Yon Shimizu was intent on finishing his Grade 12 at Victoria High School in the spring of 1942. When the order came exiling the entire Japanese Canadian community, he went over to a friend’s house and continued going to class. After about a week, he turned himself in to the RCMP—who sent him to the Road Camp at Schreiber, Ontario. It was tough, backbreaking work. Independent and determined, Yon Shimizu was a good example of the Japanese quality of gambaru, perseverance.
By the summer 1943 he had moved to Toronto, going on to complete his education at the University of Toronto. He graduated in May 1948 with a degree in Chemical Engineering and started working in with the Schultz Die Casting Company of Wallaceburg. He retired at the end of 1985 from Waltec Industries as Vice-President and General Manager.
In 1993 Yon published a 600-page book, The Exiles, subtitled, “An archival history of the World War II Japanese Road Camps in British Columbia and Ontario. Using first-hand reports, interviews, articles from The New Canadian newspaper, photographs and government documents, he made sure that this shameful episode in Canadian history was preserved for historians and future generations as a truthful, documented record. It was a labour of love.
Yon Shimizu was born in Victoria on February 21, 1924 one of 9 children of Hana and Kunio Shimizu, living above their father’s rice mill and store on Store Street on the edge of Chinatown. As he told us, he had an active and enjoyable time as a youth, playing basketball, selling newspapers, fishing. His friend George Takata remembers, “Almost every day in summer, Yon would come over to our place at the Japanese Tea Garden to swim at the Gorge Waterway.”
After internment, he established a life and family in the Toronto area, but he never forgot his home town, coming to high school reunions when he could. He corresponded and visited with his high school friends for many decades. In 1995 he organized a grand reunion of former Japanese Canadian Victorians. His lasting contribution of that event was the bronze plaque mounted on a wall in Centennial Square commemorating the pre-war Japanese community that had been exiled.
Gordon and I met Yon through his sister-in-law, Kay Shimizu. It is not an exaggeration to say that our research for our book, Gateway to Promise: Canada’s First Japanese Community, would not have amounted to much without his assistance. Not only did he provide us with his own information about his time in Victoria, he actively solicited everyone he knew who could help us. He loaned us documents and photographs. We spent many hours on the phone and emailing, Yon patiently answering my queries and suggesting more contacts. What an amazing memory he had for places, people and details.
After residing at Fairfield Park Nursing Home for the last two years Yon peacefully passed away on July 2nd, surrounded by his family. He leaves his wife, Norma, daughter Janet Green and her family. To his family we express our sadness that he is gone, on behalf of not only ourselves but all members of the VNCS.
Thank you, Yon.
Ann-Lee and Gordon Switzer