Grace Omoto, interviewed by Alexander Pekic, 24 November 2015

Grace Omoto, interviewed by Alexander Pekic, 24 November 2015

Abstract
Grace speaks about her early life, being born in Steveston then moving to Clayoquot and Tofino after her father passed away. Her mother remarried to Mr. Mori, a fisherman and they moved to Vancouver so Grace and her brother could get a better education. There, her mother ran a small grocery store until the war started, which she sold for a small price. They were taken to Hastings Park for a couple weeks before their eventual relocation to the Lemon Creek internment site. Grace then speaks about her and her family's move to Beamsville ON to operate a nursery, then their eventual settling in Toronto. Grace also speaks about her visits to Japan, return trips to BC and the other internment camps, and the trajectory of her career. She remembers her stepfather somehow managed to bring their gramophone with them to Lemon Creek although thinks it was left there before moving to Beamsville. She reflects upon the kindness of her many neighbours in Tofino and Vancouver.
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Alexander Pekic (AP)
Today is November 24th, 2015. We are speaking with Grace Omoto in her home as part of the Landscapes of Injustice research project. Grace, thank you very much for speaking with us.
Grace Omoto (GO)
You're welcome.
AP
And thanks for having me today. So, please, tell me about your life.
GO
Ok. I was born in Steveston, British Columbia, which was just a little fishing village way back then in 1931. My mother had two kids, myself and my brother. My mom lost her husband I think when I was about three and a half years old. So she took the two of us back to Clayoquot on Vancouver Island, and a few years later she married Mr. Mori, my stepfather who brought us up. We lived in Tofino, British Columbia on Vancouver Island until – I was about in grade 3 or 4, when my dad decided that perhaps schooling would be better for us in Vancouver. So we moved into Vancouver. My stepfather continued his job on what they call packer boats. He would go around to the different canneries. The fisherman brought in their fish and the packer boats would take this fresh fish into place like Vancouver, Seattle, for the market. My mother ran a little grocery store in Vancouver until the war started. Then she -- she had to give up the store. I think she was able to sell the store at a very minimal price. We were living in Vancouver, I think it was a rooming house on Alexander Street, just for a few weeks. Then we went into Hastings Park. Hastings Park was a roundup place for all the Japanese people from the coast. My mother wanted to be with her family most of who were fisherman on the coast who were in Hastings Park. And so we went into Hastings Park for a couple of weeks until they moved us inland. We went to a place called Lemon Creek. It was a farmer's field and houses were built not too well. But anyways. I think there were over a thousand people living there. And so were in Lemon Creek from 1942 until April 1945 when my dad decided -- oh there was, the government had said either you move east of the Rockies or you go back to Japan. My stepfather couldn't see taking back a nissei, you know, Canadian born wife and kids back to Japan. So he opted to move out east. And so in April we got on the train and came out to Ontario. Somehow, dad had gotten a contract with a nursery in Beamsville, CH . He had hired quite a few Japanese families to work on his farm. It was a nursery, fruit growing, different things. So we went to Beamsville from April '45 until '49. I think it must have been a three year contract that he had. And then we came into Toronto. I went to high school in Beamsville until grade 10 and continued in Toronto after that. Life in Toronto was pretty much good.
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GO
My dad started a gardening business. I think for a while my mother went to work as a housekeeper in different homes. My brother and I just went to school. After high school, I thought about going into nursing but I never did. I started working in an office. In those days school -- I guess different companies would be looking for people and so my guidance teacher sent me to General Electric. I had no experience as a office worker because I took a metric course. But they hired me anyways and I work there for 9 years until I got married and raise a family in Don Mills.
AP
You moved to Vancouver when you were about 3 you said?
GO
Yes.
AP
Do you remember much about that time in Vancouver prior to leaving?
GO
In Vancouver it was a nice time for us, like just going to school. We went to Strathcona Public School and we would come home and Mom would have a little snack ready for us. And then we would go off and walk down to Powell Street, Alexander Street where they had a Japanese school. So I went to Japanese school 5 days a week. Pretty much routine. I just remember in Vancouver it used to get very, very foggy, and one night my brother didn't come home. Then we found out that he had been hit by a car. I guess the only way the police could find anybody is to go back to the Japanese school. And so the principal made sure he was in the hospital and then he came over to our house to give notice what had happened to David. But he was fine. Other than that days in Vancouver were pretty ideal. I know Mom, I know she had a problem selling the store because at that time they were confiscating all the Japanese property. And my mom fortunately being a nissei, being able to speak English, was able to come to authorities and say “Look, my son needs a tonsillectomy done. I have no money. You have to give me the money that I sold the store for.” So I think they gave her $200 or something.
AP
Where was her store?
GO
On Georgia Street East. It was not in the Japanese section of Vancouver, it was more closer to what they used to call Chinatown. It was a mixed neighborhood. My neighbors were Italian, I remember, across the street. And we had one Chinese family next door, but most of them were, you know, white Canadians. Business people.
AP
So she sold the store and then spoke to the authorities and explain the situation and got some money--
GO
That she had to have some money for my brother's tonsillectomy, yeah.
AP
And the store was a grocery store?
GO
Just a little wee grocery store.
AP
During that time, what happened to the other things that you had, any possessions that you had?
GO
At that time, it was the same as the people out on the coast. You couldn't take everything with you. I guess, I really don't know what my mom packed, I can't remember, but they must have just been bare essentials.
AP
So the stuff that you didn't take remained in your home?
GO
In the home and I am sure it got sold or trashed by whoever bought the store.
AP
So you lived above the store?
GO
We lived, yeah, at the back of the store. I can't imagine -- to me I thought it was a big place because we had a place like a living room, a dining room. I had my own bedroom. I know Mom and Dad had their own bedroom, and then sure, my brother had a room somewhere.
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GO
And I even remember my dad building a Japanese bath at the back of the store. There's always the visitors from the island, and from Steveston. I have one cousin in Toronto, she's in her nineties now, but I remember when she came from Steveston to live with us, to take up dressmaking in Vancouver. And rather than commute everyday she stayed with us for a week and went home on the weekends. A couple of, they weren't aunts, but cousins I guess, mom's relatives had stayed with us in Vancouver. There was no -- when the War started there was really -- I didn't notice any hardship like people calling us names or anything at school. I think when you're about in grade 4, 5, kids don't seem to really know what's happening. The only time I encountered sort of a racial thing was in Beamsville when the war ended. It's a small town and I think it was August after the atomic bomb, the whole town was celebrating outside and on the streets and everything. Naturally I was out there with my friends. And I remember one white boy making a racist remark which I thought was strange. But other than that I really hadn't come -- not really direct discrimination in Beamsville. So that was about it really.
AP
When you came to Toronto did you find people welcoming or cold towards you because of your background?
GO
I think, we didn't come in to Toronto until '49 I think. And by that time, there have been quite an influx of Japanese in Toronto. And I think people were kind of getting used to it. I had heard stories of earlier people not being able to find a place to live because nobody wanted to Japanese in their home. And the only ones that really took you in and gave you jobs in Toronto was the Jewish community. Things like that I heard as you're growing up.
AP
Did your mother ever work for any Jewish families?
GO
No she didn't. Oh yes she did, I'm sorry. We were living in a home on Rusholme Road in the West End of Toronto. My mom used to go do housework and one of the families was just up the street, was a Jewish Family. She worked with them, and they were very good to her. My dad was a gardener and so she got him a job doing their garden. Then when the Kastens decided they were going to sell the house, my dad liked the house, so he told Mr. Kasten he'd like to buy the house and Mr. Kasten said fine. And he was good enough to -- the house was a family inheritance, so he had to go through a bit of legal things. It had to be out on the market, open to anybody, and he had to take the best offer that would come because you know of the Grace makes a motion in the air with her hands. And he was good enough to let my dad know -- it's not done legally -- to let my dad know what the offers were so Dad could just up in a little bit. and we lived in that house for quite a number of years I think.
AP
And that gentleman's name was Mr Gaston?
GO
Mr. Kasten.
AP
Kasten. And he was of Jewish background?
GO
Yeah, he was of Jewish background. Apparently the house belonged to his wife's side of the family.
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AP
Ok.
GO
And one of his sons was an artist, but I don't know how far he got in the art world. I did see one -- when we moved in, the son left some of his stuff behind. One of them was a painting by one of the Group of Seven. So it was quite interesting.
AP
Yeah. Did you hold on to that painting?
GO
No laughs. No, he left his stuff in one room on the 3rd floor and came to pick it up and that was it.
AP
What number on Rushholme was it?
GO
363.
AP
I'll look for that because I -- I go up and down Rusholme quite frequently.
GO
It's an apartment building. The whole block is one big apartment building.
AP
Ok, yeah I'll look for that next time I am on Rusholme, just out of curiosity. Because I live pretty close to that area.
GO
Is that right? It was a nice area.
AP
Yeah very nice, my mom used to work on Rusholme for many, many years.
GO
Oh really.
AP
But I am trying to think -- she worked at a house on Rusholme closer to College Street.
GO
Yeah. Some of the bigger, wealthier homes were closer to College. We lived just below Bloor and I think those houses weren't as -- just ordinary, although it was a very comfortable house. Years later, I think when my husband had appointments at Western Hospital and I had to wait in between things, and I was walking on College Street. I kept walking, until I got to Rusholme Road and I walked up the street and I noticed all the big homes that were there had tall iron fences that were never there before. But you know what's interesting? Toby Robins is an actress that went to England. Toby Robins lived on Rusholme Road, but in one of the bigger houses.
AP
So when you walk that way to drop by your former house?
GO
Yes I did.
AP
What was that like, seeing that?
GO
The house wasn't there because of the apartment.
AP
Oh right.
GO
But the house that my dad had rented rooms before we bought the house was still there pause. Yeah, I guess that's about it as far as my life goes. pause I -- as far as, a lot of people talked about their losses during the war, what they had. I can't really remember anything that I particularly had that I lost. I'm sure my mom did, but for myself, not really. Like, it was a big adventure really. I've never been on a train before in my life and here we were being shipped out to the ghost towns on a train.
AP
So a first for you.
GO
It was. It was an adventure.
AP
What was that train journey like?
GO
it was a really dusty, dirty train. You know coal burning, like when you got off the train you are just covered in soot. bBut it was a train ride anyways. As far as living in the ghost towns goes, they put us in -- my dad wasn't with us. My dad had been sent to a road camp in -- actually I think he was one of those that built in Jasper, the Jasper area in Alberta. So mom took us to Lemon Creek. Her mother, family, we are also in Lemon Creek. I don't remember too much except playing, going to school. Friends that I made in Lemon Creek I still have, I still keep in touch with.
AP
Where do they live? Those friends that you made in Lemon Creek, where do they live? In the Toronto area, or--
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GO
One lives in Rexdale. The others I don't see too often, but whenever the Cultural center has things then you get together occasionally, you run in to one or the other. It's nice. One very close friend I had in Lemon Creek, she lived right next door to us and her sister just celebrated her 100th birthday.
AP
Oh wow.
GO
She comes to our church and it was something.
AP
When you left home for Lemon Creek, you said that your mom probably took just bare essentials. Do you know if there's anything you held onto after you left the camp?
GO
You know, one thing I can't -- I don't know how my dad did it, but he liked singing, he liked music. He brought the gramophone with him to Lemon Creek. I can't understand how he managed to bring that from Vancouver. I don't know where it was stored when we were in Hastings Park. But somehow in Lemon Creek the gramophone was still there. And I don't know if it came to Ontario with us or not, I don't think so.
AP
But it definitely made its way to Lemon Creek.
GO
Yeah, he must have left it behind I think.
AP
And that was the last place you saw it, the gramophone, in Lemon Creek?
GO
Uh huh. Yeah.
AP
Have you gone back to BC since you left?
GO
Yes, quite a few times. My husband's family was a little different. They didn't wait for the government to move them. They on their own went to a place called Kamloops in British Columbia. So he had never experienced ghost towns. But we went back, he was quite interested in the ghost towns, so we took a tour. We went to -- visited with my daughter. My daughter had move to Calgary by then, this is in the late '80s, '90s. So we visited them in Calgary and drove with them to the Kootenays. Then I think, went across on a ferry, which is still part of the Trans Canada highway I understand. I guess it is Kootenay Lake and we ended up in Nelson, I think. And that was the closest town in that ghost town area. So as the kids were golfing we toured the different ghost towns. So we went to Kaslo, Sandon, New Denver and then on to Slocan and then to Lemon Creek. And at this time Lemon Creek was -- all the houses were gone. It was converted back to a farmer's field. But there's -- this one fellow had a lodge -- I think it must have been in one kind of a tour because he would have buses of tour people coming. And we went there and wanted to have lunch. He said he was sorry, he had just finished feeding his tour group but if we didn't mind some sandwiches he'd be happy to accommodate us. So he did and then and talking with him, when he learned that I was living in Lemon Creek, he went upstairs and came down with a bunch of photographs and to show us what had happened after we left. So it was quite interesting.
AP
What was it like looking at those photographs?
GO
It was really something. I was trying to picture where was our house. I know we were on a little hill. My dad, when there's nothing to do, had built a rock garden all the way down. There was one spot with a pile of rocks and I thought, I wonder if that's where my house was, but it was hard to figure out.
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GO
But the fellow told us that the farmer who owned that land to begin with was told by the government that it was being used for building houses for the evacuation people. And apparently that poor man got nothing for it. The government just took over, built houses. I guess they must have smashed all those houses down again because there was really nothing left but an open field.
AP
But the rocks that you saw you thought maybe were--
GO
Yeah there was a bunch of rocks there, then there was another bunch of rocks there, and I'm trying to pinpoint exactly where our house could have been. It was a very sentimental journey I guess.
AP
Did you ever go back to Vancouver and visit the old home there?
GO
We went back to Vancouver, I think my husband was more interested in where he used to live. And he had better knowledge of Vancouver than I did. But I did say we lived on Georgia Street East. We may have gone by the store, but I really couldn't remember. I know there's a couple of Italian families living across the street. One of their name was Padulas, I remember that name. And whenever she'd make spaghetti, or macaroni with tomato sauce, she would bring a dish over for us, because she knew we liked it. Good neighbors, we had nice neighbors. And even the Chinese man that lived two doors away -- we played with his kids, but we were never invited inside the house except on New Year's Day, and then he would invite us in. But maybe that was an old Chinese tradition, I don't know.
AP
So neighborly relations in that neighborhood were good?
GO
Uh huh, it was good. There was another lady that ran a bakery shop two doors down from my mom. She used to have nice donuts, I remember her donuts laughs. Yeah Vancouver in those days was, you know, not the city that it is now. Because you could hear chickens and you could hear roosters crowing, which in the city you never hear anything like that. I remember things like that in Vancouver. And the school -- I can't remember too much about the school, but it wasn't too far, and then walking down to the Japanese school. And on Sundays, there was another lady, another family that lived further away. I think she must have been the Sunday-school teacher because she knew you would come by the store to pick me up to take me to Sunday school in Vancouver. So my recollection of Vancouver is not so good in those days. But I have been back many times since, yeah. I have -- I guess because half of my mother's family after the war went back to the coast, like Buddy's family, and so have my cousins live out there and then there's the other half that stayed in Ontario.
AP
Were you too small to remember living in Tofino and all of that, prior t going to Vancouver?
GO
I remember going to school in Tofino. We lived in the house not too far from the hospital, I remember that. I remember a farm next door to us that had cows and being terribly afraid of the cows, although the people there were very nice people. The Arnotts, they had a huge family. I remember the house, I remember -- little stream I guess, running alongside the house. But when I went back I couldn't see anything like that in Tofino. And now it's such a bustling tourist town that anything old I think has been torn down.
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GO
I know the hospital is gone. So pause life in Tofino was going to school and then going to Japanese school too. I don't know, we always went to Japanese school somehow laughs, pause. A lot of the Japanese people lived in little villages, people lived in little villages, somehow we just lived in town more or less, in one house.
AP
When you go back to BC is there a sort of, any emotional connection you have to the West Coast?
GO
Yeah like there are some things you remember and you recall. I remember the first time I went back after the war and I went to the coast, I remember as a kid in Clayoquot playing on the beach, and picking up periwinkles on the beach. And so it when I went back it was kind of fun to do that again. But then Clayoquot is now a private island and you can't go there anymore. But I was in Tofino last March, the past March. One of my aunts passed away. And the place as I said has really, really changed. So I couldn't recognize anything. Except the docks. I remember going -- it's a hill and you go down to the docks, and the docks are still in the same place, but the docks are still there. But everything else had changed, so--
AP
When your mother sold the store, did she just sell the business or did she sell the property?
GO
I think the store was rented. So she just sold the business.
AP
So you guys owned the property or rented the --
GO
Rented the whole property, I guess he rented the whole building. It was -- I think they were people living upstairs, I'm not too sure. But it went from the street all the way back to the alley. I remember that pause. At the time it seemed big, seemed like there was a lot of space, but maybe wasn't that big. but it was right, pause right on Georgia Street pause. I can't tell you if it was east or west. East I think, I'm sure it was Georgia Street East. Can't remember the number. It wasn't too far from Main Street. I think in Vancouver, Main was the middle I think and then the numbers started east or west from Main Street. pause So Vancouver before the war, just going to school, there's a park not too far where we used to go swimming. On Sundays the family would take you to Stanley Park, things like that. Occasionally we would take the streetcar and go to Steveston to visit dad's mom's friends, relatives. It was an ideal life I think in Vancouver in those days.
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GO
Pause I don't think my mom made a lot of money on the store, but enough to keep the family going. Then as I said my dad was working on the boats too, so that what is it.
AP
Did he have to be away from home for a long time for his work?
GO
My dad?
AP
Yeah.
GO
Yes. He only came home on the weekends and not every weekend depending on where he went. The big treat was when he went to Seattle and he would bring home those great big cherries that he'd buy a whole boxful in Seattle and bring it home for us. Because I guess we did get fruit from the Okanagan, because I remember having apples. In those days in the store windows she would display oranges and apples and there's always Delicious apples and the Macintosh apples, those two. But then you would kind of polish them up and pile them up. So that's about all I remember of the store. I know I never had to go and buy treats, it was always there. Although once in awhile she would give us a nickel, I think, on our way to Japanese school. On Powell Street there was a store that sold Japanese crackers. He'd give you a bag full for a nickel, broken ones. So occasionally that was a treat. I remember going to Japanese school. The last teacher I had was a very young teacher. Up till then they were what I thought we were old ladies. She was very nice and I never knew what happened to her. That was the last year before they disbanded the school because of the war. And I thought I wouldn't have to go to Japanese school after that. But in Lemon Creek, we were a family of just four. My dad had to come back by then because he had broken a leg when he was in in Jasper and they sent him back. So he lived with us in Lemon Creek. He was able to go to work in the saw mills, in the wood - chopping wood really somewhere. But he'd come home everyday so he was with us most of the time. A lot of the families didn't have fathers sleeping with them. Lemon Creek was okay, as kids, you know you're going to school, there are really no problems. I'm sure my mom had problems. I don't know how she did it but she used to make -- baked bread and things for us in a wooden stove. She'd have to start the fire, I don't know how she managed to gauge the temperature in the oven to bake. But she did a lot of baking for us. Pause I think my mom had a hard life. She was the oldest of 10 kids. As a young girl in Vancouver, she would go to what they would call -- she would be what they call a school girl. She'll work for a white family and they let her go to school, but she'd come home and have to work for them. She said she had to start the furnace first thing in the morning and I think help prepare breakfast and then she'd go to school, and then come home and do the housework or whatever the family wanted to do. She said they were nice. The man wanted her to keep going to school, but grandpa in Clayoquot, they wanted to have a school. They had to have x number of kids and they were one short. And so Grandpa called Mom back, and mom really wanted to stay in Vancouver and continue to go to school there, but she had to go back to Clayoquot.
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GO
So she did, went to school there. She -- I think she said she only got to grade 8 and that was it. But she managed well, she was bilingual. She could read and write Japanese and English. Her brothers were sent to Cumberland in British Columbia to learn Japanese. Grandma always said she sent the boys to Cumberland to learn Japanese and the only one who would write to her in Japanese was my mother. I was fortunate. I had a grandmother, maternal grandmother who lived until I have my own kids. I heard a lot of stories about Japan from her, her life, and it was interesting. I feel fortunate that I had her around, just to talk to, share things with.
AP
So your mother was born on the coast in BC?
GO
My mother was also born in Steveston.
AP
And her parents, your grandparents, had to come over from Japan?
GO
Yes.
AP
What year was that?
GO
I think. Grandpa first came in late 1800 or early 1900. My mom was born in 1909. Grandpa had come to Canada once, went back to Japan, I think to get married, and came back again. And grandma joined him afterwards. Grandma's passage says her final destination is in Seattle, because I think Canada had closed the Japanese coming into Canada. but she got off the boat in Victoria and stayed. I often thought, my grandma must have been one of the first illegal immigrants laughs. Grandma came in 1905, 1906 something like that. And mom was born in 1909, in the early 1900s.
AP
Where did they come from in Japan?
GO
My grandmother came from a place called Fukuoka. I think that's where my grandfather came from too.
AP
Have you ever visited Japan?
GO
I've been to Japan. I went to Fukuoka but I had no idea where my grandmother -- you know what part my grandmother came from. So I wasn't able to go into that, but I did go to the city of Fukuoka. I just got back from Japan a week ago Saturday. But this time we spent -- after my studies in Kyoto, we went to an area called Sendai, northern part of Japan which I had never been to. That was an interesting trip. It was a beautiful country. The whole country is so beautiful.
AP
That's what I hear.
GO
Yeah, just really, really nice.
AP
So you've been there a few times.
GO
Yes. the first time was in '85, when Tosh's uncle wanted his family to go back to see the old homestead type of thing. At that time his kids were a lot younger and they weren't interested. So uncle said to Tosh, “you come and see what the place is like.” And after that his kids came and they really love going back. So I spent time in my husband's old family town. So I never did get to see my father's part of Japan. We went through on the train. My dad's sister -- oh my mother went back to Japan for the first time in 1967 to meet her sister-in-law.
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GO
Then the sister-in-law decided to build a grave. Japanese people are great at graves. So she built one. Mom had sent some of Dad's ashes to her so she had dad's ashes buried in the grave. Then she also had space for my mother. And on one of her trips to Japan I went to Wakayama where my stepfather came from. I was told by relatives where to go, where to get off. There was nobody there that was family anymore. But I got there, got off at the right spot, got a taxi, told the fellow where I wanted to go. He knew where it was. So he took me to the grave site and it was -- a highway ride along the coast, a beautiful area. And he stopped the taxi by the side of the road and said “Up there”. I thought it would be a small grave. It was a huge big grave site and I said to my husband, “ how on Earth am I ever going to find it?” and everything is written in Japanese. Fortunately, my maiden name, Omori, is very easy to write in Japanese characters, so I knew how. And I said you look for it, Omori. So he went to one side, I went to another side and I found the grave. In Japan, all the names are engraved already and people who are alive, their name is written in red. And since my mom had just died and Tosh had marked her name in black too. So I got to see my dad's grave in Japan. It was really nice, it was just beautiful. Just on a high hill and you are looking out to the sea. I don't know the whole country is so beautiful. So you have to go visit sometime.
AP
I would very much like to.
GO
The place that we just visited, just recently, Sendai was where the earthquake and tsunami was. In that area, there is an area called Matsushima, which is just an incredibly -- especially at this time of the year with all the changing of the leaves, it was such a beautiful country. And Matsushima has, out in the sea there's islands, little wee islands all in the bay. And on one of our trips a boat out to sea to see all of the little Islands. It was really a nice visit. And we did see parts of Sendai -- I noticed a lot of the buildings were new and I think that's where the tsunami must have hit, but they must have rebuilt it, because you really didn't see any devastation at all. That's about it.
AP
Going back a little bit, back to when you were in Vancouver, when you were forced to leave, you initially said that neighborly relations we're quite friendly.
GO
U huh.
AP
When you were leaving, did that change at all?
GO
Not that I noticed. The Padula's across the street were Italian and I think they were feeling a little uneasy too because of the war situation. I just remember, did I really say goodbye to them? I think we kind of said goodbye to them. Didn't talk to my Chinese neighbor.
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GO
Pause No, I didn't think there was any animosity amongst our neighbors, but then again, I was just 9, 10, I don't really know. But my mom never mentioned that anyone was rude or anything like that. I guess it must have been a confusing time for everyone really, with the war.
AP
After you had relocated to Ontario, your parents, did they did they talk much about their life in Vancouver and BC and their time in the camp?
GO
Not really, not really.
AP
Because that's a common sentiment I find.
GO
It seems that way.
AP
People's parents, yeah just didn't really want to talk about it.
GO
Pause No, I don't ever really recall Dad or Mom talking about what happened, too much anyways. The subject comes up like when my uncles decided to take up the BC government offer to go back and do fishing. There were comments like “ well why would you want to go back there after what they did to you?” but other than that, I don't think there was too much -- or we didn't hear about it.
AP
So your uncles went back and they fished?
GO
My uncle's went back.
AP
How did they find it there?
GO
They would go back -- I think the canneries would sponsor them back. Lend them a boat, rent them a boat or whatever until they were able to buy their own. I'm not too sure exactly how that went. Bud's dad would have known more, Buddy would have known more about that than I would. I know it wasn't an easy time for them. I remember my Aunt Mary -- she is the wife of . At the time he was more adventuresome than the others. He would initiate these things like going back and that. Uncle Tom took her-- Aunt Mary was the Vancouver girl, she had never been on the island, used to city life. So he takes her back to Ucluelet. Tofino was not allowing any Japanese back into Tofino at the time after the war. So he settled in a place called Ucluelet. In Ucluelet, the other end was a place called Spring Cove.Iit was an old Air Force Barracks I think and so he settled in one of the barracks and made it home there. He left my aunt with two babies, one baby I think. no, two. Gordy was born in Hamilton and Doug was born in '49 in Toronto. And they left in '49. Uncle Tommy drove across the country to Ucluelet. He left my aunt with two babies and went to Port Alberni to wait for uncle's family to come. Uncle's family was delayed because someone had a cold and this and that. My aunt said she was with a few cans of milk for the baby, not an awful lot of food, because uncle thought he was coming home in about a week or so. She said this native lady is living downstairs and this native lady would come and knock on her door and my aunt was petrified. She wouldn't open the door. She'd never encountered a native person before.
00:55:01.000
00:55:01.000
GO
She was laughing about it afterwards, but she said she was so frightened. She said she really didn't know how she managed to live those couple of weeks that my uncle was away. It was quite interesting talking to her about her first days there.
AP
Did she speak to the native woman eventually?
GO
Eventually. She was a very nice lady.
AP
Yeah.
GO
And this native lady was so worried because she knew this woman was there with two babies, and wondering how she was doing, because there's no electricity, no running water.
AP
Was that native lady helpful in any way? did she mention --
GO
I don't know what happened to her. They don't stay long in one place, so I think she may have moved away shortly after. But she remembers her as trying to help her, and my aunt not knowing anything, not accepting her help. You know my aunt in Ucluelet, they named her Citizen of Year at one point.
AP
Your aunt?
GO
U huh. In Ucluelet. She did a lot. After things settled down and everything, she'd start swimming classes for the kids at school. She'd do different things. She was involved in Ucluelets' historical society. They were trying to build a museum. Up to now they still haven't built the museum. They have the land, they purchased the land, and that's that. She gathered a lot of photographs in Ucluelet and my husband used to be a photographer. So when we'd go back to visit she'd want prints made. So he'd bring them home, make prints and send them back to her. So she said a lot of the photographs in the museum are prints that my husband had done for her. I don't know when that museum is going to get built. I hope it does one of these days. I hope they start before because my aunt is now 91.
AP
Speaking of museums and stuff like that, how do you think the internment and that time should be remembered and presented to future generations?
GO
I wonder. I think it kind of has to go in chronological order, with the war, starting in December. I remember that very well because my birthday is in December, 5th, and they bombed Pearl Harbor on the 6th or the 7th. They ruined my birthday party because it was a blackout in Vancouver. So my mom always had a birthday party for me, but I couldn't have a birthday party that year. Because nobody was allowed to travel that night. pause So I guess it would start in December 1941, and there's -- lots of different people have documented different events from different places, because the Japanese people were scattered all up the coast. Logging towns, sawmill towns and fishing villages. So when Tosh was gathering photographs for -- actually he started at Momiji gathering old photos, places that I've never heard of that the Japanese people were living in.
01:00:04.000
01:00:04.000
GO
It was quite interesting. Now the Cultural Center has all of his copies, that he made. People would send in their pictures and he would make copies. So I guess in a way the center has tried to do some kind of museum. I don't know how much they've done, I don't know how far back they're going. Maybe they're going back to the time when the Japanese people first came to Canada, I don't know. Pause. The evacuation is almost I think a separate category in itself, not just the life of Japanese people in Canada. Pause I don't know what else there is.
AP
Did you speak to your children about your experience?
GO
On and off. I guess my husband has -- especially maybe trying to teach the kids something. he would say this is what he did in Kamloops or whatever. Whether they listened or not is something else. Not too much, they don't ask too many questions. It's only when they're doing a project in school that they'll ask. Pause Yeah, some of the kids I think have gone back, depending on the subject. I know one of Tosh's cousins' kids did a project and Tosh helped him with family names and that. I think that boy is in Japan right now. He goes to McMaster, he is in his second year now. He was one of the lucky kids that got picked to go to Japan for 6 months to study. I know he went in August and I know he's coming back in September sometime. But his father is Japanese and his mother is Caucasian, but he was very interested in his father's side of the family history. So if you have people like that interested, they could probably add to the museum, their thoughts. He would be 4th generation Japanese, like my kids would be 4th generation Japanese. I don't know how a museum -- I guess stories, pictures, artifacts, that's about it.
AP
Going back to Pearl Harbor, that day, so that was around your birthday. Do you remember the actual day that the bombing happened and do you remember where you were and what you were doing?
GO
I know there was a lot of unusual activity just within our family. People phoning, people coming, people talking. So that's about all I remember.
AP
And after you certainly remembered your birthday party not happening.
GO
It ruined my birthday party. I'll never forgive them for that laughs. Because they ruined an awful lot of lives too. But that was the government of the day in Japan.
AP
During that time was your either mother or father in touch with any family in Japan?
GO
No they lost all contact. My stepfather heard quite a bit later that his mother had passed away in Japan. But at the time no, he didn't get direct notification. I guess a lot of communication was lost. Some people may have kept up some sort of communication, but you see my dad didn't really keep up too much.
AP
Do you have any relatives in Japan? I think you mentioned that there was someone you were in touch with. Grace: None, I don't think. My husband had relatives in Japan. His family, his grandfather came to Canada, had kids, some kids in Japan, and he had some kids born in Canada. He went back to Japan fairly well-off in that he made his money in Canada and went back. And so my husband was in touch with -- I guess because his mother would be close to her family so when she -- I think there was a time when they went back to Japan as kids, and he lived with his grandfather for about a year. I don't know it seems like his dad thought about starting a life in Japan, but it wasn't to be. So they came back a year later and Tosh was lucky enough to remember that part of his life in Japan. His younger brother doesn't remember a thing. So whenever we went to Japan it was always to his family's village. I never got around to my step father's side of the family. I knew where they live because my mother went to visit there, but I never got to visit there. Pause Really I think my life is pretty bland, nothing really exciting happened.
AP
Sounds exciting to me.
GO
Yeah I worked, right after high school I went to work at General Electric. I worked there for a few years, got married, had 4 kids, lost one. Life goes on.
AP
After High School and starting to work did being of Japanese descent ever pose any issues that you could remember?
GO
No, not for me. And at the time when I first started working for General Electric, I didn't know, but they did not hire any Jewish engineers. There was one Japanese girl working in the typing pool and apparently she was a very good worker. So when I went to apply I think they thought maybe Japanese people might be good workers. So I got the job. And I stayed there, started off as a file Clerk and ended up in the accounting department doing payroll for the whole place.
01:10:02.000
01:10:02.000
GO
And when you're in payroll you're handing out paychecks. Everybody's really good to you. Alex and Grace laugh
GO
So no -- there was nothing. Really I didn't encounter any noticeable discrimination as far as I was going to school and that. I went to a predominantly Jewish high school so there was no discrimination there. The biggest surprise, I came from Beamsville and I went to high school in Toronto. It was a Jewish holiday. Hardly anybody at school. Just maybe 3 in my class, the whole school was empty, I didn't know what was happening until one of the girls explained to me that it was a Jewish holiday. I don't know if the kids still stay away from school now like they used to, I don't know. Pause I think I'm pretty much average as far as my life goes laughs.
AP
No, it's quite an extraordinary journey and story. Thank you for sharing it with me today.
GO
I guess the one thing constant, I was going to church. My mother, I think I got started with my mother, being now United Church, Methodist way back then, and then this continuing on. So right now I'm kind of active in my church, but other than that, doing my flowers, that's about it.
AP
When you were a child in Vancouver, prior to leaving, did you guys attend church there as well?
GO
Yes.
AP
And then when you went--
GO
When we went to Lemon Creek there was a young minister. He had just been ordained. He came to Lemon Creek as a minister. So we went to church then. There wasn't very many of us. I guess most Japanese people were Buddhist.
AP
When you were there in Lemon Creek -- the church, did it offer any type of assistance you could think of?
GO
Actually it was United Church missionaries that really hounded the government for schools for everybody and they set it up. Other than that no. These missionaries are the ones that had gone to Japan and had come back to Canada and they pushed for a better life for Japanese people, even in the camps. They tried to keep things normal. They would have all the organizations that the church was having within our church in Lemon Creek. It kept everything going. Lemon Creek high schools we're all taught by missionaries or ex-missionaries. Public schools were taught by girls who were a little older than us. I guess they had maybe graduated high school and they were recruited for teaching in the public schools. It was quite interesting because when Momiji, which is the Japanese seniors home, was first built and I was on the board of Momiji at the time the building was being built.
01:15:07.000
01:15:07.000
GO
The executive director was a Caucasian and they needed someone there that could speak Japanese. Well I'm not fluent in Japanese, but enough to get by. So I went there to work for a little while. One of the first people -- this lady came in -- and the new tenants you talk to them as they come in. She said “I remember you from Lemon Creek”. I looked at her and she looked vaguely familiar. Her name was different. She was Miss Nakoji in Lemon Creek but she was Mrs. Tadeshi here. So you run into your old teachers. It was --
AP
Did you guys reminisce about that time much?
GO
Yeah, she would, and she would tell us things that I couldn't remember or that I had forgotten. So it was quite interesting having her around. She remember more people, like some of my classmates who I had forgotten. She would say so and so lives in Vancouver and one of my classmates from Vancouver came to visit Momiji once. Apparently her daughter heard about Momiji on the internet. So we were having a Heritage Day, I was helping Betty Moritsugu with the Heritage Day. So she brought her mother to Momiji and then met up with her school teacher. The school teacher brought her over to where I was -- a little reunion. Pause
AP
I was going to ask you, when you left Lemon Creek and came to Ontario, was there anything that you and your family brought with you that was brought from home initially. Was there any stuff that sort of survived that journey?
GO
I can't remember.
AP
The gramophone you said probably stayed.
GO
I wonder if that gramophone did come to Beamsville. No it couldn't have because we went to Toronto -- we came to Toronto in April, April 1st I think. My cousin Dennis was born that day. My aunt wasn't home. We asked our uncle where Aunt Mary was and she said she's in the hospital. And it was April Fool's Day and Uncle John was always a joker so we thought he was kidding. But apparently Dennis was born on April Fool's Day laughs. That's Buddy's brother. No we went to Toronto and stayed with my aunt. She had the boarding house. We stayed there for a couple of days and then we went to Beamsville on the bus, from Toronto to Beamsville. So I don't think the gramophone was there then. I just wonder where it got ditched. So that was about the only thing. I don't remember Mom having any -- I, when my mom, when we were living on Rusholme Road and they were going to demolish all the houses for the apartment building, I was living in Don Mills then. Mom brought some of her old stuff to put in my storage room downstairs. Like I had a split level with a big area -- crawl space.
01:20:04.000
01:20:04.000
GO
I discovered, I went through her boxes and I came across some of those dolls that you use on girl's day and on boy's day. But you know my mom never brought them out during the war, or even in Beamsville. In May would be the boy's day, March would be the girl's day. I had never seen them until I ruffled through all of her boxes. So she must have tried to keep something, but then she never observed the holidays laughs, so the dolls never came out. She didn't have much, she just had two or three dolls, that was it. No I don't -- the only thing I know in Vancouver I had a Japanese doll, quite a big one. Not those things Grace motions to dolls on display in a glass cupboard in the living room, but a real doll with a kimono on and everything. I don't know what happened to that doll. It may have gotten left behind in Vancouver because I certainly didn't have it in Lemon Creek. So I guess those are some of the things that got lost.
AP
But you think the dolls that your mother put in your home in Don Mills probably came from Vancouver?
GO
That doll didn't come, but a few of what they call Oseku dolls came. Not many. Just a couple from the boys, couple from the girls festival, that was it. But as I said she never displayed them afterwards.
AP
But she observed the holiday--
GO
U huh, March the 3rd and May the 5th.
AP
Up until leaving Vancouver?
GO
I wonder if --at one point maybe they were trying to be not too Japanese, especially in Beamsville because it was a white community. That's probably why she never brought them out. Prudems where my dad was hired out of Lemon Creek. He was an interesting man, as I said he had a nursery, fruit farms, farms all over really. Quite a well-to-do person I think. But after the Japanese -- he took in a few Japanese families for a few years. I think it might have been as I said a three-year contract or something. Then after that, remember the Hungarian refugees? He took a lot of those people in. Now mind you he was getting good help, workers, but at the same time I thought he was quite a generous man to offer homes to people who would otherwise would not have been able to settle. Yeah I know he took in the Hungarian refugees. I don't know what happened after that, I kind of lost touch with what was going on in Beamsville anyway. Pause The years following the war, it didn't really affect us too much in hardship or in loss. Or maybe we were the lucky ones, I don't know.
AP
I think I've sort of exhausted my questions for you. Before we wrap up is there something that you would like to add at the end before we finish the recording?
01:25:02.000
01:25:02.000
GO
I don't think so, I think I've rambled on jumping from here, there and everywhere laughs.
AP
That's how conversations go. I enjoyed listening to that very much. Thank you.
GO
I don't think my experience would be much different from other people, really. Grace asks Alex about some of the interviews he has conducted, specifically about members of her family that he had interviewed. I'll probably think of a hundred and one things once you are gone laughs.
AP
If you do let me know and I could come back.
GO
Right now I think that's about it. I've been thinking about -- you know after I said I'd talk to you, thinking about what had happened. You know my husband, he wrote things down. He was very good with that. One of his cousins in Ottawa just recently emailed me, just before I went to Japan, to say that his daughter is interested in genealogy and would Tosh have any information on the four brothers, the uncles. And I know Tosh did have -- I was just trying to -- I came across a book he had written about his grandfather and the sons that came to Vancouver. I was just trying to ruffle through. I don't know what I did with that book. I read it, but it was mostly about the grandfather, but still, a little bit of that would help his cousin's daughter's son background. Anyways because I think up to now like most kids this generation, he wasn't interested in family history, until the kids bring it up. Pause
AP
Okay so if you'd like we can end the recording now.
GO
U huh .
AP
Thank you very much for speaking with me today. I really appreciate it.
GO
You're welcome. I don't think I was able to add much to your research, but --
AP
You certainly did and I appreciate it. Thank you very much again.
GO
You're very welcome.
AP
Thanks.
01:28:24.000

Metadata

Title

Grace Omoto, interviewed by Alexander Pekic, 24 November 2015

Abstract

Grace speaks about her early life, being born in Steveston then moving to Clayoquot and Tofino after her father passed away. Her mother remarried to Mr. Mori, a fisherman and they moved to Vancouver so Grace and her brother could get a better education. There, her mother ran a small grocery store until the war started, which she sold for a small price. They were taken to Hastings Park for a couple weeks before their eventual relocation to the Lemon Creek internment site. Grace then speaks about her and her family's move to Beamsville ON to operate a nursery, then their eventual settling in Toronto. Grace also speaks about her visits to Japan, return trips to BC and the other internment camps, and the trajectory of her career. She remembers her stepfather somehow managed to bring their gramophone with them to Lemon Creek although thinks it was left there before moving to Beamsville. She reflects upon the kindness of her many neighbours in Tofino and Vancouver.

Credits

Interviewer: Alexander Pekic
Interviewee: Grace Omoto
XML Encoder: Stewart Arneil
Publication Information: See Terms of Use for publication and licensing information.
Setting: Newmarket, ON
Keywords: Lemon Creek ; Clayoquot ; Tofino ; Steveston ; Lemon Creek ; Beamsville ; Toronto ; Ucluelet ; Japan ; 1900s-present

Terminology

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