Robert Oye, interviewed by Alexander Pekic, 02 May 2016

Robert Oye, interviewed by Alexander Pekic, 02 May 2016

Abstract
Robert tells the story of his step-uncle and how he came to be part of the family through the practice of a Japanese folk belief regarding sick infants. He then discusses his family's experience after being forced to leave Steveston during WWII, their brief time in Christina Lake, their later move to Kamloops, and eventual return to Steveston. Robert also talks about his family's history in the fishing industry and his own career. He tells the emotional story of running into his family's boat after it had been siezed and sold during the war. He cares deeply for the Steveston community where he has settled since returning postwar.
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Alexander Pekic (AP)
Okay so we’ve got the recorder going. We are speaking with Roy Oye.
AP
Robert, pardon me. Robert Oye, here in Steveston on May 2nd 2016 as part of the broader Landscapes of Injustice research project. So Roy tell me the story --
RO
Robert.
AP
Sorry. Laughs It's been a long, long weekend. Robert please tell me the story you wanted to tell me about.
RO
Ok, sure. My grandparents had two children. My mother was born in 1912 and I believe my uncle was born in 1914 here in Steveston. And they lived nearby, probably on the Gulf of Georgia property because my grandfather used to fish for the Gulf of Georgia Cannery. And that was one of the benefits that you got. If you fish for them you lived there, too. But there was also another family. Their last name was Nakano and they lived nearby too. And they had a child, probably born -- oh I can't read that, but that’s his obituary. In 1915 does it say?
AP
Yup. Born July 12th 1915.
RO
So this baby, whose name was Masao, was born in 1915 and he was very sickly. And there was a belief among the Japanese -- like folklore, that if a sickly baby is abandoned and another mother picks the baby up and adopts it, the baby will turn out okay. And so, of course if this was done today, they’d both go to jail. Laughs. You can't do things like that. But anyway there was an agreement made between Mrs. Nakano and Mrs. Shoji. Mrs. Nakano was going to abandon her baby. And of course Mrs. Nakano knew that Mrs. Shoji had two healthy kids. So I guess they came to an agreement saying on a certain day, let's say it's a Monday morning 10 o'clock, I'm going to drop the baby off along the path here. Because that's the way they would go walking to go shopping in Steveston. So I guess Mrs. Nakano had the baby, she saw Mrs. Shoji coming up, approaching, so she left the baby by the side of the path and walked off. Mrs. Shoji, comes walking by and says, “Oh my God, look, there is a baby here. You know what I'm going to pick this baby up. I can go shopping later.” So that's exactly what she did. And lo and behold -- and I don't know how she nourished it. Maybe just had canned milk, but it was a healthy environment, and lo and behold the baby turned out okay. And so I believe the baby lived with Mrs. Shoji for two or three months, maybe possibly longer. And the first thing she did was -- “I have to name the baby.” We don't know what the name of the baby, of course she knew what to name the baby -- a question you wouldn't know what the baby's name was. But she said I'm going to have to name the baby. “What can I name the baby? You know what, I'm going to call this young boy, Kazuo” which is the masculine form of Kazue, which is my mother. Alright so from then on, as shown here on the obituary, it's in brackets, he was named Kazuo. They never called him by his real name. And lo and behold as I said after three or four months, things really picked up. Everything worked out okay. And of course they are play-acting the whole thing and Mrs. Nakano saying “You know I lost my child. I understand that you have a child that you procured. Laughs. I wouldn't mind having this child.” And Mrs. Shoji says, “Sure, why not.” Here's the baby, his name is Kazuo. And Mrs. Nakano, “Oh, thank you very much. He's a real healthy baby.” And to this day, I mean, he has always been known as Kazuo. Everybody you talk to, I'm sure they were surprised that that was not his real name. His real name is Masao. And he lived until 2009, does it say?
AP
Let's see here. He passed away, yup, October 26th of 2009.
RO
2009, yeah. And his wife still lives in the Richmond area and I bump into her and we talk about it. I've always known that my mother had a step brother, and I never knew how it came about that this person was a step brother.
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RO
And that's the reason why. Anyway, that's the end of my story.
AP
That's interesting, thanks for sharing that. I'm curious to know how you came to know this story and how it was passed on to you.
RO
Well I guess it was, whenever there was a family get-together my mother's half brother would show up. And I always wondered how did this guy ever get in the family? And that's the reason. And I can't remember the exact date, but as I said over the years whenever there was a family function this guy would always appear. And I never knew how it was connected.
AP
So your family lived in the Steveston area?
RO
Yes, that's right. Alex: Did they have to relocate during the second World War?
RO
Yes.
AP
So, do you know much about where they went and--
RO
Yes. I guess initially -- I guess we were called the independent group, in other words we said we would do it on our own. So we initially went to Christina Lake and I was born in 1940, so I don't have real sharp recollections. But I sort of got the general feel. Apparently I was really looking forward to this laugh, because it was a real adventure you know? And we lived in Christina Lake for a year, year-and-a-half maybe. And it was like being on summer holiday, permanently. And I think there was some work in the Grand Forks area, Christina Lake area, but not very much. And in the end, it was the -- my grandmother who was the strong person, as you saw there. She and her nephew bought a house in Kamloops, for all of us to live there. And in the end we ended up living in Kamloops and living a very -- and of course, it was not like an internment camp. It was just like anyone else would buy, just a regular house. A big house. And that's how we ended up living in -- growing up in Kamloops. I went from grade 1 to grade 6 there and in 1952 we move back to Steveston.
AP
So when you came back to Steveston, where did you guys live?
RO
Oh, in a cannery house at the Gulf of Georgia Cannery. Alex: So prior to leaving you lived in a cannery house, which was property of the cannery?
RO
Prior to the evacuation?
AP
Yeah.
RO
No, we had moved up. We had bought our own house.
AP
Here in Steveston?
RO
Yes. And I think that's very typical. I mean when we're down --we have nowhere to go except the rental house. But we know that's not the end all, that in the end we want to get her own house. Which we did. And of course we lost it all and came back to a rental house, once again, we recovered. We said ok, we'll save our money and buy house. Which we did.
AP
So that house, is it still standing? The one that you lived in the '40s?
RO
No. Nothing stands in Steveston. It's all knocked down laughs.
AP
So that home, do you know much about what happened to it after leaving?
RO
Oh yes, it was sold to a Caucasian family and I don't know what happened after that, you know?
AP
When you guys left did you take too much stuff from -- I understand that people weren't permitted, or weren't able to take a lot of things.
RO
That's correct, yeah.
AP
But do you remember taking anything? And another question I'm interested in is, is there anything that you have from that time still in your possession?
RO
Oh, photographs, yes, photographs. Which is unusual because you think that is the last thing that you would take. You want to take a frying pan right? But we took a lot of photographs, you know, from back then. And I preserve them all.
AP
And those photographs are from 1915s?
RO
Yeah, 1915, yeah from that era.
AP
Your ancestry from Japan dates from when?
RO
Oh, it goes back to my grandfather. So my grandmother and my grandfather, so I'm talking about my mother's side, he was born in 1882 because he came to Canada, along with his father in the year 1900. And he was 18 years old.
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RO
And they landed -- the Port of Entry was Victoria. So, you really have to respect people like that because they didn't know the language. They didn't have a clue. And the only piece of information was, somebody told them there was a place called the Fraser River and Steveston and you could make a living at gillnetting fish --just on that and they made it in the year 1900. And then the father had to go back and my grandfather stayed here and that's the reason why I am here.
AP
So when you come back to -- where do you live now?
RO
Live just east of here.
AP
So would that be Steveston?
RO
Stevston, yeah.
AP
So you're back in Steveston.
RO
I'm back in Steveston, yes.
AP
What does that feel like knowing that you were here, and left, and came back. Does this feel like home?
RO
Yeah it is. And I always admired the Japanese people because they never played that victim card. You know, we rose above it, you know. And very few people can do that. You get knocked down a couple times and you still keep getting up. And there's too many people in this world right now, victim, victim, pay me, okay, pay me. So I'm really proud of what the Japanese Canadian people have done.
AP
What are your recollection of being in Kamloops? How was that?
RO
Oh, great, great life. You know, it might be better than growing up here, you know. Because these were very formative years, you know from age 3 or 4 up until age 12. And we were like free-range kids. Well of course, those were the times. Nothing was organized or planned, we just did it on her own. But it was just a wonderful life. Going to the matinee movies on Saturday and hanging out with people, our friends. But I don't have any -- once again, I'm not going to say “ Oh I suffered a lot of racism.” No I didn't. It was just a great place to grow up.
AP
So when you came back to Steveston, what was that like? You felt -- was it welcoming, was it strange?
RO
Well it was sort of strange because where I live in Kamloops, there was a lot of Japanese people in the area. But they all seem to have lived in North Kamloops. So now when I look at my grade 2, or grade 1 picture, I'm the only Japanese kid in the whole class. So basically my whole upbringing was not Japanese. And then when I came here, in grade 7, I felt a little bit out of place because other Japanese kids are speaking Japanese, which is really foreign to me. So yeah, it was different. But once again, I can fit in, which I did. But it was a bit of a shock.
AP
When you return to Steveston, the makeup of the community was -- so you mentioned there's Japanese, also a lot of non Japanese as well?
RO
Japanese, yes. Yes, so, in other words, I said in Kamloops my grade 2 or 3 class was like -- I was the only Japanese kid. But now I'm in grade 7 here, and out of the class of let's say 25, maybe 10 were Japanese. So it was a big change. Then of course being in the Japanese community too, you know, there's a Japanese family here, and another one and another one. And that never happened in Kamloops. North Kamloops it could happen.
AP
How did your parents find it coming back to Steveston?
RO
Ok, first of all I never had a father. My father passed away when I was just months old. So I don't even remember him. But what was the question again?
AP
What was it like for, I guess you returned with your mother then?
RO
Yeah, my mother and my grandfather. Our group was very close. My uncle was with us too. We all lived together. But I'm sure from my uncle's point of view and my grandfather's point of you, it was happy times again. We are right back out fishing like we did before 1942.
AP
Your grandfather that came from Japan, was he a fisherman there? Or did he take it up here?
RO
No, he was a fisherman there too.
AP
So that its in the blood of the family.
RO
Yes, yes.
AP
So since you're saying they got back here after being in Kamloops and back to fishing which was their bread and butter but also maybe their passion.
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RO
Yes, it was yeah. But in Kamloops the kinds of jobs we had -- I think my uncle and my grandfather they worked for the CPR maintaining the railway tracks. They did janitorial work. We pick strawberries -- sorry, tomatoes, for the tomato cannery. But you know you gotta' do what you gotta' do to survive.
AP
When they got back here did they find work easily?
RO
Yes. I know with the fishing canneries, they were looking for a good fisherman. And there they were. And of course the women like my mother also managed to get jobs with the cannery too. And if they weren't working at the cannery there was of course berry picking. So that's how we made a living.
AP
So this Gulf Cannery employed them prior to leaving Steveston and also upon return?
RO
Not on return -- when it comes to fisherman yes. You have to remember this cannery stopped operating in 1930. So in other words, yes there was lots of employment for shore workers, cannery workers, but not at this cannery. At BC Packers, Phoenix Cannery, Nelson Brothers, but not this one. But fishermen, yes. Like my uncle he had a boat built, a brand new boat built, I can't remember the year, maybe 1955 or so. And they are all named after the Gulf of Georgia Cannery. Georgia Princess, Georgia Queen, Georgia Saga. But it's all related to Georgia.
AP
Prior to leaving they fished off of boats that they owned or that the cannery --
RO
No they owned it. Initially when they started, yes they rented. But eventually the ultimate goal was always to own it. And they did own it and of course they lost it all.
AP
Any idea what happened to the boat that they owned? I mean it's old but, who got it and where it ended up?
RO
Well just by chance I worked up at a place called Klemtu and I was on the very boat that my father's family owned. It was called the Gary Point 3. And I was standing right on there.
AP
That was a fishing boat?
RO
It was a packer boat actually.
AP
So that's where after harvesting the fish they would pack them?
RO
Yeah, so in other words, if you caught the fish we didn't expect you to take the fish to the cannery. I'll take it for you. I have a packer boat. So you just keep fishing.
AP
So you were working as a fishermen at the time when you found yourself on that boat?
RO
No I was working on the shore. But it was sort of unique seeing this boat, the Gary Point 3.
AP
What was that like seeing that boat that was your family's previously?
RO
Well yeah that was sort of a little emotional, yeah. This is the boat that we had in the family and now somebody else owns it.
AP
How did you recognize that boat? Was it just the appearance?
RO
Oh no, I mean I have no -- I couldn't remember it. But I had heard that there was a boat called the Gary Point 3 and it was in our family. There it is.
AP
So you knew it because it was the same name?
RO
The name, yeah.
AP
So you actually didn't have a visual memory of it?
RO
Oh, no, no, no. I was too young. I was only two years old.
AP
But yeah then you see the name. That's interesting. That's quite the story. Before you left Steveston, or your family left Steveston --what I'm trying to ask is, people that returned to Steveston, were there new faces? Were there familiar ones? The people that returned, were they a lot of people that were originally from Steveston? Or were there others that came from different places to Steveston?
RO
No I think the people that came back to Steveston, lived in Steveston at one time. Because that's where the jobs are. In other words if you move to -- I was going to say, there are some people that actually moved to Kelowna. When they came to Canada they immediately moved to a farm in Vernon or Kelowna. And so they didn't have to evacuate, because they were there already. I haven't met too many people in that circumstance, but I know that did happen. Now most of the people that came back to Steveston were originally from Steveston.
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AP
So, you worked in the sort of fishing industry throughout your career?
RO
Well I ended up being a school teacher. Oh that's another thing. We were told never to go into fishing. And that was good advice. I mean our parents and grandparents were fisherman. Not because they wanted to, but because they had no other choice. It's either that or you starve. And so we were told, you know there are other options like going to school and so on. And that's good advice too, because look at the fishing today. there is none.
AP
Where did you study?
RO
Where? At UBC.
AP
So you did teacher's college there?
RO
Yeah I actually have a Bachelor of Commerce first and then I did work in management in the fishing industry. But I did not get off on it. It's good that I left because, again, there's no fishing. So yeah after that, after working for a couple of years in management I switched and went into teaching and I taught for 33 years.
AP
Have you always lived in this area?
RO
Yeah, yeah. It's a great place you know? As I said, I'm emotionally attached to the place. And I did work here. I worked right in this cannery. not as in the cannery, but I worked in the gillnet loft. We used to repair our gillnets. And I also worked on a fish collector boat here too. And to think that it's still here and I'm adding to it too, it's a good feeling.
AP
It's interesting you have quite the sort of long-standing connection to this community.
RO
No, I'm not just passing through, ok? I've got a commitment to this place, you know? Because it was a great place to go to work and when you go to university you need money for your tuition and books. This place provided it, so I don't mind giving back.
AP
Did you work here throughout the school year or just sort of in the summertime?
RO
Just in the summertime.
AP
And I guess it sounds like you made pretty decent money.
RO
Yes, yeah. So as I said I sure don't mind volunteering for nothing, you know, because I owe this place. Alex: Do you have much family left in Steveston?
RO
Well you know it's just my two kids but they don't -- well actually my daughter and her husband and my grandson they actually live with us. And my son now works in Vancouver and lives in Vancouver too. But there are very few people involved in the fishing industry. We've moved on you know. Nothing is forever.
AP
I'm conscious that you might want to see what else is going on. So if you have -- if you want to add more, please do. if not I'll be happy to--
RO
I think that's about it. But I just wanted to relate this story Robert points to the obituary because it is sort of a neat story.
AP
It really was. Thank you very much for sharing it.
RO
Yeah, well, it was just folklore but it worked! Laughs. Yeah, so that's the reason why I wanted to come and relate the story, because as I said, it's worthwhile.
AP
Thank you very much for speaking with us. Robert asks Alex if he has to sign something, Alex says he will shut off the recorder.
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Metadata

Title

Robert Oye, interviewed by Alexander Pekic, 02 May 2016

Abstract

Robert tells the story of his step-uncle and how he came to be part of the family through the practice of a Japanese folk belief regarding sick infants. He then discusses his family's experience after being forced to leave Steveston during WWII, their brief time in Christina Lake, their later move to Kamloops, and eventual return to Steveston. Robert also talks about his family's history in the fishing industry and his own career. He tells the emotional story of running into his family's boat after it had been siezed and sold during the war. He cares deeply for the Steveston community where he has settled since returning postwar.

Credits

Interviewer: Alexander Pekic
Interviewee: Robert Oye
XML Encoder: Stewart Arneil
Publication Information: See Terms of Use for publication and licensing information.
Setting: Gulf of Georgia Cannery, Steveston, BC
Keywords: Steveston ; baby; fishing; Christina Lake ; Kamloops ; Japanese; Garry Point 3; cannery; house; family; 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.