Ken Nishibata, interviewed by Erin Yaremko, 02 September 2015

Ken Nishibata, interviewed by Erin Yaremko, 02 September 2015

Abstract
The interview begins with Ken mentally walking us through parts of his childhood. Through this he discusses home, school and his community. Through discussing his home, Ken gives a detailed description of his home in Steveston. He then describes the streets and businesses within his community. When discussing his early years in school Ken describes racism and mixed race friendships on the school ground. Ken is later prompted by the interviewer to discuss his family life in more detail. Through mentally walking us through different subjects Ken seems to always come back to the timeline of the internment.
00:00:00.000
Erin Yaremko (EY)
Today is September 2nd, 2015, my name is Erin Yaremko and I am here with Ken Nishibata. We are in Winnipeg, Manitoba and we are interviewing for Landscapes of Injustice Research. Can you start by telling me about your childhood, and growing up in Steveston?
Ken Nishibata (KN)
What a very ought to say as far as I know when we were in BC my very protected, and I'm sure a very loving family. I don't recall any bad things that happened in our family and ... until very close to maybeeee before moving evacuation. Everything seems to be good, we were not deprived that much. I think maybe other families were at that time, I'm not sure this was just the past well what you call... what's that period.. the depression they had depression at that time but we seemed to be fairly well looked after. And growing up those are the days maybe the parents would have had a tougher time but for me everything seemed to be very good, you know I don't recall anything bad that happened. So...
EY
Do you remember school and going to school in Steveston?
KN
Yup, ph yeah school in Steveston I went from um grade one until grade 5, 1942 grade five when we had to well we just stopped going to school I guess we were, school ended for us sometime I would think in February of 42. But the teachers were they were good. Especially the one I remem-ber in grade five it was a male teacher, by the name of Williams. And was all our class was all boys, grade five at that time and the man was very good, he was very nice and going to school had there could have been some discrimination but we didn't see it you know? .... Most of the students were oh I'd say 80 percent were of Japanese background in Steveston at that time. So in fact we even spoke Japanese in the school ground kay. And that was I remember must have been around that time we were told that we cannot speak Japanese in and around the school but we still did and I remember ... being brought up to the principal's office and we all got a strapping in those days right, strap? But that didn't you know deter us from stopping to speak Japanese because it was our main language you know. So yeah everything seemed to have been good. I had no problems in school, I don't remember any fights in school things like that so yup. Going to school was good.
EY
Did you go to a mixed school then?
KN
Mixed school which way do you mean?
EY
It wasn't segregated? So there was Japanese...
KN
Racially?
EY
Yes, racially.
KN
We were not segregated no, because there were because in lulu island was lord binge school and it drew people from quite away, sea island, because many of the kids came from bus so I know they came from sea island. No I don't think no we were not segregated. No. Maybe years before that when my older siblings were going, could have been segregated. But no.
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EY
Pause. Do you remember, growing up... with friends who were non Japanese?
KN
we weren't real real friends but there were friends in school because like I said 80 percent of the kids were of Japanese background so how often would you you'd play sports together but there wasn't that many non Japanese in that particular school but no we would play with them play sports with them, I don't recall going to their houses or things like that but in school we mixed.
EY
Can we discuss your home growing up in Steveston?
KN
I'm sorry?
EY
Can we discuss your home growing up in Steveston?
KN
Ok, the building itself, was naturally there was no second floor because most of the homes in Ste-veston were one level and there was no basement. There had been odd houses, odd house with basement but I'd say 99% of the houses had no basement and I think that was because of the low level the water level was fairly high there so I said before you'd dig a little bit, maybe a foot into the ground you'd have water coming up. Our house wasn't...a typical so called home in Steveston at the time because most of the people lived in what they called cannery house, built by the Cameron cannery owners and they lacked a lot of thing I would think but we who lived near the town, actu-ally it was one block away from the main street in Steveston, we didn't have any outhouse we didn't have any running toilets.. what would you say what would you say that, we had running wa-ter but there was ...
EY
No plumbing?
KN
No was it called plumbing? Toilets and things, okay we didn't have that we had outhouses but we had running water. Electricity, things like that we had. It wasn't like in Manitoba when we first came there was no running water no electricity and the temperature wouldn't be much warmer we didn't need that thick of insulation in fact I don't think there was any insulation in the wall, as there was in Steveston at that time. Today they probably would be all insulated. The weather in Ste-veston was very moderate temperate so we didn't need all that. Wooden stoves, there was all wooden stoves. I guess you call those pot belly stoves for heating the living room and naturally kitchen stoves were wooden stoves right. ... I want to say we had two one large bedroom with two large beds in there and there was another fair sized bedroom with another bed. We didn't have like one person, two person in a room like we would have here kids would sleep two in a bed, they would have their own rooms right. Here now, but not in those days they wouldn't have because it was a large family. Pause. What else can I tell you?
00:10:02.000
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EY
Do you remember the yard and your neighbor's homes?
KN
The yards... we had just a little bit of grassy area in the front but mainly in the back was mostly all vegetables, things like that it was a fairly large backyard with all kinds of vegetables. I do remem-ber one time my father made a little run to keep a few chickens in the back, they had a lot of that in those days just to have a few eggs and what not but that didn't last too long. Like I said before my neighbor had a large yard and like an orchard but that was not for commercial use that was I guess when they were for home and they had a large home and a big yard with a large orchard but ours was more for groceries I mean more for vegetables and things like that. Apple tree, one apple tree but other than that it was all vegetables. What else can I tell you about... Not much else hey, when you don't have
EY
Do you remember what was down your front street?
KN
My front street?
EY
Was it busy? Was it...
KN
My front street I imagine was sort of a not paved road like what we have today it probably was like a more like an asphalt road that lead to we had a ferry that ran from this is just here in the summer-time, we had a ferry running from at that time Steveston to it could have been to Sydney I'm not sure it wasn't Victoria I'm sure. The traffic was fairly busy and I remember Sunday nights it used to be fairly busy I remember all of these at that time, to me today it's not fancy but there were nice cars, convertible, the old type and they would come I think it was a Luke's Anglican church, was that Anglican, Luke's? And there'll be all lines up in front of our house because the church was kitty corner from where I lived so yeah it was fairly busy that day but during the day no.
EY
What were the streets within your area?
KN
Streets? Well there was no sidewalk in front of our house, only thing was the road was there and I crossed our road on the other side and I think it was like a not a sidewalk but sort of being built a cinder road a cinder sidewalk I think it was cinder, you know what cinders are? Its burnt ashes or cold ashes, just to keep it from getting muddy I suppose. That's how it was very simple.
EY
Do you remember the names of the streets in your area?
KN
Uh, only two streets that I do remember is like I said Moncton which was the main drag in town Steveston and our street was Chatham. And the road that went I would say perpendicular to those were numbered, numbers 4th avenue I think, 5th avenue whatever they were numbered. And the number one road which was the one, one of the main roads that went to Vancouver was about three blocks away from us, that number one road still goes right into the town of Main part of Ste-veston today. The main drag like the number one the number two, they were like a through streets right, that led onto tour Vancouver, number one, two three, four, five. Something like there.
EY
Do you remember the businesses that were in your area?
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KN
Like small businesses? There used to be a back lane from our house near Chatham to going right into Moncton street and yeah there was a blacksmith shop, what other businesses around there? Garage on Moncton, there were many candy stores and department stores oh basically I guess you would call department stores I don't know if they sold any clothing. Uh.. certain food, utensils, dress shops, a few pool halls you know. Because that's what they usually do in the winter time when the fishermen weren't working they'd be shootin' pool or playing cards I imagine. There was no main businesses as such I don't think, no manufacturing, boat builders, there was a couple of I think two or three boat builders. No other then canneries, I guess that was the main industry was canning, salmon, herring, things like that but no other then businesses that's about all. There was lots of small stores, like confectionary stores.
EY
Going onto a different subject, did you want to tell me a little more about our family? About your mother and your father?
KN
Well my mother was a homemaker, my father was a fisherman, my sisters they were going to school until close to 1942, just prior to the evacuation maybe two years before that. I know one of my sisters went to work in New Westminster in the cannery there. My second eldest sister I guess at that time she would have been in high school, you know they all went to school in fact I think she was taking up commercial, at Richmond high or whatever it was called near Marlpool. I think it was Richmond, I've heard of Richmond high. They used to take the tram back and forth. And the rest you know, I had another sister older than me just a little bit older and I imagine she must have started high school, probably started grade seven or so at that time but I don't remember. And then myself I was in grade five, Lord Bing. I think my younger sister could have just started grade one there, she could have and the other two were the other two brothers were not in school at that time. Yeah we most of us went to Japanese school after I think I know after our regular English schools because I guess the parents wanted us to retain or learn some Japanese but I didn't like it. So I dunno I didn't do very well I think I had grade one Japanese and grade two I don't think at that time I think it might have been 1942 or 1941 and it ended there so I didn't get that much Japanese schooling. That's about all.
EY
What, are there certain things you remember distinctly about your mother? Her name? What she would have done around the home?
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KN
Well I do remember with my mother I remember being with her sitting by the side and during the day the older siblings were at school and I remember sitting with her she'd be doing knitting or whatever chores around the kitchen. And I'd be sitting there and I still remember vividly my moth-er. My father like I say he was away a long time. So I don't....I know he used to take me places when he was in town, but most of the time he was away doing things together not that much with my father, together like today we spent a lot of times with our grandchildren and play with them. Maybe it was just being I dunno Japanese, they didn't do that kind of thing that much, I dunno. They didn't play with us like we would play with our kids you know. I would say they were very disciplinarians, right? Yeah they cared for you and they looked after you. Ha ha ha... Long pause
EY
What do you remember most about your siblings? And can you tell me a little more about them and maybe...
KN
Well the older ones, I had three older siblings they were all girls. So they sort of watched out for me, but I didn't play with them I guess just being that they were girls and my next one below me was my youngest sister and I guess we didn't bother too much with sisters I dunno for some rea-son and the other two were younger boys and they were quite a few years spread between myself and my younger boys, brothers, so we didn't really play as such. I was the first male in my family born, so no I didn't spend too much time playing with them yeah around the house we used to play with the girls and my sisters but then they used to play, what did they used to play? Playing house, whatever you know I don't really take too much part in it I don't think being a boy. Spend more time with my neighbour's boys, you know, go to their house in the morning and then come home for lunch and go out again. We were always always busy boys were always busy, especially in the summertime we had something to do all the time. Nothing that you had to spend money on but we played and played and played.
EY
Are there certain objects that you remember in your early life? So did you have any toys or any things that your parents would have had from their parents?
KN
No, from their parents? No. None of those things. Toys we made on our own, little things you know oh we made little tanks and things like that in fact today you can get a spool and spread a spool from the thread and you can make a little tanks from that with an elastic and little piece of wood and we used to play with that. Get another guy and we'd have a little battle and things like that. You know we make things to play with, even yoyos and all the yoyos we used to make at home. We didn't buy too many things toy wise.
EY
Are there certain things you remember your parents having in the home? Maybe furniture they would have made or bought or plates?
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KN
No, I really don't then kitchen furniture's, we didn't have the fancy furniture for sure, not too many people did in those days I remember because even my neighbors were the same way they had your kitchen table type of thing, and chairs, wooden chairs, but we didn't have any fancy furniture's. I don't recall that many people having any fancy furniture's.
EY
Do you remember your parents hiding any items before going to be interned?
KN
I believe they did hide things but I don't remember exactly where? They may have dug and put something underground, they may have I think they did put some things underground because they were thinking they would be back maybe within half a year or so so they could retrieve it. But I really don't know where all the goods went to because I know there were dishes and things, they had fancy dishes and things like that they had were not bought with them because they were too heavy. We just didn't have the capacity we were just allowed so many pounds so they were left back somewhere. But I do know my mother brought with her her old singer sewing machine. She brought that with her back here and other then that that was the only thing she brought with her other then beddings and things.
EY
Can you tell me about the beginning of World War II, do you remember it as a child?
KN
No not really, I heard about it. I vaguely remember, only thing I remember from that was that were was curfew, lights were out at I dunno what time it was six o clock or whatever it was. And the blinds were down in fact we had some tarp paper that were put on against the wall as a double pre-caution to keep the light from the inside showing outside. I think the fear was that there was some enemy planes or Japanese planes or whatever and that sort of thing. But I think that applied to all citizens in Steveston, not just the Japanese. But we I know the curfews were only probably just for the Japanese Canadian. We had to be in the house by such and such a time.
EY
How old were you when the Japanese Canadian community was uprooted?
KN
Eleven year old, Eleven? 1942... 1942. Eleven years old. Not quite in fact, 42, I wasn't even 11 al-most. This was in February when we were uprooted from the BC coast and my birthday is in May so yeah I was 10, almost 11. 1942.
EY
What do you remember about leaving your home and moving into a new one?
KN
I don't... all I remember is that we got a house and first thing I know I was at the place where they brought these railway cars, I don't know how many there were. Normally that was ... used for the tram from Steveston to Vancouver so just the one tram. But I know that this somehow it must have backed up on an actual train came and brought about four or five railway cars. That's what I remember, that day.
EY
So where were you moved when the internment occurred? Where did you go?
00:30:06.000
00:30:06.000
KN
We came directly to Winnipeg and I don't exactly remember it was sometime in probably April. And that was in Winnipeg and we stayed at the so called immigration fall which was beside the CPR hotel the CPR rail station. And maybe before my birthday we were picked up by the farmer and we all headed out to Emerson.
EY
In what ways did the uprooting change every day life for your family? How was life changed by moving to the Sugar beet farm?
KN
Well, I know my mother had to work my father had to work, all my sisters. I was of the siblings, all the my sisters were all older than me but then I was I just turned, well actually I turned 11 May the fourth. So all the elder ones and my sister and the next sibling to me was I think two years old-er and maybe the next one was 14, 15 they all had to work in the sugar beet farm, sugar beet. And my mother too, and so you know it was quite different. We all had to get up early in the morning, cook and all that. Make food prepared for the whole day out in the field, so and my sisters helped too. So it was very very different then what they were used to on the coast, they had to work on harsh conditions. The mosquitoes were so bad I can remember and hot, it was pretty hard well be-cause I didn't have to work, they didn't let me work but I'm sure for my sisters it was pretty hard. Yup. Long day, Saturdays, Sundays, every day. You know because the weather was the thing right? If it rains or you couldn't work out there, so they worked every day that was available for them to work and people think well how come those guys are working on Sundays, you know?
EY
Where did you live when you came to Emerson?
KN
We were placed in this house, maybe a story and a half old farm house. Which as been lived in for I dunno how many years, so the windows were broken I can remember. So there were two fami-lies, our family, and my aunt and uncle's family and one of their son's and daughter in law, we all lived in that one house. Now what was it about the house? Was it the condition? That was where we moved to, an old dilapidated house. And the farmer had to put in stoves and things like that but you now we lived in that. I don't think there was any insulation in those houses, maybe, but I don't think there was. It was completely cold in the inter time.
EY
Do you remember when your family left the farm?
KN
Uh, this would have been well we still worked for certain farmers, even after we left. But I think... well when would that have been? War time? Could have been think was, after the war. Could have been about 46, 47. And went to a house closer to the town. That's when we I would think about 46, 47 I would think it was after the war.
00:35:13.000
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EY
Do you remember who the family was that owned the farm?
KN
Yup, a fellow a man by the name of Norman McLain. And they were fairly good people, good people. I know they had a very nice home and they had a fair sized farm I would say maybe at that time a fair size farm would be one section which is about 640 acres. Like today there are sections and sections, mostly big farmers but in those days they had a fairly large farm. But they were nice people overall, yeah.
EY
Going back now, back to Steveston, did your father own his fishing boat or was he a part of a fish-ing boat?
KN
No he owned the boat, I think he had a partner. He owned the boat, it was not owned by the can-neries, I think some of the boats were owned by the canneries, but he owned the boat.
EY
Do you remember anything specifically about the boat?
KN
Yeah he took me down, it was a I think they used to call it a seiner, a fairly large boat. And I re-member they used they had a fairly large engine, it was a diesel engine so it was not just a gas en-gine so it was a fairly large boat capable of going fishing for herrings. I think it was called a seiner. Which was bigger than the actual gill netting type of boat. Yeah he had a partner, not too sure about his name now. .... Long pause Used to go back and forth to Seattle for some reason, I think may-be he took fish to Seattle because I know he used to come back with fruit and things, cases of fruits. That's how I remember, so I'm sure he used to go back and forth to Seattle quite a bit but I really don't know.
EY
Do you remember what his main fishing route would have been? Was it to Seattle?
KN
Uh no no, that would be for transporting. Me I'm not sure why he was in Seattle, he could have taken fish to Seattle. But he used to collect too collect from other fishermen because his boat was a little bit larger, I think he used to collect fish from other people but other than that I really don't know where he fished. Because although he mentioned all these places oh he must have been going up and down the coast. He mentioned Skeena, Rupert, Euclid, you know. So, I really don't know where he basically fished. Long pause
EY
Staying on the topic of the fishing community where you lived, do you remember feeling that there was racism within the community?
KN
No I don't think so, I guess I was too young. Uh, I didn't feel alone because we weren't too in-volved with the occidental families right? No I don't think I, I don't recall. Maybe older people, but I didn't I think maybe the older people had that happening to them. But not for me. Nobody called me a “Jap” for things like that when I was a kid at that time you know. So I don't recall.
00:40:26.000
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EY
I know you were quite young but do you remember identifying as Japanese? Or Canadian?
KN
You know, no. No things like that didn't occur to me. Even when I was like my principal caught me talking Japanese in the school yard and he pulled me to the office, that didn't even occur to me that I was doing something bad or that he picked me up because I was doing something different? No I don't think I, it didn't enter my mind in those days. No.
EY
So going back to your, your life more closely to your adult life, can you tell me a bit more about your life story and maybe different jobs you had growing up in Manitoba and where you lived?
KN
Oh my work, my working days. I suppose there weren't too many things open to me when I first came here and first I was offered a job working for a Japanese man, in Winnipeg. He had a, but I didn't stay there very long, he had a lamp shade company and I was there and he let me stay at his house. He sorta helped me out that way, but I didn't stay that long. I got a job with...clothing manu-facturer soon after that and maybe within two months, and I stayed with that company for maybe two years. And one of the workers in there mentioned that he knew of so and so that was a relative of his who was looking for somebody to come and work for him. So I went to work for this man, and I stayed with that man for oh close to 20 years, until another came something else came up. And with his important company and I was there till into the 80s. And that's basically... what I did. I retired in 1990. So...long pause
EY
Where did you live when you did move to Winnipeg, do you remember the community you lived in?
KN
Into Winnipeg? Will I came on my own to Winnipeg, a little bit no a rooming house, on Hargrave Street and a land owners name they were Reebicks and the land lady was so good, she was so good to me. And yeah I stayed there for a few years until my family moved in from Emerson. Into town. So we moved into, 'scuse me, a house in what they call now Norwood I suppose, in a fairly small house. Until I got married. And when we got married we lived in an apartment house in Elmwood, until a few years after we bought a home in Charleswood. long pause 67, 67 was a long time. I think 2000 and what, we stayed there for 40 years I guess. In Charleswood, they say Japanese people don't move. Ha ha ha, which is true I think a lot, they come to one place they stay there, yeah 67 to 2007, how many years is that? No maybe 2006 because we've been in the apart-ment for 9 years now I think. So actually I haven't moved that much have I?
EY
Do you have any stories from your life that you would like to tell, whether it's from your child-hood or from your period of being interned or even from your adult life?
KN
Well you know, I am basically a happy person and I always believed that things are never going to be that bad, things gonna go better, it's always gonna be better right? I got that outlook, so I guess I'm very happy you know. So I can't really tell you specifics you know.
EY
Well I think we're gonna end there for today.
KN
'Kay
EY
Thank you.
KN
Well I didn't give you much, but Harry will give you a lot more. Harry is much better than me, he's a pretty good story teller but he's he's good I like him! You know, he and I are good friends.
00:46:58.000

Metadata

Title

Ken Nishibata, interviewed by Erin Yaremko, 02 September 2015

Abstract

The interview begins with Ken mentally walking us through parts of his childhood. Through this he discusses home, school and his community. Through discussing his home, Ken gives a detailed description of his home in Steveston. He then describes the streets and businesses within his community. When discussing his early years in school Ken describes racism and mixed race friendships on the school ground. Ken is later prompted by the interviewer to discuss his family life in more detail. Through mentally walking us through different subjects Ken seems to always come back to the timeline of the internment.

Credits

Interviewee: Ken Nishibata
Interviewer: Erin Yaremko
XML Encoder: Stewart Arneil
Publication Information: See Terms of Use for publication and licensing information.
Setting: Manitoba Japanese Cultural Centre, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
Keywords: Canada ; British Columbia ; Steveston ; Winnipeg ; Manitoba ; Emerson; Work; Sugar Beets; Farm; Home; Cannery; Business; Family; streets; roads; community; ferry; fisherman; homemaker; sisters; ; 1900-2015

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.