Peter Kurita, interviewed by Heather Read, 27 July 2015 (2 of 2)

Peter Kurita, interviewed by Heather Read, 27 July 2015 (2 of 2)

Abstract
Peter begins the interview by describing his numerous visits to Japan, what they were like, and whether he ‘sensed’ the Second World War history when he was there. He shows Heather images of the various small communities which existed in Vancouver before he relocated to Ontario. During the interview, Heather provides a map which Peter uses to point out and explain the significance of the different places in Vancouver he remembers. Peter describes how he was educated by missionaries while he stayed with his family in the internment camps and goes into detail about his desire to assimilate and become “as Canadian as possible” after the war’s end. He reflects on his childhood friends and what they used to do together. Near the end of the interview, Peter tells Heather what he remembers when the war broke out and of Pearl Harbor in particular.
00:00:00.000
Heather Read (HR)
This is Heather Read at Peter Kurita's home on July 27th, 2015 for a follow up Landscapes of Injustice interview. When did you go to Japan?
Masatsugi Kuriyama (MK)
Oh, that was back in '87 so that was a while ago and then the same room became a dining room. We'd bring out a whole table and I'd squat and so on. The unfortunate thing about this picture is three of them are gone now. My wife and my two sisters are all gone. We're getting old, unfortunately. We called it a Tokonoma which is sort of an alcove and we would have an alcove and the lady of the house would put some ... that flower arrangement is probably brand new, that day, that moment. So that's one of her jobs. That's taken on the Shigatse, what they call the bullet train, I'm going about 100k or 200k in that picture.
HR
Wow, you must have had a very good camera at the time.
MK
Well, not really, but every shrine had a tori or gateway like this before. I'm quite impressed. The ryoan-ji, it's just a garden with rocks. Apparently there are thirteen rocks which can go right around. You will only see twelve which are visible. But anyway, you come here and you meditate. You just meditated. There are about thirty girls, teenage girls, not a sound. All of them quiet. That was impressive. Teenage girls these days there would be some chattering and so on. This is Kyoto. Kyoto used to be, oh about seven hundred years, it used to be the capital of Japan. This was the imperial palace. Here's the doorway into it.
HR
Wow, it's very beautiful.
MK
A typical soul lantern, leading away to a temple or whatever. We were lucky, we just got there in cherry blossom time.
HR
Was this the first time you'd been to Japan?
MK
Oh no. I was there in 1936 when I was a little kid. My mother took me there and then I was '61 I think and then back in '87. This is the girl in the red. The black is a geisha. The word geisha, gei is arts, almost like arts so she can sing, she can dance, she can strum an instrument. The girl, she's an apprentice. She learns to become a geisha. This is Nara. Nara was the capital of Japan for a little while, too. . They claimed this to be the largest wooden structure in the world and you can see some of those white dots. They are human beings so you can imagine how big it is.
HR
That is quite large. And it's a temple?
MK
Yes, it's a temple and in side there's a statue of a Buddha which is bigger than the one in Kamakura which very close to Tokyo, about fifty-five feet wide. I think I have a picture. It's much bigger in size. The story goes, at about 2700 years ago Japan started and the first emperor appeared out of nowhere in this part of the world and the so called 'blood' has followed all the way. So the current emperor is also connected to the first emperor that appeared 2700 years ago.
00:05:00.000
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MK
I don't know, sounds ... Uh, there's quite a bit of volcanic activity in Japan. You know, the ring of fire and around the pacific. Japan certainly is one of the ... they get a lot of the ... there are quite a few active volcanoes. Nothing too dangerous but this one is smoking out of the top and it's called Mount Aso. This is a typical castle. This is Hiroshima and they call that the atomic dome, the back, and it was the only building that was left somewhat standing in the epicenter. Well 70,000 people were killed outright. My feeling is telling us is okay, should we get rid of the atomic bomb or do we get rid of 70,000 bullets? And I think it's just as important to get rid of 70,000 bullets and you should get rid of the atomic bomb.
HR
When you were there, I know I've heard people who've gone to Germany say that Germany is quite, like, you can really sense the Second World War history. Is it the same in Japan? Is it really ...
MK
Somewhat, yeah. Very much like Berlin, there's that church standing in Berlin, you know, in ruins. It's about the only ruins. You don't see any ruins other than that thing in Europe, in Germany and it's not the only thing you see in Japan. This is just outside Hiroshima and the word is Itsukushima which is ... Itsukushi is, well anyway it means beautiful and it is beautiful. If you come at the right time at a hide tide then everything is floating on the water. If you came at the wrong time here that'd be in the mud flats and it wouldn't be nearly as pretty as it was there. Oh, here's the other one. This is in Kamakura just outside of Tokyo. This is about fifty feet high. Now he was in a temple too at one time but, apparently, a hurricane blew away the temple but the statue stayed so they would still leave it there.
HR
Do you know what he's made of?
MK
Bronze.
HR
Bronze, fascinating.
MK
There's a place called Nikko north of Tokyo and there's a saying in Japanese which says “you can't say kekko if you haven't seen Nikko.” Kekko means perfect. If someone gives you something and if you say kekko it means perfect. You'd call that perfect. . There's an interesting hill. They call it the alphabet hill. There are thirty-six characters in the Japanese alphabet and there are thirty-six curves, here, on this road. You get to the top and you get very lovely water. They're about fifty feet high. Now, okay. Now we're in Canada and that's the BC ferry.
HR
So it is. It hasn't changed much.
MK
It's going from the Vancouver area and, I guess, to Nanaimo.
HR
What year were these photos from?
MK
Oh, gosh. Oh, about ten years ago. Maybe eight or ten years ago. Just the famous BC ferries. When we went up the British Columbia coast, being the cheap guy that I am, you know, I could have gone by a cruise, like Princess XYZ and something, but I decided that I would take the ferry.
00:10:12.000
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MK
So I took the ferry from Vancouver, we rented a car, took the ferry, put the car into the ferry, and then drove right up to Vancouver Island to Port Harvey. This is, I think this is Campbell River near king's fishing area. We boarded another ferry, Queen of the North, and you'd go from Port Harvey up to Prince Rupert. Now, from Port Harvey to Prince Rupert it only took about ten hours so we went on it overnight. But from Prince Rupert up to Skagway we had a ... it's a overnight so we took a room in the ferry. Our cost was probably a quarter of what it would have been if we were on one of those big cruises. The beauty of the ferry is, you see, we got fairly close to this native village. I'm not so sure if this is Bella Coola or not but we're clearly close as you can see. A big cruise liner, it was about five miles out ... we didn't stop here but if the ferry had any business to do, mail or something, they would just stop but our ferry didn't.
HR
It's neat to see the different little communities.
MK
The other disadvantages, we'd go up to Ketchikan or some other place and when we were there we would dock but only for two hours whereas a cruise-liner will stay for the whole day. This is, I think the Yukon territory and this is a hot spring. This is point zero of the Alcan highway. They built the Alcan highway because they thought the Japanese would invade the pacific coast and they could bring up things to Alaska so they built this highway very quickly. So this is city, point zero of the Alcan highway. It was a gold mining area. They took a lot of gold out of this area. Nothing's wrong with my memory, it's just short.
HR
Well, you've said you've got thousands of photographs.
MK
I've only shown you a few of them. . During the war ... This is Kaslo. Kaslo is one of the concentration camps that we had and a lot of the people would leave, just about Nelson BC, and came up Kootenay Lake, you know, the evacuees. They would be on the SS Mento and they came on this ship to Kaslo.
HR
Can you go on the ship or is it ...
MK
Well, it's more like a museum now but this area was called Kaslo. It was one of the smaller ones. It wasn't a great big one. This is Slocan. Slocan was the biggest one. This is Slocan Lake and our camp was about two miles south of this area. When you look at it, says “hey, that's beautiful” and it was when you think of it but under the circumstances you're in a prison camp. It's pretty but it wasn't pretty. It was pretty lousy. I was there, this would be the mid '90s I guess, and someone would say “hey, that's pretty nice” but it wasn't nice during 1942.
00:15:00.000
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MK
This is Hell's Gate where the Fraser River is very very narrow. The thing on the right hand side is a fish ladder and fish could go up there because otherwise if they try to swim up that rapid they would get killed. A lot of salmon still go up there during using the ladder. Oh, there back in North Vancouver is the Capilano Canyon Suspension Bridge. My second wife, she didn't like heights but she said “I want to go and see the Capilano Canyon Bridge” and I said “Oh, god. I've been there many times and you don't like heights.” She said “no, I want to go and see it.” I said “I'm not going to go unless you're going to cross it” so she crossed it too laughs.
HR
Brave, very brave.
MK
Oh, yeah. . There's Lions Gate Bridge way at the back. It would be about, maybe, three or four miles away from where we lived. I always walked. Never took the streetcar. I always walked. I couldn't afford streetcar ticket because it was about two and a half cents each. You got ten tickets for twenty-five cents. We couldn't afford two and a half cents so we walked.
HR
That's a lot of money during the depression.
MK
Oh, yeah. There is the parliament building in British Columbia.
HR
Would you have ever gone over to Victoria when you were a kid?
MK
No, I never did. As I've said, I couldn't afford two and a half cents.
HR
Yeah, the ferry must have been out of the question then.
MK
Yeah, the ferry would have been more expensive. This is Empress Hotel. I'm not so sure whether they're still called Empress.
HR
Yeah, they do.
MK
They do? They're still called Empress?
HR
Yeah, we were in Victoria earlier.
MK
Well, I found out that if you had an afternoon tea here ... fifty dollars each. Wow, fifty dollars. Well, anyway we went north from there and this is the Butterfly Garden just north of BC. Oh, and this is . A very interesting city just out of Victoria. They have a whole bunch of murals like this on the side of walls and on the side of buildings. Ah, here we are in Butchart Gardens; beautiful garden. I was showing pictures of my trip to Australia to some of the folks. I've done about six travel logs a month and there are two open pit mining pictures I was showing. They said “you know, I wish they would force the mining companies to say okay, after you've taken all the gold or ... one was a gold mine the other one was an iron ore mine ... they said the government should say okay, after you take it all out you've got to make it into a garden like this.”
HR
That's a really great idea.
MK
This is an old gravel pit and, I guess, the government or either the government or the guy would decide to make it into a garden. It's a beautiful garden. . This is still Butchart Gardens. They have a kind of Japanese garden, English garden, and so on.
00:19:09.000
00:19:09.000
HR
00:19:09 – 00:21:10 Heather taking photos
MK
Okay. Sorry I missed some shots. There we were in New Zealand. Were you in both North and South Island when you were in New Zealand?
HR
Uh, yes.
MK
Okay, so I got both. There's Christchurch. Surely, after we were there there was quite a bad earthquake in Christchurch. A lot of these buildings were destroyed.
HR
Yeah, not this trip but the last time we were there it was right after the major earthquake and there was just rubble, like, the downtown core was just gone.
MK
In Christchurch?
HR
Yeah.
MK
It's a lovely city. Yeah, it's quite impressive Christchurch.
HR
There are pictures of it and it looked like a war zone, honestly.
MK
It's a beautiful city.
HR
Yeah.
MK
I saw pictures of ... you know, maybe not these buildings or something similar to it and, you know, after the thing they said “they're, you know, gone.” You wouldn't think a building like this would crumble. It might have been this very same suit that I had on.
HR
Oh, wow.
MK
I was just about there in April so it's going towards their winter. They have very lovely flowers. There are two sounds. There's Milford Sound and there is something called Belford Sound. Of the two I like Belford Sound much better. It's more rugged and, you know, there wasn't a whole bunch of people there. We went to Milford Sound and they were telling us that they're going to build a, not a high rise, but a four five story hotel by the shoreline and oh man I love Belford Sound. It's very beautiful. I love Belford Sound.
HR
It's wonderful to see these pictures. I've never been out to the sounds yet; next trip.
MK
Belford Sound itself is so beautiful. We went from going down a boat and came to another section and took a bus, I guess, right down to Belford Sound. When you got out, oh man, was it ever quiet. The captain turned the motor off, oh the sound, god. Now this is Milford Sound. As I understand it somewhere along there they're going to build a hotel. Oh man, crazy! Yeah, Milford Sound is nice too but there are parts that are very commercialized and there are boats flying all over the place. There are lots of dolphins swimming around.
00:25:06.000
00:25:06.000
HR
Beautiful.
MK
Yeah, Milford Sound is good too but it's a bit more commercialized whereas Belford Sound is very very rugged. This is my favourite town, Queenstown. We took a ferry, well no, a ship. It was a steam ship. We went up the lake to a ranch. Arrowtown I think this is called.
HR
Yeah, I recognize that.
MK
You remember Arrowtown?
HR
Yeah.
MK
Anyway, that was where you could climb up and ... yeah right in there they do the bungee jumping. I wouldn't do that in a million years. Oh, god.
HR
My husband did that.
MK
Did he? Oh, god.
HR
When he was a teenager though, when he was like sixteen.
MK
Yeah, but still. Oh man, they put an elastic band on you and make you jump. You're supposed to go up to the water but when you got in it they say “you'll be okay.” Oh, man. Suppose the rubber band snaps or something. There are two glaciers there. . Most of them are receding very very quickly as are all glaciers in the world. They say out in Glacier National Park ... In fact, that time when we went to Glacier National Park we took Janine and Warren and another cousin. We went to camp all over and we went to Glacier National Park and I read some place that in 100 years all the glaciers in Glacier National Park would be gone. So it would no longer be Glacier National Park. I think that one is Franz Josef and the other is Fox.
HR
I think that's Fox. I recognize that one.
MK
That's Fox? Matheson, you had to get up there about five or five-thirty or six o'clock in the morning to get there if you want to get a mirror shot like this, otherwise later on the wind will pick up and because of the ripples you won't get the shot. . I got a pretty good shot of it.
HR
Mhm.
MK
Well, we're in the North Island near Rotorua. That's my second wife, she's in the hot spring there. There's another one.
HR
Was it smelly? Were they smelly?
MK
Yeah, it's sulfur, a lot of sulfur. . I forget where it was, this couldn't be North Island. I can't think of the name and town but this is right in the middle of town, this waterfall, right in town. Wow!
HR
Very lucky.
MK
The rowing rod is supposed to go through it but it was so rough that the captain decided not to. There is Rotorua with the Maui people. In fact, we were in some kind of an inn or at a hotel and everything was cooked in one of the hot springs. All the food and all the meat or fish or whatever we had and the vegetables were all cooked in the hot spring like this.
00:30:24.000
00:30:24.000
HR
Yeah.
MK
Here is Auckland. We found a place about thirty minutes north of Auckland and, god, we thought “gee, that's a nice place.” We were staying with people in a bed and breakfast and they were at the house on sale not too far from where they were and ... this would be mid 1990s, and maybe even later, maybe in 2000 ... anyway a lady said “you know, that house is on sale for 150,000 New Zealand and you could probably buy it for 100,000 New Zealand” which is about 70,000 dollars our money and I thought “wow.” It was five minutes away from a nice beach and she said they could swim until, well, maybe late April which is about our October or November so, Jesus if you could swim until then that was darn good. But this is Auckland and it's near the railway. . We were as far north of New Zealand as you could be.
HR
Yeah, you really did the whole thing laughs.
MK
Cape Reinga, you can't get any further north than that. Okay, we're back to Canada now.
HR
That was great. Thank you. Are there still more in Canada?
MK
Nope, that's it. Well, that's all I'm showing you.
HR
How many slides do you think you have in your garage?
MK
Probably 10,000.
HR
Really? Wow. So when you're doing little presentations like this how do you choose from ...
MK
Yeah, that's one of the problems. As I've said I've got 900 pictures. Like, say Australia, I've got ... I probably have four five hundred pictures of Australia and I've got to cut it down to ... Yeah, just leave it.
HR
Hopefully it will sort itself out.
MK
Oh, just come around here. Tape is paused then resumes. Did you say you had a map of Vancouver?
HR
Yeah, I do. Powell Street in particular.
MK
Yeah, I'll show you where our school is.
HR
It's quite a big map. I hope that we're on here. You'll be able to arrange yourself, I'm sure.
MK
Our house, we lived between Cordova and Hastings.
HR
Oh, wow. So like right in here.
MK
I imagine that's an alley and we were just about there.
HR
Do you remember the ...
MK
321.
HR
Yeah, it says 321. So 321 Hawks Avenue?
00:35:11.000
00:35:11.000
MK
Yeah, 321 Hawks Avenue. Now, our church was here. Our school was just north of the school here.
HR
Just off the map?
MK
Yeah, between Jackson and Princess. So our school, Strathcona School which is the largest elementary school in the whole British Empire.
HR
Wow.
MK
Yeah, 1200 kids. So it was just around here.
HR
So would everybody from this neighbourhood have come to this school?
MK
Yeah, so all the kids from all here and north, uh, south. This is north so south of here all those kids came.
HR
That's quite a distance. How far is that? Actually, it looks big on the map but ...
MK
Probably a kilometer. I would think that from our house to the church was about a kilometer to school. Well, maybe a little less than a kilometer.
HR
And you would have walked?
MK
Oh, yeah.
HR
You didn't have a bike or anything like that?
MK
No.
HR
Did you ever go to Oppenheimer Park?
MK
Oh, yeah. That's ... I'll tell you a very funny story. A kid named Vic, Victor. He was born in 1930 on Victoria day. Hence, he's called Vic, Victor. Anyway, he and I, because I was a pretty good attender of Sunday school, so he and I would always have a fight as to who's going to get the best attendance at Sunday school. He was the son of the minister. Their apartment was upstairs above the Sunday school. So he could have come down in his pajamas and still attend Sunday school whereas I lived over here and had to get dressed and do all this stuff. Anyway, one time, we used to call this Powell Grounds in those days and there was some kind of a fight. Two guys got into a fight and all the boys who were going to Sunday school went to watch to see the fight. As I heard it later on it was a big fight because the cops were there and they tried to break it up and they couldn't. They were going to put them in one patty wagon but it didn't work so they had to call out, you know ... all that took a lot of time. I came from here, along Powell Street or whatever and got into church. I'm the only boy there because all the other boys were all watching this fight. So I won the attendance award.
HR
Laughs. Were there stores or anything like that you remember?
MK
Yeah, there's a store. Quite a few stores along Hastings. There was a grocery store right here on the corner of Cordova and Hawks.
HR
That's really convenient for your family.
MK
Oh, yeah. And there's another store here. Along Powell Street, especially along here, a whole bunch of stores.
HR
Oh, okay. So just north of Oppenheimer Park?
MK
Yeah, just north of Oppenheimer Park.
HR
Where did your friends live?
MK
Oh, gosh. A lot of the kids that I played with lived on Cordova, here, and West of Hawks Avenue or along here. Hawks Avenue used to be the dividing line for school purposes. People on this side went to Strathcona, people on this side went to Seymour. So, some of these kids that I knew and played with on weekends I wouldn't see them during the week because they were going to a different school.
HR
It's funny how one side of the street ... you would know these guys, probably, better in some ways.
MK
Yeah, mostly because the kids along here I went to school with. The kids around here, some of them got permission to go to Strathcona but most of them went to another school.
HR
Was the whole area Japanese-Canadian or ...
MK
No, but mainly. I would say upwards of eighty percent of the people living in this area that you have here were Japanese- Canadian. Probably up to Main Street, you know, in this area I would say eighty percent of the people were Japanese-Canadians.
00:40:01.000
00:40:01.000
HR
Was it all ...
MK
Yeah, more or less. You know, in Japan Machi means village so Japan Village. Now that house that I was born in, yeah 321. That house ... The first time I was in Vancouver it was there and the next time it was gone. It was just an empty lot.
HR
How many times have you been back?
MK
Sorry?
HR
How many times have you visited?
MK
Altogether, three times but I haven't been back since 19 ... gosh, when was the last time? I never went ... I was in Vancouver, we never got there.
HR
When I had been to this neighbourhood recently, it's quite run down and there's drug problems and things like that.
MK
Well, of course, Hastings, you know, they call this the East-End. A lot of drugs and so on just around here. It's very bad, you know. It wasn't that bad in our days but sure things are bad now. You know, drugs, prostitution, and all that. 1930 ...
HR
That's when you were born, right?
MK
Yup, 1930.
HR
Did you parents work in the area?
MK
Yeah. Dad worked in a, way out in Main Street some place, worked in a printing shop. Way out here, some place.
HR
Wow, that's quite a walk you've got then.
MK
Yeah, quite a walk. Gee, those days we never thought of going anywhere without walking.
HR
Would you ever come up to the waterfront?
MK
Oh, yeah. Did a lot of fishing and things like that, you know. Straight on the end of Hawks Avenue there was a valentine's cheer or something. We did a lot of fishing and that.
HR
Were there ... As far as I understand this map these little blocks are the buildings and then would things like this have been green space? Like the foray of trees that you remember?
MK
Yeah, but I don't ... gosh. Yeah, I remember a little swath like this but not ... god.
HR
Not really big, yeah.
MK
Gosh, I don't remember a big spot like that nor this one.
HR
It's tricky. It's a fire insurance map so there may have been buildings there but maybe they weren't insured. It was mainly residential other than the stores.
MK
No factories or anything.
HR
Since it was such a Japanese neighbourhood were there, like, did holidays get acknowledged?
MK
Sorry?
HR
Did holidays get celebrated? Were there festivals?
MK
Yeah, especially in ... there's a Buddhist church. Yeah. Now, this end here there's a Buddhist church right here and they were more Japanese oriented than our United Church was.
HR
Yeah, so Princess and Cordova there's a large gape here laughs.
MK
Yeah, okay. So there might ... I know there are bushes even around where we were. There were bushes but I don't remember big spots like that and, certainly, that was the Buddhist church and it would have taken half of that anyway.
HR
Yeah, then maybe they didn't have insurance with the city. Interesting.
MK
Yeah, they could have. I don't know. So you said this was an insurance map?
HR
Yeah.
MK
We had a Japanese language school on Alexander.
HR
That says Japanese .
MK
Yeah, there was a bit of an empty spot there.
HR
You said you went to Japanese language school until ...
MK
Well, until the war started. Our elementary school was here and after we were finished at three thirty we walked down and ... the younger kids said the older kids went there at night time.
00:45:07.000
00:45:07.000
MK
I wish there was some kind of a legend as to how far each ... I'm kind of thinking ... trying to remember from here to the corner is about the same as from here to the corner and it's about 300 meters.
HR
Yay, there's a little scale here. One inches fifty feet. Of course, it's in metric.
MK
So that would show, maybe, 200 feet.
HR
Yeah.
MK
Oh, gosh. It felt like more than that.
HR
Well, you had little legs at the time laughs.
MK
Okay, so that's where we were at.
HR
Yeah, great!
MK
So that's Strathcona School just north of Hastings. This is my grade one class. I forget, oh, I don't know what grade that was, grade three or something.
HR
Oh, you're all so tiny laughs.
MK
Yeah, mostly Chinese and Viet. Look at this picture here. There's a non-oriental.
HR
I see what you mean that it's, like, eighty percent.
MK
Oh yeah. More than that I guess. Like in this picture, this class of grade five, one, two, three four, four non ...
HR
Out of, like, thirty probably.
MK
That'd be Japanese Canadian, that would be Chinese, Japanese, Chinese, Chinese, Japanese. Oh, here's another white girl. Japanese, Japanese, Japanese, Japanese, Japanese, Japanese, Chinese, Chinese, Chinese, Chinese, Chinese ...
HR
Would the white kids have had any problems with racism?
MK
No, we got along well with everybody. In fact, our motto was ... there are fifty-two nationalities in Strathcona but we all got along well. Now, this is my last class. Here's a non-oriental one, too.
HR
There are not many, yeah.
MK
No. Three, good god, four, five, six.
HR
A lot of them seem to be boys, too, if they're non-oriental.
MK
Yeah. There's another white girl. Now, this is in Slocan and that was our class in grade seven. Of course, they're all Japanese-Canadians here with a Japanese-Canadian teacher. She eventually became a teacher, went to school, got her degree.
HR
You kept in touch with them afterwards?
MK
I was in touch with her until she died, really.
HR
Wow. Was this the building where you went to school?
MK
Yeah, that's the school building. You know, just made up for the ... there's a building, two story building on this side, two story, and a sort of a walk way in-between there.
HR
Oh, okay. So would the whole ... was it a one room schoolhouse essentially?
MK
No, there were, I'd say, about twenty rooms.
HR
Wow, that's substantial.
MK
This was our high school in Slocan. The whole school. These are our teachers; English teacher. These people are our ministry, missionaries. He was a university student and he said there was an ad in the paper camera goes off ... Was that you?
HR
Yeah, that was my camera.
MK
Anyway, there was an ad in the Christian youth group so he answered that and came to teach us. He wasn't a school teacher he was a first year student. He taught us too but he had no qualification or anything. He was a Japanese-Canadian.
00:50:03.000
00:50:03.000
HR
The missionaries came out because they wanted to help?
MK
Yeah and because the government wouldn't provide education. Well, what happened, as I told you, education is the grounds of the province so the province has to educate us but the provincial government says “no, we're not going to do it. The Japanese-Canadian is your problem.” The Canadian government says “well, wait a minute, we're not allowed to do any ...”
HR
Yeah.
MK
So, with this volleyball going on we lost our four years. The thing is though, you see, if the government wanted to they could have easily said “look, if you don't provide education for these kids we're going to cut off the transfer on payment” but if they did that the government would become very very unpopular. Of course, they were doing the whole bloody thing to try to keep popularity. This is, sort of, one side of the house.
HR
Oh, wow. That was your ...
MK
Yeah, that was our house in Slocan. A little shed. There's some other pictures, too.
HR
So, did your family have a camera?
MK
Well, I guess ... well, we weren't supposed to. I don't know who took these pictures because all cameras were confiscated at the war so I don't know who took these pictures.
HR
You know, some of the camps did have photographers.
MK
Yeah, there was a ... this picture was taken by a photographer. Apparently he had permission to have a camera but the rest of us weren't. We weren't allowed cameras, radios, but ...
HR
Someone in your family must have snuck something in.
MK
Well, either that or our ... my sisters and my brother ... it must be somebody else. Maybe a friend had a camera. I don't know.
HR
Do you mind if I take a few pictures?
MK
Sure. Any of these. Here's my dad cutting wood and I'm cutting wood here. We got all the wood we wanted. The only thing was it was wet so we had an oil camp stove, type of thing, and we had to put tomorrow's supply of wood near it to try to dry it so the next day we could burn it. I don't know what happened here laughs.
HR
It's a funny photo laughing.
MK
He said “take my word for it ... ”.
HR
So who made the album?
MK
I made this, yeah.
HR
Okay.
MK
My sister is going away to Toronto from Slocan. This is my sister and her classes teaching grade one. This is 1944-45 I guess. It's high school. So there's ... She's a missionary.
HR
Because they were missionaries was the education religiously ...
MK
Yeah. They were educated but they were not school teachers, per say.
HR
So when they taught you would it be about the Bible as well as ...
MK
No, they used the correspondence course from the BC government and used that to teach us. I was in touch with this guy until two years ago and then he didn't send me a Christmas card so I didn't send him a Christmas card either. We used to exchange pictures all the time. Oh, yeah that was the school building. I remember we took a picture in-between there.
00:55:03.000
00:55:03.000
HR
Yeah, that is quite large.
MK
Yeah, two stories. Yeah, five rooms. I think, one, two, three, four, five, yeah. About ten rooms, yeah.
HR
So did that exist when you had arrived or was that being built?
MK
No, no. I didn't get to school ... the last day I attended school was the end of June 1942 and that wasn't built until, well until April 1943. So I didn't go to school from, well, essentially September '42 to until about April '43. No school. I'm not so sure. In fact, I've got a book on order from the library. I kind of think that in the United States the government provided education whereas it wasn't provided here. The other thing too, I think conditions were harsher in the camps in the United States but everything was already there. The army core engineer came in and built the bunkhouses and all the houses that were needed whereas a lot of the people, I don't think I've got a picture of it, but a lot of people had to stay in tents during the winter time. Well, at least part of it. We always exchange things, especially near the end when we're leaving the camp. We'd exchange pictures of each other. These are all pictures we've got of the kids and their friends.
HR
Wow.
MK
I don't know how that picture got in there. That's me at the climber. My sister, I think I told you about the story about my sister. That should be 1946 because we took that in '46. We didn't know about her death until '46 but, you know, she was killed in 1945 and the school had a memorial service for her seventy years after she died. God.
HR
That's a wonderful story.
MK
Seventy years after I died nobody would even know me. They'd say “who? Peter who?”
HR
No laughing.
MK
My first wife and I, she had a degree from McMaster. Anyway, we took a course on retirement about a good ten years before we were supposed to retire. We took a course on retirement and there was a lecture on finance, economics, and so on. Something about housing, you know. One of the lectures taught about where you want to live when you retire. You know, you could live in the house that you have or pick up everything and move away and start a brand new life. So we decided to move away from Markham and live in a brand new way. So we started to look for land. We found the land in a place called Warkworth and eventually built that house. This is my first cousin. He's the oldest nephew I have of the two.
HR
Aw, so cute.
MK
Yeah.
HR
So they come to visit you often or do you visit them often?
MK
Oh, yeah. Well, I'll show you later on. We just had a big party. That's Janine. That would be Warren's younger brother. Oh, there's Warren there. Yeah, I think that's Warren. That would be JJ's Father. There's Janine there. Janine is a baby. That's my sister Lil. That's Janine's father.
HR
I remember last time you talked about how you wanted to assimilate after the war and become as Canadian as possible. Did your family feel the same way?
01:00:16.000
01:00:16.000
MK
Not as much as I did. All my brothers and sisters married a Japanese-Canadian. I married a non-Japanese-Canadian. But, you know, where we lived we were well away from other Japanese-Canadians. We weren't like in Powell Street where everybody lived in the same area. We lived quite far away from other Japanese-Canadians. But, socially we did ... that' a good friend of my mother, that's a good friend of my dad. By this time we had our own camera.
HR
It looks like you're starting to travel, too.
MK
Yeah, that was the Rockies. I was awarded the medal of merit from the Boy Scouts of Canada.
HR
Oh, wow. What do you get that for?
MK
Oh, I did a lot of scout work and, you know, once I was a cub master first and then I became a scout master and then having both ... you know, typically, me I fully qualified as a cub master and then when I went to Willowdale I said I wanted to be a cub, you know, like in the cub and they said “gee, we've got enough help there. We need somebody badly in scouts.” I said, “I can't do any scouting. I don't have any training as a scout or scout leading.” So they said “gee, we really need somebody.” So I said “well, I'll try it.” So I got involved in that and then being typically me I fully qualified and took all the badges and training that I needed. This is me, that's Queen's graduation. You know, we had to carry that. That's 1947, two years after the war and the government still insisted on the paper on the basis on the order in council. Remember, I said that everything was done as an order in council rather than an act of parliament?
HR
Yeah. It's surprising to see the Canadian foreign stamp, too.
MK
Why should a Canadian born have to? Did all the others have? No, just me.
HR
How long did you have to carry that for?
MK
There wasn't a deadline. I was supposed to carry it all the time. I never did but I was supposed to carry it. One of my schools, I was a principal then. Here's my first wife. As I've said she's a graduate of McMaster. This is funny, I can't see the picture too well but I was a principal at New Market and New Market was celebrating the 100th anniversary or something. So all the principals decided that they would grow a beard for centennial year. To my wife I said “I want to grow a beard.” She said “no way you're going to grow a beard. You're scraggily as it is.” I said “Yeah, but I don't want to be the only principal that doesn't have a beard.” So she said “okay, you can have a beard until the day of the centennial. The day after you're going to shave it off and if you don't shave it off I'm going to pluck it off with rusty tweezers.” Laughing. I have a picture of me with the beard and five minutes later ...
HR
She looks much happier laughing.
MK
Laughing. Clean shaven, yeah. Miriam she was a great traveler and we did a lot of things.
HR
Was she also a teacher?
MK
Yeah, that's how I met her.
HR
Oh, that's right.
01:05:00.000
01:05:00.000
MK
We were good buddies. Not so much that guy but these three guys were really good buddies and we went to, I think, Bill's sister's cottage. We did a lot of fishing.
HR
Yeah, that's a lot of fish. This would have been when you were in Ontario?
MK
Yeah, this would be in maybe the early '50s. This was Detroit. This guy, the last time I wrote to him he wasn't too well. He was about a year older than I am but he wasn't too well, I'm not so sure. Anyway, five of us went to Detroit because Frank, who's an airplane buff, said there's an airshow in Detroit. So we all went to Detroit. The airshow was moved to some other city laughs. He's never lived that down. Uh, he's dead. Jim died. Jim and I, you know the thirteen years in school, he and I were in the same school and many times the same class for twelve of the thirteen years.
HR
Wow. Is that including the camp?
MK
Yeah. We went to Slocan and lo and behold Jim is there. So we'd picked up our friendship and then I moved to Ontario and so did Jim's family. Jim's family moved about three or four blocks east of Riverdale Collegiate and I was about three or four blocks west of Riverdale Collegiate so we happened to get to the same school again. We were on a high school hike and we decided to go on an airplane for whatever it costs. We couldn't afford it but he did. A trip to the sky. Well, he's dead now but he used to have the grocery store right across the street from us. He and I went to church together. This is a scout. No, this is the cub course that I took.
HR
How did you get involved with that? Because it's a very British ...
MK
Well, I was attending Cincinnati United Church and they asked for some help for the cub pack so I volunteered and I don't know ... these are all training. Oh, here we are ... Oh, no. Then, you see, after I took all my training as a cub leader then when I went to Willowdale and somehow got conned into becoming a scout leader, I took a scout course too, you see. Here's our cub pack in Riverdale. Riverdale was our district and we were at Cincinnati. These kids all came from there. Here's the scout leader. I was one of the assistants. He and I became good friends and we still get in touch with each other. He's well into his nineties now. He lost his wife about a year and a half ago. Yeah, we still contact each other occasionally.
HR
That's good. That's a great way to make friends.
MK
Yeah, I made very good friends with Craig. There's Craig there.
HR
I went to camp as a girl guide.
MK
Did you? At Oshawa?
HR
Yup.
01:10:05.000
01:10:05.000
MK
Here's me stopping a guy from getting a touch down at Riverdale Collegiate.
HR
That's quite the photo.
MK
Yeah, I don't know who took it. This is Queen's University. Some kind of a committee, I guess. Our church, Cincinnati, used to have almost every month, every year rather, they would have at least one, sometimes even two plays, Gilbert and Sullivan. This is their Mikado. See that? Look at all the people that were in it on a stage. Good gracious. Anyway, the funny thing, I'm back here someplace, but I was in it somehow. I'm not dressed there but anyway there's a laugh because the makeup artist has to make me look like a Japanese laughs.
HR
You're the only Japanese-Canadian in the cast?
MK
Well, yeah. Well, no wait a minute. That guy was a Japanese, too. He was a tenner. He sang tenner. That was our director Frank Houston. This kid was his prodigy, really. Ralph is a great ... just a young kid but a good piano player. This was another ... This was ILM. Are you familiar with Gilbert Sullivan?
HR
Yeah, fairly familiar.
MK
Now I am dressed the way I was for ... I don't know. Frank did have some kind of a “oh, I'll just go in and do something and come back right out again.” Anyway, that was the kind of work but if he wanted me he would say “hey Peter, can you do ...” I'd go to maybe two or three rehearsals. That's all I had to do.
HR
Very elaborate costumes.
MK
Oh, yeah. Malabar, there was a company called Malabar.
HR
Oh, yeah. They're in downtown Toronto.
MK
Do you know Malabar? Yeah, downtown Toronto. Malabar, people would give the size and Malabar would send a whole trunks and trunks of it. Everybody labeled this is a Aida this is a Prince Aida. You know, whatever.
HR
Can I ask a race question? I know in the history of the Mikado there has been people who don't like the fact that white people often dress up and pretend to be Japanese. Did that bother you at all?
MK
No, not really.
HR
Did you think about it?
MK
No, not ... I don't know everybody did. Maybe during the war they might not have had the Mikado but ...
HR
It's kind of a nice marker of how things would have changed then.
MK
Yeah. But you know, Gilbert Sullivan, well, not so much Sullivan he's just a musician but Gilbert apparently he was never knighted by Queen Victoria because of . Sir Arthur Sullivan was knighted by her but not Gilbert. Now, Gilbert was eventually knighted but not by Queen Victoria.
HR
Yeah.
MK
This is just some course I took somewhere along the way. When I was going to teacher's college I had to spend two weeks in a one room school and so I was ... whatever process I had to do and the people in this house named Prosor allowed me to stay there the week and I went across the street to this school. I taught there one week. I became good friends with these people, the Prosors.
HR
What was it like teaching in a one room school?
MK
Oh, very difficult. You have to prepare for grade one kid, grade two kid, grade three, four, five, six, seven, eight.
HR
Yeah, and I would imagine keeping everybody doing something different.
MK
Yeah, and keeping them busy too. This is my first class.
01:15:02.000
01:15:02.000
HR
What grade is that?
MK
Grade five and six.
HR
Did you have a favourite grade to teach?
MK
Hm?
HR
What was your favourite grade?
MK
Oh, I don't know. I like all of them Kindergarten to grade eight. I have a very funny story. This kid his name was Ricky Charles. So this was in 1951, '52. So, in 1987 ... holy smokes this is a good thirty years later. I joined the Campbellford curling club. You know how you first go you talk about “oh, what did you do?” and so on. So I met this one guy and I said “I taught school.” “Oh, yeah? Where'd you teach school?” “Langstaff.” “Langstaff School? I went to Langstaff School!” You know, he knew all about the things. Oh, yeah. His name was Casey Charles. I said, “you know Casey, I had a kid named Ricky in my class.” “Ricky's my kid brother!” God, what a small world. So that's all I've got. I did meet him afterwards, too. We always had Christmas concerts. We cannot have a Christmas concert now. This was another school. This was Richvale School. Funny thing happened. I was teaching at this school, Langstaff, and at the end of the semester I was supposed to go to Langstaff School. I went to camp, a summer camp for ... a Christian young people's camp and I met a minister there . I said “I'm teaching school.” He said “Oh, you teach school? Where do you teach?” I said “Langstaff School.” “Langstaff School? Isn't that interesting? One of my parishioners is going to Langstaff School”. I said “Gee, I don't remember there being a change in our staff.” I said, “Oh really?” He says “yes, she's going to be teaching grades five and six.” That's my class. There's only one grade five and six class. She's got my class. What the heck am I supposed ... and being brand new and not knowing a thing they fired me in the summer time.
HR
Oh, no.
MK
So I'm in tender hooks until I come home and when I got home I found out that I was transferred to another school to Richvale School without consulting me because I was away at camp anyway so they couldn't have gotten a hold of me. So I went to Richvale School. So, I get to this Richvale School and, god, I look at the kids and think “oh, look at these scrawny kids.” They said “gee, Mr. Kurita our coach last year said that if we won the championship he would have taken us to ...” in those days it was Maple Leaf Stadium. There was a triple A baseball team called Maple Leaf. They said “If we won the championship he would have taken us to Maple Leaf Stadium to see a baseball game.” I look at these kids, oh every kid is scrawny. I said “these kids haven't a chance in the world to win a championship.” So I said “I'll tell you what, kids. If you win the championship, I will take you to Maple Leaf Stadium to see a ball game.” Okay, that was fine. That's in September. It's not until May of the next year that I would have to worry about it, let alone these easy scrawny kids ... looking at these little kids like that they couldn't win a championship. Next thing you know, they win one game, they win the next game, and then they got into the championship. One school that we had to play, their best player was going to go away or something. They said can you play, not after school as we should have, but during the school time to play this game because this kid has to go away.
01:20:08.000
01:20:08.000
MK
He's a pitcher and their best player and, you know, ten feet tall. I said “yeah, okay, okay we'll play.” So, I don't know, some one o'clock and we set up for three-thirty. We were playing this baseball game and we beat them. So we're the champions and we get the bloody cup. Now I'm stuck with taking these kids to the Maple Leaf Stadium to see a baseball game. It's almost like going to the Roger's Center to see the Blue Jays play. So I said “well I'd like to take you guys and I know I promised you but, gee, I only have one car. I can only take about five of you kids.” This kid puts his hand up and says “my dad's got a truck. One adult will stay at the back of the truck. He can take all the boys.” I could've killed the bugger laughs. Anyway, we arranged it and sure enough his father had a dump truck and I had to sit in the back with the kids and we went to Maple Leaf Stadium and saw the baseball game. He's dead. I don't know about the other guy, I lost track of him. He died. Oh, he died just about six months ago.
HR
Looks like you taught there for a while.
MK
I was there several years, yeah. And then I went back again. These are some of my former pupils.
HR
That's great.
MK
I'll show you something now. Oh, here it is. My brother, who's about three and a half years older than I am, for a guy who's never been sick in his life all of a sudden, just bout last January, he went to the hospital for something quite simple we thought. The doctor was afraid that he might get an aneurism, whatever the heck that is. So he went to the hospital for a simple operation. I don't know. Something went wrong or he picked up something. God, he spent 6 months in hospital. Not the same hospital. For a guy who's really really been so well, never been sick, I can't remember him having a cold even.
HR
Is he out of the hospital now?
MK
Well, what happened was he came out of the hospital in June and Warren, JJ's father, decided that they would have a family party. So he had a Mandarin Restaurant in North York or some place this last Saturday, had a party with his wife. God, about twenty-seven of us were there. All either with Kurita blood or married to somebody with Kurita blood.
HR
That's great.
MK
There's chuck. That's JJ's grandfather. Have you met Chuck?
HR
No, not yet but I will soon.
MK
There's Warren and that's my sister's little girl, Debby. That's Roy's daughter, oldest daughter, she's a pharmacist and he's an engineer. There's JJ's ... Alana, you know Alana?
HR
Yeah, I do.
MK
I'm pretty sure that's Alex.
HR
Oh, yeah.
MK
That's Carly. Carly's the youngest of that family and she's pregnant. That's her boyfriend. I don't know. I'm old fashioned enough to say I wish they'd waited until they got married. However ... That's Alana, too. That's my nephew and his wife. She's an American. So they have three children and all three children have dual citizenship.
HR
Oh, that's nice. Lots of opportunities.
MK
Well, what happened is their oldest is living in Calgary and the second boy lives in Buffalo. He's a dentist there. There's Alex and there's Joel, no Jessica. I don't know what year. Maybe two years ago now.
01:25:24.000
01:25:24.000
HR
It's a nice big family gathering.
MK
Twenty-seven of us and there's my brother. This is the back corner. This is Warren. My sister in law. There's Carly. There's Chuck. He's married to ... he's the brother in law to Warren.
HR
Your brother must have felt pretty special to have everybody come over.
MK
Yeah, it sure was. It was great. She's quite an acrobat, not an acrobat, but a tumbler?
HR
Oh, a gymnast?
MK
Gymnast, yeah. That's the word. That's ... what the heck was this. Laughs I can't think. That's Matthew. No, Connor, Connor.
HR
It's a big family on that side.
MK
Yeah. That's Patty. This is Cherolyn's oldest, Elizabeth.
HR
When was the last time you would have all been together?
MK
It was last Saturday.
HR
Before that?
MK
Oh, before that, probably Christmas.
HR
Okay.
MK
This is the oldest of my nieces and nephews. Keith and his wife. That's Connor. Okay, it took quite a bit of time to get through that one.
HR
No, that was lovely. I'll go through the questions I have. I might bring the map back just in case. Thank you for showing me all the photographs, it was really ...
MK
.
HR
I love to see old photographs of things like that. You know, you tell different stories when you're looking at pictures. Heather explains to Peter the different research teams associated with LOI and the purpose of the map. 01:28:22 – 01:28:47
MK
Okay, so let's start with 321 Hawks Avenue.
HR
I think it was down here, you said?
MK
Okay, it was two stories. There were three bedrooms and a washroom upstairs. There's a living room, a dining room, and a kitchen. The kitchen was quite large and so I think ninety-nine percent of our meals were in the kitchen. Plus, there was a stove there so in the winter time it was about the only room that was warm. We did have a couple other stoves ... I don't know whether we did. We'd gather wood for the stove since the kitchen stove would be burning most of the time. I think we spent a lot of time in the kitchen doing homework and things like that. As I've said, it was a fairly large room and so there was a stove and then it was burning most of the time. Seems to me there was a big tub about this size. You know, warm water. It was never really hot because it was way off to the side.
01:30:06.000
01:30:06.000
MK
So it was warm water for if we needed to wash our hands or something we'd have warm water and that. Now in the living room my mother had a sewing machine so she did a lot of sewing in there. We didn't use the dining room. I can't remember if we ever had a meal in the dining room. The parlour was used only when company came. So that was it. So we had three bedrooms upstairs. One room was quite large, it was a master bedroom and then two other small bedrooms. I don't know. Somewhere along the line we were all living in there somehow.
HR
That's right you had a big family.
MK
Yeah, at one time there were eight of us; six kids. My parents, eight of us and three bedrooms. Now, my sister went away in 1937, '38 something like that. That was one less. There were still seven of us. Now, after high school my oldest sister became a maid. She had a high school graduation and even some prizes for shorthand and that kind of thing but, no, she couldn't get a job as a secretary so she was a maid. So she lived away from home during the week. She might come home some weekends. So, yeah. It was a good childhood for us. I've got three bedrooms here and I'm the only guy here. So that was our house, yeah. There was an alleyway all the way up to Main Street, I guess, yeah. It wasn't paved or anything it was all just dirt. I think we used the alley almost as much as we used the real ... As I've said there was a little corner store here. Quite a few stores around here, bakeries, and other stores.
HR
Was there anything that was Japanese-Canadian specific?
MK
Well, this was owned by a Japanese-Canadian. One of these stores here was owned by a Japanese-Canadian. There was a store someplace around here that was owned by a Japanese-Canadian and he specialized in cookies. I don't think he baked them. I think he just bought them but I remember for a few cents you could get broken biscuits they were called. So you get a bag full of broken biscuits for a nickel. Something like that.
HR
That would definitely stand out in a kid's mind.
MK
Now, I had a lot of friends, you know, a very good friend Kim Matsugu who was a minister. He lives somewhere around here.
HR
Somewhere around Cordova?
MK
Yeah, on Cordova. A lady that lived almost right across the street from her, she just died. Oh, gosh. Was it this year? Yeah, it was this year. She was well into her nineties and she passed away. Yeah. This house was owned by a Japanese-Canadian, this was Japanese-Canadian, Japanese-Canadian. Wow, I can't think of any white families living around here. There was one white family around here.
HR
Was it a ... you mentioned you didn't have a lot of money growing up. I can imagine that it's a similar, kind of, socioeconomic ...
01:35:04.000
01:35:04.000
MK
Yeah, I think socioeconomically they were all about the same. Maybe we were on the low end but dad had a kind of job that used to frustrate my mother. He didn't get paid one week because his boss didn't have enough money.
HR
That would not be a good thing in the depression, for sure. Were there lots of cars? Was it a busy street?
MK
Very few. I can't remember ... Gee, there is one guy, he was a baseball player and he was an insurance agent. He had a car. He had what we used to call a baby Austin; very small car. I remember one time, for a joke, a whole bunch of us carried his whole car and put it someplace else. But, gee, gosh, I can't think of anybody else in Cordova. These people living in this house, the Japanese-Canadians, they had a shoe store and they were quite wealthy but the rest of us were all just ordinary working people.
HR
Yeah. Where would you get your groceries from?
MK
A lot of it would be right here.
HR
In that corner store?
MK
In that corner store, yeah. We would also go way out in Hastings, about here and go there. For Japanese food-stuff we would go to Powell Street. In and around here, particularly. There were a lot of Japanese stores there. Not only grocery but food, clothing. I would imagine ... I would think that ninety-nine percent of the businesses along here were Japanese-Canadian.
HR
Did your family eat a lot of Japanese food and try to get a lot of Japanese food?
MK
I would think that, maybe, in Vancouver I'd say that ninety-five percent of our meals were Japanese style. I think it dropped to about maybe sixty-fourty, sixty Japanese and fourty Canadian or Western food when we moved to Ontario.
HR
Oh, okay. Do you have a sense of why that is? Was it harder to get ...
MK
Partly, yeah. It was harder to get, yeah. In Toronto there were Japanese stores but I remember my mother would go to Eaton's and it was called the Eaton's Annex. I don't think Annex. Well, Eaton's doesn't even exist now but she used to go and shop in the morning and order whatever she wanted to and had it delivered back to where we lived on Pape Avenue. By the time she finished all of her shopping and whatever she wanted to do her foodstuff would be delivered here.
HR
That's a cool service.
MK
You know, it worked out well. The guy would bring all the things that mother ordered in a box and he'd put it down and undo a couple of latches. All the foodstuff would fall to the floor and I thought that was great. So yeah, I would think it was maybe even as high as fifty-fifty because she wasn't able to get all the Japanese foodstuff that she wanted. I would say ninety to ninety-five percent of what we ate in Vancouver was Japanese stuff because, you see, you'd go here and get all the fish, vegetables, and whatever you want from here.
HR
That's not that far away.
MK
No. The guy here is kneading the loaf of bread and things like that. He didn't have any ... He wasn't a Japanese-Canadian. He wouldn't have any Japanese ...
HR
He didn't sell any groceries, yeah.
MK
Yup.
HR
You mentioned your mom had a sewing room. Did she make your clothes?
01:39:51.000
01:39:51.000
MK
Oh, she made all our clothes yeah. She also worked for, oh gosh, where did she ... just a little shop that somebody had just around here, Cordova, near Jackson. She used to make things for her. Mostly on piece work. I know sometimes she's busy. In Vancouver the lights used to go off. The streetlights used to go off around midnight and she'd be sewing and the streetlights are going off. This is after midnight.
HR
Time to stop.
MK
She just stopped, yeah.
HR
You mentioned when you would play that you ... well, you mentioned the fight in park. But did you have particular places where you would go to play as kids or just kind of roaming the streets?
MK
A lot of it was roaming the streets. I remember, maybe that lot existed when we were kids, that was east of where we were. As I said, a lot of the kids ... I can think of only one kid that went to Strathcona from this area. They all went to Seymour but there's a nice ... So I had a lot of friends along here and we would play in just an empty lot. It wasn't even a playground really. It was just an empty lot that we used to do a lot of playing in there.
HR
So it's at Campbell and Cordova?
MK
What was it called? Campbell? Campbell, yeah.
HR
And you'd go up to the top of Hawks to go fishing, you said?
MK
Yeah, fishing, yeah. This is 303. Is this an extension of this area somehow?
HR
I think so, yeah.
MK
Because there were docks and so on here. I remember as a kid ... oh, maybe around here there's a pier. It used to be the BC Sugar Refinery and sugarcanes used to come by sailboats. You'd go and watch the sugarcane being brought from the ship to the sugar refinery.
HR
That would be pretty exciting to watch.
MK
As a kid that was ... Yeah, a lot of the ships were sailboats.
HR
It says it's a railway here. Did the train pass by?
MK
Oh, yeah. The CPR, that was the main ... so around here it was the main say in CP. Canadian Pacific Railway yard and so most of the trains that go east would go along there.
HR
Was it noisy?
MK
Well, we were quite a distance away but I didn't know what it was. I can't remember hearing railway trains but it was the main north-east, west, corridor. The CN tracks would be around here, five blocks south of Hastings. So that would be a very important road, too. But that was just CP.
HR
When you were growing up here, did your parents keep a close eye on you or did you have free reign to ...
MK
Well, yeah we pretty well had free reign. But I remember ... I knew a very very ... mindful of what my parents said “be home at nine o'clock.” In Vancouver, apparently they still have what we call a nine o'clock gun. Every day at nine o'clock just on the east side of Stanley Park a gun would sound at nine o'clock. By golly, we kids would be like this: I'm up to bat and the gun would sound, you drop the bat and go home. We were that mindful of what our parents said. “Be home at nine o'clock” so we came home. During the war, of course, when the curfew started it wasn't a choice. It wasn't optional. We had to be home. We had to be in the house. Once again, it was a silly kind of thing. The curfew dawn to dusk. No, sorry. Dusk to dawn.
01:45:12.000
01:45:12.000
MK
It's rather absolutely stupid in Vancouver because it's so late that you're going to be home. Assuming you leave by nine o'clock and then you can't get out until about eight or nine o'clock but in the summertime it goes in reverse. It's ridiculous. We could be playing out there until nine or ten o'clock.
HR
It would have been much worse for people further north, too laughs.
MK
If I were a Muslim living Iqaluit, what would I do for Ramadan? I can't eat until two o'clock in the morning.
HR
I think they have special rules for ... The other questions I had were about what you remember of when the war started and what you remember of Pearl Harbor in particular.
MK
I remember that day quite well. There was an extra newspaper and I can't remember having went to Sunday school that day. It was quite early in the morning, as I recall, but not super early. I remember quite vividly kids selling newspapers. You know, “read all about it” and that kind of ... you know, what you see in the movies. I remember a boy selling newspapers. It was an extra because we didn't have newspapers on Sundays. The next day, Monday, things were ... you know, nothing untoward. When we went to our elementary school of course you know you have fifty percent Japanese-Canadians there. You know no one is going to pick on you. Japan is at war with Canada or something, but, anyway. It certainly affected us at the Japanese language school because on Monday, the eighth, when we went there it was announced that Japanese school is cancelled.
HR
How soon after did you find out that you had to move?
MK
Oh, gosh. I think it was bang bang bang, very quickly. The order in council was ordered for a curfew for registration and all kinds of things. You know, restrictions were given. I think maybe around February or March the orders came. I think my dad was sent to a road camp, I think it was in March sometime, March of '42. We were one of the last to leave Vancouver for Slocan for the camp there and that was mid October.
HR
That's quite a long time.
MK
Yeah, but a lot of others they left in May.
HR
What do you remember about packing up? Were there particular things you wanted to take with you?
MK
Yeah, but we were only allowed seventy-five pounds for any kid under sixteen and 150 for adults so it was very very limited. I know some of the things that ... mother I know got permission to put it into the basement area into one of the houses around us. Of course, we never saw them again. The house was probably demolished anyway. So we never saw it again.
HR
So that would have been fragile things or ...
MK
Yeah, fragile things. Old Japanese dolls, kimonos, all that kind of stuff. You know, you can't move 150 pounds. I know one of the things that did happen, I'm not so sure the full ramifications of it, but this is the Japanese Powell Street United Church that was attended by Japanese-Canadians.
01:50:07.000
01:50:07.000
MK
I went to Sunday school there and my parents went to service there. A lot of people, because, essentially the church was closed as a service because the minister Reverend Shinizu would have gone to a place called Kaslo. I think he left about May. So the church was virtually empty. I think a lot of the people took their things to store in the church. That church was apparently sold unbeknownst to the people of the ...
HR
The area?
MK
Well, not the area, but even though they were far away the BC Presbytery sold that building to another church, I think. In between the time, I think all the stuff that a lot of people tried to store at that church disappeared. So I don't know what happened. I remember we took some things to a house about a couple doors away from us but what eventually happened to that I don't know.
HR
Did anyone in your family ever try to go back and find things?
MK
Nah.
HR
Yeah, just got to move on.
MK
Just got to move on.
HR
As a kid, did you take mainly clothes or did you have special toys or ...
MK
No, just clothes. Roy was able to take his bicycle. Yeah, he had a bike and he took his bicycle. I don't know how he ... gosh, I couldn't imagine how much a bicycle weighed.
HR
Yeah. Must've had to take it apart.
MK
Yeah, he took his bicycle. That's about it.
HR
And you're mom would have had to leave her sewing machine, I guess?
MK
I guess so. I don't think she took her sewing machine. Yeah, I'm sure of it. Once you get to Slocan where are you going to put it anyway? Yeah, I'm sure she lost her sewing machine and things like washing machines. Most anything electric and day to day.
HR
So then when you were in the camps we started to hear some stories about making that happened ...
MK
Sorry? Making?
HR
Making, like people making furniture, making clothing, or ...
MK
Oh, yeah. Yeah, oh gosh people were very very adapted to making things especially food-stuff from out of nothing practically. They made soy sauce and tofu and all that kind of stuff. It was amazing how much they were able to make virtually out of nothing because they didn't have ingredients for a lot of those things. I don't know how they substituted. They used rice instead of flower. That kind of thing. No, it was quite amazing. They have a fare of some kind and people bring whatever they made. They'd make a lamp out of ... or a vas or something out of a stump of a tree. Oh my god it was quite amazing. They used to have a kabuki type of a play where all the costumes and everything else they made it because they used to bring that kind of stuff from home. Depending on the materials at hand they made backdrops and that kind of stuff. So it's amazing how they adapted to things.
HR
Yeah, a friend of mine spent a long time studying women who were political prisoners in Iran and she came to know lots of stories of women making art out of dough. They would save bits of bread and mix it with water and make it into a moldable dough as a way to keep themselves happy and engaged.
01:55:02.000
01:55:02.000
MK
Yeah, well a lot of that stuff went on too. I remember girls would learn how to make artificial flowers using crane paper in those days. It looked like an artificial flower but, my god, it looked pretty good.
HR
Yeah, it's amazing how adaptable humans can be in really difficult situations.
MK
Somebody would teach the girls how to tat. You know the tatty? It's almost like a lost art. It's an embroidery type of work.
HR
t-a-t?
MK
t-a-t, yeah.
HR
Is it Japanese specific or ...
MK
No, it's British. Yeah, not too many people they don't crochet. It's essentially crochet really except there's some kind of a scroll. Like a pattern. This was the pattern. It's not in the dictionary.
HR
Laughs It's too old even for the dictionary. Maybe it needs to be a British dictionary.
MK
I should go back to Vancouver and look through here because a girl that I knew said that her house was demolished and just an empty lot there. With the housing shortages and the cost of housing I don't know why they don't build because some of these are building lots. So if a lot of these houses along here are gone, I imagine all of these all along here must be gone too.
HR
Yeah, and I get the feeling this part of Vancouver is not really kept up very well.
MK
Yeah and as I've said this area, they call it east ... well kind of ... Vancouver goes way out from here but this is called the East End. Here's Main Street and Hastings. That's where all the drugs and prostitutes and everything else seem to have congregated. It wasn't that bad in my days. There's a church, something like that, the United Church around here. I think they used that church for a lot of the drug ... well, they have things like needle exchanges. I'm not so sure whether that church existed as a church now.
HR
What's it like to see the old map?
MK
Yeah, that's quite the thing and to think that my house was labeled there as 321. As I've said, it doesn't exist there anymore. Night school would be just about here so from there I'd walk probably on Hastings and come up Princess to go to school.
HR
Was there a nice yard around your school?
MK
No. There are three big buildings in the school. Now, the last time I was in there they, I guess the school board or somebody, bought this whole lot here. Our school came from Jackson to Princess and the last time I was there they had purchased all this property so that the ...
HR
So it went over to Hedley?
MK
Yeah, so the school yard was from here, Jackson, right to Hedley and much of this playground. We had three buildings. There's a primary building, a junior building, and the senior building which housed all these specialty things. Well, the office is there. There was a lot of that and coming along today I know Vancouver like the back of my hand and coming along here on Jackson here and Pender here. Well, if I were on Pender which is on the next street south of Hastings I could go right to Stanley Park. I go on and the road is closed and something else.
HR
Yeah laughing. Maps change and people do construction. Well, I think that's all of the questions I had. silence 02:01:08 – 02:03:22
02:03:22.000

Metadata

Title

Peter Kurita, interviewed by Heather Read, 27 July 2015 (2 of 2)

Abstract

Peter begins the interview by describing his numerous visits to Japan, what they were like, and whether he ‘sensed’ the Second World War history when he was there. He shows Heather images of the various small communities which existed in Vancouver before he relocated to Ontario. During the interview, Heather provides a map which Peter uses to point out and explain the significance of the different places in Vancouver he remembers. Peter describes how he was educated by missionaries while he stayed with his family in the internment camps and goes into detail about his desire to assimilate and become as Canadian as possible after the war’s end. He reflects on his childhood friends and what they used to do together. Near the end of the interview, Peter tells Heather what he remembers when the war broke out and of Pearl Harbor in particular.

Credits

Interviewer: Heather Read
Interviewee: Peter Kurita
XML Encoder: Stewart Arneil
Publication Information: See Terms of Use for publication and licensing information.
Setting: Peter Kurita’s Home
Keywords: Port Harvey; Canadian Pacific Railway ; Campbell River ; Vancouver ; Japan ; BC Ferries; Kaslo ; Kootenay ; Slocan ; Nelson ; Concentration Camp; Hell’s Gate; Fraser River ; Butchart Garden; Powell Street ; Hastings; Cordova ; Hawks Avenue; Strathcona School; Willowdale; Riverdale; Ontario ; Japanese Powell Street United Church; Order in Council; Pender; Stanley Park; 1940s – 1990s

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.