Harold Steves, interviewed by Kyla Fitzgerald, 02 May 2016

Harold Steves, interviewed by Kyla Fitzgerald, 02 May 2016

Abstract
Harold recalls what life was like in Steveston before, during, and after the war. He describes his family’s relationship with the Japanese-Canadian community and shares a number of memories with the interviewer regarding how his family helped Japanese-Canadians during the period of internment and dispossession. For example, his father made efforts to protect the Kojiro family’s home from vandalism and theft by boarding up all of the windows. Harold outlines his involvement in the Redress movement writing articles to provide more context to the Japanese-Canadian experience. Due to his family’s close relationship with the Japanese-Canadian community in Steveston, Harold’s family was entrusted with a number of their possessions including, but not limited to, ceremonial dolls. Near the end of the interview, Harold provides an account of not only how this period impacted the Steveston community but also how it impacted himself as well since he lost many of his childhood friends.
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Kyla Fitzgerald (KF)
All right today is Monday, May 2nd, 2016 and I am sitting here with Mr. Harold Steves and we are doing an interview for the Landscapes of Injustice Project so thank you Mr. Steves. Really excited to be here.
Harold Steves (HS)
Oh thank you very much.
KF
So for those who don’t know, you’re history with this town runs very deep. Very, very deep so maybe could we start off with your memories of your life and how Steveston came to be?
HS
Yeah, well actually my great-grandfather Manoah Steves arrived here in the fall of 1877 and looked for some land and settled on this site, which later became Steveston and the farm that was established in 1877. It happens to be the same year that Manzo Nagano arrived and they both went fishing – we don’t know if they met, but they were out there – the first thing Manoah did was knot his own net and go fishing.
KF
Oh, nice.
HS
So I’d like to think that they’re both out there and they’re sail gillnetters catching salmon in 1877 and 1878. And anyway, they established the farm, and Manoah and one of his sons eventually set up a town sight because of the fish. The Marshal English who had a fish cannery in New Westminster set up a fish camp where the Britannia Shipyard is today, Britannia Shipyard Heritage Site. And my great uncles actually worked at his building, I guess, packing salmon and barges, and they were taking the salmon by barges up to New Westminster and they all went fishing as well. And so when the Japanese people came, they basically were all working together and they all became friends and we’ve had a very close relationship with the Japanese community since the first Japanese people arrived.
KF
So let’s talk about, maybe, World War Two a little bit and you had mentioned when we first corresponded that your family actually helped some of the Japanese-Canadian families here in Steveston while the uprooting and internment was going on.
HS
Yeah, I need to go a little bit further than that ...
KF
Sure.
HS
Further back, the main Japanese pop ... actually there was a big typhoid epidemic in Steveston in the 1890’s and my grandparents and other people worked with the Japanese community to establish the Japanese hospital, in fact my dad was born in the Japanese hospital.
KF
Oh really?
HS
Okay?
KF
Oh wow!
HS
And so they, like I said, they had a very close relationship. One of my cousins taught at the Japanese school before the Lord Byng School, had a lot of Japanese kids in it, although when my dad went to school in 1906 there were Japanese children in his class. And one of my aunts taught at Lord Byng School, an all Japanese class along with Hide Shimizu-Hyodo
Hide Hyodo-Shimizu
at the time and they worked together. So we had a very close relationship with the Japanese community. Across the street from this house was a Chinese family, Lum Poy or Poy Lum (?) as they would call 'em today and then the next house on the corner of Seventh Avenue and Steveston Highway was Fumio Kojiro. And Mrs. Kojiro and the daughter Fumiko. Fumiko was my playmate, okay? Laughs.
KF
Okay.
HS
And she was a little bit older than me and anyway when the war broke out I remember the bombing of Pearl Harbor, I remember how concerned my parents were, in fact listening to the radio is just like as if it was yesterday and they were – in fact the radio is over there in the corner. It’s not running, but we have saved it laughs. And I remember that happening and then I remember Mrs. Kojiro coming across the street to my mother that her husband had been taken away. And Mr. Kojiro and two others – oh I’m ahead of myself – Mr. Kojiro was the principal of the Japanese school.
KF
I see.
HS
By that time it was the Japanese Language School. I like to differentiate when the Japanese school was founded, it taught everything. My aunts taught English, but it taught all subjects and they had teachers from Japan, so it was really a Japanese school. But when it was united to be part of Lord Byng School around 1923, Mr. Kojiro and I’m not sure when he started, but he was the principal of the Japanese Language School.
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HS
They had their classes in what were then the Lord Byng School buildings. Possibly still in the Japanese school buildings because of such a large population of Japanese people that when Lord Byng school was built, they still used the original Japanese school for classes as of part of Lord Byng. My Aunt actually taught in the Japanese school, the original Japanese school building. So anyway, Mr. Kojiro was the first person to be taken away and my mother and father helped her to find out what on earth had happened. As it turns out they had come to Steveston and immediately knowing that they were going to clamp down and evacuate everybody, they immediately went and got the three of the most prominent leaders of the community and Mr. Kojiro was one of them. My next memory is that my father coming home from a meeting ... and I’m not sure the sequence of it, sometime after that time ... and very, very angry and telling my mother, “they called me a white Jap.” He obviously went to the meeting, whatever it was, defending the Japanese community. And for years and years after it was, our family was discriminated against by a lot of the farmers and residents in the other part of Richmond. There was a real rift between us and them and it was largely because of our relationship to the Japanese community. Going a way, way back, my grandfather and great uncle were accused of padding the school, the original Lord Byng School, padding the number of kids going to the school. The farmers in the south arm wanted a school there, but the school was in Steveston because we allowed Japanese children and Indians to go to the school. And that’s all documented in the Victoria City Archives. So anyway that’s our relationship. I’m sorting of rambling back and forth. My next memory, very vivid, is going to the tram on the day of the evacuation with Mrs. Kojiro, my playmate Fumiko, my mother and my brother was in a baby carriage and we walked all the way down to the tram and they said goodbye. From then on in, I’ve got scans of letters from the Kojiro’s and from all kinds of other Japanese families as they corresponded from after the evacuation because they left all their belongings behind. The Kojiro’s left their house intact, all furnished, and I remember my father constantly going up, he had put boards over the windows and people were smashing the windows and stealing the stuff. I remember going with him over to the house, as he would try to board things up and eventually whatever was left they took out of the house and brought it into our house. We corresponded back and forth and Mrs. Kojiro set prices for the furniture and the things that remained, and my parents sold them for them, some of the stuff they bought themselves and we still have laughs.
KF
Really?
HS
So we got a few chairs and things like that, that were the kitchen chairs. So that’s in a brief form, my recollections. Mrs. Kojiro and Fumiko came back and visited us years ago, I’ve got a photograph of them from that time and I have been trying to contact them. She married a fellow now I think his name is Fukushima or I’m not sure. Anyway his name was Steve and I think it was Steve Fukushima. They went to Alberta and he became an attaché to the Japanese consul in Alberta and I’ve been trying to track them down but I’ve got their last known address but it’s about twenty years ago but I’ve been trying to find them. In fact, I even went to the Japanese consul in Vancouver to see if they could locate them because I had his consulate card, but they weren’t able. They may have passed away or moved away. But the reason I’ve been trying to get them is that we moved the office to the Japanese hospital and school to the museum site in Steveston. Fumiko was two or three years older than me. I’m hoping if I can find her she would remember her father in that office laughs because I was never in the building when he was the principal of the Japanese school, but that was the office for the hospital and I’m quite sure it was the office for the school. They had side-by-side offices, with two doorways to the front one for one office and one for the other. But I’m still trying to find her laughs.
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KF
So this Japanese school that was established, for those who don’t know Steveston very well, where was that located?
HS
Okay it was located at Number One Road and Chatham Street immediately to the north of Chatham on the eastside of Number One Road and there was a hospital and a school side by side with the office in between the two. And my assumption is that the office inside of the hospital would have been the medical office and the side office at the side of the school would have been the school office. I’m hoping to find Fumiko to verify that laughs.
KF
Yeah. And for those who aren’t familiar with Steveston, what was the community like? Before the war even?
HS
Oh it was vibrant.
KF
Was it?
HS
It was vibrant. Basically what happened was that, prior to 1909, there was mostly Japanese men in the community and the hospital was largely for, because of the typhoid, for the Japanese men, but when the women started immigrating around 1909 in large numbers, then a good portion of the population of Steveston were born in that hospital. And very active in the community, and you know they had hardware stores and they had ... Moncton street was just simply lined with Japanese businesses and we’ve documented all that, Cathy, that’s my wife, has done some binders showing where all the stores were and who owned them over the decades. It was a vibrant community; every cannery had a boat building shop to build boats because they needed this in the earlier days and generally it was Japanese boat builders that built the boats. And my uncle ... actually, the farm went into difficulties in the Great Depression and my uncle left the farm and became a boat builder and so he was probably the only Caucasian boat builder so I knew all the boat builders! laughs. And I grew up in going into the different boat building shops in and around Steveston and Jim Keesey’s shop and Jim and I were friends for a lifetime and my uncle’s shop and then eventually my uncle became the manager of the Britannia Shipyard or the chief ship rite. So I grew up with the Japanese community after the war, but before the war I didn’t know any white kids. And all my playmates were Japanese, I don’t remember the others, but I remember Fumiko really well. When the day we walked to the tram and just a tearful goodbye she gave me and she just handed me a teddy bear and got in the tram and went away. And I wore that teddy bear out. I had a birthday shortly after, or sometime after, and my parents tried to introduce me to the Caucasian community and I was so upset I walked out of the house out of my own birthday party laughs.
KF
Oh god! Laughs
HS
I wouldn’t play with them laughs. Anyway they all became my friends eventually.
KF
Eventually, yeah? Laughs
HS
Laughs I wouldn’t have anything to do with them; they weren’t my friends at all! I just walked right out and there was one boy Jimmy Howle that lived in this neighbourhood and he was the only Caucasian friend I had so he came out and we played on the lawn while all the rest of the kids had my birthday party. Laughs So that’s, uh, yeah ...
KF
So may I ask? During this time, how old were you at the time?
HS
Well I was quite young; I’d be five or six years old.
KF
Five or six?
HS
Yeah, yeah.
KF
And your close friend Fumiko, may I ask what was she like? As a friend, as a person?
HS
Um, I think maybe she was more of a babysitter than a friend. Laughs
KF
Yeah? Laughs
HS
Because she was about three or four years older than me, but basically she was always around and what do kids do when they play? We just played! You know? Laughs That was that, but whether ... I think simply because we were the only kids in the neighbourhood so we just did whatever little kids do laughs in playing ... just playing out in the yard, in her yard, our yard, stuff like that. I don’t remember too much about that, but other than playing with stuffed dolls and toy trucks and stuff like that in a sand pile laughs. That’s what we had to play in. But um, yeah she told me after the war, they had a terrible experience.
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HS
Apparently she and her mother went back to Japan. Well, I guess it was during the war and that’s another reason I wanted to get this because I’m just remembering the story second hand after talking to her after the war when she’d come out to visit for a few times. She said that they went back to Japan, but they had to take a circuitous route because the war was still on. And she said that people were just desolate and jumping overboard along the way and being devoured by sharks. That’s what she told me as I recall. Not very pleasant.
KF
No.
HS
Yeah, that people were just shocked. Apparently in Japan they weren’t welcomed they were looked at as Canadians, or Americans, and so after the war they came back because people in Japan weren’t very trustful of people from Canada coming back. But at Mio, it was called American village, but basically they didn’t differentiate between the United States and Canada, the residents that came to Canada from Mio all came to Canada and most of them came here. So I’ve been back to Mio two or three times and visited ... but um ... Anyway, my parents went there as well before I did. I don’t know what happened to their father. He was put in a separate camp from them initially because he was one of the leaders and I know Fumiko told me, but I don’t remember whether he got back to them or whether he died in the camps or what I’m not sure because I don’t recall her telling me that he was with them when they went back to Japan. So I don’t know what happened. It was pretty sad, and then I remember when everybody came back. Sakiyama, Mo Izaki and several others came in one day and I was in grade six or seven and Mrs. Hunter said, “We’ve got some new students,” and they introduced them to the class and they became my best friends laughs. And we all went to UBC together and we’re still good friends. But Cathy said Mo was here on Saturday while I was off speaking at a conference.
KF
So what was your life like then after the Japanese-Canadians had been uprooted and, you know, all these people had been taken out of the community. What was your life during that time?
HS
Well basically I made new friends and life went on. It really didn’t affect me that much, I think it affected my parents more ...
KF
Did it?
HS
Simply because of their defense of the Japanese because when I ran for Richmond council and got elected back in 1960, fall of 1968, my campaign was run by the Japanese community. Laughs
KF
Was it really?
HS
Yeah. The Fishermen they called it. I’ll tell you that story later.
KF
Sure.
HS
Anyway I found that I got a very cold reception from some of the old families in Richmond. And I often wondered how come our family when I was growing up never interacted with some of these families and I think it goes back to the war. I won’t mention the individual’s name, but I was on a radio show, did an interview when I got elected, and we were talking about the evacuation and this fellow, he was a city councilor, that was on with me, he was defending the evacuation and I was opposing it and those feelings in the community ran fairly deep. I think that sort of affected our relationship to the old time Caucasian community. Just in the south arm. Our family was friends with the farmers way over in east Richmond, but not the ones quite close. And I think that’s the reason why. I would love to know who the people were at the meeting when they called my dad a white jap, but I’ve been trying to tally up who they were over the years, I think I’ve got them all figured out laughs. Anyway, and actually they were the ones who gave our family the cold shoulder for decades and they’re mostly all passed away now.
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HS
But anyway other than that there was no problem, when the Japanese came back my parents started a Boy Scout troop and half the kids were Japanese. Jackson Hiroda, Ted Hiroda, different ones like that. We were all scouts together and we just ... everybody gravitated together as if the war hadn’t happened, except there were times when it got testy. I got involved in the Steveston community centre around 1966, or something like that, and I took judo for a short time but not very long. The Japanese community wanted to build a judo centre and so I was on the community society board along with Lanky Miziguchi and I can’t remember who else, but there was ten of us: five Caucasian and five of Japanese-Canadian descent. We’re planning the new martial arts centre and the wartime feelings were so strong it was unbelievable. We put out a proposal call and we came down to two designs: a Japanese architect designed a beautiful a-frame building and ... oh I forgot his name now ... I think it was Swiss ... Anyway the other architect was non-Japanese but he’d lived a large part of his life in Japan and he designed a Japanese-designed martial arts centre. The five Japanese-Canadians on the board chose the a-frame and the five Caucasians chose the Japanese design laugh.
KF
Oh isn’t that funny...
HS
Amulf Petzold was his name. And what it was ... and we had a really great debate and my Japanese-Canadians friends said, “What happened to us during the war, we don’t want it to happen again and we don’t want to draw attention to ourselves and we just want to fit in.” And we said, “No, no, we want to tell what happened. We want you to be proud of your heritage.” They eventually agreed with us and we built the martial arts centre with the Japanese design.
KF
Yeah it’s a great centre!
HS
But that’s the story of that. I’ve got to research it sometime to find out who also was on the board with me because my memory’s fuzzy, but that’s the story. Laughs But that gives you an idea of what was happening even after the Japanese-Canadians came back ...
KF
No kidding.
HS
Because there was ... even when we went for Redress, a lot of the old timers didn’t want to do it, it was the younger generation that said, “Yeah we should get redress for what happened during the war.” And I remember going ... I think we met at the Buddhist temple or maybe it was the community centre I can’t quite remember now, probably the Buddhist temple. Anyway we had a huge meeting of Japanese-Canadian people and it was myself and Koko Kukubo and several others that were the fair few of the local people who even wanted to talk about it, but the Vancouver people were more into, but eventually the Steveston people got on side and I did some writing for Tony Tamayose got me doing some writing articles telling these stories. I don’t know what became of the ...
KF
Well actually I’ve seen some of the articles in like, the Nikkei Images Journal. Yeah.
HS
Yeah, they’re maybe some in there, yeah.
KF
I’d seen one that you had done about Lord Byng, the Japanese school.
HS
Okay, yeah that’s it. Yeah well it was Tony asked me to do that.
KF
Yeah!
HS
Because I was doing those to help them with the Redress program.
KF
I see.
HS
So I said yeah. Anyway I think that covers most things, I’m not sure...
KF
No! No, that’s great. Did your parents openly talk about what had happened to the Japanese-Canadians?
HS
Oh, in the household they did.
KF
Yeah.
HS
But I think they were afraid to in the real community because they got such a terrible reaction that it was just shocking. So like I said, I don’t know who they were, but they were Richmond people that came down on my parents for defending the Japanese population.
KF
But there were conversations in the household?
HS
Oh yeah, oh yeah.
KF
Really?
HS
All the time and well, I mean, basically I remember the conversations about all the properties these are all the letters we got from ... unfortunately they’re out of order, I loaned them to the UBC International Studies people.
KF
Okay.
HS
And they’re not in order, but these are all the different letters that they got, just piles and piles of letters ...Uenos...
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KF
And these are letters from Japanese-Canadians during the times that they were interned?
HS
Japanese people, yeah when they were away, when they were interned, mostly about their equipment. We had on the farm, we had one Japanese family who was leasing eight acres from us and they actually built their own house on it. My dad had to buy the house from the custodians laughs it was quite funny! Because it was on our property, but it was just a small house, but he had a house and a boat shed where my dad actually rented it out and the Sigursson family actually built boats in it during the war years. But I don’t know how they come to rent somebody some land and let them build a house. That’s how integrated our family was with the Japanese community. My great aunt, Ida Steves, her husband was long-deceased and she had leased out her farm to Japanese farmers and so I’ve got their letters. Lum Poy had Japanese friends and he actually ended up operating one of the stores on Moncton Street and actually it was the store we had judo in when they first had judo, it was in Lum Poy’s store. But it was originally a Japanese store and he rented it to them. I’m not sure if he owned it or not in the end, but we used to use his store. But I’ve got Lum Poy’s letters here as well. So all the way through the war years these things were being discussed and even after the war because we still have a number of artifacts that were left with my parents by the Japanese community and Mrs. Kojiro gave my mother the full set of Japanese dolls, the ceremonial dolls.
KF
Oh, wow! Yeah.
HS
And we put them on display at the museum from time to time, but we have them stored upstairs.
KF
So, yeah, I’m a little curious about some of the things that the families left to your family.
HS
Yeah.
KF
So what kind of items? You mentioned you still have a couple chairs?
HS
Yeah, basically kitchen chairs, actually, the reason we have the kitchen chairs is they weren’t able to sell them. So the stuff my mother couldn’t sell we still ...
KF
Oh I see! laughs
HS
You’ll find in the letters, they came to an agreement, the stuff my mother wasn’t able to sell and they corresponded back and forth and agreed on a price and she bought it off of Mrs. Kojiro. So we’ve got some chairs, I think its mostly just kitchen chairs is all that was left. The dolls, they’re just incredible. The old Japanese ceremonial dolls and it ends at World War Two, doesn’t begin there. So they went back in their family I guess, generations probably. So we’ve got those and every now and again, we put them on display at the museum. They’ll probably ... we haven’t had them in the new Japanese part of the museum yet, so one of these days we’ll set them up. I’m not sure what else we’ve got other than the kitchen chairs and the dolls, but there’s probably other stuff that still kicking around here somewhere. Oh! We’ve got a few things on the wall that are ... we’ve got a painting of Mount Fuji up on the bedroom wall that belonged to the Kojiros and probably other things around the house. I’d have to give it some thought they’re just here! Laughs
KF
Yeah, they’re just all sitting around, yeah. How did your parents feel about getting rid of some of the items that the families had left to you? It sounded like Mrs. Kojiro had understood that these things were to be sold and taken care of.
HS
Yeah, oh yeah, no that’s what the letters were. I don’t know how they felt, I know that, unfortunately I think, probably that the number of places my mother and father would be able to sell them were limited because of the animosity of the residents and so I’m not sure who they sold them to, but I know they were selling some of them. It’s ironic because most of the the people in the Steveston area were really upset with what happened, it was only the big farmers to the east of us that thought the evacuation was a good idea. Some of us suspected that they were jealous of the Japanese. We had a lot of really good Japanese farmers that were out-farming them I think laughs. Like the eight acres that my parents leased ... I can’t remember the name of that family; they’re in letters here somewhere ... and they built a house on it. They grew eight acres of strawberries and so they fished in the summertime, had a boat building shop and built boats in the winter and they also had the strawberries throughout the season. So that’s what they did: you built boats, you fished. Farming and fishing was quite common, most people think of the Japanese-Canadians as fishermen, they were very good farmers.
00:30:49.000
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KF
Really?
HS
And so much of the land around was owned by Japanese farmer-fishermen, and so my suspicion in terms of the evacuation were some of the farmers in the area and some of the cannery owners in the area ... but I know that Austin Harris became the Custodian of Alien Property. Whether or not he was part of that group before or not, I don’t know, but I know my parents talking about that there was a group that were pushing for the evacuation but I don’t remember who – I mean, they probably said to each other who they were, but I don’t remember. They probably said to each other they were but I don’t remember it as being a little kid as to who they were other than that it was talked about. I guess it was that group that my father was talking to that name called him. So it’s hard to say.
KF
So the farming life that you were talking about, was that quite a common thing for a lot of the fishermen to also be farmers to have seasonal occupations, year round?
HS
Yeah, oh exactly. And where they didn’t own farmland, the women folk quite often worked on the farm fields. Oh! I can tell you this story. I remember, it must’ve been before the evacuation, and my memory may be wrong. The Japanese family that had the eight acres ... I remember as a little kid, four years old or so before the war going with my mother picking strawberries. She used to wear a Japanese hat because everyone else did! Laughs And that’s all I remember! And they wore these Japanese straw hats that kept the sun off and myself and Fumiko, we’d be playing in between the rows of the strawberries as our parents were picking strawberries. During the war, this would be after the evacuation, I guess, because during the war they took the property of 7th avenue from 6th avenue to 7th avenue at the south of Steveston Highway and made it into an army camp and they put guns on the dyke out in front. I was kept very busy so at that time I was made a mascot for the soldiers, I used to march for the soldiers. Laughs But anyway, I can remember that the strawberry field was there and I can remember during the war, and I don’t know who my mother was picking strawberries with at that time, but they used to have air raids from the airport and I can remember this plane diving down on top of us and we all had to lay flat on our tummies in the rows of the strawberries. So whether the Japanese people were still there or not, I don’t know, but I remember just lying there flat as this plane went zooming over the top of us. Now, whether it was just doing it in fun or what I don’t know, but I do remember that. I don’t know if that was before or after the evacuation. But memories, there’s shocking things like that you remember, but you don’t pin a time on it. I do remember out there when I was really little with the people with all the straw hats. I wouldn’t have known, quite honestly, I wouldn’t have known who was Japanese and who wasn’t because we were all one family, but I knew everybody wore a straw hat laughs, a Japanese straw hat.
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KF
I know those straw hats. I can see the visual right now.
HS
Yeah that’s right laughs.
KF
You had mentioned Pearl Harbor in the beginning and how you said you can still remember it like yesterday ...
HS
Yeah, I was playing in the kitchen and my parents brought the radio right into the kitchen, right by the ... in those days you had a wood stove ... by the kitchen stove and I was playing by the kitchen and they were just intensely around the radio. I remember there was a big cardboard box and I’m a little kid and I climbed down the box pretending I was a radio announcer laughs because they were listening and I don’t know what I was saying, but that’s what I was doing while they were listening to the news of Pearl Harbor. It was just ... I don’t know what was said, it was just my parents were so intense at the moment in terms of ...
KF
The feeling ...
HS
The feeling and the time and I guess they knew that, you know, that there was going to be problems. So, yeah.
KF
But what you said was that the core Steveston community was not happy that the Japanese Canadians were leaving.
HS
Oh we were all friends. Some of the people, Joe Bower, different ones like that, Caucasians that spoke Japanese, you know? I never learned it but ... Well, I guess, Joe probably learned it after the war because he might’ve been too young. Well, actually, before the war I did know a few words but I’ve forgotten them laughs. The Japanese kids, we were of the same generation and we were just growing up together. So effectively, it was our generation that was really ripped apart because we had close friendships, and our parents had close friendships so I think there’s anybody that worked in the fishing industry or had anything to do with Steveston was shocked, amongst the Caucasian community. I know I’ve talked to others in the years since, Gerry Miller and different ones like that, and they were defending the Japanese Canadians just the same as my parents were. So it’s a ... But we all gravitated back together again after the war and I never did make friends with those eastern farmers laughs.
KF
Laughs So talking about coming back together, what was the community like when the war was over and people started to trickle back in?
HS
Hmm... my parents were involved with the United Church. And the United Church, there were two of them, there was the Steveston United Church and then there was the Japanese United Church and they were just down the block. One was at Second Avenue and Chatham on the northeast corner and the other was at Second and Number One Road on the southwest corner. During the war and even after, we used both buildings. The church minister actually used the Japanese church for a hall for our youth. And he had youth activities going there. I don’t remember the dates, but the two congregations joined together after the war and became one so I guess sometime in the fifties. That’s why we use the Japanese building for youth activities. That’s where my parents started the Boy Scouts. Well, they started with Wolf Cubs because they were little kids and then Boy scouts and it was half and half, Caucasian and Japanese kids were in it. The Buddhist Temple, they had had a Buddhist temple in Steveston before the war and eventually they built the present one, I’m not sure exactly what date, but there was a close relationship with those that attended the Buddhist temple as well. I didn’t differentiate between the ones that went to one church and which ones went to the temple. I worked really closely with the fishermen as they got older, well like I said, we all went to UBC together, a lot of us. And some of them became fishermen, some didn’t. When I got elected in 1968, I mentioned I was elected by the Japanese community, it was ... I haven’t told too many people this story, but anyway, I was campaigning ... the city fathers of that day were building the first subdivisions and I was telling this story of our farm on Saturday in an interview and because back in the fifties, in 1959, after they built the oak street bridge there was a new population moving in and Richmond decided, “Let’s change Richmond to residential,” and they re-zoned half of Richmond including most of our farm and put all the famers out of business or at least a thousand of them. Anyway ... I forget what point I was going to make about that now ...
KF
About the ... running for ...
00:40:48.000
00:40:48.000
HS
Oh yeah! Anyway, they started building all these houses around us and they were going to dump raw sewage in the river. I was fishing at that time with most of my Japanese Canadian friends. We had a little tiny fishing boats and we called them the Mosquito Fleet and we used to fish out in the river. We fished on the south side of the river, there was a long jetty called the Albion jetty and there were two jetties coming out from west a mile, and actually Smokey . And with a huge salmon runs, the salmon used to go on the wrong side of the jetty and get in between these two jetties. There had been an Albion Cannery at that location. I suspected it was Milton, around 1900 to actually encourage the salmon to go out because they used to be able to take a net out and just drag them into the shore without catching them by boat. But anyway that’s where the mosquito fleet used to fish because the water was very shallow. We cut our nets in half, half the depth and with these small skiffs and put them across the channel and catch fish where the big fishing boats couldn’t get in. So anyway I had a close relationship with the fishermen and we formed a group called the Richmond Anti-Pollution Association, which had a few of the fishermen in it, and had a campaign to get a sewer plant. The term fishermen was actually was a term that the Japanese used for themselves, okay? And so anyway, I ran for counsel, and Frank Nishi, who was one of the leaders of the fishermen, went and told me one day in the campaign that they were all supporting me. So we had a meeting at the Hashimoto house and planned a campaign, a very simple one. They had a Japanese telephone book and they said they would phone everybody of Japanese-Canadian descent.
KF
Wow!
HS
And get them to go out and vote and they would all vote at the Steveston Community Centre. So Election Day came along and Kathy went and you’re allowed to go and mark off who votes. My wife Kathy went and sat at the poll all day long and marked off all the Japanese names that voted and at five o’clock she gave Frank this list, marked list. At about seven-thirty to a quarter to eight there was a couple hundred people lined up to vote and they just got them in the door at eight o’clock to vote. Anyway I topped the poll by a thousand votes.
KF
Nice!
HS
So that started my career in politics. That gives you an idea of the relationship we all had together: we grew up together, we worked together and we shared our politics together laughs.
KF
Nice. Did you ever talk about, with your friends who had come back, their experiences while they were away?
HS
Not too much.
KF
Not too much.
HS
Actually nobody wanted to talk about them, that’s the sad part about it. I think like Fumiko, they established in Alberta and stayed and built a life for themselves there. Others came home, but I never heard much about what it was like other than they played baseball and everything that kids do, they did; amongst my friends. The only time they ever talked about it was when we were planning the martial arts centre. There was such a vivid memory at that time for those who had come back, they just said, “We don’t want that to happen again. Please don’t draw attention to us.” And we said, “No, it’s better if you tell people you’re here and tell them 'don’t let it happen again.’” Which is what we did. Anyway there may be more memories there, but another keeps popping up now and again.
00:45:05.000
00:45:05.000
KF
Yeah. The houses that were left behind during the uprooting and when all the families left, what happened to those houses?
HS
Oh, they were demolished by vandals.
KF
Really?
HS
It was terrible. The Kojiro’s house on the corner, they had a nice, beautiful two-story house. Actually, Lum Poy’s house was a matching house, there were two stories painted red, I guess probably built in 1900 or so because it was the old red iron oxide paint. Basically the vandals kept breaking in to steal furniture and whatever was there and people left ... you couldn’t take much with you so they hid stuff and so they would rip the walls apart looking for wherever stuff was hidden. I got a little ceremonial sword, one of these little daggers that my dog brought home I figured probably came from Kojiro’s house because their stuff was just scattered all over the yard. Eventually the house was torn down and I don’t know when the house was torn down because the Korjiro’s never came back. Somebody, I guess, sold by the custodians, somebody bought and tore the house down. But the house that was on our property that my dad bought, we had no need for it. We rented it out to the one boat building. What happened during the war years is that suddenly there’s nobody to catch the fish and they needed fishermen and they needed boat builders and so a number of Icelandic boat builders from Manitoba from, I’m not sure, Lake Winnipeg, Yoses or someplace round there, that came here and that’s where the Sigurosson came. They came and built boats in the shop of, Kitagawa I think was the name of the family that had the boat building shop. No that can’t be, that was the guy who had the store, I’ll remember it sometime. But after that family finished building boats after the war, you know, the Japanese people wanted it back and I remember we used to use it for, the house, we converted it for farm storage. Let me just think. A lot of the houses had been built ... a lot of the Japanese-Canadians lived in cannery houses and they were at each cannery, Jackson, Ted Hiroda, they lived at Fourth Avenue at Chatham street in one of the cannery houses and they lasted, I guess, into the early sixties some of them and then, I don’t know what happened whether the canneries evicted everybody or ... by that time people were making money and went and built new houses and moved. So those houses were knocked down. Generally the houses around town were quite small so, you know, 500 to a thousand square feet; small houses. But that’s what everybody lived in at that time. I can’t think of any of the houses of my Japanese friends that are still left. Well I think there’s one, um, one at the foot of Number Two road. I think it’s been restored as a, basically, a heritage house. I know that’s where Mo Izaki lived, I don’t know if it’s his house or a neighbor’s but I think there’s one left. But then there’s not very few houses of any kind left now, they just knocked them down real fast.
KF
So most of them are no longer here, is what you’re saying?
HS
Yeah, no that’s it. That’s why we were just delighted when we found the Japanese hospital office. I knew that building there was old because I’d looked at it and thought, “That’s really strange over the years, it’s got 1890-1900 siding on it.” It wasn’t until the woman that was living in it was moving that she called me up and told me the story. Her father, Mr. Mulholland, was the ... after the war when the vets came back, they turned the Japanese property over to the war veterans there. The Army and Navy and it became a pub. Before, Mr. Mulholland, was the president, apparently, of the Army and Navy. Instead of tearing down the office building, he moved it over to one corner of the site and added a room to it and made it into a house. His daughter contacted me and said, “you know, this is the original hospital office.”
00:50:27.000
00:50:27.000
KF
Wow...
HS
And so that’s how we found it. So that was one of the few that remains. Oh we got the Murakami house down at the Britannia shipyard.
KF
Yes, yeah, I’ve seen that.
HS
And the story behind that, we had a big debate thirty years ago, I guess, over heritage and the group on counsel and the community that I’m involved with, we won one laughs and that was to save the Britannia Shipyard. The counsel was divided on it and the staff was actually opposed to it ...
KF
Were they really?
HS
But uh, yeah. Anyway they said, “Oh, nobody will go for that.” What we did, we worked out an agreement with Robbie Johnson who had bought the property off of BC Packers and said, “If you donate the Britannia Shipyard to us, we’ll see if we can get counsel to let you build a high-rise building.” The staff weren’t exactly enthusiastic and we had a big public meeting in Steveston, 198 people came out and 197 approved saving the Britannia Shipyard, they told the counsel and the counsel saved it.
KF
I’m glad they did, that’s one of my favourite sites.
HS
Yeah. Yeah so that’s how it happened. There was only one person opposed to it and Robbie Johnson ... we actually approved an eight story and ten story tall buildings, but the economics of the day made it more economical for him to build a six story, more compact building. So that’s the Britannia apartments, so he built the Britannia apartments and donated 13 acres to the city and when we started researching it, we realized we had the Murakami house and the Murakami boat works on it so we made sure that we wanted to have a representation of our Japanese-Canadian history so we saved those buildings and restored them. Ah pretty much the very first ones. Yeah so that’s how that happened. And the interesting thing about that it gives you an idea of how people lived before the war because when we restored the building and the house, Murakami’s actually built the boat works themselves, but we discovered that the building itself probably was fifty years older. We actually had an expert in looking at rings on wood to determine when the trees were cut down. And the lumber for the Murakami house was cut down in the 1890’s
KF
Really!? Whoa that’s old.
HS
So we think that it may have been the original building that Marshal English built for when he had the fish camp there, he had an office and living quarters for people that were collecting the fish to send up to New Westminster, we’re not quite sure, but the building was shortened by Murakami as we found on the north end of it where the planks that all had been sawed and not sawed off too evenly, so it had been a bigger building at one time. So we figured that probably that the Murakamis converted it into a house, whenever, you know, when they came here. I’m not sure when they came in 1909 with Miss Murakami or not but it was around that time. So anyway so that’s how we got that one and we put the ofuro by because the Japanese houses had the Japanese baths in them but they’re all gone, but we needed one to show what it was like. The last one I saw in operation was in the Teraguchi house on Moncton Street before they bulldozed it. I went in the building and they still had it behind the house. The Teraguchis hadn’t lived in it, whoever lived in it during the war and after had just left it there. It was still there in a shed behind the house laughs. So yeah, but I recognized it immediately that was a Japanese bath.
KF
Yeah. Can we talk a little bit about your house here and your property because you were talking about how a lot of the Japanese Canadian homes were demolished, but your house is still here and you had just mentioned that it’s going to be the 100th anniversary next year.
00:54:41.000
00:54:41.000
HS
Yeah had the Japanese-Canadians not been evacuated I’m sure there would be a lot of the original houses still standing and the reason ours is still here is our family has continued to live in it for one hundred years, different generations, and while the generations of Japanese-Canadians have been in this community for a hundred years that connection was broken so the housing that they had before the war went into somebody else’s hands. Like I said, the house kiddy corner to this one the Kojiro’s had was a beautiful two-story house. Significant of a well esteemed individual in the community, one of the community leaders, one of the finest houses in the area. Well it was just vandalized and eventually demolished. And there were a number of other fine houses that the Japanese community had, but when they came back from the war they had to start all over again; they didn’t get any of their original houses back. And so that’s ... it disrupts the normal progression of life in a community when things like this happened. Now we’re going through a different kind of disruption because land is so valuable that people are selling and leaving and new immigrants with lots of money are coming in and buying property so that’s changing things too, but on the other hand, there’s still a fair number of my Japanese Canadian friends still living in Steveston. Saki who used to live next door here, when her husband died, she bought an apartment in Steveston, her house was bulldozed and she had a one story bungalow and now it’s a three story mansion, but that’s what’s happening today. There are a number, quite a few, of the Japanese-Canadian people are living now in apartments on the waterfront and are still here. A lot of the younger people are moved away and mingled into society throughout the region. But anyway that’s why we’re still here is simply we weren’t shipped out anywhere. We just stayed.
KF
And so how large is this property because you, for those who don’t know, you operate a farm.
HS
Yeah basically this property, we’ve got about two acres inside the dyke and nine or ten acres outside the dyke so about a 12 to 13 acre farm. Originally it was about 160-acre farm. Various properties were sold off during the years and then they lost most of it. They lost 40 acres for three dollars an acre in taxes in the great depression if you could imagine. You know, four five million now, but three dollars an acre in 1930. Couldn’t pay the taxes.
KF
Three dollars an acre, no problem, oh my god.
HS
And so they’ve got smaller and smaller but eventually we expanded but we couldn’t afford to buy another farm in Richmond so we bought a ranch in Cache Creek and our oldest son now operates the ranch at Cache Creek so in a way our progression here was broken simply because of the changes in the zoning bylaws. Well the house is still here, but the farms gone and so our farm is mostly in Cache Creek. We have a few cows here, but we sell beef from this site, but it’s raised in Cache Creek and he brings the beef. He has the beef all packaged and frozen and brings it down here and we sell it from this site, but our farm is about four-five hundred kilometers away.
KF
Yeah grass-fed beef I noticed too, that’s nice.
HS
Yeah, yup, that’s it.
KF
Let’s talk about these surroundings a little bit because when I walked in I was so pleasantly surprised to see all the different items. You know I was just saying how minimalism is such a big thing now.
HS
Yeah.
KF
But I think yours is the opposite and it’s really truly a museum of items.
HS
Yeah well two things happened. One, it has been the same family continuously in the house since the house was built in 1917. The original house was just across the driveway; our son lives in the house next door, our youngest son. The original house was there and it was built in 1877. So we actually have artifacts that were in the original house that we’ve got collected as well.
KF
Oh, that’s nice.
HS
An old grinder for grinding grain and things like that. A little hand grinder because when you had stuff in those days especially when your nearest place to buy anything was either Victoria or New Westminster and you had to go there in a paddle wheeler from here to Victoria and you sometimes went up a row boat to New Westminster laughs. A giant paddle wheeler, but you saved everything you had for those days in case you might need it again. So we have things going back to the 1800’s and the house was built with an attic. They built attics so they could set things apart so every generation just put the stuff in the attic and we gradually brought it all out and we have it set up all over the house.
KF
Yeah, it’s so nice.
01:00:22.000
01:00:22.000
HS
And that’s where the artifacts from the Kojiro family, they were all stored in the attic and so we’ve got them set up around the house. In the Victorian era through the 1890’s and the early teens and people put up a picture rail around the house and they covered the walls with pictures so that’s what we’ve done. We’ve got all the old photographs and pictures that were in the attic and hung them back on the wall again. So that’s the way they did it then, it’s kind of fun but we have the modern ones up there now too in full colour of the the grandchildren. You get to the point where there’s not much room left on the wall.
KF
Would you say that you have some key items that are your favourite in this house?
HS
Oh it would be hard to pick a favourite.
KF
Really?
HS
Yeah, I don’t know. What do I put down as a favourite? There’s just so many things.
KF
Or maybe a top five, you don’t have to choose one laughs.
HS
Laughs Yeah, I don’t know. Probably the black gramophone up on the top there, which got us started collecting gramophones because that was the family one in my aunt’s house when we were renting it, the house off an aunt when we first got married. So that’s probably one because that’s a) that’s when we got married and b) that’s the first one we had laughs.
KF
Ah that’s nice.
HS
But other than that the old radio from World War Two, that’s someday I’ve got to figure out how to get a tube radio working again. We’ve still got it there in a prominent location in the living room, but not operative. It’d be that, my grandfather’s abacus from the store ...
KF
Yeah.
HS
Some of the things that go back to those days.
KF
It’s amazing how beautifully kept that abacus is though.
HS
Yeah, basically they’ve got one at the Nikkei Museum and the words, you can hardly read them, I mean I can’t read them! They’re in Japanese, but the Japanese is faded, you can hardly read them. But I think my grandfather just kept it on his desk; I don’t think he learned to use it laughs because it’s not very well worn. Yeah.
KF
What has compelled you to stay on this family farm?
HS
Oh, it’s hard to say. When you got roots in the community, why leave? And we almost did when we bought the ranch and, I shouldn’t say almost did, we stayed one winter and after that Kathy said, “Never again!” Laughs
KF
Laughs
HS
It went to 40 below!
KF
Oh! Yeah, that’s no fun.
HS
It was before we moved into this house, we built a house of our own up Steveston Highway and we were operating the ranch sort of commuting back and forth and we stayed one winter 1978 or so and it went to 40 below and the ranch is off the highway somewhat and we couldn’t get our truck started to get out because everything froze, actually the oil actually froze in the oil pan. We took it out like taffy and heated the oil in the stove to get the truck started. Then we never stayed over winter. I went over a few times in the wintertime, but Kathy never went back in the winter. So that was it, so I guess that’s why we’re still here. So we operated the ranch from afar and then our son took it, he lives there. And the climates changed now, it’s very mild in the winter, but it doesn’t go to 40 below anymore. But that was it. And so now that he’s taken over and we don’t have to make a living off the farm anymore, we just keep a few cows here and sell seeds and just much less farm activity than what we used to do, he’s doing most of it. But um, that’s that.
KF
Can I ask going back a little bit, you said you had attended UBC. So when you got a little bit older, what did you do?
HS
Oh, I took a degree in agriculture. And then for a while I taught school.
KF
Did you?
HS
And then we went full time farming.
KF
Full time farming.
01:04:49.000
01:04:49.000
HS
And that’s after we bought the ranch, I was actually teaching school and commuting back and forth. I mean I had to pay for it, right? Laughs So my income as a teacher was what helped pay for it all. Then we went full time farming after that. The reason I was going, it’s almost like the Japanese evacuation is what happened to us because we went to UBC in ... I was at UBC in 1959 when Richmond rezoned our farm, and they never told anybody. I remember coming home in the summer and one day my dad, we’re sitting in here at the breakfast table, and my dad said, “They won’t let us build a new dairy.” We wanted to build a new dairy for a bulk tank to modernize the milk count at the time. He said, “They rezoned our farm for residential and they won’t let us build a new dairy and new barn.” I phoned the city planner up and said, “What’s this all about?” He said, “Sorry to inform you, you’ve been rezoned and we can’t let you continue farming. You can stay there but you can’t build anything new.” We lost our milk quota because we couldn’t build a new bulk tank, well, we were shooting milk in milk cans and they weren’t going to pick them up anymore. We had a milk quota, very small herd, and we sold the cows and went into beef. And then the next thing that happened to us, they raised our taxes. I remember going with my dad to appeal the taxes and the first year, we appealed, they didn’t give us a tax increase. Two years later they raised our taxes again and I remember going to re-appeal the taxes that time, and we said, “The poor farm we can’t afford to pay residential taxes.” They said, “You’re only raising beef cows and that’s not a valid farm operation.” My father sold most of the farm the following summer, or that summer because we simply couldn’t make enough money to pay the residential taxes on the farm. That’s when I ended up teaching school because here I had a degree in agriculture, I was going to run the farm, and there’s no farm left! By the time I was ready to go ... after I taught for a while ... looking into buying a farm the prices around here had risen so much we couldn’t afford one so we bought a ranch in Cache Creek. So anyway, we are basically uprooted by the Richmond City Council. And so that’s why when they were going to dump the raw sewage in the river from these news subdivisions, and I said, “That’s it! We’re fighting back, we’re not going to pollute our salmon fishery.” That’s when I got involved with Frank Nishi and the fishermen.
KF
Yeah that sounds like it would have been very difficult to lose that much.
HS
Oh yeah. That was that. So anyway we’ve survived, and like with the Japanese-Canadian population, it’s a bitter memory and you just sort of bury it, and move on. But that’s why I don’t talk about it. I know why my Japanese friends don’t talk what happened to them very much because I don’t talk about that very much. You know? My kids don’t even know the whole story. I mean, we just never talk about it that much, but umm ...
KF
Yeah that’s an interesting word, though, disruption, I think it’s a good way to describe it.
HS
But yeah when I was teaching school, we lived up at Fourth Avenue of Steveston Highway, then when my dad died, we had just bought the ranch and we were commuting back and forth from there, then my dad died so we sold our house up there and moved in here. And we stayed and we kept on commuting back and forth until I quit teaching and then by that time we had our own kids and lots of help from the family.
KF
That’s nice. And it sounds like your son, your eldest son, is involved with farming.
HS
Yeah he runs the ranch up there full time and our son Rob has a business in Vancouver and he helps out here on the weekends.
KF
That’s nice
HS
And he’ll probably take over this place, I would assume. So that’s sort of what we’re planning on anyway.
KF
Yeah, that’s nice.
01:09:46.000
01:09:46.000
HS
So anyway, yeah. Long pause. Yeah the interesting thing, I didn’t tell the ... I was speaking at a seminar on Saturday, it was called “Re-thinking the Region,” sponsored by Simon Fraser University and I told them – I did tell them in detail what happened to our farm and how the farm changed. But what happened when they rezoned Richmond in 1959, over the next ten years the small farms and before the war a lot of them had been Japanese farms. During and after the war there were various other people, but like the farm that the Japanese family that farmed part of our farm had eight acres of strawberries, we carried that on, but in 1959 when they rezoned everything, these small farms started to disappear because the City of Richmond rezoned the small farms and so they all went out of business and we had to plough under the strawberry field that the Japanese family had planted because the jam factory Nellies Jams phone ringing in the back went out of business and because so many small farms that produced strawberries that had gone out of business, they never had any product. And so there’s been a progression of losses of small farms and the Japanese farmers were very, very productive small farmers that we’re trying to get that back again. Yeah that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to get that close relationship to the land that you don’t have when you got a big farm and you run up and down the field with a tractor and a lot of chemicals laughs.
KF
Yeah.
HS
And we’re trying to get back because the small farms produce a lot more food than the big ones when you’ve got quite intensified farming and you can actually make a living off of five acres or even some are doing it on two acres. That’s the way it was with the Japanese community before the war, five acres was all you needed along with the fishing and you were making a good living. Oh I was meant to tell you earlier, my suspicions about some of the cannery owners, I think it was Murakamis and three or four others owned land all along Moncton Street on the south side of Moncton where the community centre is and as soon as the war came and they were evacuated, they all became cannery properties. And ...
KF
Really?
HS
Yeah and we had suspicions that I heard from my parents talking and so I can’t – I cannot say this is what happened, but these are my memories and they may be wrong, but some of the cannery owners and some of the farm people wanted the lands the Japanese farmers had. And the evacuation may have had more to do with farming than fishing because so many of the Japanese people had these small farms and were very, very good at it. Competing against the farmers that had the big properties and so I think there was a bit of friction because of that between the large farmers and the small farmers. But I’ve never been able to prove it.
KF
Right, just something that’s always stuck with you.
HS
Yeah, but it’s always bugged me and I’ve always ... And I know who the big farmers are and of course you don’t dare mention, you don’t say who they were because they’ve got grandchildren and everything’s fine. But for years I’ve been puzzling over who is this group because I know my parents talked about a group that was behind pushing for the evacuation, but I don’t know who it was.
KF
Do you know much about the relationship between the canneries and the Japanese-Canadians in Steveston? I mean, back in the day you would look at ... there’s photos of Steveston and there would just be lines of canneries all along the water.
HS
Yeah, actually it was a very good relationship for decades. Now, there were fractures between the white fishermen and the Japanese fishermen, and the Chinese cannery workers and the First Nations fishermen and the First Nations women that works in the canneries. There were tensions and things like that through the decades, but to my knowledge, the Japanese fishermen, as far as the canneries are concerned and fishing, it was great. It was just this niggling thing over land ownership that I think may have sparked some of the, you know, I think greed for what other people had.
01:15:15.000
01:15:15.000
HS
And like I said, I can’t prove it, but I heard it. And as a kid and later years as I was growing up, it’s been a real puzzle. But it seems odd that that would be one reason that there was some kind of committee that promoting the expulsion of the Japanese, but not because of the fish.
KF
No because when you think Steveston, you only usually think of ...
HS
You think of fish.
KF
Fishing, yeah. Harold Yeah, but I heard it was about the land.
KF
Really?
HS
I’ve never done an analysis to find out how much land that the Japanese-Canadians owned in the area, but anyway that’s what I remember being talked about, was the land. And the only land I checked is that the land that was farmed here was on my parent’s farm and my aunt’s farm both being farmed by Japanese-Canadians so it wasn’t us because we were leasing it to them, but they must’ve owned land that they owned, other than the four properties on Moncton street, but I don’t know where. Um there may have been some down at the foot at Two Road because I know Mo Izaki’s they had a house there so they may have had some land. You’d have to ask Mo about that, but his parents had it along the waterfront there. Whether they had five acres or, you know, four or five acres I don’t know, but there were two or three houses. They were nice modern and two story houses that they had before the war. But I don’t know, I’ve never asked Mo, I’ll ask him next time I see him laughs.
KF
So Mo’s still in Steveston?
HS
He lives in Vancouver, but his family has a piece of land on Steveston Highway and every once in a while he comes out and works in the garden. Unfortunately he’s not driving so to come down here, he had to probably come all the way from, almost, half way to number two road by bike or something probably to see me and I wasn’t here! But anyway, yeah, I don’t know who had land but some of it’s in the letters.
KF
Mhm, well that’s what the project’s also trying to do is put the land and the names of the families together. So ...
HS
Yeah? Right, I’ll go through these letters and find out just which ones are referred to in here because there’s some ... it’ll take a bit of reading. Kathy’s transcribed some of them.
KF
Oh, yeah? That’s nice.
HS
Oh yeah, listen. Okay yeah, this one here, “The agreement made in duplicate this 19th day of April 1942 between Mrs. Harold Steves and Mrs. Nishi Kateyama,” it’s the Kateyamas that had the house, “whereas Mrs. Steves has agreed as owner of the property on which the house that Mrs. Kateyama has built to permit said house to remain for the duration of the war. And that Mrs Kateyama be permitted to remove said house immediately upon the return or with one month after release from government at duration of the war.” So obviously they were going to move the house. “Mrs. Kateyama has the privilege of storing the furniture in the attic of said house for above mentioned period. Mrs. Steves has the permission of Mrs. Kateyama to rent said house in lieu of rent of land upon which the house now stands. She also has permission to have adjoining barn removed. Mrs. Kateyama to give one month’s notice before returning to the house.” Signed Mrs. Harold Steves, signed Ai Kateyama, witness short pause hm I don’t know if you can read that or not. Passes letter to Kyla Fitzgerald
KF
Witness ...
HS
That’s it, the very bottom name.
KF
Ohh. long pause
HS
Anyway they didn’t tear the barn down because it was Joe Sigurosson that rented the house and he used the barn to build boats.
KF
Wow.
HS
And I guess the Kateyamas never came back because they never took the house.
01:20:00.000
01:20:00.000
KF
Right. It’s interesting though through this letter, you know, the agreements that have been made. You know, you can rent the house if you like, I give permission to rent the house...These are really things you don’t ... These type of letters you don’t really find in archives.
HS
Yeah it was just fortunate that my mother saved them all. They were friends and it’s about the only letter she saved. Laughs
KF
Yeah, yeah.
HS
Yeah they were friends. And the Kateyamas, they had the strawberry field and it would be Mrs. Kateyama, my mother, would have had the hats on before the war laughs.
KF
The nice hat’s, yeah, oh funny.
HS
And I recall there was a dozen other people in the field with the Japanese hats too so anyway they all worked the fields together.
KF
You know you were mentioning ... I have a question: Fumiko gave you a teddy bear you said ...
HS
Yeah.
KF
At the tram.
HS
Yeah.
KF
Did you ever ... you kept that teddy bear?
HS
I wore it out Kyla You wore it out?
HS
Yeah it was full of excelsior and I played with that teddy bear until the point of just literally fell apart.
KF
Oh really? Yeah?
HS
And I’ve looked to find one ... the arms and legs didn’t move, it just had the legs sort of stuck out and it was a black, curly, furry one. I’ve never seen one like it. Every time I go to an antique store or a junk store I look to see if there is one. Laughs
KF
Try and find one, yeah.
HS
But it just totally wore out and all the excelsior came out and I guess it got thrown out. Yeah, that was ... yeah. Yeah it was quite touching.
KF
Yeah, I think so. And what did Fumiko do later on when she moved to Alberta? When you touched base?
HS
Well I don’t know what happened there other than the fact that she married Steve. Oh and Steve’s name, that wasn’t his real name, everybody called him Steve because he came from Steveston.
KF
Oh that’s funny! Oh that’s funny.
HS
So that wasn’t his real name, but that’s what stuck. Steve from Steveston laughs. So, yeah.
KF
Is it important for you to share this history with the community?
HS
Oh absolutely. And I’ve got to work on these letters and put the whole story together. You’re the first person I’ve done an interview with. Well, I shouldn’t say that, I did an interview ten years ago with the people from the UBC International Studies Group. I don’t know if we discussed the letters and stuff like that, but they copied everything. But I really got to sit down because each of the letters will bring back memories of people and stuff that we haven’t talked about.
KF
Right, yeah.
HS
Which I don’t have time to do today, but if you want to do it some other time, I’ll read through the letters and we could meet again.
KF
Of course, yeah, yeah that would be great. And why is it so important for you? You know you had mentioned with the community centre when you were building that that people should know.
HS
Oh it was ... it was heartbreaking for me as a little kid to be ripped up and taken away, I mean, Fumiko and her mother and everybody else. It must have been really incredible because I was touched by it and affected my entire life. And I wasn’t taken away, you know? So I mean I just lost all my friends, but it’s just man’s inhumanity to man is what it really was. I’ve been involved in fighting racism and things like that my entire life, it just made me what I am laughs. That one episode! Basically formed my life with that little walk to the tram.
KF
Yeah. It had a big effect on you?
HS
Oh total effect, yeah, yeah, never forgot. So that’s why I got involved in Redress and the martial arts centre and all these things.
KF
Yeah let’s talk about that briefly. What did you do for Redress or how did you get involved with that?
HS
I don’t know how I got involved, but I didn’t know Tony Tamayose, but he knew me and he called me up and came over to the house one day and said, “You know, we’re having trouble convincing the Japanese people in Steveston.” And you knew about the story of the martial arts centre of how we sort of convinced them that they should build a Japanese-style martial arts centre. And so he asked me if I’d help out and start writing some articles for the local paper and things like and so I did and then I started going to some of the meetings.
01:25:03.000
01:25:03.000
HS
Another Japanese-Canadian friend of mine, Sus Chiba was vice principal at the school I was teaching at so Sus and I went to the meetings together and we encouraged people to get involved. It seems odd for a Caucasian to be going to the Japanese meetings and you know you really shouldn’t be doing this. And I remember going to ... they had a big banquet, a Redress banquet, Hide Shimizu came out from Toronto and spoke and I’d never met her and I got introduced and she came running down from the stage and gave me a big hug. She told me some of the history that I got from my family from the other point of view during the course of the evening of how they’d all worked together. And so, yeah. So it was just natural to get involved, it was part of my life.
KF
How did you feel about the acknowledgement and apology when it happened?
HS
Oh we were all really, really pleased. I was hoping we would get some more some of the funding, Redress funding for doing some stuff in Steveston, but we went and did those things anyway. We set up the garden at Gary Point, garden, and we did the marital centre and we got a memorial to Lord Byng School and Hide Hyodo and the Japanese school at Lord Byng. I was involved in another battle too, which we’d lost. The original school at Lord Byng, that they called the little school was built around 1921 and they wanted to build a new school and so we campaigned to save the old one. And the old one was on the site, where the new Lord Byng School is. We actually got the municipality to pick the building up and move it over on the site and anyway the negotiations broke down with the school board and the council voted to demolish it. We were trying to save ... that’s the first, I guess, first major effort I did to try and save something. We lost the school, but it was quite significant because it was the building that was built. It didn’t replace the Japanese school. When they built it, the Japanese school had four classrooms, they built the little school and it had four classrooms and the combined school was eight classrooms, they just kept operating the Japanese school building. And I may be wrong of the number of classrooms because it seems to me they had nine classrooms at one time somewhere along the line. But anyway that’s why it had significant history to the Japanese community because in the early days when my father went to school in 1906, and I’ve got a picture of him with some of the Japanese kids in his class in 1906, when they started having a huge number of families in 1909 and on, the school board said, “That’s it. You can’t go to the regular school unless you own property.” And most of the Japanese families were in the cannery houses built by the canneries. So that’s why they already had the Japanese hospital on the site and I’m not sure when the school was built, but they certainly expanded it around 1909 and it was a major, major Japanese school. That was from 1909 until about 1920 or 21, when the Japanese community said, “Well look you got to build a new school at Lord Byng and we’ll help you pay for it.” They raised a good chunk of the money to build this, what we called the “Little School.” That’s why we tried to save it because it had been, to a large degree financed by the Japanese community, but we weren’t successful. So there is a memorial to that school down there. But anyway, yeah just all my life laughs been involved with all these issues. It’s also partly, when I got elected to council with Frank Nishi’s backing, it was partly that reluctance to be out there in public. Effectively I represented the fishermen, that’s really what it was and so basically appointed me to be there representative for decades laughs.
KF
Did you feel like you had a lot of responsibility to represent their interests?
HS
Oh yeah, actually it wasn’t a problem because I was with them. Everything they believed, I believed in so it didn’t really make a difference. It’s just I would’ve done it anyway except they prodded me along.
KF
Laughs
01:30:02.000
01:30:02.000
HS
And we’re putting in the paddles from the house where we used to have our meetings and I can’t remember which street and when the streets on, Steveston here. They had all these carved panels that we were putting into the museum into the Japanese office building, some of the panels on the wall are out of that house and when the house is demolished they called me to come and rescue this stuff and I rescued this stuff and took it over to the museum. And then when we moved the Japanese office, I said, “Okay we got this stuff,” and I promised the Japanese community, they wouldn’t stay in the museum, they would be on display, so we’re putting them on display even though you can’t go tell a museum they can’t keep what they’ve got, they’re giving it up, I mean Richmond owns it, but it’ll be used these panels, they just won’t be on a shelf or something to look at, they’re going to be in the building.
KF
Oh, that’s nice.
HS
But anyway that was the relationship, I became their spokesman for decades, which ... I haven’t had to do it lately, they’ve got lots of good spokesmen out there now, laughs Jim Kojima, different ones, but, yeah. Basically the old timers they just did not want to be out there in public fighting for their rights, they just ... so I did.
KF
Well to start wrapping up, I have a couple more questions. Looking back on what had happened, I mean I think you’ve touched on it multiple times, but to sum it up, how do you feel about the whole situation, what had happened to the community, how it had impacted Steveston as well. You know?
HS
Oh gosh, that’s what we never talked about was how it impacted Steveston. It was unbelievable! Basically the whole town was empty.
KF
Was it?
HS
And um, a couple things I’m not going to tell you, but it wasn’t a nice place.
KF
Really?
HS
Basically what they did, they said, “Come to Steveston and go fishing because we got no fishermen left. And there will be no questions asked.” We had no police. My parents wouldn’t allow me to go into town. I remember sneaking off into Steveston one time with a friend of mine, Ray Rattan, and walking down Moncton Street. We weren’t allowed to go there. There were prostitutes on the corner.
KF
Really?
HS
There were stories of a Chinese laundry. The boardwalk was along the dyke, it was a Chinese laundry and the Chinese laundry used to go down the dyke with a four wheel buggy picking up laundry and he was found drowned in the river with his buggy floating down the river. It wasn’t a very nice place during the war years and that’s ... A lot of the stores were empty for a long while. My recollection was that people came here because there were no questions asked that there were some rather unsavory characters out on the fish boats for a while. But after the war, the Japanese came back, those people all went away and the people like the Icelanders and the ones that brought their families stayed on and so we had a new community of people and with roots in the fishing industries that they brought with them or brought back from when they came back from the evacuation. But, yeah it was, it was certainly interesting. Long pause Yeah we heard stories of people, and these were just stories during the war years of people, not just the Chinese laundry guy but ... well there’s one story I can relate, one of the houses that belonged to our family, to my grandmother’s sister became a bootlegger’s joint.
01:35:00.000
01:35:00.000
HS
A fellow named Wong was running it as a bootlegger and because we had no police, somebody got shot on his doorstep and the police came in and investigated and went home. Never did a thing. The story is that Mr. Wong told him he didn’t speak English and they said, “Okay fine,” end of investigation laughs. I remember the first policeman I ever saw after the war, my parents, I guess we were in the car coming down Moncton Street from the west to the east and there was a policeman standing on the corner of Number One Road and Moncton Street, and I had never seen a policeman before.
KF
This is after the war?
HS
This was after the war, yeah, because the whole community was off limits because they wanted to attract ... they needed the fish for the war efforts.
KF
Right.
HS
So whether they had an amnesty on criminals or what, I don’t know, but they certainly didn’t have any police. So it wasn’t a pleasant place. Or at least I wasn’t allowed go there so I don’t really know how pleasant it was laughs.
KF
Yeah, well but I think that says something in some ways that you weren’t allowed to go.
HS
Well my parents just told me, “You don’t go there.” And I went to Lord Byng School from here and I was told to come home and they were watching to make sure I came home every day and I didn’t go to Steveston so I don’t know how bad it really was, except for the one occasion when we decided to find out what’s going on. Laughs
KF
Laughs So it sounds like in this whole series of events, it didn’t just impact a particular group of people, but really the whole community.
HS
Yeah it impacted the whole community, yeah, yeah.
KF
And when you reflect on Steveston now today ...
HS
Sighs Yeah.
KF
How do you feel about it?
HS
Basically a lot of the people came back and lived in the community and everything came back to normal, it’s just that the memory is there. Steveston today now is changing because most of the older generation have passed away and there’s only a few of us that were born before the war that are left. In fact I’m not sure that I know of anybody else, laughs of the Caucasian community, the Japanese community, but they were gone during the war years so they got a big gap in their memory, they don’t know what happened during the war because they weren’t here. So I don’t know of anybody else that has the memories that I’ve got of what it was like during the war when they weren’t here and they’re pretty vague. I remember we had school, the Lord Byng school burned down and for one year we were on double shift and went to school in the Japanese kindergarten, it was still standing on Chatham street, that had been the kindergarten. The Japanese community basically started it. Actually it was interesting, the Japanese community at the hospital started the first Medicare system in Canada, they also started one of the first kindergarten systems. They were so interested, and this I know because I got this from my aunts because they were the teachers that taught the kids ...
KF
Right.
HS
They said that they, the Japanese were so interested, they wanted all their kids to learn English and they wanted to be able to go to the white school and going to school in grade one with the same background as the regular kids that they started the first kindergarten. The kindergarten was a two story building with two rooms upstairs and two down. We went to school in that for one year during the war years. Yeah I think that it was 1948 or something like that that it burned down, but um, yeah. But I never went to Steveston laughs.
KF
Never went to Steveston. laughs
HS
This was as close as I got laughs. Yeah.
KF
Well to conclude, one last question: these interviews are going to be housed in an archive and hopefully they will be open to the public to be used so they can listen to them and learn the history ...
HS
Right.
KF
And so for future Canadians or students or any other individual who happens across these interviews, what is your message for anybody who listens to this?
01:40:04.000
01:40:04.000
HS
Oh wow.
KF
It’s a little heavy, I know laughs.
HS
That is heavy laughs yeah. Actually, the actual theme of what we’ve all said, just don’t let it happen again. We see it happening in Europe right now and the Arab countries, with the refugees, there’s no need for these things to happen. The people have got to have dialogue and they’ve got to be cognizant of other people, that other people have rights and you don’t trample those rights. Having gone through this is really strange to see that it just doesn’t end, it just seems to happen over and over and over again. Whether it’s religion or whether it’s race or whatever that ... How it is we aren’t able to bridge that gap, I really don’t know. When the Japanese-Canadians came back and in spite of our great debate over the martial arts centre, eventually a lot of the younger generation became proponents of telling the story of integration, working together and to the point where the present day Japanese-Canadian community, you simply can’t differentiate between them and the regular, normal Canadian citizens. Whereas more recent immigrants of course you can tell they’re immigrants and stuff like that and you end up with still some sparks between longtime residents and some of the new people speaking with an accent and things like that. Oh I got to tell you one thing.
KF
Sure.
HS
In the Japanese community when I was growing up as a kid, everybody in the Japanese community spoke Japanese, but they were so polite, it was unbelievable. We got our mail every day, we went into the post office to get mail and that’s where we did all our community discussion. One of the post masters was Japanese, one was Caucasian. The Japanese people would be talking Japanese, if I came in they immediately switched to English because it was impolite to be speaking behind somebody’s back in another language. You know how when you go to Japan, everybody’s bowing ...
KF
Yup.
HS
Well that’s the way it was, it was utterly amazing that just people had such great respect for each other and they knew I didn’t speak Japanese and that the rest did and they’d be talking about stuff that had nothing to do with what we were doing, but immediately to show that they were not excluding people, they would switch the conversation to English. Even though some of their English was not that good and that’s the kind of community it was, you don’t find that very often.
KF
Well I certainly think that Steveston is a very special community.
HS
Yeah. Well there’s a few of us that’s still left, but it’s basically everybody’s ... the old community has basically changed and people moved away, younger generations, but there’s still a few people that remember. Anyway, I got to take a plane flight to Ottawa so ...
KF
Yeah, no, well thank you so much for sharing your stories and your memories, it’s like you said, there’s very few people on the other side who had a lot of contact and a lot of memories of what had happened so I’m just so grateful that you took some time to sit down with us.
HS
Yeah. The only other one, you might want to talk to Joe Bower. Joe is younger than me so he doesn’t have the memories from before the war, but he actually learned Japanese and he’s about four years younger than me and had immense relationships with Japanese friends through the decades.
KF
Really?
HS
Gerry Miller who would have been great to interview who’s four, five years older than me and has even better memories than I’ve got and Gerry and I compared notes from time to time over the years. He lived over in the eastern section of Steveston and he has exactly the same memories that I’ve got in terms of what the way we worked with the Japanese community. I never got ... it’s really weird, but when you’re little Steveston was a big place, there was all boardwalks and we went everywhere by bike and as far as I got was to Number One and Moncton Street where Gerry lived at Number Two and Moncton Street and it was a mile further on, but I never got off that way. But we had the same recollections of growing up in the Japanese community before the war and that sort of thing and again after the war. But there weren’t that many Caucasian kids in Steveston, that’s the other thing. The Fentimon family, they moved away a long time ago. Older members of the Fentiman family probably would have had similar recollections, but I lost touch with them twenty or thirty years ago, I don’t know if they’re still alive or not. But that was Jimmy Howle, who was part of the group, he died about two years ago. So in our area there was Jerry Howle, the Fentimans and us and the rest were all Japanese families. The other side of Steveston was Jerry Miller and a few others, but I’m not sure who they were. So, yup there was only a handful of us to start with and most of them are gone. But I’ll read through the letters and because there may be others like that one that ...
KF
Yeah, no, thank you so much. And yeah, like I said, thank you for taking the time to sit down with me, really, really enjoyed listening to your memories.
HS
Yeah, yeah. Yeah because I know I’ve got a whole pile from Mrs. Kojiro, and they all outline the ... because I know one letter in them my mother’s crossed off which ones are sold and all that sort of stuff laughs.
KF
Oh really? Oh Wow, yeah no definitely. Thank you so much.
HS
Yeah, good. And if you need copies of the letters, we can make copies.
KF
Oh that would be very nice, thank you.
HS
Yeah.
01:47:06.000

Metadata

Title

Harold Steves, interviewed by Kyla Fitzgerald, 02 May 2016

Abstract

Harold recalls what life was like in Steveston before, during, and after the war. He describes his family’s relationship with the Japanese-Canadian community and shares a number of memories with the interviewer regarding how his family helped Japanese-Canadians during the period of internment and dispossession. For example, his father made efforts to protect the Kojiro family’s home from vandalism and theft by boarding up all of the windows. Harold outlines his involvement in the Redress movement writing articles to provide more context to the Japanese-Canadian experience. Due to his family’s close relationship with the Japanese-Canadian community in Steveston, Harold’s family was entrusted with a number of their possessions including, but not limited to, ceremonial dolls. Near the end of the interview, Harold provides an account of not only how this period impacted the Steveston community but also how it impacted himself as well since he lost many of his childhood friends.

Credits

Interviewer: Kyla Fitzgerald
Interviewee: Harold Steves
XML Encoder: Stewart Arneil
Publication Information: See Terms of Use for publication and licensing information.
Setting: Richmond (Steveston), British Columbia
Keywords: Steveston ; Britannia Shipyard Heritage Site; Lord Byng School; Steveston United Church; Japanese United Church; UBC ; Steveston Community Centre ; Martial Arts Centre; Fourth Avenue; Chatham Street; Number two Road; Number One Road; Albion Cannery; Moncton Street; 1940s – 1980s

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.