The New Canadian: A Voice for Japanese Canadians

The New Canadian, edited and printed in Japanese and English in internment camps in western Canada during the Second World War. © Library and Archives Canada / C-047104

For the Week of Monday, May 13, 2019

On May 19, 1945, an editorial in the Japanese-Canadian newspaper, The New Canadian, warned that the escalation of fighting in the Pacific might have dire consequences for Canadians of Japanese descent, who had long endured systemic anti-Asian racism and discrimination: “The history of Japanese Canadians has been one of continuous struggle against the forces of intolerance and prejudices that beset a minority group… When we look back, the road behind has not been easy, but the hardest stretch still lies in front.”

Nisei, or second-generation Japanese Canadians, founded The New Canadian in Vancouver, British Columbia in 1938. At the time, there was a large and growing community on the West Coast, where approximately 95 percent of the Japanese-Canadian population resided. Peter Higashi was the founding editor of The New Canadian, which originally published only in English, the first language of most Nisei readers. Its mandate was to “fight on till we are recognized as worthy citizens in the national and political life of the country of our birth—Canada.”

In 1939, Thomas Kunito Shoyama replaced Higashi as English-language editor and publisher of The New Canadian, a position he held until 1945. He was born in Kamloops in 1916, and graduated in commerce and economics from the University of British Columbia. Unable to find work as an accountant, he worked at a pulp mill before joining the staff of The New Canadian, which also hired Takaichi Umezuki as its first Japanese-language editor in 1942.

After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, declaring war on the United States and its allies, the Canadian government treated all people of Japanese descent as “enemy aliens,” regardless of their citizenship, gender, or age. The government then ordered them to move at least 100 miles inland from the coast, confiscated their property, and forced many able-bodied men to labour on road construction and similar work. Beginning in 1942, The New Canadian published from Kaslo, British Columbia, where nearly 1,200 Japanese Canadians now resided. It continued to publish local news, while also sharing information from the Canadian government, translated into Japanese for broad dissemination.

Shoyama left the newspaper in 1945 to train as a Japanese-language translator for the Canadian Army, but the war ended before he completed his training. After the war, The New Canadian moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba, before relocating to Toronto, Ontario in 1949, where it remained until the publication of its final issue in 2001.

Japanese Canadian Internment during the Second World War is a designated national historic event. The Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada (HSMBC) advises the Government of Canada on the commemoration of national historic events, which evoke significant moments, episodes, movements, or experiences in the history of Canada.

The National Program of Historical Commemoration relies on the participation of Canadians in the identification of places, events and persons of national historic significance. Any member of the public can nominate a topic for consideration by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada. Information on how to participate in this process is available here: https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/culture/clmhc-hsmbc/ncp-pcn

May is Asian Heritage Month. Learn more about the histories, achievements, and contributions of Canadians of Asian descent by exploring articles in our online archives about “Paper Sons”: Chinese Immigration to Canada, SS Komagata Maru, the forcible relocation of Japanese Canadians during and after the Second World War, the Abbotsford Gur Sikh Temple, and The New Canadian: A Voice for Japanese Canadians.