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A Canadian War Hero Interned

For the week of Monday May 16, 2016

On May 22, 1917, during the First World War, Sergeant Masumi Mitsui was reported wounded in action in France. A member of the 10th Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force, he finished the war a decorated hero. During the Second World War he was accorded none of the recognition he deserved. Along with thousands of other Japanese Canadians, the Canadian Government deemed him an “enemy alien.” He and his family were forcibly relocated from the west coast and dispossessed.

Masumi Mitsui
© Courtesy of David Mitsui

Mitsui was born in Japan and immigrated to Canada in 1908. After the outbreak of the First World War, racial prejudice made it difficult to join the military in his home province of B.C., but in 1916 he was accepted at a recruitment office in Calgary. As part of the 10th Battalion, Mitsui was in charge of other Japanese soldiers because he was fluent in English. He distinguished himself at the Battle of Hill 70 in 1917, for which he was awarded the Military Medal for Bravery. Mitsui sustained wounds on the front, but he finished the war a decorated sergeant and returned to B.C.

During the interwar years, Mitsui became president of the Canadian Legion Branch No. 9. He also lobbied for the enfranchisement of Japanese Canadian war veterans, which was won in 1931. Everything changed, however, in 1941, when Canada declared war on Japan following the attacks on Pearl Harbour, Hawaii. Japanese Canadians living in British Columbia were forcibly removed from their homes and relocated to the interior. Although a Canadian citizen, a veteran, and a recipient of the Military Medal, Mitsui was stripped of his right to vote, his family’s farm and possessions were taken and sold, and he and his family were moved to Greenwood, B.C.

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Japanese Canadian War Memorial, Stanley Park, Vancouver, 1939
James Crookall © City of Vancouver Archives, CVA 260-1030

After the war, Japanese Canadians were forbidden to return to their home communities on the coast. Many moved to southern Ontario. It was not until 1949 that the rights of Japanese Canadians were restored and they were once again granted the vote – but their lands and belongings were never returned.

Later, Japanese Canadians lobbied for compensation and a public apology to those whose human rights had not been respected. Both were granted by the Canadian Government in 1988, a year after Mitsui passed away. Japanese Canadian Soldiers of the First World War and the Fight to Win the Vote, and Japanese Canadian Internment are National Historic Events.

It’s Asian History Month! To learn more about Japanese Canadians’ experiences in the World Wars visit A Missed Memo: Japanese-Canadians enlist in the First World War, and A Time of Tragedy and Canadian Volunteer Corps Founded in the This Week in History archives.

Follow us on Twitter @ParksCanada! Also visit the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.

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