . happening long before, 1942. Um. . . whereas um. I guess. . . the white community, was um, was trying to get rid of, the Japanese. And, they started a concerted effort. Um, to uh, get rid of the, the Japanese, but. . . actually this happened. . . From 1938. And, so the RCMP, uh, were instructed to um. Register, all Japanese Canadians. Uh, from sixteen, and over. And they were required to carry these, ID cards. And um. . . they had the three colours, one colour, was for uh, naturalized Canadian, and the other was uh, for. . . landed Canadia - landed immigrants, and the other one, uh was a Canadian card if you were born in Canada. And so they were forced to carry these, cards, anyone that was sixteen and over , and if they were caught uh, without their ID cards. . . they, they were picked up by, the R - or could be picked up by the RCMP and jailed. So uh, this was happening, long before, uh, Japan bombed, Pearl Harbor. So uh. The. . . the bombing of Pearl Harbor was actually, a very convenient mechanism, to get rid of the Japanese Canadians. And, uh. So, when, when this happened. . . many of the families there, their father and the oldest were taken away to work in the road camps. And uh, the women and children were um. Sent to Hastings Park. . . just sort of as a martialing area just to find out, what they were going to do with them.
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TK
Now, what happened, at that particular period also, is that Alberta and Manitoba started to, extend their crops to include sugar beets. And the reason for this was that, because of the war effort, the sugar cane that was coming in from, Cuba, uh, was being, curtailed. And, so, they, uh, thought that, they'd have to have another source of um, sugar, so the sugar beet fields in uh, Alberta and Manitoba, uh, was a good uh, substitute. And, uh, and so the Manitoba government and the Alberta government said, look, we can use families. You know, to harvest the sugar beets, in our particular provinces. And so I think that there was. . . Manitoba. . . Sound of pages flipping. Yeah, at that particular time, I think there were uh, 2588, uh, Japanese Canadians went to the sugar beet fields in Southern Alberta, and 1053 went to Manitoba. And, the ones that went to Southern Alberta, all were centred around the Lethbridge area, in towns like Raymond, Magrath, Cardston, Taber, Barnwell, Coaldale, Diamond City, Shaughnessy, Picture Butte, Turin, and Iron Springs. And the families that went to Manitoba, settled in Tuon, Portage la Prairie, Carmon, Winkler, Altona, Gretna, Emerson, and Steinbeck. Um, our family, went to a, a little town called Diamond City. And, just, to. . . go back, a step, the reason that. . . the government approached the, the people of the Mission area, is because, they were farmers. And they were growing strawberries. And so they said look, if you guys agree to go work in the sugar beet fields in Alberta. . . we won't take the, the head of the house away into road camps. And uh, you can go as a family, intact. And so, most of the farmers and the, missionaries said, okay let's go. And so, they were all, uh, sent to - uh, as I say, these little towns, in southern Alberta. And, our particular family ended up in, in Diamond City. And, being only nine years old at the time, uh. I was quite excited in a sense. Because um. You know, they said we're going to Diamond City, my, vision - wow. Laughs. Huge city. And that wasn't, much bigger than the little farm that we, were working over, had in Mission City. So um, I guess, they put us all into, uh, the trains, and off we went for, I think it was a two, two day journey. Uh, to Diamond City. And, uh. And that's when, kind of the shock set in. Um, you arrive there at the track, and there was no city. It was, just two elevators, two green elevators, and a general store, and, the post office. And um. So you disembarked. And, um. And I guess, each Japanese Canadian family was assigned to, a specific farmer. And, in our particular. . . landlord-to-be, or slaveowner-to-be. . . Laughs. was a, fellow named Ken Russell. And they picked us up. And uh, with our meagre belonging. And, off we went, uh, to his farm. And, um. And - the, our new home, was. Indescribable in a sense, it was. It was, it just - beaten down old shack, and uh. The whole, house, would fit in our present living room.
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TK
Which is uh, that's about nineteen by twenty-eight. So, you can imagine, a family of eight. Uh, living in a, tiny area, such as that with no running water, nothing. And so. . . I guess, after the shock was over, I guess my dad tried to figure out, how are we going to, cope and, you know, sort things out, and. You know. Find out, who's going to. . . take, whatever rooms that are available. So essentially all the boys are bunked up, in, uh, these tiny rooms. And um, there was no insulation. Uh, there was central heating which was. . . a pot-bellied stove in the, in the living room. Uh, fired by coal. And um, we had a, coal-fire stove in the kitchen. And, it was. . . very primitive, to say the least. Because, the farm we left, naturally, had running water, and. . . and you get kind of used to things like that. And. . . so the. . . my dad, quickly said well, we have to figure out, how we're going to cope, and we all have to have, specific chores to do. And um, my chore was essentially to, haul the water. The water was actually from a well. And that was, probably, about. . . a hundred and fifty metres from, the house. And they dug this well. . . and, and, they had an adjacent pond. And then the water would seep, from the pond into the well, and that was our source of water. So every day after school, I had to, sling two buckets with a yoke over my shoulder, and we had this big tank, you know, in our kitchen area, and I would, uh, keep hauling the, water until it was full. And that was my, chore, because uh, we required that much water for our daily use. For cooking and bathing and whatever else. Laundry. Um. . . actually. When laundry day was coming, it was double work because I had to haul so much more water. So, being only, ten years old, uh, having to, do that sort of um, work became you know uh, quite - quite a ritual. And um. And so that's. . . how we, uh, got settled into the, uh, particular, shack that Rustling noise. was provided us. And from there we had to, uh, figure out, you know what the future was. And, the future was that um, we were to. . . harvest, plant and harvest the sugar beets. And I guess, I found out later that. . . we were to. . . actually, look after and maintain, thirty acres of sugar beets. And, what this entailed was, the farmer would plant the, the sugar beets in the, in the spring. And, then the first order of business was uh. Uh, what they called a thinning process. And uh, what you'd have to do is go down each row. And uh, space the beets, cut out all the, in between so the beets were, eight to ten inches apart. That allowed them to, to grow. So you had from a, row of, uh, seedlings, you would have to separate them so, one beet every, every eight to ten inches along, and the rows - and the rows just seemed endless. Uh, especially looking from a, a small boy's mind. Because you know, you couldn't see the end of the row. And then when you get to the end of that row, you come down another row. And you went back and forth. Until, uh, you know, day after day, until, this was completed. And um. Once the thinning process was finished, I guess um. Uh, we received. A, a portion of the contracted fee. Uh, which was um. Somewhere in the neighbourhood of um, thirty dollars an acre. So our gross, uh...income for that uh, for, from the, thinning process til, harvesting, was about nine hundred dollars to feed a family of eight. Which was, even in those days, it was an impossibility. So my dad was um, forced to find, uh, additional work to uh, to provide income to put enough food on the table.
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TK
I was uh. . . I was uh. . . I, I don't know, I guess I was, Laughs. sort of inquisitive and everything else and uh, and the farmer, he, kind of took a liking to me. And, so he uh, I went to work for him. And I was uh, just, ten years old at that particular time. And, he would let me do things. And so I was, um, driving the tractor at ten years old and, right after school I'd go over and he'd give me, certain things to do. Now, to this day I don't know if he ever paid me. Or if I was ever paid, and uh, he gave the money to my father, or not, I don't know. But I know that I used to do the, the, once the thinning was over, there's a, period where you're, uh, you have some slack time. And I used to, just, go to work for him. So. . . in a sense it was uh, child labour. But the other good thing is, I learned so much, uh, at such a young age. Laughs. You look - I was driving a tractor when I was ten years old. And, he'd send me out, uh, to the field to do, uh, the, um, disking and, harrowing and so on so forth. So, um. . . that was a good experience for me. Laughs. Um. . . so. . . I guess, a month or so in to the. . . maybe a month or six weeks. . . then we had to um, nurture the beets, in other words, we called it the, weeding process, and you had to go in and cut all the weeds, hoe all the weeds away. To allow the beets, uh, to grow. So, there was two. . . hoeings in between, so you started with the, the thinning process, first hoeing, and the second hoeing. And in between that, there was, the. . . what they called irrigating. And the farmer looked after most of that because what they did is um, they just um, had a, um, a ditch and they just, let the water run through the rows to irrigate the sugar beets. Um, the big work, came in the fall, which was harvesting time. And that was, in the, depending on the, on um, how the beets matured, probably in. . . late October? Uh, early November. But that could be delayed, because of the weather - snow, and rain, and so on so forth. And, that was really. . . back-breaking work when the weather turned. Because uh. . . the soil was such that it was, it was like, gumbo, it just stuck to the beets. And if it's wet, it would come up, and it's just a mass of uh, dirt, you know, along with the, the beet, and what you had to do was, shake all the dirt off, and then you'd, kind of knock them together and throw them into a wind row. And you went down, uh, the whole, two rows like this, and then you went back in two rows and set up a SECOND wind row. And, what would happen is that, when all this was done, they'd, the farmer'd bring a cart, with a wagon, he'd drive down the middle of these two rows, and we'd be, in, and, two separate sides, and we'd, spike the beet with the topping type of thing. Called um, a topping type. But then actually it was, like a machete with a hook on the end. And what you do is you stab the beet, pick it up and top it, and then throw the beet into the wagon, and then the wagon'd move forward a little bit, and you kept doing this until you hit the end of the row. Or until the wagon was full. Um, then - when the wagon was full, they um, carted it off to what they called a beet dump. And, essentially it was a, holding area where they, dumped the beets in, and loaded it onto box cars, to take it to the sugar beet factories.
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TK
And. . . and that particular area they had um, two sugar beet factories. One was in, Picture Butte, and the other was in, Raymond, Alberta. And uh, and so that went on, until, the whole thirty acres were harvested. And some years. . . the harvesting would go into December and the ground would be frozen. And, uh, you know, they got these beets, and they, they'd just be. . . just - Laughs. each, beet, would come, you know, about a foot square with the dirt, and you'd literally have to break the dirt apart, to get at the beet, before you could even top it. And, and I think it was in 1944, such a bad winter, that, it was - we couldn't do it. And, so I guess they appealed to the government. And the government. . . released some prisoners of war, to assist in the harvest. And I remember them coming, young German soldiers. And they were, uh, dressed in uh. . . denim outfits. And um, the blue denim, pants, with red stripes down the side, and. . . the denim jacket, had round bulls-eyes in red, painted. And I - and, there was, um, one or two guards accompanying each um, group of um, German prisoners. And. . . one of the things I recall is, they looked so young. You know, just almost like, high school kids. And they probably were. Uh. . . because. . . I guess Germany was recruiting. . . young adults, you know. . . to go fight the war. But um. They were very pleasant, and. . . just like any other Laughs. people. Uh, except that they were, prisoners of war. And in essence I guess we were Laughs. comrades in arms, we were prisoners also. Uh, in a, in a different way. So, they assisted in the harvest and, I don't, without them I don't think that um, the farmers would have been able to get uh, their crop off. But um. . . uh. . . so that was sort of um, our life as far as, sugar beets were concerned. Um, family life, it was. . . uh. . . always an issue because I, um. . . I think for my father, it was, the constant worry was, putting, food on the table. Because, what we were paid to do this, um. . . wasn't enough, you know to, provide sustenance. So um, we actually, never had, uh. . . much of a life as a family, as you would know. Because. . . my father was preoccupied Laughs. with just trying to, um. . . put food on the table. And so we were, pretty well left on our own. To grow up on our own, more or less. Um. . . went to the local school. Uh, which was um. . . they didn't have a kindergarten in those days but it was grade one to twelve, all in the one school, in different rooms. And um. . . we had to catch the, uh. . . school bus, to get to school, because it was, probably, uh. . . two miles from school. And, we did walk many times but uh, the bus would come, and it would take a circuitous route, so, they would pick up all the kids all along and, end up at school. And, I recall in um, in the. . . in the fall, when the rains would come, and the roads were not paved, they were just dirt roads, in those days. And, when the rains came. . . the, the grooves in the road and the bus, would try to go, through all this mud, and sooner or later, grind to a halt. And so. . . the bus driver would say, well everyone out, and we were all supposed to push. And all the boys just pretended they were pushing Both laugh. they were - they. Because they felt that they - the, the longer the, took the bus to get to school there was less school time. And so um. The, the driver would, be cursing under his breath. Because, none of the boys were pushing. Both laugh. And, so he'd finally have to go to the, nearest farmer, to get him to, tow us out of this predicament. And this would happen. . . whenever it rained. You know, it just. Because the roads would just get so muddy. Because it was just a dirt road. And uh, if we had a prolong, uh, rain spell, I mean it was virtually, every day, Laughs. the same routine.
00:30:12.000
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TK
Uh. . . school was um. . . was uh. . . essentially, uh. . . not what I would call. . . um. . . a regular school in the sense that, the teachers weren't really uh, that qualified. Um. . . what they used to have, uh, in those days in Alberta, is that they would allow, high school students to go to, what they call normal school. And take, one or two years of normal school which was, supposed to, have them qualified to come back and teach. And so. . . um, the good teachers that actually went through university, um, had a degree in education or arts, would go to the metropolitan areas. Uh, they wouldn't go to, these tiny. . . jerkwater towns like Diamond City and things. And so, the quality of teachers, was not good, um, for us. So. . . so, our education. . . I would uh, say, wasn't, up to the standards that it should have been. But, it wasn't until, I went in, uh, after the war ended, and we went into, uh, Lethbridge, that we, actually um. . . uh. . . got qualified teachers, to teacher. So, and that was, in 1948. Um. . . because one of the, things. Uh, the peculiar things that um, not many people are aware of, is that um, the war ended, in 1945. And. . . what the, the Dominion government did is that. . . uh. . . they, they extended the War Measures Act, in other words, when the war ended, the War Measures Act, as far as the law is concerned, ceases to exist, and everything reverts back to normal. So, all your rights are restored. But in order to prevent uh, the Japanese Canadians from, coming back to BC or wherever they came from, they. . . passed what they called, the National Emergencies Powers Act. And uh, 1945. And, so this kept us uh, under the same, rules, or, imprisonment. . . as the War Measures Act. The only problem was that um, this particular act is only good for a year. So, they enacted in August of, '45, soon as the war ended. And that carried them through, until the end of 1945, okay. So they. . . renewed it in 1946. And, that lasted until the end of '46. And they renewed it again, at the end of 1947. Uh. . . what they didn't do, is they didn't renew it, in January 1948. And um, and the reason they didn't, is that. . . Canada was. . . one of this. . . a member of nations that were drafting, the Declaration of Human Rights in, in the UN, in 1948. And so, I guess the people that were on this, particular committee, drafting the. . . helping to, draft the human rights, said - we're doing this and we've got Japanese Canadians in prison? And still uh, in camps and on the sugar beet farms? So they just kind of let it off but they never notified. A-anyone officially. And so I think, in '48 I don't know, who it was but, someone, whether it was from, one of the camps or, from the farms, actually just walked away and said, I've had it. Laughs. War's over. You know, I'm going to go.
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TK
And - he wasn't accosted or imprisoned. So I guess someone else did. And slowly, everyone started to, migrate away from the, the camps, and the sugar beet fields. And in our case, it was. . . 1948, the spring of '48. My dad said that, to heck with it, I'm getting, a job in Lethbridge as a farmer. I mean as a carpenter. And, and so he. Uh. . . left and, and bought a lot in Lethbridge. And started building our house in Lethbridge. In, in the spring of '48. And actually, probably around May. Uh. . . May June. I would say. We had completed, we left the farm, and moved into Lethbridge. But it wasn't until, 1949, that the government officially said, um, that we were, free to return to our, our um, original status. And franchise was granted. At that particular time. So. It was a long. . . six years for us. On the sugar beet farms. So. Whisper. Can we take a break?
RS
Yeah. Sure. Recording is pausec. Okay, we're back with, Tosh Kitagawa, after a short break. And, you left off at 1948, sort of at the, end of the sugar beet farm experience for your family.
TK
Yes.
RS
Yeah.
TK
So. . . as I mentioned we. . . ah, officially moved into, into Lethbridge in 1948. And, so I, started, grade eleven. . . at the Lethbridge Collegiate Institute. And finished, my high school, education there. Now, the minute, I finished high school, I planned on going to university. But my dad said that no. I had to find work because I, I had to help, pay for the house. That we built, and. And also help support the family. So I, started work, immediately after graduation from high school. So I never did get an opportunity to go. Um. . . so in nineteen. . . I'm just trying to think um. Uh. . . thirty. . . eight. So, I guess, 1950, I actually, graduated high school. And uh. . . started work, around the Lethbridge area, various jobs, uh, working for a farm machinery dealer, uh. . . I even sold pots and pans and I, sold insurance, and, so on so forth, and then, in. . . 1954 I believe. . . I decided to, start my, life over, and I, moved back to BC, to Vancouver. Um. . . and that's where. . . I started, road construction. And, and I met this um, uh, fellow worker who was going to UBC. Uh, taking, his Bachelor of Education. And so, we became friends. And, as the summer ended, he got, job at Kitsilano High School, where my future wife Laughs. Mary was, teaching, at the same time. So anyway, we maintained our friendship, and he, met Mary at um, Kitsilano High School as they, taught together, in their first year. And so uh, he kept asking, me to date Mary. Because uh, she was. . . a. . . cute girl and was, teaching with him at Kitsilano High School. And I said no, I wasn't interested in, that at all. And so I guess he was lobbying Mary at the same, time, trying to get her to date me. And she, told him much the same thing. So I think this, persisted for about a year. And I think. . . uh, both of us, were finally fed up and just to get him off our back, we said okay. . . Rebeca laughs.
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00:39:59.000
TK
-we agreed to go out on a blind date. So. . . Anyway, it wasn't much of a date because I, I took her to. . . I guess it was a band concert at the Queen Elizabeth. And it was Stan Kenton. And we were sitting up in the back row, or close to the back. And in those days the Queen Elizabeth, wasn't. . . acoustically, designed, so. Actually, that, brass band, all that brass music hit the back of the wall, and came, with the, into our ears from the back and, and you couldn't even hear yourself think. Um. So anyway, that was our, our first date, and uh. It wasn't Laughs. much of a date, as much. . . Laughs. Because the music, well. If you were sitting in the lower levels I guess it was okay but. There where the music was bouncing off the, off the back wall and into, into your ears, Rebeca laughs. -it wasn't very good. Anyway, so. I guess. . . I don't know, um. I don't know how it happened that I asked her for a second date. Uh. . . but I guess it happened and we started dating. And. . . there it was, a couple, three years later, we were, uh, married, and uh, started our family. So I guess she has, kind of explained. . . our life as um, as a family, and our, children, and the grandchildren and, the great-grandchildren. So, anyway, after we got married I, got involved in my own businesses, and I maintained our, the businesses to provide for our family. And. . . things, kept moving along, the children. Uh, grew older, we were, very involved in their upbringing with, being involved in their sports, and, whatever activities, they were involved in. And, um, life went on. And, I wasn't. . . or, Mary and I weren't involved with the community, much at all, I think we were focussed, more, more or less on our family. And, in, 1988, I guess, that was the year of redress. Is that um. . . we got a phone call. Uh. . . this was prior to - it was probably around '85. That um. They were starting these um. Uh. . . little coffee clubs, more or less, for the Japanese Canadians that were, incarcerated in, 1942. And, they wanted them to, talk about, getting um, the redress. And so we said okay, we went to. . . one of the meetings. And that's how we got involved in the Redress movement. Um, so Mary and I were involved sort of in the minor fashion. Uh, attending and supporting, the Redress movement. Uh, until 1988 when, Redress was finally achieved. Following that. . . we had met so many members, of the community, that we got involved with, with the Human Rights Committee. And, that was probably. . . uh, in the early nineties. And. . . essentially, I wasn't involved, Mary was, involved, because she was having, an issue with her brother, on Saltspring Island, of a human rights, issue. And, the Vancouver, JCCA Human Rights Committee. . . actually agreed to intervene, and advocate for them. And so. . . after that particular,, incident, Mary sort of, joined the Human Rights Committee. And, I used to drive her down to Powell Street. And, I'd sit there waiting for her, for the meeting to, end, and, then, drive her home. And this happened for, three or four months in a row. And then, one day, there was, an issue, I was sitting out in the front, minding my business and they were discussing something. And, it happened to be that they were all women, as part of the Human Rights Committee. There were, no men, or maybe there was one. And anyway they said they wanted a man's perspective on this particular issue. So they asked me to come in and Laugh. give them my, uh, perspective. So I Laughs. did and, next thing you know I'm part of the committee. Rebeca laughs. So - Laughs. by default, more or less. So anyway I'm listening away, and then. Maybe it was the next meeting or something. They, the treasurer, got up and said, that she was making her, annual report, and so, she said that, they had a, bake sale or something, last Friday, and they, they made a grand total of, thirty-nine dollars and something cents. And they were all ecstatic over this amount of money that they raised.
00:45:09.000
00:45:09.000
TK
And me from a business background I'm thinking, thirty-nine – ? Both laugh. And I didn't say anything. And I said, if you're going to fundraise, you know you've got to, do it in such a manner that, you have an impact and you get some money in. So they said well, okay you're in charge of the, the fundraising. So I said okay. And so. . . you're familiar with the Powell Street Festival. So I said okay. Uh, I went to see my friend over here. In Delta. He owned a greenhouse. And, I had known, uh, got to know him quite well through, my business dealings. So I said to Casey, I said, I need to, get some, veggies from you, vegetables, uh, like tomatoes and, cucumbers, and, peppers. Because I'm going to sell them down at the Powell Street Festival, to raise money for the Human Rights Committee. So he said, oh, what do you need? And I said I don't know, he says, take what you need. So he gave me probably, thirty cases, or big, totes what they call, of tomatoes, cucumbers and, and peppers. And so, Mary and I loaded them into, our van, took them down, set up a little, table, down at the Powell Street Festival. And I think the first year. . . we grossed something like five or seven hundred dollars. And anyway. . . and then, each subsequent year, it kept getting, larger and larger, and where we were actually raising, in the neighbourhood of, um, about 2500 to 3500 dollars, a year, just selling, the vegetables there. Because we got to be, pretty well known. And we were selling quality vegetables. And so everyone uh, would, uh, come from the previous year. So we did this, did this until. . . I think around 2012. Somewhere in there. Twelve, thirteen. And uh, Mary said. . . she said, I'm tired of, spending two days down there, selling vegetables, she said I'm not going to do it anymore. So I went back to the, Human Rights Committee, in the next meeting. And I said Mary's not going to, sell veggies next year, so we have to think of something else. So they said, oh, what are we going to do? And it just happened that, I was talking to someone, just a couple of days previous, that had come back from Hawaii, and he was raving about this Spam sushi that he, that he had in Hawaii. So I just, said casually at the meeting, I said, why don't we sell Spam sushi? not knowing anything about. And, and they all looked at me and thought I was crazy. It's because I said you know, this friend of mine, got back from Hawaii and he's raving about this, Spam sushi, so, you know. They were all just sort of, indifferent, and so. So that was on a Saturday morning. And so, that following Monday. Over the weekend. I thought, what the heck, so I, did a little research on the internet and, who, who made Spam. And it was Hormel Foods, so. I phoned, Hormel Foods in Toronto. And I said, I would like to speak to the marketing manager. And I just thought that they'd take my name and, someone would call me back. You know, at a later date, if they called me back, you know. But next thing I know she says just one moment and put me through. To this lady, she's the marketing manager. Laughs. So. . . she says how can I help you? So then I had to give a quick thirty minute spe- Laughs. spiel. Rebeca laughs. And I told her, who I was and, what I was thinking of and uh. And uh, how they could help us. And she says oh, she says that sounds like a great idea. She says, what do you need? And I said, I have no idea. Both laugh. So she said why don't we send you, some Spam and some. . . pop, which is uh, point of purchase material, and, some hats and aprons and, what have you. To get you started. So I said oh, thank you. Next thing I know, courier truck pulls up. And they unload twenty, I think twenty-four cases of Spam, along with, boxes of, aprons and hats and, what have you. So we went down, the first year, and um. We didn't do that well. I think maybe, 7 or 800 dollars. And so we've been doing it, every year since then. And, I think, we're up around, 13-1500 dollars a year that um. Uh, and they're very good. Um. . . so, I just sent an email, to them, and I just sent one just recently for this year. And so they've already, confirmed that they'll support us again. So. Anyway, so that's how Spam sushi got, got started.
00:50:20.000
00:50:20.000
TK
So. . . so, anyway, in, in my retirement. . . Mary was more active with issues than I was. Uh, I would support her. And, one of the first things, of major um, interest was um. We were having breakfast one morning. And she opened the paper and was reading. And, and. . . a name came up. That they were naming a, federal building, after. And she said. . . that's the guy, the racist politician, that helped to incarcerate us, he was. Um. . . shouting all kinds of um, terrible things about the, Japanese Canadians and wanted them. . . off the coast and so on so forth. And so she said um, they're going to name a federal building after him? And she says, over my dead body. Uh, that's the exact wording Laughs. she, she used. So then she got on the, the phone and uh, and started lobbying. And she um. . . uh, solicited, a couple of other people within our community. To, to work with her. And they finally, uh, got his name taken off. And um, and they, actually renamed the building, after uh, Douglas Jung, who was the first Chinese Canadian, Member of Parliament. So um, that was her first major, uh, accomplishment. And uh, I guess, the big thing is um, was the 1942 students that were expelled from UBC. Uh, so. I helped her with that. And um, that culminated in um. Uh, in the big congregation, in 2012. Where UBC finally, uh, agreed to um, honour the students, and um. And, give them honorary degrees. But that was a long journey, that took, over four years. Uh, for that to, finally materialize. I don't know how much Mary told you, about the details. Of um, of how that actually went. And the third thing was an aftermath, of the, of the 2012, congregation was, was the apology by the, City of Vancouver, about uh, the racist motions that were passed in. In the, I think it was 1941, or '40, '41, or um, the racist, aldermen, Halford Wilson and, George Buscombe and. Drafted a motion that they wanted um, all Japanese Canadians, east of the Rockies, they wanted them out of BC total. And so they actually passed that, uh, in the City of Vancouver. So. . . when this congregation was being planned and, we were bringing all the students that were able to travel to BC, to receive their degrees in person, I got a phone call from, Dr. Kerry Jang on the, council from, from uh, Vancouver city. And he said um, oh, he said, would it be possible to have some of the students, come down to City Hall and we'll kind of, have a special luncheon for them at City Hall? So I said oh, well, that's interesting, so. I checked, you know, with the people who were coming in, and. And they were all coming in on, pretty well the day or the night before. Uh, the convocation. And they said no, they'd be a little too tired, you know, because. It's going to be a full day, there was a luncheon, and then from the luncheon, the actual convocation.
00:55:00.000
00:55:00.000
TK
So I said, you know, to Kerry I said, they won't be able to make it, you know because of their age and, everything else. And he said oh that's okay, he says, He said then the City of Vancouver will issue a proclamation. And he said, can you draft a proclamation? And he says, I'll read it at, at the luncheon. At St. John's College. And so I said okay, so. Laughs. I wrote - Laughs. a proclamation condemning the City of Vancouver, for the racist uh, aldermen that uh, passed these motions. And so. Laughs. He looked at it and he said, can you, kind of tone that down, he says. . . Laughs. He says because, he says proclamations by nature. He says are a feel-good type of uh, thing that the City of Vancouver, issues, you know, welcoming the, the '42 students and uh, and, praising them for their accomplishments and everything else. So I said oh. Both laugh. Yeah. Okay. Laughs. He says in return, he said at a later date, he said, what we'll do, is, we'll have a special, meeting in City Council, to honour the 76 students, and, and. He said that In the, City of Vancouver, bylaws, is that you, you can't rescind a motion. Unless the person that uh, presented the motion was present. . . the motions cannot be rescinded. But he said what we'll do, we'll draft a new motion, apologizing for those particular racist motions. He says, if that's okay. And I said fine. And, I never thought too much about it. And so, things went on and Kerry came out to the luncheon, and he read this proclamation about the City of Vancouver. Welcoming the seventy-six students. And. . . So that was it, and then. I had, to be honest, I had kind of forgotten about, the apology that he, promised at the particular time. So about five months later, I get a phone call. And, and it was from Kerry and he said. Now's the time, he says, for us to, draft a motion, he says, can we start working on it and planning on it? and set the day. And, he was, true to his word, he, he hadn't forgotten. And so, we got together with him and we worked, one to draft a motion and also, uh, to set the date. And, I think it was in, September of, 2013 or 2014. 2013 I guess. The Vancouver city finally apologized formally, in City Council. So that's more or less. . . the highlights, pretty well. . . presently. . . we're involved as you, are aware with the, Landscapes of Injustice. And I think we're, going into the fourth year, as uh, as Community Council. And I guess our role has been. . . to mentor many of the young, research assistants, and to, provide them with, with a face to, a lot of the, research that they're, accumulating, in their particular areas. . . outside of that, that's, pretty well what um, we're up to. Um, as far as um, the community's concerned. Um, we're presently. . . involved, with UBC again, for October the 10th, which is um, what they're declaring a, Learning Day but the highlight will be, is. . . we're working on a, a new yearbook. For those uh, 2012 students that got their honorary degrees. A hardcover book. And what we want to do is present um, any of the people that are able to make it out here, in person, or, to their next of kin. And so that will be the, feature of the Day of Learning in October the 10th of this year. So.
RS
Hm. Pause. That's wonderful.
TK
Hm?
RS
I said that's wonderful.
TK
Laughs. Oh. So that's, pretty well my, life has been, essentially. . . you know the, six. . . six years that, we spent as, as I call it my slave years, working on the sugar beet farm, and then, carrying on and making a life of our own from that point forward.
01:00:04.000
01:00:04.000
RS
Hm. Pause. Well I have been, I've been taking notes,
TK
Mhm.
RS
-as you've been telling me, stories and sharing memories, so maybe, I'll just go back to the beginning,
TK
Okay.
RS
-when I started taking notes, from the early years, and then, just move forward again. In time to fill in those details that I'm curious about. So, the. . . first question that I have, would be, you shared a little bit, about early years in school and I know you mentioned you don't remember, too too much, but whether you remember, or maybe someone else told you later in time, what was the, the makeup of the school? Was it, mostly, Caucasian kids, mostly, Japanese Canadian, was, were there other ethnic groups?
TK
I think it was - yeah, I think there was a fairly broad mix.
RS
Oh.
TK
I remember around, one of my close friends, was, of German descent, his name was. . . Kenny Almer. So. . . I remember we were best buddies. But, I don't remember, many, Japanese Canadian, students at that particular time. Pause. There may have been and there probably were but I can't recall.
RS
Hmm. And would those children be representative of the families in the community too as well?
TK
Yeah. Yes.
RS
So it was a quite broad mixture -
TK
Yeah.
RS
- of families in Mission City.
TK
Mhm.
RS
Mm.
TK
Um. Because, even though. . . that whole area was. . . many Japanese Canadian farmers, there were several other schools also so uh. Even though uh, they all said they were from Mission, they may have been going to, two or three different, public schools.
RS
Oh, I see.
TK
In that particular area.
RS
Okay.
TK
So.
RS
I see. Um, one other, question that I had was. . . You told a story about, the rice balls, and bringing rice balls -
TK
Mhm.
RS
-to school? And, I think depending, on, anybody's, community, whether they were born in Canada, whether they were in, entirely Japanese Canadian community or mixed, community, do you remember, how you felt in terms of identity as a kid? Did you just feel like a, a Canadian kid, or did you feel quite close to your heritage?
TK
Um. No, I, I felt like I was a Canadian kid, it was. . . And that's why I couldn't understand. Uh, why my sister was taking us - uh, hiding us to eat our lunch. Laughs. You know, because, Laughs. it's just lunch, let's just eat it. Rebeca laughs. Sort of deal.
RS
Right.
TK
And I never thought of things like that. Uh, and so, it was much later. When I realized, that's what it was she was embarrassed. Because we didn't have, sandwiches like the rest of the kids that were. Yeah.
RS
I see.
TK
Yeah.
RS
Okay.
TK
So. Those things never entered my mind at that particular juncture.
RS
Right. Um. So, perhaps it wouldn't be in your memory, but, did your siblings, or. . . perhaps your father, ever talk about any sort of, racism in Mission? Pause.
TK
No.
RS
-at all? No?
TK
No.
RS
Mm. Only -
TK
No recollection whatsoever.
RS
Right.
TK
Pause. Well to be honest with you. . . Our family, was not as close as, Mary's family. Mary's family, always talk. You know, at the dinner table. And, us it was, sitting at the table, and. Laughs. And for me I always use the phrase, those who eat the fastest eat the mostest. Rebeca laughs. And then out the door more or less. And, and that's what I, recall, you know, as far as, family. Is that I don't recall, having. . . you know, really. Family dinner inasmuch as we all sit at this table. My present family, we do that. But I don't recall that as, as a youngster, having, sort of family dinners and, that would be the focal points, of the day, or, or whatever.
RS
Right
TK
Yeah.
RS
Um. My, other question would be, you mention that there was, mostly, strawberry farming?
TK
Yes.
RS
In Mission during that time? Were there any other, sort of, crops like, I remember you mentioned, uh, cherry trees. . .
TK
Yeah, that was just, just for your own personal. . .
RS
I see.
TK
Yeah. I think. . . many people had raspberries. . . and loganberries, they used to have a fruit called loganberries. That was, a little larger than strawberries.
RS
Right.
01:05:00.000
01:05:00.000
TK
But. . . The other thing I recall, now, that. . . There were some lean years I think, for my father, because I recall. . . whether, it must have been a bad year of strawberries or something. Is that we had to, go pick wild blackberries. To supplement our, our income. And we used to. . . go to Hatzic Prairie and stuff, and pick, blackberries.
RS
Mm.
TK
Wild blackberries. And, obviously that was, to supplement our uh, our income.
RS
Mm.
TK
Because. . . the strawberries probably, didn't, we didn't have such a good year on strawberries.
RS
Right.
TK
So.
RS
So there are a few sort of, characteristics of, pre-war, there was the mill, and then there was a lot of farming happening.
TK
Mhm.
RS
Um, that brings me to my next question which would be, whether you, you learned about it, or you saw it yourself, how you saw Mission. . . change, over those years, so, perhaps, when you did return, to BC, how you saw the ways that the community from when you were a child, or perhaps someone had, had told you how it had changed.
TK
Well, essentially. . . when incarceration happened, everyone was kind of dispersed. And, and. . . not everyone came back to BC. So all those, families, you know, and they were very close-knit because um. I, subsequently read about, the early years in the, the strawberry farms. And, and uh. They had a, what they, formed a co-op, amongst the Japanese Canadian, berry growers. So they were, quite, cognizant of, of their strength as a co-op, you know, in the marketing of the berries and so on so forth. So they must have had a very, close relationship as a, as a group. But then as, uh, you know, when the incarceration happened, and they, went to the beet farms, your WHOLE life changed. You know? Everything was, virtually upside down. And then, things, happened there. . . many people that um, went there, never came back. They started, a new vocation and a new life. . . in Alberta. So. . . I don't recall very many people, actually coming back to their original farm. Well number one it was gone. But even to try and uh, really acquire it. . . I don't think there was much, enthusiasm for that.
RS
Right.
TK
So.
RS
Hmm. Did you ever learn the details of what happened to - because you mentioned that you had, your family had two, properties,
TK
Mhm.
RS
-one that was your grandfather's and one that was adjacent?
TK
Mhm.
RS
Did you ever learn the details about what happened when that property was taken, and put in. . . custodian -
TK
Well, I recall, while we were still in Alberta, that. . . because I think the government, started to sell the properties, in 1943. Immediately, after they, they, repo - repossessed it actually, were stolen, I guess is the better word. And, because they needed the funds, to actually, finance, the. . . incarceration of, of all the Japanese Canadians, so. I guess. . . history was made in the sense, that there's. . . never, has anyone been imprisoned that had to pay for their, own imprisonment. Because they used the proceeds of, of the sales of all the property, to pay for the incarceration. So um. Sometime, probably around. . . '45, '46. . . And I think the farm was sold. Before. But anyway, my dad got a notice that they wanted, him to. . . sign a release and, and transfer the title, uh, to the, government of BC. . . for something, around, 1000, just a little over $1000 for the ten acres. And my dad refused. And then, uh. . . so I guess they, made duplicate um, titles, sold the property anyway. And apparently, some. . . a, returning veteran, purchased the property. . . and I think ultimately, my dad, finally, took the money because there was no other option, and, the other thing was, he needed the money Laughs. so. . . it was a combination of both.
RS
Right.
TK
So.
RS
Mm. Did, you or, other members of your family, ever, return, to see. . . what the area was like, in later years?
TK
Yes, I did. . . some, early. . . fifties, somewhere around '55, '56, I, I visited. I didn't actually, stop and talk to the people that owned it, but. But I drove by the place.
01:10:16.000
01:10:16.000
RS
Right.
TK
And, you. Laughs. Your memory as a child and your memory, you know the reality, when you go back. . . twenty or thirty years later. Is two different things. . . you know I recall. . . everything being much bigger. Laughs. And. . . when I went there, the reality was, that it was much smaller. Laughs.
RS
Laughs. right.
TK
Yeah. So, those sort of things and I guess, that's why they always say, you should never go back, you know, because. The memories you have, you know, are the best to have.
RS
Mm.
TK
Is that, when you go back, it's not exactly like you thought it was. Laughs. So.
RS
Right. Mm.
TK
But I did go back. Yeah, so.
RS
Did anything. . . other than, maybe the difference between your memories as a child, did anything surprise you? About the community?
TK
No.
RS
No? No?
TK
Mm. Just, something twenty years later.
RS
Right.
TK
More or less. Yeah.
RS
Hmm.
TK
Or forty years later, or whatever.
RS
Mhm.
TK
I can't recall. So that would happen in, forty. . . forty-two. . . twenty, yeah, twenty-something years.
RS
Hm.
TK
Yeah. So.
RS
Um. One thing that comes up in. . . a lot of interviews is. . . items that families were able to either, give to friends or hold onto, was that ever, a possibility with your family?
TK
Nothing.
RS
Mm.
TK
No. . . I think that we, walked out of the, our farm, with what we were allowed. And, that was it.
RS
Hm.
TK
Never saw. . . anything else.
RS
Right.
TK
Uh. . . no one offered. . . to return anything. You know, personal nature. But. . . By the same token I guess it wasn't much of a, Laughs. to begin with. You know. Um. . . maybe just personal things, but. . . They were probably all trashed. . . because. . . when you hear about the actual stories, all the personal items are, just, trashed or, sent to garage sales or whatever. Laughs.
RS
Right.
TK
So. No. But nothing in our family. The only thing we have are, photographs that I think my dad took with him. At the particular time.
RS
Okay. Yeah.
TK
So.
RS
And you have some of those.
TK
Yes.
RS
Yeah.
TK
Yeah, I have some. Yeah. So, I can, scan them for you. Yeah.
RS
Yeah. That'd be great.
TK
And uh. And um. But that's about all we have from. Uh, from that period.
RS
Mhm.
TK
In our life.
RS
I see. Okay, well I had some, some questions about the. . . sugar beets farm.
TK
Okay.
RS
Um, the first one, would just be. . . how long in total, were you there with your family?
TK
Six years.
RS
Six years.
TK
From '42 to '48.
RS
Right. Okay. And. . . you mentioned, sort of, the relationship that you had with the man that owned the farm?
TK
Mhm.
RS
But, as a person. . . towards your family, what sort of. . . guy was he? Like.
TK
Uh. Well he wasn't mean. Laughs.
RS
Right.
TK
Um. Actually he was fairly good. But he was living. . . on the poverty line also, many of those farmers were. Just living. Um, much like us on, on the poverty. And, they were dependent on the crops and if the crops failed, you know they had to scramble to, see what they were going to have for, dinner the next night Laughs. more or less. So but. . . I went back to see him. Uh, many years later.
RS
Softly. Oh.
TK
And um. And. . . we had a nice chat, I, I took. . . Mary with me. And uh. So we. . . stayed there for an afternoon. Chatting. . . so. He, actually um. . . became a schoolteacher. Because I think he had, prior to uh, his farming days, I think that he had, planned on, becoming a teacher, but it was interrupted. Um. . . I don't know what his father wanted him to, run the farm, and uh. So anyway. Uh, he started farming, and then when. . . in later years, he went back to school and he taught school. So. . . but we, outside of that one visit that, we made Mary and I together, that was the only visit, that we had with them.
01:15:00.000
01:15:00.000
RS
Mm.
TK
Or, or. Any association with them.
RS
Hm.
TK
But, uh, he was always good to me. Uh. I think he. More or less. . . treated me like a son in a way. You know, that, he, nurtured me and. . . I guess he used me but I didn't look at it that way. Um. And I don't think there was any malice in his heart, it was just, well. . . you know. That was the way things were in those days.
RS
Hmm.
TK
Softly. So. So.
RS
Were you, quite nervous at all, to. . . I don't know if you called him up or if you just. . . stopped, by, or, it would have been quite a journey. . .
TK
Uh. . . Pause. No, I, I don't think it was any. . . nervousness or anything, I just. . . we just, were in the area, and popped in and.
RS
Hmm.
TK
And uh. They were happy to see us and. And, we spent an afternoon with them.
RS
Okay.
TK
So.
RS
Hm.
TK
Yeah. So.
RS
Wow.
TK
We had a, a good relationship with them.
RS
Right. Right. . . you mentioned that. . . you told a story of the bus getting stuck in the mud. .
TK
Mhm.
RS
-and going to school. Do you remember, much other than sort of the structure you were mentioning is one - grades one to twelve, all in the same building?
TK
Mm.
RS
Um, do you remember much about the other kids who were, in school there, or, sort of the day to day stuff? At all?
TK
Well, it was. . . It was very ethnic. . . many. . . children from. . . European heritage. Uh. I think there was. . . One or two Chinese. And then plus us, you know Ja- uh, from. From the Asian community. But. . . essentially, it was, really a good mix. It wasn't like, you know, one particular ethnic group dominating. Uh, it was. There were people who were Hungarian descent, Polish descent, you name it. They were all there. It was like a real melting pot.
RS
Mm.
TK
So um. We all got along well. And um. I was looking, in this particular, book. . . From Diamond City, which is a. And, you look at the names and you can see the ethnicity, of um, all the people that lived in, in and around that area.
RS
Right.
TK
So.
RS
And most people were farming. Right?
TK
Yes.
RS
Yep. Mhm. Pause. Let's see here. Uh, on the topic of uh, school and education, you were talking about how the quality of education?
TK
Mm.
RS
Um, wasn't, the best. . . and there's, a. . . sort of a theme that, I'm personally interested in, but also that comes up a lot with, Landscapes conversation?
TK
Mhm.
RS
Is the idea, of sort of, lost opportunity? Do you feel like, in those years that, education, was a, a form of loss during those wartime years, and, if it was, were there any other, I guess forms of loss that you or your family specifically, you know, felt that you experienced.
TK
Well, yeah, I think education was the biggest loss. Because both myself and my older siblings, my dad, said that we had to go to work, to help support the family. And so, those were lost opportunities. Were, had it not been for that, we would have probably had the opportunity to attend our education, or something.
RS
Mm.
TK
So. It was unlike Mary's parents, uh. Who, uh. Stressed education, more. Than, than anything else. And so that's why. Um, all, uh, Mary's family. Went through higher education.
RS
I see.
TK
Uh, so. That was. But there were a lot of uh, families, in the same predicament that we were. And, they never, had the opportunity, to go. . . because. Um, you know. Helping to raise the family, maintain the family structure. Um, was paramount. So.
RS
Right. Um. Before returning to BC, are there any stories that were either, passed down from your father, or from your, siblings, that you weren't present for that you learned about, their experiences? I know you were mentioned that you didn't, sit and talk as much as, Mary's family, but any, things that you learned through your family members, about their experiences?
01:20:16.000
01:20:16.000
TK
Not really. Laughs.
RS
No?
TK
No. . . it's, it's strange, I, I find that. Because, our family structure, was almost totally opposite to, like Mary's. And. . . and um. We never talked about things. . . I don't ever recall. . . sitting at the dinner table, all of us together. And having a, meaningful, more or less family discussion. You know about, whatever happened, to each of us during the day or whatever? And, these things. . . are part of my life, now. But I think that was because, I made a conscious decision early in my life, that it wasn't going to be, you know like the way I was brought up. Is that uh, we were going to, be together as a family. So as a result I guess a byproduct Laughs. of my family upbringing is that uh. Uh, when I started my own family, it was totally different. Diametrically opposite sort of deal.
RS
Mm. Mm.
TK
Yeah. So.
RS
I guess there may have been things that you learned on your own then when you were doing your, research. Which would have been, probably about your family's property in Mission, and. . .
TK
Mhm.
RS
Uh, so you learned those things mostly through your own -
TK
Mm.
RS
-sleuthing, I guess?
TK
Laughs. Yeah.
RS
Yeah?
TK
Yeah.
RS
Okay.
TK
So.
RS
Mhm.
TK
Yeah, it's um. Like even, to this day. . . we're all scattered. And. . . as far as my siblings are concerned. I guess the only time, that we seem to get together or something, or. . . is a funeral. Laughs. Which is a sad state of affairs. But. . . We don't communicate. I recall that, when we were doing this book, Honouring Our People, I phoned my oldest brother, who's in Burnaby, and I said to, this was in 2009, I said, why don't you come and, and, tell your side of the story? And he said no I'm not interested. And that was just sort of the end of the story. Laughs. So. . . yes. There's been, very little communication. Uh, from. You know, with my siblings as far as, discussing things. You know, in the past.
RS
Right. Hmm. I think everyone experiences it differently, and.
TK
Well, yeah -
RS
-decides to share or not. Laughs.
TK
Uh, tragically. . . my oldest sister's in Winnipeg. And I think she's. . . she's. . . in early stages of dementia. But, I visited her. . . about three years ago. This is before. . . in the early stages, dementia. And so I spent um. Oh, a couple hours with her. And, you know talking about, the old days and that. But that's the only time that, I've talked to, her at, at length, at all. And, now she's progressed to such a state, that. . . no, she wouldn't recall.
RS
Right.
TK
Even seeing me or, whatever.
RS
Mm.
TK
But we spent uh, a few good hours. So.
RS
Did she - share anything with you that you were surprised at, at that time?
TK
Not really. Um. She. . . I was talking about uh, how she had to. . . go to work for a, law firm. And um. And she. . . soon became, sort of the head girl, in the law office. And, she was very proud of that I remember. But. . . it was. . . in those days that's all it was for women, it's. . . uh, you were a clerk, you know, or. . . a gopher what I call. You know, go for this, go for that, sort of thing. Yeah. So. Laughs.
RS
Yeah.
TK
Yeah. Uh, there wasn't much, opportunity, you know, uh. The only vocations, that, women were, involved in was either teaching or nursing. And, outside of that, there was, you could wait on tables or whatever. Uh, that was. . . the attitude of the society in general. So. Which is a sad indictment. So.
01:25:06.000
01:25:06.000
RS
Hmm. One thing. . . I was, curious about, and this is, moving towards the time when you were returning back to BC.
TK
Mhm.
RS
Is. . . what you felt like, the relations, in BC were at that time, between. . . you know, perhaps, Caucasian and other, residents of BC, and, any Japanese Canadians who returned, to the coast, in later years, like, what was the, atmosphere like, when you came back?
TK
Well, number one there weren't that many.
RS
Right.
TK
Okay? Uh. . . because. . . because I don't even recall, very many Japanese Canadian - not that I, made a conscious effort to. . . you know, find them and, and find some commonality, but. . . I came back, as I say around 1955. And it was, essentially. . . go to work and. . . and have fun was the. . . was, my primary motive because. . . it just seemed that, for so long you were, almost in a prison. You know you're, you're restricted. Like I never had the, freedom, like I say, I wanted to go somewhere I'd go because, you always had to get permission to move from one, place to another. And so. . . I, I grew up working, amongst Caucasians and. . . I had a good relationship, there was. I didn't feel any racism at all. . . and, as I say it was around, '85, 1985 that I finally, started to reconnect with the community eh. And that was because of Redress. And it was just. . . just happened a phone call. You know. And, and I've been very active since that point. But it's, it's quite late in my life, because. Many people, I find, are more interested in their roots, at a much younger age. You know, their. History and, and. You know, “where did we come from?” and, you know, so on so forth. And that never did interest me. It just seemed that I was, so preoccupied. With um, my family. And raising my family.
RS
Mm.
TK
That, things like that never really entered my mind.
RS
Mm.
TK
And, and I guess. . . with, many people, like myself, is that, once you do, kind of reconnect it, you kind of, go overboard. So Both laugh. so. . . since that, period, Mary and I have been very deeply involved, with the community, and community affairs, and. You know, advocating, and. And. . . All the issues that, confront our community. So. It's, I guess the story is it's better late than never.
RS
Hmm. Mmm.
TK
But uh. But up to that point, um. I was just minding my business more or less. . . just. . . I guess focussing on, on my, in our family. So.
RS
Right. Um. . . when you did get the phone call, for Redress, what was your original. . . I guess impression or, opinion, of, of the movement, and, and what was happening?
TK
Well I never really gave it that much thought. You know, I just thought that. . . “well, this sounds interesting” Laughs. Uh, that was my thought. And. . . and I guess that must have been Mary's also because. . . we said oh, okay we'll go. And um. But once we sat and we listened, to the people, I think there was Roy Miki there. . . and, he started explaining, what, what they were doing, and um. And then I though, hm. This is interesting. You know, and. And then we start thinking about uh. You know, our own. . . situation, and what, you know actually, transpired, as far as we were concerned. So we started talking about our, our own history, and Mary talking about her own. So that's sort of. Uh, how we got more or less involved. And then, as we went to more of these meetings, we heard other stories. And then you find a lot of things that were quite common. You know, I think. And, as far as. . . Mary's side.
01:30:02.000
01:30:02.000
TK
Um. . . it's much more interesting in as much as. . . She actually, her family, experienced just about everything. You know, including the period that they had disbanded, Hastings Park, and then, going to all the different, incarceration camps. Pause. She hit practically every one. Plus, she went to the beet fields. Whereas in my. . . side, it was just, we went straight to the beet fields, stayed there until, we were allowed to, freedom of movement. So. . . Very uneventful.
RS
Hm. Tosh laughs. Oh I still think there's a lot to learn from it.
TK
Ah?
RS
From the history.
TK
Yeah. I guess. But.
RS
Um. On that note, um. One question that uh, we always like to ask toward the end of an interview is um. Because this will be made for the public to listen to,
TK
Mm.
RS
Anybody that's, trying to learn about the history, or even just, future Canadians, if you had something, to tell them, you know, about this history and what happened and also, you know how people move forward with their lives?
TK
Mhm.
RS
Uh, what would that be?
TK
Well I think everyone, especially within our community, should learn about our history. I think that uh, many of our. . . in my case, my, immediate family, and the grandchildren and so on so forth. . . it was just only after Mary and I got involved, that they finally, took an interest. In, in their history. And, so there are many families out there, that uh, they have no idea. Of what, happened to their grandparents, or their parents, during this, terrible period. And uh, and I think that it's incumbent upon them, to learn their history. And, you can be proud of your history, and proud of your parents, of how they survived, you know, this terrible period in their lives. Because, um, I reflect back to the. . . 1942 students that were expelled, and when we were doing all the interviews, with them, and I was amazed, at how, how much they suffered, you know because their education was interrupted? But then how they went forward. And, and, um. Most of them were overachievers. They just went on and made remarkable lives and contributions to the country itself. And so um. And that, I think that, many Japanese Canadians, the younger ones, they should study history. And, and learn of our past. Because that, I think that uh, there's some valuable lessons to be learned.
RS
Hm.
TK
Yeah.
RS
Are you surprised that there are, generations that sort of don't, know about the history?
TK
Uh, yes and no. . . many of the Nisei. Uh, which would be, my generation. Um, they um, if they experienced it, the incarceration, they didn't want to talk about it. And, they wouldn't tell their children. Whereas Mary and I, talked about, you know this trying period, to our kids. But, when we talk to other, people like, our age group, and if you talk to their children, they say well, our parents didn't talk about it or won't discuss it, or even if we ask questions, they don't answer. You know they, just kind of brush us off. And they're forced to go, to the history books and things like that. To learn more about their past. So there's sort of a. . . a period where, a generation almost. It's, it's. Um, that period is silence. And, and that's a sad, situation. But I think. . . as they grow older, I think it. Because I think, everyone at some point in their life, whether it's very early, or late in their life like me, are interested, in their history. And, and. . . at some point they'll come back, and want to know. And that's why it's important to have all this information available.
01:35:00.000
01:35:00.000
TK
And I think that, Landscapes of Injustice are doing an incredible job. Because, yes because now we're, able to access files. That never before, were open. And so we're learning much more. I'm learning, even if I was part of the whole thing, I'm learning so much more, you know, because of the, things that the Landscapes of Injustice have uncovered. And, if it wasn't for that, a lot of that would be buried in the archives.
RS
Hm.
TK
You know, and then, at some point, they would be purged. . . so. This is why I think it's very critical. And, and the job that you guys are doing is just, phenomenal. And. . . Mary and I, look forward to, are very proud to be part of the, the team. So.
RS
Mhm. . . before I guess we sort of, finish up. . . on that note of. . . you know, saying something to others who are learning about the history. . . you touched upon, what you would say to those who were looking into their own family history. But what about other family Canadian from different backgrounds? Um, who are looking into the history, whether there are Caucasians. . . you know what I mean?
TK
I, I think that that's slowly happening. Um, as a byproduct of. . . the 2012 students that graduated. Or, actually they were 1942 students that they, they finally got their degrees in 2012. So I always refer to them as 2012 students but they're. . . 1942 students. Is that a university. . . promise, that. . . they were, going to, start a minor program, in the Faculty of Arts, to deal with Asian Canadian history, so now what they, did, in, in 2014 is that they, have a program called, ACAM which is Asian Canadian, Asian Canadian, Migration. And um. And so, they promised that it would be up and running in 2013. And, it wasn't. And it wasn't until 2014. And, when it actually did, offer this program. It didn't cover, Asian Canadian history at all, it was just. Uh, because Mary and I were part of the very first, course that they offered. And that was essentially, a filmmaking, project, to talk about. . . anything related, to Asian Canadian history. And. . . so um. Uh, this spring. Um. . . I wrote a very nasty letter to the, university. Uh. . . saying that, you know you guys promised, that you were going to start a meaningful program, to. . . have a course on Asian Canadian, and. . . history, and particularly Asian Canadian history. And so. . . I think, I must have rung a bell somewhere. So. . . it isn't formally announced. Uh, it'll be formally announced probably in October. But in January of 2017
2018.
, they'll be teaching a course on Japanese Canadian history. And, but I don't want it to end there. I want it to. . . to include, like um, uh, Filipino Canadian history. And uh, Indo Canadian history. Like for instance. . . there's lots of uh, data on, Chinese Canadian history. Because there are a couple of professors out there, that have been teaching Chinese Canadian history. But um. Uh, the Indo Canadian community, is just as large, as, the Chinese Canadian community, and there's nothing, being offered, uh. So I want, that course, to, have, um, Indo Canadian community, history, because they have a lengthy history also. And, and, many of the other, Asian Canadian countries, while it's much newer, you know like, for instance the, Filipino Canadians, Vietnamese, so on so forth, Korean. Um. . . they still have a history here also. So my hope is that, this will expand. Uh, into, incorporating, all Asian Canadian history. So.
RS
Hm. I think that's a great, that's a great thing. And I think it's starting to, and it's creating lots of, interest and. . . learning that there's, many more chapters, of Canadian history,
TK
Mhm.
RS
Um. . . and so. Yeah, I, I want to, thank you and, and Mary for. Helping the students, like me.
TK
Mhm.
RS
Um, giving us guidance and perspective, and also just giving us support when we do this research, because I think we have, same hopes as well. Um. My last question, would be, if there's anything that I've, missed, any. . . stories, or, you know, perspectives or opinions that you wanted to share, that I didn't touch upon? Or, perhaps didn't fit within a storyline. Uh, that I missed, in this interview.
TK
No I, I think you've done a remarkable job,
RS
Oh, thank you. Laughs.
TK
-Rebeca.
RS
Laughs. No, I think you did the hard work.
TK
No, Rebeca laughs. No, it's very easy talking, with you.
RS
Okay.
TK
Uh, so uh. It makes it much easier I think on both of us. Is that uh, when we're doing something like this.
RS
Mhm.
TK
So I want to commend you. I think you're doing, an excellent job, and as much that um, you know, your background isn't Japanese Canadian, it's something that you've learned, and. . . and you do it, extremely well.
RS
Oh, thank you very much.
TK
Yeah. Okay, thank you.
RS
Alright, shall we leave it there?
TK
Yeah.
RS
Okay. Great.
01:41:40.000

Metadata

Title

Tosh Kitagawa, interviewed by Rebeca Salas, 26 June 2017

Abstract

1940s-50s, present
Tosh narrates his life, beginning with childhood memories from growing up on a berry farm in Mission and going to school there. Tosh's family went to the sugar beet projects, an experience he calls six years of slave labour, in Diamond City, Alberta. Tosh describes the sugar beet farming process and the extra work he would do for the farmer who employed them. Tosh tells of graduating high school in Lethbridge, finding work to help his family, and moving to Vancouver in 1954, where he met his future wife, Mary. He and Mary got involved in the Japanese Canadian community later in life as supporters of the Redress movement, and subsequently as part of the JCCA Human Rights Committee. Tosh has handled fundraising for the committee, and supported Mary in activities where she took the lead. Tosh reflects on what it has been like to think about his and the community's history later in life, and his involvement in initiatives like UBC's Asian Canadian studies program and the Landscapes of Injustice project.

Credits

Interviewer: Rebeca Salas
Interviewee: Tosh Kitagawa
Transcriber: Carolyn Nakagawa
Audio Checker: Natsuki Abe
Encoder: Natsuki Abe
Publication Information: See Terms of Use for publication and licensing information.
Setting: Tsawwassen, BC
Keywords: Mission ; Diamond City ; Lethbridge ; Sugar beets; Farming; School; History; Research; Community Council; Redress ; 1872 - present; primarily 1930s-1940s and 1980s-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.