History Of Japanese Canadians

A comprehensive history of the Japanese community in Canada, from the early beginnings to the present, is available on this website. Many resource materials are listed on the site.

Early History – The first known Japanese to settle in Canada was Manzo Nagano in 1877. With larger numbers of Japanese immigrants arriving between 1905 and 1907, an atmosphere of hate and discrimination culminated in the 1907 Riot in Vancouver against Asians. To discourage Asians from settling and remaining in BC, the government passed laws discriminating against non-whites such as limiting the number of Asian immigrants and limiting their rights after entry into the country.

Japanese were perceived as untrustworthy, menacing, and incapable of ever successfully assimilating into the mainstream society. Denial of the franchise prevented Japanese Canadians from the right to vote, from participating in professions, and holding public office. Unable to enter the professions they became successful in occupations such as farming, fishing, logging and small business.

The aim of the racist British Columbians was to eliminate the physical presence of Japanese Canadians. On January 8, 1942 the Asia-Pacific war was seen as an opportunity to get rid of the “Japanese Problem”. The Canadian Government invoked the War Measures Act, stripping Japanese Canadians of their civil rights and giving the government unlimited powers that could not be challenged in court. They were labelled as “enemy aliens” and dealt with as “persons of Japanese racial origin”. Successions of Orders-in-Council were passed to further strip them of their rights. Six months before Japan attacked Pearl Harbour, Japanese Canadians over the age of 18 years were fingerprinted and registered with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and forced to carry an identification card until 1949.

WWII Experience – Internment and Dispersal – On February 7, 1942, the government passed Order-in-Council 365 that created an area 100 miles (160 km.) inland from the coast as a “protected area”. The BC Security Commission, a federal government agency, was empowered to systematically carry out the expulsion of “all persons of Japanese racial origin” from this restricted area.  Some from along the coastline were sent to Hasting Park livestock building in Vancouver. Families were separated, men were sent to road camps or prisoner-of-war camps in Ontario. Some remained as a family and were sent to Manitoba (and Alberta) to work on the sugar beet farms where they faced meagre income for back breaking labour, inadequate housing, and cold winter months. (See “Japanese” on Page 353-4 in The Encyclopedia of Manitoba) Internment centres were created in the interior of B.C. where they lived in multiple family units that were hastily built shacks, tents, abandoned mining towns, and unused buildings. Living under these conditions, the internees suffered unimaginable hardships. Properties left behind were to be held in trust but Order-in-Council 469 passed on January 19, 1943 authorized the government to sell the properties without the owners’ consent. A loyalty survey carried out by the RCMP on March 12, 1945 guaranteed the expulsion of all Japanese Canadians from the province of BC. The Ultimatum: move east of the Rocky Mountains or be exiled to Japan.  Restrictions were kept in place for four years more years and Japanese Canadians were not allowed to return to the west coast until April 1, 1949 and received the right to vote in June 1948 federally and on March 31, 1949 in BC.

Renewal – The Centennial and Redress – In 1977, the Japanese Canadian community commemorated the 100-year anniversary of the first Japanese immigrant to settle in Canada. Celebration events were held across the country, and a re-awakening of their wartime experiences. The National Japanese Canadian Citizens’ Association was formed in 1947 to represent the welfare of the Japanese community. In 1980, with the name changed to National Association of Japanese Canadians, a movement for redress became a community project. With courage and determination our leaders persevered, overcoming innumerable obstacles.

On September 22, 1988 the Redress Agreement was signed by Art Miki, President of the National Association of Japanese Canadians and Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. The Prime Minister acknowledged the injustices suffered by Japanese Canadians. He characterized the treatment of Japanese Canadians as morally and legally unjustified, and called upon Canadians as a nation to face up to the historical facts of the incarceration , property seizure, and disenfranchisement, and pledged that such injustices would never again be countenanced or repeated in Canada. (House of Commons, Debates, September 1988, page 19499)

Japanese Canadians Today – The redress settlement included symbolic individual compensation to those who were affected, and a Community Fund to help revitalize the community. Cultural Centres were built across the country and many projects were funded by the Japanese Canadian Redress Foundation in the 10 years following Redress. Despite the revitalization of the community, the forced dispersal policy left the community with a high intermarriage rate that affected community growth in Canada. A provision was also included to establish the Canadian Race Relations Foundation. The Redress achievement gave Japanese Canadians courage to talk about their experiences and to regain pride in their heritage.

National Association of Japanese Canadians, 180 McPhillips Street, Winnipeg, Manitoba, R3E 2J9

Phone: (204) 943-2910 Fax: (888) 515-3192 Email: national@najc.ca

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