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B.C. honouring Japanese Canadian legacies with new fund

This year marks the 80th anniversary of the internment of Japanese Canadians across the province.
The announcement was made at the Steveston Martial Arts Centre, the oldest Japanese-style dojo in North America. Speakers included: Rachna Singh (Parliamentary Secretary for Anti-Racism Initiatives), Kelly Greene (Richmond-Steveston MLA), Naomi Yamamoto (former MLA), and members of the Japanese Canadian community.

Japanese Canadian legacies will be honoured in B.C. through a new $100-million initiative to invest in community programs. 

The initiative is intended to provide lasting recognition of historical wrongs committed by the province against the Japanese community during the Second World War.

Funding will be provided for enhanced health and wellness programs for internment-era survivors; creating and restoring heritage sites for education purposes, which will include a monument to honour survivors; and updating B.C.’s curriculum to teach future generations about this dark chapter of the province’s history, according to the Office of the Premier.

More than 90% of Japanese Canadians were detained under the War Measures Act beginning from early 1942. May 21 marks the day of the first arrivals of Japanese Canadians to the Greenwood, Kaslo, New Denver, Slocan City, and Sandon Internment camps in 1942.

Almost 22,000 Japanese Canadians were interned at the time, of which approximately 6,000 survivors remain alive today.

“At age eight, together with my parents and siblings, we were uprooted from our home and life in Vancouver by the Government of Canada.

“The war with Japan was used as an excuse to remove from the West Coast all persons of Japanese ancestry, even as my parents were registered as ‘naturalized Canadians’, with born-in-Canada children,” said Grace Eiko Thomson, an internment-era survivor.

After the war ended, Japanese Canadians were given a ‘choice’ to either move east of the Rockies or be deported to Japan. Even though they were eventually allowed to return to the West Coast four years later in 1949, they continued to be subjected to racist policies and treatment for years.

“Until 1942, Steveston was home to a large Japanese Canadian community with a thriving fishing fleet. That was all taken away by the governments of the day as thousands were forced to leave their homes, boats and nearly every possession behind.

“The resilient Nikkei community has rebuilt since that tragic time, with the local community centre and martial arts centre delivering a range of programs for Japanese Canadians.

“This funding will support Japanese Canadians in Steveston and across the province to reconnect with their culture and strengthen what was lost 80 years ago,” said Kelly Greene, MLA for Richmond-Steveston.

The initiative was built upon a 2012 apology by the B.C. legislature, and the province has been working with the National Association of Japanese Canadians to engage community members in developing this recognition package.

The province had previously provided $2 million in May 2021 to the Nikkei Seniors Health Care and Housing Society as an interim measure to support the health and wellness of internment-era survivors.