A black-and-white photos of a group of men leaning against, or standing between, two ladders.
Japanese orchard labourers circa 1943 in Vernon. Makoto Kawamoto, standing in the between the two ladders, willingly took up work in a Vernon Orchard after being forcibly removed from the “protected zone” to Lillooet, B.C. He and his family later moved to Vernon and became champions of Japanese culture and tradition.

Asian History Month

May is Asian History Month in Canada, and this year’s theme is “Stories of Determination,” in acknowledgement of the challenges overcome by Asian communities in Canada over the last two centuries. One local community who exemplifies this story of triumph-over-adversity is Vernon’s Japanese-Canadian population.

An online exhibit from the University of Victoria’s Centre for Asia-Pacific Initiatives, titled “Landscapes of Injustice,” starkly reveals the role Vernon played during the dispossession of Japanese Canadians as part of their forced displacement and internment in the 1940s.

World War Two

In 1942, following the attack on Pearl Harbour, the Federal Government called for the removal of Japanese Canadian men between the ages of 18 to 45 from a “protected zone” along the B.C. coast. A few months later, this order was expanded to include all Japanese men, women, and children living within this zone, despite the fact that over 75% of them were Canadian-born or naturalized citizens.

After first being sent to makeshift holding centres in Vancouver’s Hastings Park (where the celebrated PNE is now held), most were sent to internment camps in B.C.’s Interior. The men were often separated from their wives and children in these camps, and forced to complete roadwork and other physical labour.

Forced relocation

Vernon was not the site of an internment camp during the Second World War, unlike the First World War, which saw 1100 individuals of mostly Austro-Hungarian and German descent interned on the site of what is now MacDonald Park. However, hundreds of Japanese Canadians were forcibly uprooted to Vernon during this time, in part due to the fact that the Okanagan Security Committee was pushing for the use of interned Japanese as involuntary orchard labourers.

Edith Nishikawa came to Canada as a young child with her parents Usaburo and Tora, and later became a naturalized citizen. At the age of 17, while attending high school in Vancouver, she was forcibly uprooted, along with Usaboro and Tora, and sent to Vernon.

Born in Canada in 1921, 21-year-old Suyeo Kawamoto was sent to Vernon in 1943; his removal occurred despite evidence that he was not living within the “protected zone,” since he was working as a farmer in Maple Ridge.

Japanese national Chikao Yamamoto, born in 1888, was working for the B.C. Fir and Cedar Company in Vancouver when he, his wife Etsu, and children Masao (11), Kazuko (9) and Tsugiwo (7), were sent to Vernon in 1942; in 1946, a year after the war ended, they were exiled to Japan.

Stories of Determination 

Unfortunately, these are just a few stories among many. But despite this opposition, many Japanese Canadians, both those who were forcibly removed to Vernon and those who moved here willingly over the years, were determined to carve a space for themselves, and contributed to the forming of a rich local Japanese community.

To celebrate Asian History Month, the Vernon Museum is hosting a special exhibit. Learn about the richness and diversity of Asian Canadian heritage in the Okanagan. Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, and South Asian cultures will be represented in this exhibition. Interpretative panels and tri-folds explore each community as unique and integral parts of Okanagan culture. Traditional clothing and cultural objects, both part of Vernon Museum’s collection, and on loan from Okanagan residents, will be on display as well. 

 

To explore more of Vernon’s history, check out our other blog posts

Gwyneth Evans, Head of Archives

 

 

 

 

A black and white image of a float moving through Vernon's main street. The float is decorated with union jacks and chinese regalia and several women and girls in traditional dress are seated on the back.
The Chinese community’s float during the 1937 Coronation Parade in Vernon.

King Charles’ Grandfather

Before yesterday, the last time a king was crowned was May 12, 1937, when George VI and his wife Elizabeth ascended to the throne of the United Kingdom and the Dominions of the British Commonwealth. In Vernon, as was the case across the Commonwealth, the day was met with much pomp and circumstance, with festivities taking place from noon until the wee hours of the following morning.

An estimated 3,000 people thronged downtown for the occasion. Businesses were decorated with flags, bunting, and other special coronation decorations, set off nicely by large displays of spring flowers. The chief feature of the day was a parade through Vernon’s main streets, which was under the supervision and direction of celebrated teacher H. K. Beairsto.

Parade

The parade formed up on 27th Street, and then was lead by Chief of Police R. N. Clerke, mounted and in uniform, down 30th Avenue. The contingent eventually made their way to Polson Park, where a program began with the unfurling of the Union Jack by a group of boy scouts. The crowd was then welcomed by Mayor E. W. Prowse, saying “I have no doubt that when you saw the glorious sunshine early this morning your hearts swelled in thankfulness.”

In between recitations of the National Anthem, hymns, and prayers, the Japanese community set off a series of daylight fireworks, the first of which was a large Union Jack. A gun salute was also performed by the B.C. Dragoons under the watchful eye of Captain J. Stamer.

Multiculturalism 

A new May Queen was crowned (Marion Baverstock) and a number of young ladies entertained the crown with maypole dances. Members of the Ukrainian community also performed a series of dances. The program ended with sporting events, including races for children of various ages. These children had travelled from several neighbouring communities and after this busy and exciting day, were served dinner by the Vernon Women’s Institute and the Scottish’ Daughters League.

One other cultural group who made a strong appearance during the Coronation Day festivities was the local Chinese community. While it is unknown whether or not this community felt a particular connection to the new monarchs, they were certainly proud to represent their culture with perhaps the most ornate float of the day, upon which sat a number of young girls and women dressed in traditional regalia. 

May is Asian History Month, and to celebrate the occasion, the Vernon Museum is hosting a special exhibit. Learn about the richness and diversity of Asian Canadian heritage in the Okanagan. Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, and South Asian cultures will be represented in this exhibition. Interpretative panels and tri-folds explore each community as unique and integral parts of Okanagan culture. Traditional clothing and cultural objects, both part of Vernon Museum’s collection, and on loan from Okanagan residents, will be on display as well.

Amazingly, we actually have footage from the 1937 coronation day festivities! This footage was digitized by one of our wonderful volunteers, Francois Arseneault. Content warning: At timestamp 1:53, this footage shows a group of Indigenous children in the parade, likely residential school students. The school is not identified. Some may find this triggering. 

To explore more of Vernon’s history, check out our other blog posts

Gwyneth Evans, Head of Archives

 

 

 

 

Aerial view of Camp Vernon, where Sikh soldiers Gill and Sangha trained during World War Two.

Sikh Heritage Month

Since 2019, April has been recognized as Sikh Heritage Month in Canada. The Sikh population in this country numbers more than 500,000 people, one of the largest in the world outside of India. Sikh Canadians have greatly contributed to the country’s social, economic, and political history, and to its cultural fabric.

World War One

One aspect of history in which the contributions of Sikh Canadians is often overlooked is their service during the World Wars. Despite being denied the rights of citizenship, ten Sikh men did serve during World War One—and, tragically, most of them did not survive (to learn more, check out the documentary Canadian Soldier Sikhs under the “Resources” section below).

World War Two

Meanwhile, during World War Two, Sikh men were conscripted; however, Vancouver’s Khalsa Diwan Society, which represented the Sikh population in British Columbia, intervened on their behalf, and called on community members to refuse service until they were granted full franchise rights.

However, some Sikh Canadians did decide to enlist, and were trained at Camp Vernon. The book Becoming Canadians: Pioneer Sikhs in Their Own Words, by Sarjeet Singh Jagpal, describes the experience of Phangan Gill, who was trained in Vernon before heading to Halifax for advanced instruction. Due to a finger injury, he did not go overseas, but was stationed at Exhibition Park in Vancouver, where he witnessed the internment of Japanese Canadians.

Darshan Sangha was also trained at Camp Vernon, and was the only Sikh in his troop. Sangha was later released from the army, and returned to working in a mill. Like many Sikh men, he felt that the war was not his to fight.

Eventually, the Canadian Government relented on compulsory service for Sikh men, and in 1947, Chinese and South Asian Canadians were given the right to vote.

Resources

 

To explore more of Vernon’s history, check out our other blog posts

Gwyneth Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

 

 

celebrating japanese culture

 

September 25, 2020

In 1934, a Japanese Cultural Centre opened at 1895 Bella Vista Road. Although its opening did not draw much interest from the general population of Vernon, this was a major milestone for the local Japanese community. The centre would serve as as stronghold of Japanese culture over the next few years, a period when many Japenese immigrants faced significant social and political opposition.  

Japanese citizens began immigrating to the Okanagan Valley at the turn of the 20th century. The first to arrive was Eijiro Kojama, who settled in Coldstream in 1903 and was naturalized at the Vernon Courthouse in 1908. Kojama served as foreman at the Coldstream Ranch, hiring other Japanese immigrants to work as labourers. By 1911, 314 Japanese were living in the Greater Vernon Area.  

 

 

Members of the Vernon Japanese community gathered for a celebration at the Japanese Community Hall located on Bella Vista Road, circa 1935.

In 1908, the Canadian Government negotiated an agreement with Japan that restricted the number of new male Japanese immigrants to Canada to only 400 a year. A 1916 Vernon News article descripes “orientals” as “undesirable immigrants,” and states that the “proportion of orientals to the white population of British Columbia is far too great to admit any [further immigrants] without grave danger.” Despite these social and institutional barricades, the Okanagan Valley Land Company opened a Japanese work camp, where both men and women were employed in the fields and packing houses. Japanese churches, community centres, and associations began cropping up across the Okanagan Valley.

World War Two was a tumultuous time in Canada for Japanese immigrants. After the bombing of Pearl Harbour, the Okanagan Security Committee began pushing for the use of interned Japanese as involuntary orchard labourers. At the end of August 1942, around 250 Japanese men were accompanied by police from the Greenwood internment camp to orchards in Vernon. Labourers made less than 4$ a day, and were stripped of their civil rights. They were not permitted to shop on Saturdays, nor visit Vernon Cafes at night. In September of 1942, around 70 Japanese workers at the Coldstream Ranch were re-interned after petitioning for higher wages.

In 1967, the Canadian Government introduced a new points-based immigration policy that no longer considered race a factor for exclusion, introducing a new generation of Japanese immigrants to Canada and the Okanagan Valley. Today, the Vernon Japanese Culture Centre still stands, and its society, as well as associated organizations like the Vernon Judo Club and the Vernon Japanese Women’s Auxilary, proudly promote a culture that has withstood generations of suppression.

Gwyn Evans