Mike Lascelle, interviewed by Rebeca Salas, 21 June 2016

Mike Lascelle, interviewed by Rebeca Salas, 21 June 2016

Abstract
Mike Lascelle is a Maple Ridge resident and longtime gardener. He shares the story passed down from his grandmother and mother, in which they witnessed the forced removal of a family of Japanese descent from a US Military Base in Prince Rupert. His family, by order of the military, moved into the home. Mike shares that his grandmother and mother were gifted items from the family. He shares that during this time, his own family experienced racial discrimination due to their Germanic heritage. Mike’s unique perspective as an expert gardener and passionate learner allows him to share information regarding how the landscape has and may have changed over time after the removal of Japanese Canadians from the Port Haney area. He describes the fruit, vegetables, and trees Japanese Canadians planted in the area, of which some species still stubbornly remain. He identifies the former success of Japanese Canadians in the agricultural industry and speculates how the area may look if they were to remain (upon prompt by the interviewer). Lastly, Mike shares insight regarding why it is important to share stories of such historical injustices.
00:00:00.000
Rebeca Salas (RS)
This is Rebeca Salas with Mike Lascelle in Maple Ridge on June 21, 2016 with Landscapes of Injustice. So, Mike, why don’t we start with the earliest point of your family history and then move forward?
Mike Lascelle (ML)
In regards to?
RS
To the story that you have about the relationship with the Japanese Canadian community.
ML
Oh! It was a story ... I, probably in my late twenties, early thirties, took an interest in family history. And my grandmother lived a very interesting life. Her and her husband moved around a great deal. They lived up in Alaska when the Alaska Highway was being built and moved around all the time. So, she has some very cool stories. But, they were transferred once ... my grandfather – even though he was Austro-Hungarian – he actually worked for the US Military in Prince Rupert. So, he moved to get a job there. He applied for a job he wasn’t qualified for. It was building sailboats in case the Aleutian Islands were invaded by the Japanese. So, they wanted quiet boats to be able to sail out for a counter attack. So, that’s what I was told his job was. So, they were given quarters there. They basically, at that time, I guess the military – American in cooperation with Canadian Forces – took residences to make quarters out of them. So, when they got there to this home or residence a Japanese family was being evicted at the time and they didn’t expect it. They had no idea that this was going to occur. Again, they were stationed there. They were told where they were going to live. They actually did share the home with another family, too. So, there was a lot of living space there at the time. So, my grandmother told me the story of how she watched the family - the husband was a lawyer, well established, the grandmother, and it must have been the daughter or something but my mom might know a little bit better – and how they were crying and how the grandmother said in Japanese, which the father translated, “Why are you doing this to us?” And yet they had the dignity to give them gifts. A Chinese doll and different things, which I’m sure took everyone aback, you know? And then, of course, once they’d moved in you’d find all these hints, you know, those ghosts of the people who used to live there. Buried sake jars in the garden, left to cure because we don’t know how sudden they were moved out of the house. Fish floats, all the berries and fruits that they had planted, you know? And I could see that impact for many years with my grandmother. Her home often had an Asian theme. She was just interested in life and things. So, yeah, that’s how I came across that story. When she got older, again, I was researching the family history. You’d hear snippets of stories and you’d just sit them down to ask, “Okay, what’s the whole story, here?” And that’s about all I have in regards to that.
RS
So, it was on your end ... it was you investigating rather than your family talking about it?
ML
It was talked about, but you know, a lot of things happened during the war, which shouldn’t have happened. My grandfather, being Austro-Hungarian - or some people perceived as German – they even had a swastika burned in their front lawn of that very house. And my grandmother did tell that she wasn’t always welcomed into every social circle because she came from an English background. Because of her Germanic husband, who really had no sympathies at all for Germany proper at the time, although he did serve in WWI for the Austria-Hungarian Empire in the air force. So, yeah I suppose there were good and bad memories, you know? And you don’t always talk about the bad things. But, you know, they obviously had an impact.
00:05:13.000
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RS
So, were you told much about what the - so there’s this one house that you were talking about – what was the neighbourhood or the properties like? And the relationships between the people that were there?
ML
I know very little beyond being in close quarters. My mom would know the name ... it was awkward. You’re sharing a small home, I’m assuming it wasn’t very large, with a family. You’re living very close to a military installation. The only other stories I have in regards to that are basically they must’ve lived very close to the army base because they would see MPs, there would be drunk sailors showing up at the front doorstep having to be hauled away. So, you know, it was, I think ... Prince Rupert at the time was a boom town because of the war effort. Little pioneer town to a naval station, you know, an important naval station. So, as far as the actual neighbourhood I think my mom might know ... although she was really young at the time.
RS
So, there was just the one Japanese Canadian family that she remembers? Or ...
ML
I don’t know what the community was like there. That’s the only context I have. The one family and you can imagine, you know, you’re moving in and you’re being told this is where you’re going to live and here’s the people who own the house, lived in this community, you know ... Canadian citizens, I’m assuming. I’m quite sure they were. Having to move out for someone who’s just moved into town and is taking a job, you know? Exhales It’s a pretty tough situation for both parties because my grandmother was a very tolerant person. She grew up with lots of indigenous people in Alaska and the Yukon Territory. So, you could see there are lots of stories, but that’s one I did hear once in a while.
RS
Did your family ever talk about the difference after the uprooting? What it was it was like after the Japanese Canadians were asked to leave?
ML
Again, because they were newcomers to that town, I don’t know that they ever did or whether they could have a proper perspective, given the fact that they’re moving down from Alaska down to Prince Rupert. So, no. I don’t think ... I think I’s just the one incident and you’re just right in the thick of it, given you’re just crossing paths very briefly. But, you know, it was obviously a difficult thing to go through.
RS
I wondered if any of the kids had gone to school together or if there was a school there?
ML
Again, my mom was very, very young. She’s the oldest, so I don’t think so. So, we’re getting this ... as the context would be a very young couple ... my grandparents, with my mom being really young and I don’t think her siblings were born yet. So, I don’t think school was in the works at that time.
RS
Has this story of Prince Rupert lead to you learn more about the Japanese Canadian community in different ways?
ML
Yeah, I mean it makes you think ... well, especially here with Val – the local Val Patenaude, the local curator – she’s really good about this. I used to work on two estates in Whonnock. So, there’s what’s called the “Whittle Estate”, which has been there since the 1930s, and the “Walsh Estate”, which is newer. But, they’re large properties. Forty acres proper. But, I was given to understand one time that was - with maybe the exception of the Whittle Estate – was all Japanese land, where they were running mills and running very successful businesses. Beit horticulture, growing berries, and running them right off the line, and apples straight into Vancouver - because the railway line was right next to Whonnock – or lumber, you know? And these were successful business people in their time and you get the inkling that internment wasn’t always just about them being afraid about Japanese people, but maybe, some people thinking well, “Here’s a great business.” I mean, things were supposed to – if I’m not mistaken – things were supposed to be just held in trust and then because they saw the decline of the business and the houses, they just went and sold them.
00:10:13.000
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ML
So, you know, what was probably an entirely Japanese community – Whonnock – is now ... well, I have a couple of friends out there who are of Japanese descent – but, other than that, I would call it – for lack of a better word – a primarily Caucasian community laughs. Not that it’s racist in anyway, that’s just the way it’s evolved. And you know, stories where Val would tell me about ... we have a local pub that used to be a Buddhist Temple at one time. And we have a rich history. The Japanese were well-established here. They were - even though the times kept them separate ... they had separate schools and separate churches and things like that - they were an integral part of this community until internment occurred. So, you just wonder sometimes what this community would look like if that never happened. You know, it would be entirely different.
RS
So, was this the Maple Ridge Museum Curator that told you about the school and how the children were not allowed to go to school with each other?
ML
She showed me some photos. So, I am making an assumption. It showed Japanese children with a Japanese teacher and I’m sure she’ll be able to inform you much better than myself. But, segregated schools - we think Canada’s such a multicultural place – but they were there. You know. Indigenous people weren’t allowed to go to public schools until, what? Terrible ... ’60s sometime, you know? So, if you really look back we are not as tolerant as people perceive us to be. You know, maybe not so overtly racist, but yeah.
RS
So, the estates that you’re referring to, those are mostly in the Whonnock area?
ML
Pretty well, strictly the heart of Whonnock, right up 272nd. The Whittle Estate is, again, very old. Franklin Eleanor Roosevelt spent time recovering there. Not many people know it’s there. There’s a very lovely old Post Office at the bottom, it’s a heritage building. It’s been there since ... Val will tell you. But, you can tell just by looking at it. They won’t let them tear it down, it’s too cute both laugh. And the Walsh Estate is just around the corner. It’s probably not called that anymore ... the former owner. But, he used to be one of the Board of Governors of Van Dusen Gardens. And on the Whittle Estate, a lot of the Rhododendrons for Van Dusen Gardens were actually propagated at the Whittle Estate. And then you hear little stories, like I had a friend Win Humfeld, the gardener who lives there, I remember him commenting how wherever there was a Japanese farm you’ll find a Butternut, which was what I put in the article. “Juglans Cinerea”, which is kind of a strange looking walnut with heart-shaped fruit. Or you’ll see Japanese butterbur. “Petasites” it’s called. It looks like a giant rhubarb but it was an herb crop, they cook the stems. And, you know, they’re both laughs pernicious plants. One just grows like a weed and the other one, the grey squirrels plant new nuts everywhere, so they’re all over the place! And you can see those plants are evident everywhere in the community and in the periphery of Maple Ridge you see them, too. And they’re spreading vis-a-vis the grey squirrels.
RS
So, would you say that after the uprooting and after this change in demographic – from a large Japanese Canadian community to primarily Caucasian community – there was a definitely a change in people ... but the plants and sort of the landscape, is sort of where your perspective comes in as a gardener?
ML
Yeah, well you can see that they were really successful market gardeners. Incredibly successful. And I know they also had lumber businesses. But, again, that produce was being shipped directly to Vancouver. I mean, there were ... there’s been orchards there since the 1920s, maybe not always Japanese ... but the berry crops, most definitely. And again, I’m sure Val’s going to be able to help you out with that a lot better than I can. So, these were successful businesses. This wasn’t a marginal community. They were a thriving, growing community. I mean, you have to be if you can build your own schools, build your own temple, you know? I’m sure it changed substantially, although how it would impact the core of Haney or the town, it may not, you know? I’m not entirely sure.
00:15:21.000
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RS
But the plants remain, which is really interesting.
ML
Yeah! There’s always something. I mean, I’ll give you another good story. It doesn’t affect here ... my grandmother, who’s just an interesting person, she loved to dig around railways. She’d find where the old Chinese camps were. She’d find the old – not a great thing to say – but the old opium vials and the pipes, and you know, where they lived and what they had to do to get through some pretty hard work. I mean, many Chinese workers died here building this railway line, you know? And thousands through the course. And that community wasn’t welcomed at all. They just lived in tents and they had to go when it was done. Whereas the Japanese community found some roots and really thrived here.
RS
So, where was your grandmother looking?
ML
Oh, it was probably in the Okanagan. She grew up in Vancouver, so on Victoria Street I got to see her little house before they tore it down in the '30s. So, they were poor and she married my grandfather and then they moved up north right away. So, basically they were up there building the Alaskan highway, through the Yukon, through Alaska, and then traveled down to Prince Rupert and then retired in the Okanagan. So, I believe it’s some of the railway near the Okanagan that she found them. And yeah her house was full of fossils, full of architecture ... finds, you know? Yeah, she was great. She was a great person.
RS
Speaking of objects in the home – these items that were essentially found and also with the doll gifted – what ever happened to those objects?
ML
I know they had them. I don’t know if they’re still in their hands. My mom would know better. Fish floats, they were in my grandmother’s garden until she passed away. I might have one upstairs. Whether it’s the original one – because the original ones were fairly large – and you can see they were glass, of course. But I think my mom would know better. But, the impact ... you can just see the core of ... even my mom has a little oriental flare, too laughs.
RS
Does she?
ML
Yeah, and aboriginal because, again, they spent a lot of time up north.
RS
Is it mainly in the way she decorates her home? Or ...
ML
Well with my mom, particularly with the – I have to be fair, more aboriginal – when I was young there were carved oriental statues. Lots of them. She collected them. So, I’m sure that’s kind of where it came from. Or, you know, maybe I’m wrong and it’s just that was the style or the fad at the time. But, you know, what you do in life, what you’re exposed to, it usually affects you in some way.
RS
Mhm. What has it been like for you to look into this family history, and even recently, talking to your mother about it? How does that feel on your end?
ML
It’s good. I want my ... I have three daughters and I really want them to know. I find the most interesting part of family history is not in the lineage per se. But, the stories. Stories are the great part, you know? Because it tells you how it affected that person. So, it’s all good. But, you’re right. You get different perspectives. I just saw my brother for the first in a long time and we were talking about my dad and boy ... different, different perspectives, right? It’s the same dad. It’s the same stories. They come out a little different.
RS
How so?
ML
Oh, I guess being the oldest, maybe you just take in more. But the oral history is really important. I think there’s just more meat on the bones as far as real history is concerned. Because even when I write it down for our family history, something’s lost, right? You’re confining yourself to space sometimes. Little tangents you’ve had before don’t always find their way to paper.
RS
Right, right. How important do you think it is to know about the history in Port Haney, Pitt Meadows, Maple Ridge? I suppose from your own perspective when you started learning about when the Japanese Canadian community was here and what happened ...
00:20:30.000
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ML
It’s important for a couple different reasons. Right now, with the real estate boom, there’s a little pushback to Asian cultures and buying, you know? Which is unfortunate. But, you hear comments like, “They’re buying up our land,” which again, it’s equal for everyone. But, I think if the people who said that knew a little bit more about what actually occurred in the past - and that this would be a very different city demographically had there not been internment – then you know, maybe they’d be a little more hesitant to say those things. It would be nice to think they wouldn’t think those things, but that’s not always possible.
RS
Can you tell me a little bit more about your perspective on the ... landscapes, I guess? You spoke about some specific plants that show evidence that the Japanese Canadians were here. Do you think that – so those, it sort of seems like you said, “weeds” – do you think that things would have looked different? Or ...
ML
Well, I’m just doing a book now. A book deal for edible ornamentals. And I’m pondering whether to put the Japanese Butterbur in there because it’s a great plant. I mean, it’s going to give you more than you can ever eat. It’s very aggressive. But, there’s no mistaking it. It’s like giant rhubarb on steroids. So, you know, I go cycling and my old cycling route - where we used to live - it would take me by, I think, what used to be part Japanese community and you can just see the vague patch that used to be butterbur. Just left there. And it’s not going to go away. The slugs love it, it’s chewed up to bits, but it’s going to come back bigger and better every year. And again, the Juglans Cinerea or the Butternut, it’s growing all over the place. At work, my boss has given up on trying to pull the seedlings out. He’s decided to pot them up and sell them laughs. So that’s persistence laughs. And then the other tree which is less common but was still seen was the Empress Tree, which I don’t know what the significance was. It was an ornamental - “Paulownia tomentosa” – it was a beautiful tree with purple flowers that look like Fox Gloves and huge leaves. But, it definitely was planted in those communities and had some sort of significance. I’m just not sure what that is. So, those are the tree that I’m aware of. And what along ... if you know Whonnock, it was nothing but forest and bush. So, basically the Japanese turned these into farms, you know? And that’s a heck of a lot of work! It’s sloped. It’s difficult ground to work with. And they turned them into productive berry fields and so what was just forest was taken away as farmland. They definitely had an impact that way. It was a better place when they left, you know? We can at least say that.
RS
Right. And then did it change over to, I guess, commercial type or industrial ...
ML
Yeah, Whonnock is a bit of a bedroom community. I believe other interests took over the berry farms. Again, Val will be able to inform you about that. I think it’s a bit of a sensitive topic sometimes because I think our people related to people who took over those farms that probably wouldn’t want to talk too much about those things. And they’re still here. And I can understand that we’re not responsible for our parents’ or grandparents’ decisions. But, still. There’s something there, you know? You know, there must be a feeling that, “I didn’t really deserve this.” Because things were not sold for top dollar and even when they were sold I believe all the funds just went to the crown. So, yeah. You know, it’s not like they were given the money and they had a nest egg that they could use when they were let out of internment. And even then, they were told where to live.
00:25:29.000
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ML
But, you still hear about it. I mean, I was just listening to CBC radio. Mike McCartell – he was interviewing a Japanese woman who had been interned. Just bumped into her, she was just having a happy day and the conversation came up. So, it’s obviously still important to those people who experienced it. She said, on the radio, that she experienced it as a child and it wasn’t as hard on her but she could see on her parents ... it was devastating. Because these were people who worked hard. There was no easy living back then. To thrive, you had to work hard. And that’s it. And they did. And they did thrive. And it was all taken away.
RS
Speaking to this generation gap and how people speak about things, what were some of the first things that your mom spoke about when you called her up about this project?
ML
Well, my mom is a private – when I broached the subject I was more worried about – she’s a private person. That’s just the way she is. My grandmother on the other hand was a big ... she was a storyteller. She kept all the stories, kept all the photos, kept the family. It wasn’t organized, but it was there. She knew what it was and she could tell you. So, I was quite pleasantly surprised. I was quite open to it. I’m glad. Again, she said, “I was just young at the time. I mostly know through the story that my mom told me.” But I’m sure she will be able to give you a better context or at least a better perspective.
RS
And have you spoken to your kids about it?
ML
Yeah, my kids know about it. I mean, I put together a bound family history. Everyone has it in my family, except my immediate family because I’m just putting a few extra things in there. So, that story is in there along with all the stories of Alaska and everything else. Again, mostly oral stories that I put down. They have the family history, too, and that’s fine. But, dates and names, they don’t mean a heck of a lot. It’s nice to know where you come from, but if you can hear the stories of what people experienced you get a better picture of why they are who they are.
RS
And if you could say, you know, anything about this story of the Japanese Canadian community to anybody what would you say? I guess, surrounding it’s importance but also just your own opinion.
ML
Yeah, I think ... again, I think it’s really important that we bring this back now. I’ve been a gardener for many years. I can remember back in the '80s when Hong Kong was closing down and a lot of people were buying properties in the British properties. And the Caucasians there were not happy about it. And even out here, many people of Asian descent here had to come out here to Pitt Meadows to play laughs – it sounds silly – to play golf. Because the golf courses on the North Shore were “closed” or “there weren’t any openings”. So, we’re seeing that a little bit with the current hot real estate market. And it is very focused complaints about the Asian community. I just think it’s not the whole story, you know? Really, it’s just oversimplified. And again, we have to go into Vancouver to see Chinatown and other places. And we celebrate those places now. But, at one time they were forced to live in that little part of that town. It became what it became because people ... that’s the way their lives were dictated. And we celebrate it now, but we don’t know about some of the things that Chinese Canadians, Japanese Canadians had to go through.
00:30:03.000
00:30:03.000
ML
I can remember hearing stories of Chilliwack – I’m not sure if it was a Japanese community - that was razed to the ground. They burned it. Where the old York Factory - the fruit and vegetable factory - was. You just get little inklings of ... and all that was provided was, “Well, that’s what used to be here.” So, I think it’s important we tell the story, you know? We’re trying to make reparations for the past ... apologizing to the Sikh community and the East Indian community for the Komagata Maru and things like that. And the Japanese thing is almost way late, it’s almost ... we don’t think about it on the same terms. It was a pretty horrific thing, you know? And wasn’t just Japanese people. Some Italian people, I believe some Ukrainian people, there was interment that happened to other classes and other races. And we can’t always make it right. I don’t think we could ever make it right. But, at least we can teach kids, “Okay, this is what Canada was like in 1943, ’44, ’45. Wasn’t great. There were reasons, but the thinking was flawed, obviously, and people suffered for it.” So, that’s the best way for us to avoid that mistake in the future. To know exactly what went on in the past.
RS
Do you think a big part of that comes from your family? You were talking about your family had experienced discrimination as well.
ML
Yeah, my grandfather ... you know, it was harder on my grandmother than it was on my grandfather. He was a pretty gregarious person. His Germanic stoic-ness got him through it both laugh. To be fair – I mean, doesn’t matter now – she came from English parents, they didn’t exactly approve of marrying an older guy who was older than her. That’s why he served in World War One. He was much older than her. Yes. That stuff was there throughout the years. It probably dissipated throughout the '50s when the memories of the war and things like that went away. But during the war years and immediately after, it was hard on her because she certainly wasn’t welcomed to certain social circles and she’s not the sort of ambitious person that would want to be in ... but she certainly knew a snub when she felt it. And she was really a very nice person, you know.
RS
Is there anything else, any special stories that you have or any other opinions that you feel you wanted to share with the project at all? Or anything that has been on your mind?
ML
No, I’m glad you’re doing it. It’s nice to hear. And you know, I have Japanese Canadian friends if you wanted to find anything. You hesitate to ask what they went through because you don’t know. You don’t know if it’s your business, you know? It’s one of those things. It’s easy for me to speak about this because I didn’t go through it. But, if I went through it, I don’t know if I’d want to speak about it. Or maybe I would, I don’t know. You know, it’s an entirely different thing, to speak about it from an outside view. But, it’s important work and, I think, just a bit neglected as far as our history is concerned. That’s it.
RS
Well I appreciate your family’s perspective and you passing down the stories of your grandmother and your mother as well. And if that’s all you have for today, I think we’ll end it there.
ML
Good, thank you for very much.
RS
Thank you so much.
00:34:30.000

Metadata

Title

Mike Lascelle, interviewed by Rebeca Salas, 21 June 2016

Abstract

Mike Lascelle is a Maple Ridge resident and longtime gardener. He shares the story passed down from his grandmother and mother, in which they witnessed the forced removal of a family of Japanese descent from a US Military Base in Prince Rupert. His family, by order of the military, moved into the home. Mike shares that his grandmother and mother were gifted items from the family. He shares that during this time, his own family experienced racial discrimination due to their Germanic heritage. Mike’s unique perspective as an expert gardener and passionate learner allows him to share information regarding how the landscape has and may have changed over time after the removal of Japanese Canadians from the Port Haney area. He describes the fruit, vegetables, and trees Japanese Canadians planted in the area, of which some species still stubbornly remain. He identifies the former success of Japanese Canadians in the agricultural industry and speculates how the area may look if they were to remain (upon prompt by the interviewer). Lastly, Mike shares insight regarding why it is important to share stories of such historical injustices.

Credits

Interviewer: Rebeca Salas
Interviewee: Mike Lascelle
XML Encoder: Stewart Arneil
Publication Information: See Terms of Use for publication and licensing information.
Setting: Maple Ridge
Keywords: Haney ; Maple Ridge ; Whonnock ; Pitt Meadows ; Alaska ; Naval Base; Gardening; Landscape; 1940-2016

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.