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A Time of Tragedy

This story was initially published in 2000

On February 25, 1942, Prime Minister Mackenzie King announced the expulsion of all Japanese Canadians residing within 165 km of the Pacific Coast. This marked the beginning of one of the most tragic episodes in Canadian History.

Families getting ready to leave

Families getting ready to leave
© LAC / C-47066

Ever since the first Japanese immigrant, Manzo Nagano, arrived in British Columbia in 1877, Japanese Canadians experienced discrimination. However, despite adverse conditions, many established themselves on the West Coast through dedication and hard work. The Second World War changed all that for the more than 22 000 Japanese Canadians living in B.C.

When Japan bombed the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the U.S. and Canada declared war at once. With Japan joining sides with Nazi Germany, Canada was now at war with Japan. Fear of Japanese invasion, coupled with anti-Japanese feelings in B.C., resulted in a war hysteria, which infected the West Coast and most of Canada. Bending to the pressure of racist B.C. politicians, a federal order-in-council empowered the Minister of Justice to remove and detain "any and all persons" from any designated "protected area" in Canada. In theory, this meant any person in Canada. In reality, it meant the Japanese minority living in B.C.

Family in Slocan, B. C., internment camp

Family in Slocan, B.C., internment camp
© LAC / C-29452

Officially, the uprooting of Japanese Canadians was meant to ensure national security and to protect Japanese Canadians from acts of racial violence. Senior military and police officers, however, opposed the order, stating Japanese Canadians posed no threat. Nevertheless, under the War Measures Act, more than 22 000 Japanese Canadians were removed from their homes, processed through a temporary camp in Vancouver, stripped of their property and shipped to detention camps in the interior of B.C. or to sugar beet farms in Alberta and Manitoba.

The abuse did not stop there. The federal government sold all the property seized from the uprooted Japanese Canadians, and in early 1945 forced them to choose between deportation to Japan or immediate dispersal east to the Rocky Mountains. Generations had worked hard to make B.C. their home. Now they were told they could no longer return. In 1946, 4000 were deported and the remaining were forced to move East where they had to start over.

Japanese Canadians form an integral part of Canada's cultural mosaic. In 1988, Canada formally apologized and gave compensation for the humiliations suffered during the Second World War. The Japanese Canadian Internment is commemorated by a Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada plaque in Vancouver.

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