Bud Sakamoto, interviewed by Josh Labove, 02 May 2016

Bud Sakamoto, interviewed by Josh Labove, 02 May 2016

Abstract
Bud begins the interview explaining her family’s background and how her father got into the boat building business and started his boat shop on Number Two Road. She explains how her father ended up buying the chicken farm that they lived on. Bud then moves on to talk about her work in preserving the Gulf of Georgia Cannery and making it open for public viewing. Near the end of the interview she describes the various products that the cannery produced as well as some of its more historical operations.
00:00:10.000
Labove Joshua (LJ)
Bud you were telling me a little bit about your family. They were involved in the ship building industry.
Bud Sakamoto (BS)
Yes. Well, I'll try to keep it short. My grandfather is the first person that came here. The story is that my grandfather, not my grandfather. He's actually my grand uncle and he came somewhere between 1910 and 1915. They were here during the 1918 Spanish Flu Epidemic. It would have been my great aunt that passed away. He lost his wife and went back to Japan and married my grandmother who lost her husband in a, I guess, what do you call it, a marine disaster. He was a merchant marine on the ship and, I don't know, he was lost at sea so he went back and married my grandmother. My father at the time was about maybe five or six years old when this happened and he came with my grandmother and his step-father who was really an uncle, his uncle. That's my background. So there's all these unique things about early family and how they were formed at the time. So if these two disasters didn't happen, I wouldn't be here. So I think in a lot of the lives of the people here there are all these unique little things that have happened including the evacuation. Anyway, that's my background and my dad started looking for his step-father at the age of fourteen building boats and he continued to learn this trade from him. We were evacuated to Ridge River and then we went to Birmingham and then as soon as the War Measures Act was cancelled the Japanese were allowed back onto the coast here. My dad and his two step-brothers, at that time, drove to Vancouver and checked it out in 19', I think it was the summer of '49 and then we came here between Christmas and New Years in '49. My dad had made arrangements to build boats because all the companies wanted boats and he started his boat shop at the end of Number Two Road. He had his business there for about twenty-five years. So I grew up ... Originally, when we came, there was no place to stay. There's no accommodations because all the houses were occupied by Caucasian families who were actually in the fishing industry. There was no place to stay so we moved into, actually, a garage that was modified on Steveston Island. Giving credit to some of the Caucasian families, there was a fellow by the name of Yorkheart. An interesting part of his life was that he was a rum runner during the prohibition, made money, had a car, and things like that. He had a chicken farm and he had this garage sitting in front of his house there and my dad was able to move it and put a little addition on and we lived on his property until he wanted to sell it. My dad ended up buying it but in the meantime, to be closer to his business we moved to the end of Number Two Road. I lived there for, what, about close to fifteen years until we came back and moved and built a house on the property that he actually owned on the Steveston Highway. I grew up, pretty well, in a boat house because I used to go to school and when I came back home I always went to the boat shop to see what was going on. So the boat shop was my playground. We used to make toys out of all the scrap wood and stuff like that because we didn't have toys like they do now. Plastic toys didn't exist in those days. So you had to make do with what you could make or what you could find. So everything in the boat shop was almost like a toy. I'd pick up a chisel or whatever and I made my own toys. So that's sort of how I grew up and I guess in my school years and then eventually my mother encouraged us all to go to school so, yeah. I did barely enough to get through school but then eventually you sort of had to get your marks up and stuff like that so I had to pick up all the courses that I didn't pass and, things like that, and then eventually I went on to university.
LJ
Did you go to language school?
BS
I did for a while but language school was play time so I didn't learn very much.
LJ
What do you mean by play time? What were the games you were getting up to?
BS
Well, we were up to no good. The other thing was that I was not very good at languages so the whole structure of the Japanese language is quite different relative to English with a subject, verb, and things like that. Japanese, it's almost like a, what do they call it, an Eskimo. There are sort of many different ways to describe snow or as the Irish say, 'there are forty shades of green.' Well, the Japanese language is like that with little nuances and things like that. To me, it was, oh. You had to study and work hard which I didn't want to do at that time. I liked to tinker and play in the boat house. I was better with doing things with my hands so I didn't really like to spend much time dealing with books.
LJ
You were telling me before that you were pretty active in getting this cannery we're sitting at preserved and opened to the public.
BS
Yes.
LJ
Can you tell me a little bit about all that?
00:07:09.000
00:07:09.000
BS
Well, maybe I should tell you a little bit more about my background. When I went to university I was in science. I majored in math but the reason why I did that was because I wasn't very good at English and I didn't want to write a whole bunch of essays so I went into math. It was a little bit backwards, in a sense, but I always wanted to study architecture. So the main idea was that at UBC you had to have one degree before you could get into architectural school so that's the reason why I went into math. I wanted to study architecture so that's what I did. In architecture we had to do what you would call a graduating project and my project was Steveston and my thesis was the urban village of Steveston. So it was, in some sense, looking at the future of what it could be. With the community that we had here, we were a village within the greater context of the urban village so through that I got to go in the Historical Society. I was involved in saving that building where the tourism trade is right now. That used to be a post office but that used to be the old Royal Bank and it's a very unique building. It's a pre-fab building, believe it or not, that was built in I think it was around 1910, thereabouts. So it was packaged in New Westminster and they shipped it down by barge. They put it up and the Royal Bank was there but it was too small so they moved it across the street. Doctor Campbell bought it and had his medical practice there but it was quite a unique building so we wanted to save that and so we formulated the Historical Society and I was involved in that. There was a grant. I think a federal grant and through the grant we got the city to buy it and we saved that. So through my thesis work I always felt that this building was a very unique building and it was one of the better kept buildings, at the time, on the waterfront. I thought maybe we can put a market in there or do something and there's been a market in there. So some of the thoughts that I had have happened to the building but, at that time, the, what's it called, the National Historic Sites and Monument Board was looking to commemorate all the primary industries across Canada and fishing was one of them that was happening on the west coast here. There was this site and the one up in Prince Rupert at Sunnyside, um, I don't know what it's called but there's a museum up there and they had a choice. We had to lobby to get this one. I was involved with Harold Steves and quite a number of other people in the community. Eileen Carefoot, I don't know if you've had a chance to talk to her. Eileen was involved right from the beginning. Yeah, I think she was part of our committee. So anyway, through the Historical Society we formed a committee to promote this site and after we got promoted we thought “What else could we do to really make it happen?” and we formed a non-profit society. We lobbied and we brought in politicians and public service employees from Calgary and Ottawa. Everybody came to visit and everybody loved it. We sold it to the community. We had an open house in shopping centers and everybody loved it. Luckily, we had, when, um, the Mulroney government came in we had a member of the conservative party as our MP and because he supported Mulroney he was very influential in the cabinet. He was minister of science and minister of fisheries; I can't remember all the things. Anyway, he supported us a hundred percent and he was able to get us money for putting sprinkler systems on the waterfront, he saved the character of our buildings and then to save this building. Then there was a grant that was, I think, was called, uh, I don't know if this was the exact wording but there was a grant to promote different projects in Canada. So we got money to save this building, the sprinklers, all the, um, I don't know if you know anything about buildings but this building is on piles and there's a whole air, kind of, movement. If there's a fire, there's a chimney effect that happens to these fires. If it gets anywhere near, it draws air in from the bottom and goes up so we had to put bulkheads underneath to compartmentalize so you don't get that chimney effect and the, whole, underneath the sprinkler. The whole structure here is sprinklers. That cost millions of dollars to do and all that was done to this building. Right up to the beginning when we formed the society there was a vision, at that time, it would be nice if the community could be involved to actually run this place so we lobbied and made a proposal to the Park's Services and it was accepted. This is the only national historic site in all of Canada that is run by the local community. It's through various visions that we had. It's not totally my vision. It was a committee and a group vision but I was part of that group that promoted that. So that's why we have what we have today. So, um, and then as policies of government change I think there is a movement to make all Park's Canada sites free again. It used to be that we didn't have to charge admission fees to visit these sites but now you do. There's this change so that our funding has to be looked at because we feel that we do a service to all of Canada and not just to our community but the basis of having a community involved is that although my parents, my grandparents, and great grandparents were pioneers of this community, my promotion of the community has always been that anybody that comes to live here is a pioneer, eventually, because they bring their own interests and vision and things like that. So to build a community everybody has to become part of that because you are, really, a pioneer. So it's really to accept everybody and to build and so that's why I think we have a very strong volunteer system at this place which is one of the big successes of what we are trying to do.
00:14:58.000
00:14:58.000
LJ
I think it's such a commendable, I mean, it's the ideal, you know, but this place wasn't always a very welcoming place. So to be able to be welcoming yourself ...
BS
Well, but then, from my point of view, because of the evacuation my answer is that we weren't welcome at all to start with, right? So it's no big deal. It's just part of life. No matter where you go you have all these factions. The big problem with a lot of nations is that the differences and disputes go back hundreds of years and, in a sense, how do you overcome that? It's very difficult but I think when we look at it from a different point of view of trying to accept everybody then what you build is different. At one time, the fishing industry ... In a sense, the fishermen weren't totally against anything that we were trying to do. My father actually supported what I was doing and if we had an opening or something like that he and his friends were always in the crowd to see what we were doing. When you're on a boat in the water, you know, a boat is almost like a, I like to call it a basket because a basket, um, if you don't caulk the cracks in it you'll sink. Even the plastic fiberglass boats, it can sink too because it can form cracks in it and form leaks. You have all these openings in the bottom of the boat for drainage and stuff like that. It can go wrong so you can sink. So when you're on the water everybody has to look after each other. If someone is sinking or has a problem, everybody helps each other. I think it's one of these unique things about being on the water and having a community that's water based is the way you work together is quite different from living on land where, in some places, you don't know who your neighbors are. In the water you pretty well know who the people are that are around you that are fishing. There's no, kind of, well there are some people that ... There's always a bad apple in every basket. Well, there are those but you tend to ignore them. If he is in need though, of help, you know, you don't say “Well, you didn't do this so I'm not going to help you.” No, you don't do that. It's just one of these things that you always help each other. So there's that principle that's out there that I think has really helped to make this community what it is.
LJ
Well, I think that's a great place to leave it. It's also getting really toasty out here.
BS
Yeah, isn't it? It's nice but it's a little bit too hot.
LJ
We complain about the weather regardless, right? It's too hot, it's too cold.
00:18:17.000
00:18:17.000
LJ
Interview continues indoorsAlright, Bud, so we're back indoors. What are we looking at? What's this space that we're in here?
BS
Oh, okay, let me tell you the story about this place. All this is the original, we're in the Gulf of Georgia reduction plant and all this is part of the reduction process and where we're sitting, just over here, there's this, it's like a front end loader. This is a herring reduction but herring used to be ... Maybe there's a conveyor belt system that brought the fish and the fish would come just on the deck and you can't see it but if you walk over there you'll still see some of the scales that are stuck to the, there on the side of the deck there on the columns. They're still there. I'll go over there and show you after but you can take a picture if you want. The herring would come in and it would splash and the scales would just fly off. That's why it's stuck to the ceiling. So they would load that front end loader into that bin and it would go up, I think it's like a cork screw conveyor system that puts it in there and then distributes those tubes that are perpendicular to this cork screw. This is what they called the cookery. They used to cook the fish. Yeah, those small fine little pipes there, they used to bring steam in there and so it would go ... And also that whole thing is a cork screw and it would go that way, the fish is cooked, and then further down there's a press and they would take out the oil and the moisture. Those big round cylinders over there, apparently, it's originally a concrete cement mixing equipment that's been adapted. It would go into that and if you were here when those things were operating you and I couldn't sit here and talk. It was so loud because there was a blower. There's a huge flame that's shot through there to dry the fish. They would tumble and the fish would dry and by the time you get to the other end it's fish meal. It's almost like a powder. They used to bag it and that was used for fertilizer and chicken feed. It was a product that was needed in the agriculture business. And then going the other way, all the liquid went into Southlands Ponds. All the oil and water was separated and it goes through the filtering system and that fish oil was a very fine kind of a ... You know that, what do you call that, uh, 4-D, that oil, that can. W-4? Is it W-4?
LJ
Yeah, WD-40.
BS
WD-40 is fish oil. I don't know if you knew that. So that kind of brought it in but after it's been refined and filtered they used to use that oil in very fine technical cameras and stuff like that. It's the lubricant.
LJ
So there were a lot of products coming out of here.
BS
Yeah.
LJ
Everything was being used.
BS
Yeah, and then vitamin oils and fish oils for coddling. That's what that oil went to, yeah. So this is the building that housed all that equipment but before that, on the other side, you can see some of the displays, is the old canning equipment. This building was called the Boswell Cannery. I don't know you might have heard that from other people and it was one of the biggest fish canning plants at the turn of the century. You know, in the early part of the twentieth century there was a, because of the cost individual canneries couldn't ... There were business people investing in it but because it was such a short season it was not economical for everybody to have individual ... So there was a ... Someone thought, well, we should consolidate and that's why BC Packers was one of the bigger ones that started and consolidated. Instead of having individual camps doing their own canning they consolidated and that's why a lot of these canneries went from about fourteen canneries down to two in the twenties. From the 1920s onward there were less and less canneries. In the 1950s there were only four. Was it four? Nelson Brothers, Margaret, Westview. There were three canning canneries in the '50s in Steveston and there were four herring reduction plants in Steveston in the '50s. It's through that consolidation that it went down from hundreds across the coast to less than twenty canneries on the coast.
00:23:51.000

Metadata

Title

Bud Sakamoto, interviewed by Josh Labove, 02 May 2016

Abstract

Bud begins the interview explaining her family’s background and how her father got into the boat building business and started his boat shop on Number Two Road. She explains how her father ended up buying the chicken farm that they lived on. Bud then moves on to talk about her work in preserving the Gulf of Georgia Cannery and making it open for public viewing. Near the end of the interview she describes the various products that the cannery produced as well as some of its more historical operations.

Credits

Interviewer: Josh Labove
Interviewee: Bud Sakamoto
XML Encoder: Stewart Arneil
Publication Information: See Terms of Use for publication and licensing information.
Setting: Gulf of Georgia Cannery, BC
Keywords: War Measures Act; Bridge River ; Birmingham; Evacuation; Number Two Road; Boat Shop; Steveston Island; Fishing Industry; Prohibition; Caucasian; Chicken Farm; Historical Society; National Historic Sites and Monument Board; Boswell Cannery; 1910s – 1960s

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.