Isao “Wes”, Susan, and Kayoko Nishi, interviewed by Kyla Fitzgerald, 03 October 2015

Isao “Wes”, Susan, and Kayoko Nishi, interviewed by Kyla Fitzgerald, 03 October 2015

Abstract
Wes Nishi begins the interview talking about his earliest childhood memories and the hobbies he engaged in outside of school. He describes having to evacuate British Columbia the year after the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. His parents had decided to move to Alberta for the sole purpose of keeping the family together. After moving to Alberta, West’s family found work on a sugar beet farm working long hours in the blistering heat. Wes recalls the farmland that his parents owned, what it was used for, and how they received a $1700 check for the land. He then explains what Steveston was like on the day of Pearl Harbor, what his parents had said to him about the evacuation, and how his father reclaimed the family home after returning back to British Columbia. Wes’s wife, Mrs. Nishi, reflects on his mother’s feelings toward the redress settlement. Wes recalls the different types of property his family lost during the period of internment and dispossession. To conclude the interview Wes speaks about the lessons that he would like the Canadian public and his grandchildren to learn from his experiences.
00:00:00.000
Kyla Fitzgerald (KF)
Alright, today is October 3rd, and we are at the Nishi family residence. I am sitting down with Isao Wes Nishi, his wife Mrs. Nishi, Susan Nishi and her husband as well. My name is Kyla Fitzgerald and we are doing this interview for the Landscapes of Injustice project. So thank you Wes for sitting down with us. We really appreciate it. To start, can you tell me about what you remember about your childhood?
Isao Nishi (IN)
That's going way back laughs.
KF
Yeah laughs. Yeah, whatever you can remember.
IN
Like before I started preschool I used to be in Roman Catholic kindergarten here in Steveston. You know, those nuns they used to wear those black uniforms and I used to go there. That was the only kindergarten there was here in Steveston. I remember going there and from there I started at Lord Byng in grade one. There was a Japanese Nisei teacher there, Mrs. Hill, Miss Hill I think, she wasn't married then. She got married later during the war. I had her for our first teacher at Lord Byng. We were mostly all Japanese kids, hardly any Caucasians. English was my second language. I was an ESL student laughs. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour in 1941, December, I was thirteen then. I was going to Lord Byng. I think I was in, no I was in and I was in grade seven. The next year, 1942, we all evacuated to Alberta. I think there was a CPR railway track there to Calgary and we ended up in a place called Lethbridge in the southern part of Alberta. I remember all the farmers there wanted farmhands looking after sugar beets. They were all there. It was more like, uh, slaves market. They all come here and see how many there was in that family and, like, they had so many acres on a sugar beet that they'd have to handle. I went with my father and mother and my sister. I don't remember, oh, my brother went with my eldest brother and he had two kids there at that time. My brother was by himself working and the wife has got to look after the kids. So my brother stayed there to give him a hand.
00:05:03.000
00:05:03.000
IN
So, I don't know brief pause. The place where we went was a place called Barrhead. It was about six there, the next door neighbor was about a mile, mile and a half, you know, hardly anybody around. We went to that place in Alberta, that place there in Barrhead, a school. They're growing mushrooms in that place now. That was, how many years ago was that?
Susan Nishi (SN)
So my dad and I took a trip together. He hadn't been back to Alberta since they were interned. So the two of us went on a trip together to go back to where they were, where the family was.
KF
Oh, I see.
IN
Mhm, we went to that place. The building was there but they were growing mushrooms in it laughs.
KF
Mushrooms, oh.
IN
Brief pause. I think we went there for two years, grade eight and nine. That's where I terminated my education. It was that, you know, I had to help on the farm. My parents were getting old. I wouldn't call it slave labour but it was quite close to that working on the farm and that heat in the summer. The reason that my parents wanted to go to Alberta was so the family can stay together. We stayed a couple of years there and grew up by Barons. There's a district called Barons. From there we would move to Taber. That's a village, I guess. The CPR track went through that city. They had a train yard there where the farmer would put out the grains and that. In the olden days there wasn't that big of a truck. Everything was hauled by trains, freight trains. Now it's mostly all trucks and the containers. Yeah long pause. You know,
00:10:00.000
00:10:00.000
IN
Taber was a small village. It had a couple of hotels there. They even had a bowling alley and I used to set pins there. You could play all you want for seven cents. The hotels had beer parlors. That's where all the young fellas hung around laughs. You know, when you're not working. They had a cinema, too long pause.
KF
Mr. Nishi, can I ask, where did you go after Taber?
IN
After Taber we moved back to Steveston. It was 1951, I think it was. I remember all the canneries, BC Packers, The Canadian Fish, The Nelson Brothers, they all had and tried to hire Japanese fishermen. They wanted to fish so they ... I guess, with all the fish coming they knew the fishermen were wanting to come back to BC. They came around and they'd offer you a place to stay and they'd advance you some money so you could buy boats and that. You can rent your boat. What they were after was the fish. That's where all the money was up and along the coast.
KF
Was your family, before the war, were they fishermen as well?
IN
Yeah, my dad was fishing.
KF
Your dad was fishing?
IN
Yeah. He had five acres down Moncton here and my mother used to tell me they had some chicken layers. They had 2000 layers at one time. 2000, you know? Us kids used to collect eggs in the morning laughs. We had an incubator where they hatched the egg. The egg has got to be kept 101 degrees for twenty-one days for the eggs to hatch.
KF
Oh, really? Oh, I didn't know that.
IN
Yeah brief pause. So after the eggs were hatched all the farmers they wanted a hen as a layer, as a keeper. The boy chickens were, you know. Pause.
00:15:07.000
00:15:07.000
KF
So just to go back a bit, your father owned five acres of land here on Moncton and he was a fisherman here on Steveston. Do you know what company he worked for at the time?
IN
I think it was Canadian Fish.
KF
Canadian Fish. Mhm.
IN
I think my eldest brother was fishing out of Rupert, Prince Rupert, he had a fish boat of his own. He was old enough to get a license. At that time, the licenses were restricted to the Japanese. You can't get one. I don't know how they got it but the license was exchanged amongst the Japanese themselves. They wanted to retire and go back to Japan. They wanted to sell their license.
KF
Mhm.
IN
I remember, in Alberta, they sent my dad a check for $1700 for the five acres. $1700, I remember that. I'd seen that check myself.
KF
You saw that check?
IN
Yeah, that's all he got for the land.
KF
And that was from the liquidation?
IN
Yeah.
KF
I see.
IN
My mother was saying, in 1920, that's the first time they had the power brought in, the line, to the place where we're living. It cost them $500 to get that line in there. We used to have a coal-burning lamp before that. I think that's the year that my brother was born, you know, 1920s. They all have those lamps hanging from the ceiling, the wall on the end laughs.
KF
Yeah.
IN
I remember that. The fuse box, screwing fuse. You know, when I was a kid there was more cows and horses than human beings here in Richmond; lots of dairy farms.
KF
Oh, okay. Who usually ran those dairy farms?
IN
Pardon?
KF
Who usually ran those dairy farms?
IN
Oh, the farmers, the Caucasians.
KF
Oh, Caucasian. Mhm.
IN
I don't recall any Japanese having cows brief pause. There were quite a few stores, here in Steveston, mostly all run by Japanese. Maybe a couple of stores were run by Caucasians. There was Leslie, he used to sell all the streetcar tickets and that, right there.
00:20:28.000
00:20:28.000
KF
Yeah, can you tell me what Steveston was like back then? So you said there were a lot of stores owned by Japanese-Canadians ...
IN
Yeah, mostly all stores.
KF
What kind of stores were those?
IN
Coffee shop, ice cream, you know, all that. They used to have men coming around taking orders. There was a store in the town that delivered.
KF
Oh, I see. Mhm.
IN
There was a hotel there. I heard in the olden days they used to have an opera house in Steveston here. They'd have boxing matches and all that in the summer. Steveston used to be a gathering spot all the people would go to when the fishing was off.
KF
Oh, I see.
IN
It's more like the Wild West.
KF
Like the Wild West laughs. So it was quite lively then? It was a lively town?
IN
Yeah. I don't recall. That was way before my time.
KF
Yeah. Can I ask you about your family. Well, first, when you born Mr. Nishi if you don't mind me asking.
IN
1928.
KF
1928?
IN
Mhm.
KF
Okay, and you are what generation Japanese-Canadian?
IN
Second generation.
KF
So you're Nisei then, okay.
IN
Yeah. My eldest brother was born in 1910.
KF
Oh, wow.
IN
He graduated the year I was born.
KF
So quite a large age difference.
IN
Yeah, eighteen years different.
KF
Yeah, no kidding.
IN
There's a picture of that, a graduation picture of the high school there on the wall.
KF
Oh, really?
IN
Yeah, used to be.
KF
Oh, wow. And so where were your parents from originally? What part of Japan?
IN
Wakayama.
KF
Wakayama?
IN
Yeah. You ever been there?
KF
Yeah, I have.
IN
My eldest sister, the parents wanted her to get a Japanese education, so they sent her back to Japan to go to this Dohakyoe, a girls school and she got stuck there during the war. She married over there.
KF
Oh. So how many siblings do you have in total.
IN
Ten.
KF
Ten, woah large family.
IN
Seven boys and three girls.
KF
And where did you fall within that family?
IN
I'm the second from the bottom.
KF
So second youngest?
IN
Yeah.
KF
Oh, wow.
IN
That's why I get stepped on a lot laughs.
KF
And what did your mother do in Steveston? Your father was a fisherman. So what did your mother do at that time?
IN
Just taking care of us.
KF
laughing Just taking care of the kids.
IN
She's a house wife.
KF
Yeah.
IN
It kept her busy all the time, you know, cooking ...
KF
No kidding.
IN
Washing and other chores around the house. My dad was a hard worker, too. He lived to be seventy-eight. My mother lived to be ninety-eight, ninety-nine.
KF
Oh my god, almost twenty years on your father. Wow.
IN
Yeah. I guess they don't make them like they used to laughs. Living high off the hog. Pause.
00:25:12.000
00:25:12.000
KF
So as a child, what kind of things would you do outside of school. Do you have any memories of hobbies or ...
IN
In Alberta, in the wintertime there's nothing else to do so all the young boys went to work in the bush, like the sawmills. I went to work in the Rocky Mountain House, this place outside of Red Deer. They get those logs and that when the snow and such is frozen. My log slides on the snow. In the summer they can't do that. So there's a mill there. Quite a few worked there in the summer. In the winter there's nothing else to do. In the summer I'd come back to farm. I worked there for a couple of years before coming to BC.
KF
You had mentioned that you were around thirteen years old when Pearl Harbour happened.
IN
I was thirteen years old then.
KF
Thirteen years old?
IN
Mhm.
KF
Do you remember, the day of Pearl Harbour, what Steveston was like?
IN
It was December the 7th I think it was and we had a radio then. It was a shortwave. All the elders listened to news from Japan; the shortwave Nay Hone Hapyo. It was mostly all propaganda I guess. My Japanese is quite limited laughs. There was the Japanese school before the war. I went for about five years. I know Takatagana, some Kanji, and that.
KF
Kanji is hard though. There's so many characters you have to memorize.
IN
Yeah, but I could read all the letters my wife has got from her friends.
KF
Oh, really?
IN
Yeah, I can make out.
KF
Oh, okay brief pause. So what did the radio say then when you were listening? When Pearl Harbour happened what did the radio say? You said there were people listening to the radio.
IN
I guess the elders wanted to hear that in the Japanese language. It was a shortwave radio to get that broadcast from Japan. I really didn't understand it myself long pause. You were born here in Canada?
KF
Mhm.
IN
Oh.
KF
Victoria, so just across the water.
IN
Victoria. Oh, Victoria.
KF
Yeah.
IN
When I was fishing we used to stop into Victoria. I used to fish on the west coast of Ucluelet and Tofino up and down the coast there.
KF
So then you must have been a trawler.
IN
Yeah, I was a trawler.
KF
Oh, okay.
IN
I didn't like that. You set out your net and you've got to wait for the fish to come into the net whereas trawling there's more sport in it. You use the lure, different kinds of lures.
KF
So then you know Vancouver Island quite well because trawlers were all over Ucluelet.
IN
Yeah, all the way up to Winter Harbour, Ucluelet, Nootka, Esperanza, the coves and all those places.
KF
When did you start fishing?
IN
I think it was, myself, I don't know. I don't recall. Maybe 1955 or so.
00:30:02.000
00:30:02.000
KF
So you took up fishing then, after the war?
IN
After the war, yeah.
KF
After the war, when you came back to Steveston?
IN
Mhm.
KF
Well, let's talk about your house a little bit. This family property. The photos that Susan showed me, you have an original house that was sitting here well before this one. So, what was that old house like back in the day?
IN
We had that built after Kimota came out here to Steveston after the war. There was a carpenter from Kelowna. He's a carpenter but he used to build houses here on his own. He used to have a trailer and he lived in that. He left his family in Kelowna there but he was a carpenter, a handyman. He could build houses. We all helped him construct the house.
KF
So there've been a couple houses built on this property then because obviously this one we're sitting in right now is quite new.
IN
No, this was a big lot. We gave them half the lot and then he built us a house in exchange. He was a contractor. That deal was alright. We got this house and we gave him half of the lot.
KF
Oh, I see. What was the place like that you lived in before the war?
IN
Yeah, it's been a while.
KF
Oh, I see.
IN
It's a big lot.
KF
No kidding.
SN
And so what happened is ... So this was the original ... Well, we grew up in this house. So what they did was they moved this over. So this house is sitting where this car port is on this side and this large house that's there is the other side.
KF
Oh, I see.
SN
Yeah, that was it right there.
KF
1960, oh wow. Yeah, that's the same house.
SN
And they tore it down to build this one.
IN
What's that? Oh, yeah. That's the one, yeah.
KF
No garden or anything?
IN
Yeah. .
KF
Yeah, do you remember what your house was like before the war?
IN
That's the house there.
KF
That's the house there?
IN
Yeah.
KF
And what was it like inside?
IN
There's a kitchen. The stove was going all the time. The stove in the kitchen is a wood stove but it was going, mostly, all the time and we had another stove in the living room where everybody gathered at night. That stove in the kitchen was going, almost, twenty-four hours a day.
KF
Would your mother use that to cook for the whole family?
IN
There was always hot water there.
KF
Hot water. How many bedrooms did it have? Was it quite a large house?
IN
Oh, yeah. It was quite large. It was a bungalow type of house but it had lots of room.
KF
Oh, okay.
IN
Yeah.
KF
With ten siblings, I guess you had to ... Did you have to share rooms with your siblings?
IN
Oh, yeah laughs.
KF
Yeah? laughs.
IN
We even had a bath room, a wooden bath, you know the Japanese style bath?
KF
Yeah. Was it the type that you had to light a fire underneath?
IN
Yeah. You had to light up the fire.
KF
Those ones are really nice.
IN
That's the kind of bath they had in the countryside in Japan.
00:34:50.000
00:34:50.000
KF
Yeah. Some places still, if you go out really far into the countryside they still have them. Actually, you know, a family friend of ours who lives on Salt Spring his wife is Japanese and they have this large property in the woods. He's quite handy and so he built an ofuro right in the backyard in the woods so nobody can see anybody. They did the old style ofuro where you have to light it underneath and then you keep the fire going for a while and he says it's the best type of bath you can have and then you're out in the forest. He goes “nobody can hear you.”
IN
I went to Japan five times. I went to all the hot springs.
KF
Yeah, they're nice.
IN
Up and down the coast there.
KF
When was the first time you went to Japan?
IN
I went to Kyushu, the island there. Uh, Beppu. Yes, the amount of the cities there are very ...
KF
Mhm.
IN
Do you like the food in Japan?
KF
Love it. Absolutely love it. When I was there in July we made the point of going to every tonkatsu house you could think of because you can't get the same thing here in Canada.
IN
No.
KF
And, soba, like good quality soba you can't get back here either. So we went to Jindaiji which is really well known for their soba there. It's my grandfather's favourite food so we took him out too and he was happy as a clam. Just eating nonstop. Yeah, oh yeah. It was really good. I wish I could have the food in Japan and bring it over to Canada. It's difficult to find something that's the same.
IN
Even my grandkids, they like sashimi and that.
KF
Oh, yeah. When you were younger did your mother cook Japanese food a lot or was it ...
IN
Yeah, mostly all Japanese food.
KF
Mostly all Japanese food?
IN
Yeah. I didn't have sashimi and that because you can't get fish.
KF
No. So what kind of things would your mother cook?
IN
Sukiyaki and all that. You got the meat and vegetables, you know?
KF
Yup.
IN
I sure miss the tsukemon she used to make.
KF
Oh, yeah! I know a woman in Ucluelet she makes her own and she has a big freezer. She just keeps them stocked up. She goes “every day I make sure to have something.” long pause. Mr. Nishi can I ask you what your family did before the evacuation happened? Did you do any preparation beforehand or did they sell anything beforehand?
IN
No, nothing.
KF
Nothing?
IN
They just left it the way it was and they figured it's not going to last that long. They figured they'd be back in six months.
KF
Do you remember what your family took with them to Alberta?
IN
They weren't allowed so much. They were just allowed to take so much and that wasn't much.
00:40:00.000
00:40:00.000
KF
What kind of things did they take?
IN
I don't recall. I recall my mother saying that they sent some rice to Alberta so if they had rice they won't starve or anything. They all get that and go on. I don't know how much. brief pause. We didn't have that much Western food before the war. It was mostly all rice, as a staple. We figured as long as we have rice we'll survive.
KF
So, and that's why your mother sent rice over?
IN
Mhm.
KF
Did your parents say anything else about the evacuation when it happened? You said that your parents thought you'd be back in six months.
IN
Yeah that's what they figured. It was not going to last that long. So we stayed there, in Alberta, for eight years.
KF
And that was all on the sugar beet farm?
IN
Yeah.
KF
Was there family that you worked for?
IN
Oh, yeah. The owner of the farm, the many Mormons, you know the Mormons?
KF
Mormons? Yeah.
IN
Yeah, there's quite a few who worked for Mormons. In Southern Alberta, in Carson, they had a temple, Mormon, and then in the states, in Utah, and Salt Lake City. Uh, Brigham Young, uh, they got a big one there, Mormon temple, Salt Lake City, Utah, it's famous. The Osmond Brothers they all were there, the singers.
KF
Yeah, they're Mormon.
IN
Yeah.
KF
So the family you worked for then was Mormon as well?
IN
Yeah.
KF
Do you remember the name of that family?
IN
The Bullocks, I think. Bullock, B-U-L-L-O-C-K.
KF
Bullock.
IN
Bullock. I heard they had to donate so much of your income to the church every year.
KF
Right. Ten percent or something like that. And, you said, the whole family was on this farm for the most part.
IN
No, not the whole family because the farmers allowed so many acres of sugar beets. Each farmer, like, they might get fifteen or fifty acres of sugar beet land allotted to them because they can't have all the ... Everybody wanted that sugar beet. That was lucrative at that time, the sugar. So each farmer was allotted so many acres. Maybe a small farmer only got about ten acres of sugar beet allotted to them. Maybe a big farm might get eighty acres. So it all depends on the size of the family that had workers. You know, like who went to the farm. So they gave you a small shack. And those sugar beet rows are so long, half a mile, mile long because in Alberta they go by the section. A section is 640 acres.
00:45:00.000
00:45:00.000
IN
It's a mile square. That's why they call it a section of land. I remember nine rows make an acre or something like that. Nine rows of sugar beets, that's long. You can't see it. You can't see the person at the end of the road. You've got to see the way it is and all that.
KF
So what kind of things would you do on the sugar beet farm? What were the responsibilities that you had?
IN
They plant the seeds in a row and you've got to thin that because sugar beets, they grow big. Yeah, they've got to be so far apart and sugar beets come up in a row like that. You've got to thin it. You don't leave one there and another one there. After that's done you've got to weed it with all the weeds coming up. The weeds come up faster than the sugar beets laughs.
KF
What kind of hours did you have working on this farm?
IN
It's your own show.
KF
Oh, really?
IN
You're not working for anybody. You're contracting. So you're looking after so many acres so it's up to you. On daybreak some people go up when it was cool. It was hard labour.
KF
Was it?
IN
Back breaking.
KF
Yeah you were saying the conditions were really tough, really hot.
IN
brief pause I sure don't want to go through that again.
KF
So was it physically hard. You said it was back breaking right?
IN
Mhm, back breaking, tedious, long hours.
KF
Long hours? How long would you usually work?
IN
The day that the hours you're out there.
KF
As soon as it's light out, you're out there? And when would you finish?
IN
Yeah. We've got to eat, too. The farm was so long, half a mile, mile long. So just walking back and forth for lunch, you know.
KF
It's tiring, just walking.
IN
Yeah.
KF
Right. What was the heat like? You said it gets really hot in Alberta so what kind of temperatures ...
IN
It wasn't unbearable. We got the breeze brief pause. The last time I was there in Alberta we drove around the farm and then we'd see ...
KF
You went back to the farm?
IN
Yeah. I didn't see one farmer on the field. It was all automated.
KF
Oh, with machines?
IN
Yeah, machines. Even the irrigation sprinkler system was automated.
KF
But you did that all by hand back in the day?
IN
Yeah. We didn't have that sprinkler system when I was there. There was irrigation but you've got to let the water flow naturally.
KF
Oh, I see. Were your brothers and sisters helping out on the farm as well with the sugar beets?
00:50:07.000
00:50:07.000
IN
They had their own contracts. So they've got to look after their own and when they finished they came and helped us and all that.
KF
Okay.
IN
Yeah, that's the farm.
KF
Oh, you have photos of the farm.
SN
That's where they all lived in Alberta.
KF
Oh my god. This house here, is that where you stayed in?
IN
Yeah, yeah.
KF
What was that like inside?
IN
It's a house laughs.
KF
It's a house, basic house? Yeah.
IN
My father, mother, my sister, and the three boys lived in there. How many is that?
KF
Father, sister, three boys ...
IN
Seven?
KF
Yeah. Wow. What about in the wintertime. Did you stay there in the winter, too?
IN
Yeah.
KF
What was the house like?
IN
Oh, you've got to keep the stove going all night. That's the only source of heat.
KF
Mhm. Was your mother helping out at the farm?
IN
No, she had to cook and all that.
KF
She had to cook? So she still looked after the family at home?
IN
Yeah. In the winters she used to come out to the farm, too.
KF
Okay. And that house is still up there Susan?
SN
Yes. Right dad, it was there?
IN
Yeah.
KF
The house is still there? What year did you guys decide to go back and visit?
IN
When was that? Must be about six, seven years ago?
KF
Six, seven years ago?
SN
No, it was over that. It was over that. It was, oh, it's got to be at least ...
IN
Maybe we went with Beth and Jasper.
SN
Yeah, that's right, we went together. Just the two of us went on a holiday laughs.
Kayoko Nishi (KN)
You know what, you'd retired then.
SN
Yeah when you retired.
IN
Yeah, I retired in '92.
SN
So sometime after that I'd forgot.
KF
God, that house was still there. Were you able to go inside?
IN
No, we never bothered. It'd just bring back bad memories.
KF
Yeah, that's fair.
SN
There was nothing around there then. It was just that house.
IN
Yeah.
KF
Mhm.
SN
There wasn't anyone, any people, or anything. It was just this house. It didn't look like anyone was in it.
KN
I'm not sure if it's there anymore. It's been, what, seventy-five years?
SN
No, it was there. We went up.
KF
It's a pretty amazing photograph though, especially since some of the people that I've talked to didn't live in a house. They were in, like, one guy said to me he lived in a shack on a sugar beet farm with six or seven family members and it was really tight.
SN
Was that house built just for your family?
IN
No, it was built like that.
KF
It was already there when you arrived?
IN
Maybe there was an addition to it, you know? Added a couple of rooms to it.
KF
Mhm. And that Mormon family that owned the farm, what was your family's relationship like with the Mormon family, the Bullocks? Did you guys talk to them often?
IN
No, not that often.
KF
No?
IN
Yeah, because they had their other business too. They had cattle. They had some cattle going. They had cattle on the range there. They even had an airplane going from, so far away, that range.
KF
Really?
IN
Yeah.
00:55:00.000
00:55:00.000
KF
Sounds like they were doing a few things then.
IN
Oh, yeah. They were big farm owners, drove around in a Lincoln.
KF
Drove around in a Lincoln?
IN
Yeah.
KF
Wow. Was it a family or just a couple?
IN
No, just a couple and his brothers too.
KF
Okay.
IN
Yeah. His grandfather used to drop by now and then. He's retired but he's looking after all the plans, you know.
KF
Mhm. Can I ask you about, Mr. Nishi, can I ask you about these two cards here. These are the cards that were used as proof ...
IN
What card? The registration card?
KF
The registration card. Right.
IN
Everybody had to register. I had one myself but it got lost in transit.
KF
Okay, but these ones here are your parents' cards?
IN
Yeah, yeah. Anybody over sixteen of Japanese ancestry had to register.
KF
Right. What was your father's name?
IN
Senkichi
KF
Senkichi? Oh. And your mother was?
IN
Toyo.
KF
Toyo. Mhm. Wow, and you were able to keep these.
IN
Mhm. He was in Canada in 1895, my dad.
KF
Your dad came to Canada in 1895?
IN
Yeah, in Victoria.
KF
Oh, Victoria.
IN
Yeah, he landed there in Victoria.
KF
Oh, really? Not in Vancouver?
IN
No.
KF
Oh, interesting. Do you know why he came to Canada from Japan?
IN
He's the second son in the family. There's three boys in the family and they always wanted to look after the family there in Japan but he had no place to go because they didn't have any farm or anything, just fishing there I guess, and he can't make a living off fishing in the place he was living. He was, more or less, forced to leave. He had a younger brother. I think his younger brother had some education because he became a captain of a freighter and he used to come through Mexico and that. I went to see him a couple of times, getting lumber and that in Wesminster.
KF
So your father was a fisherman before he came to Victoria.
IN
I think so. He wasn't really working there in Japan. He had no place to go. He had a chance to come to Canada so he came, I guess.
KF
Did your father meet your mother in Japan or over here in Canada?
IN
It was a photo arrangement.
KF
Oh, she was a picture bride?
IN
I think so.
KF
Oh, wow. Oh, so she came over here afterwards then.
IN
Oh, yeah. They came in the 1900s. My elder brother was born 1910 so they must have been here on 1908 or '09.
KF
Mhm. You said your father came to Victoria in 1894.
IN
'95
KF
'95, sorry.
IN
I think he was about seventeen then, sixteen, seventeen.
KF
Wow, young. And then he got married around 1900?
IN
1907 or '08.
KF
Oh, okay. And your mother was a picture bride.
IN
Mhm.
KF
Oh, interesting. Is your mother from Wakayama as well?
IN
Yup.
KF
Okay, so same area.
IN
Same village.
KF
Oh, same village. Did the know each other before, at least the families, before?
IN
I think so. Small families, everybody knew each other.
KF
Yeah.
IN
My wife is from Japan but she's from a different village.
KF
Oh, okay.
IN
It's the neighbouring village next door.
KF
Oh, so you're from the Wakayama area as well?
KN
Yeah. I think, my mother said, talking everything to me, so I think parents arranged it. It's my mother's marriage. Small village, right?
KF
Yeah, usually the parents, the families were the ones that ...
IN
Yeah.
KN
It's all the parents who arranged that before.
01:00:02.000
01:00:02.000
KF
Right. Oh, wow. Did your mother enjoy or like Victoria and Canada?
IN
I think so.
KN
I think so, yeah. Her time is all in Victoria. It's her time in Vancouver after world war two. Yeah, Vancouver.
KF
Yeah.
IN
In the olden days they didn't have any education. No way.
KF
So when did they decide to move to Steveston from Victoria?
IN
I guess they must have found a chance to go fishing there in Steveston. The company used to back them up.
KF
Totally.
IN
Yeah.
KN
I think it's the right way to come to Steveston, I think. I don't know, a few days in Victoria and then, at that time, it's a boat too.
KF
Right. Yeah, yeah. So your father took up fishing in Steveston, you said. Did he own just one boat or did he have a couple boats?
IN
He had two before the war.
KF
He had two before the war?
IN
Yeah. He gave one up to the sons.
KF
The eldest brother?
IN
Yeah. That was just the one boat and next the eldest son was fishing.
KF
Mhm.
IN
When the fishing was over he had to work in the farm. We all worked hard.
KF
Yeah.
KN
My mother in-law said to me “it's that time to evacuate and go to Alberta. We owned two boats, five acre land, and then the house.” At that time there weren't many, many people.
KF
I was going to say that's quite a bit of property to have.
KN
I don't know how much they got the money from the government.
IN
$1700.
KN
Oh, I don't know.
KF
Yeah, for the five acres you said 1700.
IN
Yeah, for the boat too.
KF
Oh, so that included the boat.
KN
Boat and the house.
KF
Oh, god, that's cheap.
KN
They got the money and they wanted to go “anything you want.” That's why they went with the family together and go to Alberta. It's more ...
KF
You can keep the family together.
KN
It's more important to keep the family together, yeah. I know that. Mother told me the whole story all the time.
KF
Well, I'll be asking you some questions too then.
KN
I think he wrote it a little and so ...
KF
So your mother then was quite open about what had happened.
KN
We looked after the mother and I give thirty years to my mother in-law. I looked after the mother.
KF
And she would tell you what happened during the war?
KN
Yes, yes. The whole thing and we moved to Alberta. Yeah, it's very hard.
KF
Did she talk about the war with you when you were older as well?
IN
No.
KN
I don't think it's ... not that much because he's the younger one.
KF
Yeah.
KN
The oldest has passed away so they know. Yeah, the brother and sister.
SN
There's only two of them left. My dad and his youngest sister out of the ten kids.
KF
Yeah, so the two youngest are still ... Oh.
KN
Three and two oldest brother and the one sister and the family. That house is old after, how many ... It's uncle Mas too ... Daddy, it's together? Uncle Yook
01:05:19.000
01:05:19.000
IN
Where?
KN
That house.
IN
No, no. Uncle Mas was with Hiroshimi. He was helping them.
KN
Anyway, so many people they started stove.
KF
Yeah.
KN
Twenty-four hours, it's a stove in the wall. It's wintertime. Yeah, it's very, very cold. It's wind, it's very thick ice.
KF
Lots of ice?
IN
Yeah.
KN
Yeah.
KF
Ice along the house?
KN
Inside, yeah.
KF
Oh, inside the house.
KN
So it's the kids in the ... melted ... it's ice.
IN
The blanket was frozen to the wall. You could have ripped it.
KF
So there was ice inside the house during the wintertime?
IN
Yeah.
KN
Inside or outside, I don't know. I think the inside is just, you know, like it's warm it up with the finger and it's melted and you can see the outside.
IN
You get used to that.
KN
Yeah, my mother always said that but, anyway, it's eighty years living in Alberta but everybody is healthy and they come back to BC. That's the most important thing, right? Yeah, it's very happy. Nobody died or anything.
KF
So everyone was still around?
KN
Yeah.
KF
Do you know why your family wanted to move back to Steveston after the war?
IN
Because all these fishing companies were more or less hiring Japanese fishermen. They would back them up, they'd give them the boat, and the house too. Not everybody got a good chance. We've got a boat, we've got a house, and we started anew.
KF
The fishing companies, did they reach out to you or did your family reach out to them?
IN
No, they came out to Alberta.
KF
Oh, they came out to Alberta.
IN
Looking for fishermen.
KF
When you came back where did you end up living. Did you live in cannery housing?
IN
Yeah, it was more like a cannery house. An empty house there by the waterfront. We stayed there until we had the house built.
KN
After that , it's the old house.
KF
Oh, the '60s one?
KN
Yeah, yeah. I think it's the first one built at Steveston, that house my mother said, when they came back to Alberta. Just only the house, nothing, you know. They bought five acre land. The five acre, it's here too. It's come back and then, this Moncton, it's the whole thing.
KF
So how did you find or was it pretty easy to find the property that was liquidated before? I mean, this piece of property here was liquidated which you received a check for and when you came back to Steveston and were getting set up what was the process like to get this property back?
IN
It's probably originally owned by a Chinese farmer. I think my dad knew this Chinese farmer before the war and they made a deal for five acres for $5000. He had that divided into five acre lots. He sold that to his son in-law and it went to another family. So it was a good buy then for a thousand dollars an acre.
KF
No kidding. You can't get that kind of land anymore.
IN
Yeah. I think that was a wise move.
KN
That was in 1954, right? You came back in 1954?
IN
Yeah.
KN
Because it's close to fishing. Everybody came back for fishing.
KF
Well, you're so close to the water. You were just steps away.
IN
Yeah, yeah.
KF
Very convenient.
IN
Well, Steveston was all farmland. This is all farmland.
01:10:00.000
01:10:00.000
SN
So, this one here, this property, and then beside them was my aunt and uncle, beside them was my aunt and uncle, beside them was my aunt and uncle. So this stretch from here close to the railway were Nishis. When we were little there was no fence so we used to run from here and play all the way to my aunt and uncles'.
KN
You remember it?
SN
There was no fence. We just ran and if you were hungry we'd go knock on my aunt and uncles' and she had fudgesicles and treats to give us. So we were always at our aunts and uncles'.
KF
Wow.
KN
That's in 1960. I came in 1960.
SN
So everyone subdivided their lots now. There's many houses in-between now but before there was just our aunts and uncles and then they sold it, about, seventeen years ago. They sold off all the property so they built this subdivision after because they had the property from here, closer. So then they build this subdivision behind that. Growing up we could have horses it was such a big chunk of land when I look back.
KF
Five acres is a lot, yeah. So how did your father ... So it was $5000 for five acres and how was your father able to ... Was he the one that purchased the land back?
IN
Yeah.
KF
And how did he save up the money to do that?
IN
I don't know. He must have had it tucked away somewhere.
KN
Yes, my mother in law never said that but anyways it's a lot of kids, it's for the boys, so that's why it's five acres. I don't know. She never said anything about the money or how much, you know. I'd like to ask but I did not ask anything. It's very expensive. At that time, 1954.
KF
Exactly. I mean, well, you think that ...
KN
Where do you got money? Right?
KF
Yeah, because you think $5000 now you go “oh, that's nothing.”
KN
Yeah. Maybe, I don't know, she never said that kind of stuff. Maybe she doesn't know, too. It's a lot of money at that time, too. I think they saved the money from the sugar beet kind of stuff. I don't know.
KF
Okay.
KN
But anyways, everybody was a hard worker so it's not only the Nishi family it's the whole Japanese families that work so hard.
IN
It's lucky, we were all healthy.
KN
Yeah.
KF
When you were in Alberta did you come across other Japanese-Canadian families?
IN
Oh, yes, quite a few.
KF
You said not everyone was lucky, so did you know ...
IN
I don't know.
KF
You don't know, yeah.
IN
They even had Owotera at Taber. They had a reverend long pause. I think that time still heals a lot of things. You know, we forget but it heals too.
KF
Does it?
IN
I guess, most of the Japanese they had a grudge against the government at that time but they forget and they heal.
KF
Mhm.
KN
And so that one is a Japanese-Canadian guy. I don't know it's 1940 something born. It's 22,000 in redress money. Everybody got that. My mother was so mad. Yeah, so mad. She lost the whole thing right? It's only not 22,000. It's not right. Yeah, that time she was so mad at the government. I don't know. She was so mad.
KF
So she said that she was quite upset?
KN
Oh, yeah. It's only 22, but anyway, it's not only for the Nishi family but, you know, it's very, very, tragic. I remember. It's not only my mother it's all the parents. I think they're mad, too. Yeah.
01:15:07.000
01:15:07.000
KF
Did your ...
KN
But it's no choice, no way, right? So it's still so upsetting. Anyway, they lost the whole five acres of land and the two boats and the house too. They're planning to go back to Japan, that's why. It's war there, you can't do anything but it's saving money and then going to Japan. After fifty, yeah, they planned to ... He doesn't know but she said to me ...
KF
That they were only planning to stay in Canada temporarily?
KN
Yeah. She saved money and then sent it to Japan. Her oldest sister is there and the money there, I don't know, it's Japan's bank but to Japan it's nothing, right? It's both, it's zero. It's Heygakirisage. I know that your mother knows so it's saving the money and sending it to Japan's bank. In that one it's nothing. Here it's nothing, too. It's a very hard life, I think. Yeah.
KF
You mentioned, and Susan had mentioned as well before we started the interview, that one of your sisters stayed in Japan during the war. How old was she when she was ... You said she was sent back for education reasons.
IN
She was about fourteen or fifteen. KYLA Fourteen or fifteen. And did she ever talk about what it was like to stay over in Japan during that time?
IN
I think she had a hard time, too.
KF
Did she?
KN
Yeah, hard times.
IN
She went to this girls school in Japan, Dohakyoe.
KN
She got engaged, too. I think it's and then wanted to come back to Steveston. After the marriage, before World War Two, yeah. I think she's a teacher. She became a teacher.
KF
She became a teacher?
KN
Yeah, teacher. My sister in-law is not a teacher. It's her husband.
IN
Her husband was a Judo man. He had that red belt.
KF
Oh, Kodokan, yeah.
KN
And then high school teacher plus judo.
IN
He went to Kodokan, that's judo in Tokyo.
KF
Yeah, famous place. That's where my dad trained when he was over there. Yeah, he did the old school judo training laughs. Yeah, he said it ...
KN
Good, good. Very tough.
IN
Yeah, who's that judoka that got the silver medal? The Canadian, what was his name?
KF
Oh, I know who you're talking about.
IN
Yeah, the big man.
KF
And they made a documentary about his experiences.
IN
Yeah.
KN
I think he's in Vancouver somewhere.
KF
Yeah, yeah. No, I don't recall his name but I know who you're talking about.
KN
I think he got it in 1964, the Olympics. Japan Olympics.
KF
Doug Rogers.
KN
Yeah.
IN
Yeah.
KF
Yeah, great documentary.
IN
Yeah.
KF
My dad said they'd drink too much the night before. They'd drink too much sake and then they'd have to wake up really early and train. He goes “we could all smell the sake the next morning, but we'd have to do these long training sessions” laughing.
IN
Your dad knew him?
KF
Was he new back then?
IN
Yeah.
KF
Yeah, well he went over strictly just to train and train with everyone else because, I think, the standard of training over there is quite different than what you get here in Canada so it was quite old school back then. He enjoyed it. He really liked it.
KN
I think it's judo, kendo, karate, too. It's the same.
KF
Yeah they're very disciplined.
KN
It's good for boys laughs.
01:20:04.000
01:20:04.000
KF
Yeah. So your sister ended up staying in Japan?
IN
Yeah.
KF
Okay, and where did she end up living in Japan?
IN
Osaka.
KF
Osaka. Mhm.
IN
She's got two daughters there, living, you know.
KF
Right now?
IN
Yeah. She had two boys but they died when they were young.
KN
We still keep in touch. It's every two months talking to people.
KF
Oh, really?
KN
Yeah, they are happy. She is happy, too; niece. She's my age.
KF
Oh, okay. You met your wife when you were back in Japan visiting your sister, correct?
IN
I went to see her at a home. She was staying at a home there with her elders. I don't think she recognized me, she was gone.
KF
Oh, she was quite old by then.
IN
Yeah.
KF
How old were you when you went to visit her?
KN
We went in 1995, no 2005, eleven years ago. She has Alzheimer's and then so, my mother passed away that same year. And so when we visit her she doesn't remember him.
KF
Oh, I see.
SN
But when was the first time you went to visit her, dad?
IN
First time she recognized me.
SN
No, when you went for the first time.
KF
The first time you went to Japan to visit your sister, when was that?
IN
My first time?
KF
Mhm.
IN
1957. I took my dad's ashes over and I put it in the family plot.
KF
Oh, I see. Yup, we've got one of those.
IN
Yeah, my dad passed away in 1956. The next year my mother wanted me to take the ashes. That's the first time I went there.
KF
Mhm. You guys have quite a few photos.
KN
Oh, yeah. This is over in the summertime so it's lots of photos.
KF
Mr. Nishi can I ask, when you came back from Alberta, back to Steveston, do you remember the type of things that you were able to bring back to Steveston or were you empty handed? Did you have to start fresh? What kind of things were you able to bring back?
IN
More or less empty handed.
KF
More or less empty handed.
IN
We came back on a car, me and my three brothers, to the states there. We went through Spokane and I remember going to the theatre to watch a show there.
KF
In Spokane?
IN
Yeah, Spokane.
KF
Oh, okay.
KN
This is our family. It's the first time he left in 1957. It's the sister and then the brother in-law together. There's the two girls.
SN
Do you want to take a break dad and have some tea or are you okay?
IN
I'll take a break.
KF
Sure, we can pause it. Tape is paused.
SN
Growing up we used to help my dad prepare to get ready to go fishing. So he had a wooden boat. We used to help him paint it and do the lettering. One time, we were waiting on the dock for my dad to come in or something and he couldn't ... You know how we have trouble parallel parking a car, my dad was parallel parking his boat into this little slit. I couldn't believe he could parallel park this boat into this little place laughs.
KF
Yeah, Mr. Nishi, can you describe the boat that you had and the name? You were showing me the photo before. What was the name of the boat and why did you name it?
IN
The boat, I named Mrs. Audrey. That was my eldest daughter, the first born. These other offspring weren't there. Judy always says “why wasn't my name on the boat?” It's because she wasn't there.
KF
Why did you name your daughter Audrey?
01:25:00.000
01:25:00.000
IN
Yeah, my wife named it after Audrey Hepburn. There's a movie called the Roman Holiday.
KF
Yeah, great movie. How long did you have that boat for?
IN
About twenty-eight years.
KF
Twenty-eight years?
IN
Yeah.
KF
Wow.
IN
I had to change the engine twice on it. I had a Caterpillar engine first and then I had a Jimmy. That Caterpillar worked alright but it was a little rough. It was a four cylinder but this Jimmy was a six cylinder. It's a little smoother and when you're trawling you're going at such a slow speed, you know.
KF
You had mentioned to me, during the coffee break, that you sold the boat eventually. Who did you sell that boat to?
IN
A man named, I think it was Ford? He was from Alberni, he's a fisherman but I think he sold that boat. That boat fishes well. The boat, when you're trawling, the boat has a lot to do with making noises. That boat fished well, to my liking. Some people might have a beautiful boat but they don't seem to catch anything. Is it the boat or the man behind the boat?
KF
So it's not the boat that's important but the man behind the boat? Wise words, good to know for fishermen these days.
SN
We said that you liked it because you got to be your own boss out there on the water.
IN
Oh yeah. You're your own boss. You can take a day off if you don't feel like, you know, you can come in anytime when the fish are not biting. You got the hours.
SN
And you had a nice group of friends that would dock at Ucluelet with you. For how many years, decades? Gordy ...
IN
Yeah, they'd come in and get together and have a ...
SN
So at the end of the night they ...
IN
But some guys are more like, they bring something and they share the food.
SN
And play cards on the rainy days.
IN
Rainy days, yeah laughs.
KF
And so that boat eventually went to a man from Port Alberni, you said. Going back to your family's home, this home here, what made you decide to stay in it all these years?
IN
Well, what more can a man ask. There's nice surroundings, it's convenient, the stores there you can walk there. It's convenient, the bus stop is right there if I want to take a bus. I never used the public transit but it's there.
SN
And you whole family's here. All your brothers and sisters.
01:30:04.000
01:30:04.000
IN
Yeah, my siblings were here too, close by.
KF
Yeah, can you talk about that a little bit with your siblings because you said that, this lot, when the family purchased it back again your brothers and sisters lived side by side right? So why did they decide to do that, live side by side, was it just a natural thing to do? They wanted to stay close by?
IN
For a $1000 they couldn't get that lot, land like that. It's just because my dad bought the whole lot for five grand, he divided it into five lots, you know.
KF
So your siblings bought a lot from your father at $1000 apiece.
IN
Mhm. That's how it went.
KF
I know Susan had mentioned that you have one other sibling left. She's still alive, your sister. Does she live close by in the area?
IN
Yeah, she lives in a condo.
KF
She lives in a condo, okay.
SN
It's right across from the community center.
KF
Oh, so really close then. So what happened to the houses? You know, we talked about it a little bit but these houses beside, on the lot, what ended up happening to them?
IN
Most of them sold except for one. The son, he built a house there on half the lot. You know the price of the real estate has skyrocketed. He sold half the lot for half a million and he built a house himself on the other half. That was a good move.
KF
You chose to stay in this house the whole time.
IN
Yeah, well we had over a hundred foot lot. We gave half a lot to this contractor and he built us this house for the land we gave him, half the lot.
KF
Right, wow.
SN
You've been here for how long now, dad? How many years?
IN
Twenty-two years.
SN
Is that how old this house is now? Twenty-two years?
IN
That contract was all verbal and nothing written. He says he's going to build me a house and I said “you're going to have half the lot.”
KF
Wow, very informal.
SN
You didn't want to move anywhere else?
IN
Well, we might have to, just the two of us we're getting too big for it. There's two of us. She's got to look after the yard, you know. It's a transition now. So much things that have accumulated. It's not only a memory but it's little things that you can't get rid of.
KF
Was there anything that you kept from your time in Steveston before or after the war that you still have with you today? Any mementos or favourite objects?
IN
It's just memories, I guess.
KF
Just memories?
IN
Yeah.
KF
Oh, Wilson looks beautiful. Not that Wilson didn't look good before.
SN
Oh, he's got a nice haircut. A pet comes into the room. Wes and Kyla talk about pets for a minute. 01:34:20 – 01:35:01
KF
So, Mr. Nishi, when you look back on your life now, when you look back on what happened during the war, and your move to Alberta and everything how do you feel about it when you look back on it now?
IN
I could come up with a thousand stories but during that time there was what is called the “War Measures Act.” During the war the government came up with a special measure where we had to go according to that. We can't bend that. So it's tough for a lot of people, you know, my parents. brief pause. It's something like what the people in Syria are experiencing now. Those people moving out of Syria to Europe. Into Europe, Turkey.
KF
How is it similar?
IN
brief pause. It's alright. We've got a place to stay and work but if you're going to be displaced finding another place to live and work is hard. You know, when you've got a family. If you're by yourself it's different.
KF
So would you say the war and everything that happened afterwards was quite difficult on your parents then?
IN
I was thirteen when the war started and I was going to school here and after that I lost all my school friends. We lost contact.
KF
Did you?
IN
Yeah, when I came back. We had a reunion there one year and not everybody was there. Some of my classmates came up to say hello but I must've been absent from here for more than ten years. Seems like I lost the best part of my life, you know, when you're loose brief pause.
KF
When you went back to the school reunion were there other Japanese-Canadian students that you met?
IN
Yeah, there were a few there but not too many. There was a teacher that was ninety years old.
KF
Wow, and did they talk about their experiences when the war happened?
IN
No, not really. There were quite a few that passed away during the war and that. My eldest brother graduated the year I was born. Like I said before there's a picture of them in the hallway there at Richmond High. He's eighteen years older than me laughs.
01:40:05.000
01:40:05.000
KF
Did you ever talk about what happened with your other siblings?
IN
No, not really long pause. You know, if you're driving a car, if you come to a fork you either go this way or that way. We didn't have that choice. We had to take that road, you know?
KF
What about your kids did you share what happened, you know, your own personal history with your kids?
IN
No. If it's a good memory I'll tell them. Like if I win the lotto or something laughs.
KF
That's a good memory to share, yeah. Well, Susan, can I ask you then, how did you find out about your family's history?
SN
Well, when I was growing up most of it was a time when things were happening with the redress movement. So that's when I learned a lot about it. Growing up, I went to Steveston high school which had a lot of Japanese-Canadian people there, but we didn't really study it during history, even history twelve. We, maybe, talked about it for one thirty or fourty minute class and that was it. So it was really interesting. I learned more about it when I went to university and studied it a lot more when I was doing my masters. We were talking about immigration, different cultures, and how it affected ESL learners and second language acquisition. And then I learned a lot more about it there. I did that and I worked with Mas Fukawa doing the project, bringing it to the elementary schools, and collecting a lot of the data and just what kind of activities and resources were to be used with that package. That's how I got started learning more about it.
KF
Would you say there was an affect on what happened to your dad onto the rest of the family later on?
SN
You know, my dad and my grandma, because my grandma lived with us growing up, they were never bitter. They were never angry. They always said it's something that happens during war and you have to push on. That's it. Make the most of your opportunities, you can't keep dwelling on the past. The only time my dad mentioned something about racism. I went to teach in Australia. I got a teacher exchange to Sydney and that was one of the only times my dad said to me, he said “do you really want to go to Sydney?” and I said “Yes, I do want to go to Australia to teach there.” He says “because there's still a lot of racism there.” All white Australia, the white immigration policy, and he says it could be similar to what we experienced here and I said “oh, no. I'm going.” So I did go there and the area that I actually taught in was a predominantly white, upper-middleclass area. It would be like teaching in Shaughnessy, in Vancouver. So when I went to teach there one of the kids in the class put up their hand and there were only three non-Caucasian people at this school and I was one of them. The other one, his father was a professional. I think his father was a doctor but he was from India and this other boy was from China. We were the three visible minorities at the entire school of 400.
01:45:06.000
01:45:06.000
SN
One of the kids put up their hand and said “Well, my mom and dad told me that you're really not Canadian.” And I said “Oh, why is that?” he says “because you're Asian. You're Japanese you can't be Canadian.” So that was the first time that I experienced something like that and it wasn't here. It was when I went to Australia. So when I met the parents at meet the teacher night I was talking to them and, you know, I said “Oh no, yeah my dad was born in Canada.” “Oh no, that can't be.” And I said “No, he was.” It was very interesting after I talked to them. They thought I was okay. That was the only time I kind of experienced that sort of discrimination or racism but it wasn't here. It was really interesting.
KF
Yeah, that is really interesting.
KN
I heard this the first time.
SN
No, no, I told you that. I did. I always thought “wow, that is really interesting.” This little girl put her hand up and said “No, no, Ms. Nishi is not, my mom said she's not Canadian because she's Japanese and that can't be she's Canadian.” So, it was really interesting.
KF
What about this property for you, you know, we asked your dad about what it meant to him and why he stayed but what does this property mean to you?
SN
Well, it's, because I said all of us now have moved out and they still have the biggest house for all of us to gather at. I mean, we're in Vancouver. Our house isn't big enough for everybody. My sister's in a house but none of us have a big space like this to come to so we have Christmas, Thanksgiving is coming up. We just go “Okay, let's come here.” Birthdays, any significant ... My sisters, they do have houses, but it's just easier. It's just the gathering place. Everyone comes here. This is home for everybody. Even my husband Ben said he really would hate to see this house go. So whenever that time comes, whether or not we will purchase it to keep it in the family or my other sisters would decide to do that, so we can at least keep it in the family because they had it for such a long time. So that's, you know, that's kind of the thing that we're thinking about. It would be sad to see it go. I know it's big but we're helping them with getting gardeners into do things and with the upkeep because it's a lot for them but it'd be nice to keep it because there is so much history here. Once you sell it then it's gone and it's been in the family for such a long time.
KN
My thinking is that it's a family get together. It's most for that thing. It's here. It's easy to gather together.
KF
You guys have a lovely space to do family gatherings.
KN
Yeah, it's that plus three dogs.
KF
Plus three dogs. You have to have the dogs laughs.
SN
If they're moving into a place they want to make sure that the pets can come in, you know, and then the two young grandkids they just drive in and drop the kids off and they'll just be playing around the backyard. The littlest granddaughter is now going to preschool. That's at the community center. So my mom is so close, my mom is able and she has to go drop her off and then pick her up and she can still do that and they'll come in and see my dad. It's nice, it's such a good location.
KN
Yeah and sometimes it's not hard for me. It's only, it's me and then it's everything outside or inside. I think it's okay. They are so busy. It's everyday life. It's not a problem for now but in the future I can't do it.
KF
Steveston is truly your home base.
SN
Mhm.
KN
We were planning to move to a condo before but it's too late now. So we keep this here.
KF
So you're going to keep your house?
SN
They're going to keep it. So they'll be here for ...
IN
I won't be around for long, anyway laughs.
KN
Maybe he goes first laughs. It's nice to have that big space though. It's fifteen people altogether.
SN
Yeah, our family. My dad said when he built this house, right dad, his goal was to have a master suite on the main floor as well. It was, how many, twenty years ago. He said “you know Susan, when I get old I'm not going to walk up and down the stairs anymore so there's a master suite here and there's also going to be a master upstairs.” So he is able to stay here because he planned it that way twenty years ago.
KF
Strategic thinking, very good.
KN
You know why? We looked after the mother in-law, his mom, so at that time he's upstairs and when he gets sick or something he can't get downstairs.
IN
I had that bedroom built so that you could go in there with a wheelchair.
01:50:08.000
01:50:08.000
SN
Yeah, that's right. He did. He had it so he could go in there with a wheelchair. He had the door widened. So this is even twenty years ago before he needed it but “Susan, just in case we will need it.” And then now he does need it.
KN
The door space is a little bit bigger. It's wide. It's because the wheelchair is going in. So, for now it's okay.
SN
So far it's worked out dad.
IN
It's a nest. It's very hard to let go of it.
KF
Yeah.
SN
Because he used to walk into town all the time and back and forth to the coffee shop with the other fishermen friends in the morning.
KN
And the doctors, and the bank, and can go to the grocery store.
KF
Everything is so close.
SN
Everything is really close.
IN
It is convenient.
KF
I know when I Google mapped your address, when Susan gave me your address to come visit you, I thought “Oh, Moncton Street. Oh, okay.” And I searched in the computer.
IN
Were you ever here before in Steveston?
KF
Oh, I've been to Steveston plenty of times but to find exactly where your house was I searched it on the computer and Google map says “a three minute walk from the community center.” I'm like “Oh my god.” When Susan said, “Oh, my father lives right in the heart of Steveston” I was like “Oh, yeah” because, you know, I've been through the neighbourhood.
SN
Oh, yeah it could have been the other side.
KF
But you guys are right smack in the middle.
KN
Before it was farmland. There was nothing there. No community center.
KF
Well, you especially since you've came back have seen Steveston change so much from the time that you returned or even beforehand right? Yeah.
KN
Even when I came here in 1960 it's very, very changed. Both sides there's a ditch.
SN
Yeah, there's ditches.
KN
And then it's farmland. It's everywhere, yeah.
KF
Well, just to finish up the interview, can I ask you one more question? So, these interviews that we're doing will be archived in a museum for people to listen to later on. Is there a message that you'd like to pass on from your own personal experiences to future Canadians who will listen to this interview?
IN
There's so many things I want to pass on but ...
SN
You could think of it, dad, in terms of when Sophia and Wesley are older, they're only one and a half and three, you know, and they listen and hear about it, what message do you think that you would like them to learn?
KF
Oh, you have grandchildren. Right.
SN
Because they're so little right now, what message do you think ...
IN
I just can't find the words to express it. brief pause. Like, if I had my life to live over again I would probably take the same road. It's a long and a narrow one.
SN
Do you think, dad, that being interned changed your character a little bit? How do you think it changed you? brief pause.
01:55:16.000
01:55:16.000
SN
Do you think you would have gone back to finish your schooling because you always say that you only finished grade nine but wanted to go further. If you weren't a fisherman then what do you think you would have been maybe?
IN
I wish I finished high school anyways, at least.
KN
He always says that.
IN
Education is something that they can't take away from you. It's in you for your life.
SN
Do you think you still would have been a fisherman?
IN
I think if I had the education I won't be a fisherman. There's a lot of other jobs that are better.
SN
But you always told me you liked being your own boss. You didn't have to work nine to five and you loved being ...
IN
Yeah, well, being a fisherman is being it's own job. It's a business.
SN
That's right.
IN
You don't work for anybody. You only work for yourself.
KF
Yeah, it's a small business.
SN
That's right it's a small business.
IN
Yeah.
SN
And then you said you loved being outside on the boat.
IN
brief pause. Being a fisherman is a hard life. You're away from home half the year and where men are and women aren't, you know laughs. You've got to do your own cooking and all that, everything brief pause.
SN
I think in a way, for me, because my dad had always wished he'd gone back to school and never did. So I went back to university because when I graduated from high school I really didn't think I was going to go to university. I thought I would get a job or do something and then I did that and then enjoyed it and then went back again. In some ways I think did I do it for myself or did I do it for my dad because he wasn't able to go?
KF
Right.
SN
And, you know, to go on and do it because I wasn't really ... my sisters were much, much smarter than I was in school and I just kind of did the bare minimum. But then when I got there I enjoyed it and my dad would always say, you know, “an education you can never ...” you know “it's so valuable and no one can ever take it away from you.” I thought “Oh, okay.” When I went on and ... It was good.
KN
You know, my husband is a good fisherman. It's only one income and there's four kids and then grandma. So it's very tough I think. He always said that “I want to go back to school” but at that time he can't say that “I want to go to school” to his parents. Everybody was working so hard. BC Packers is right there, it's five minutes away. Everybody was working there. The mother was working at BC Packers. It's only three people. It's only a stay at home mom. It's only me and so it's only one income. At that time it's very, very, you know, both parents working so hard. Not us. It's only one. It's very hard for us. We don't tell that to children.
SN
We never missed out. We had piano lessons, swimming lessons, Japanese school, lots of activities. We didn't miss out on anything.
IN
I took them to Disneyland, too.
SN
Yeah, we went to Disneyland, Hawaii laughs.
KF
You said you're quite a big reader, or you were a big reader. So what kind of things did you like to read?
IN
Almost anything that I could get my hands on.
KF
Oh, really?
SN
Lots of non-fiction, right?
IN
I used to be a subscriber to the Reader's Digest.
KF
Yeah, great. That comes quite often, doesn't it.
SN
He read lots of biographies, right dad, about different people and hockey players, sports people, politicians.
IN
I think old age is catching up to me is all. There's not a lot of interest, you know.
KF
Oh, yeah. Oh, go ahead.
KN
My son likes to play hockey. It's lots of spending on my son for hockey. In the summertime I've got to look after him. It's hockey, baseball, football, and so I drove him all over. He missed that kind of stuff for the summertime. Hockey now that it's winter but he enjoyed it. It's others and the kids, they don't skate. They can't swim. It's my son's friend. There's so much difference because both parents are working right and so my son told me “I'm so happy. I can skate, I can swim.” Some boys can't. It's both parents are working.
KF
Yeah, great. Any last words you'd like to add, Mr. Nishi, to your interview?
IN
Pardon?
KF
Any last words you'd like to add to your interview before we finish?
IN
No. I can't find the right words. All I can say is adios.
KF
No, that's a good ending laughs. Great, well thank you so much to the entire family.
02:02:08.000

Metadata

Title

Isao “Wes”, Susan, and Kayoko Nishi, interviewed by Kyla Fitzgerald, 03 October 2015

Abstract

Wes Nishi begins the interview talking about his earliest childhood memories and the hobbies he engaged in outside of school. He describes having to evacuate British Columbia the year after the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. His parents had decided to move to Alberta for the sole purpose of keeping the family together. After moving to Alberta, West’s family found work on a sugar beet farm working long hours in the blistering heat. Wes recalls the farmland that his parents owned, what it was used for, and how they received a $1700 check for the land. He then explains what Steveston was like on the day of Pearl Harbor, what his parents had said to him about the evacuation, and how his father reclaimed the family home after returning back to British Columbia. Wes’s wife, Mrs. Nishi, reflects on his mother’s feelings toward the redress settlement. Wes recalls the different types of property his family lost during the period of internment and dispossession. To conclude the interview Wes speaks about the lessons that he would like the Canadian public and his grandchildren to learn from his experiences.

Credits

Interviewer: Kyla Fitzgerald
Interviewee: Susan Nishi
Interviewee: Kayoko Nishi
XML Encoder: Stewart Arneil
Publication Information: See Terms of Use for publication and licensing information.
Setting: Nishi Family Home in Steveston, BC
Keywords: Steveston ; Pearl Harbor ; Lord Byng; Barons; Lethbridge ; Alberta ; Taber ; Coutts; Ucluelet ; Tofino ; Kelowna ; Moncton; Fishing; Boat; House; BC Packers ; Canadian Fish; Nelson Brothers; Car; Ford; Japan ; 1900s – 2000s

Terminology

Readers of these historical materials will encounter derogatory references to Japanese Canadians and euphemisms used to obscure the intent and impacts of the internment and dispossession. While these are important realities of the history, the Landscapes of Injustice Research Collective urges users to carefully consider their own terminological choices in writing and speaking about this topic today as we confront past injustice. See our statement on terminology, and related sources here.