October 1, 2012 at 6:16 pm

By Tom Matshushita
Edited by Addie Kobayashi

The coming of Japanese Canadians to Niagara during the height of the war aroused a variety of reactions among the local population. Along with an initial curiosity, there was a good deal of anxiety and hostility. Some politicians did their best to stir up a fear of foreigners, but in the case of Japanese Canadians, 75 percent of whom were Canadian born or naturalized citizens – not exactly foreigners – this fear often came in the form of a mixed message. For example, in a front-page story headlined “Japes arrive in Beamsville,” The Beamsville Express of 23 September 1942 reported that “all these Japs were born in Canada and are very highly educated and were members of the United Church of Canada.” However, on page eight of the same issue, in a column devoted to a meeting of the Beamsville Council, one reads that “the Council of the Village of Beamsville do vigorously protest the transfer of Japanese people to this district and that the proper authorities be petitioned to remove those who are already here.”

Such protests were not limited to Beamsville. In The St.Catharines Standard of 10 May 1945, there is a story headlined “Presence of Japanese is Resented.” Again, on 11 May 1945, The Standard carried an article “Protest Japanese in the Area.” This was in reaction to the thirty or so Japanese Canadians working on the Tregunno farm on Carlton Street. Cecil Secord, the Reeve of Grantham Township and Warden of Lincoln County, was quoted as saying that “The ratepayers in the township are going to put them out bodily if they are not removed. We’re afraid from the way some of the farmers have been talking that mob rule will start, and we’re doing everything we can to prevent such a thing.” Of course, the ratepayers had no such intentions, and the “mob rule” angle was a complete invention. Secord was simply airing the prejudiced resentment of a small group of people, mostly politicians, and turning it into a political act, which he knew beforehand would go nowhere with federal authorities.

The following week at the regular monthly Lincoln County Council meeting, The St. Catharines Standard reported Mr. R. F. Clarke, Manager of the St. Catharines National Selective Service Office, and the Hon. Charles Daly, Minister of Labour for Ontario, were present. Clarke told the council that his office had nothing to do with the placement of Japanese Canadians in Niagara. That was the responsibility of G. E. Trueman, the Toronto-based Placement Officer of the Department of Labour, Japanese Division. He went out of his way to remind the councillors that Japanese Canadians were Canadian citizens and had been refused the right to serve their country in the armed forces, forcing some of them to join the British military. Sadly, the facts got nowhere with the Lincoln County Council and any good Clarke might have accomplished withered in the face of persistent and unfounded criticism of Japanese Canadians.

Fortunately, this politically-inspired tempest petered out as quickly as it had begun. Any fears stirred up by politicians faded into the background, and the wider community gradually accepted the presence of Japanese Canadians. The stoic and hardy issei (first generation or immigrant Japanese Canadians) as well as the older nisei (second generation or Canadian-born Japanese Canadians) deserve much of the credit for having earned the respect and acceptance of the community in such a short period of time. The interviews and the scrapbook section of this book reveal the difficulties they experienced during the early years of Japanese Canadian settlement in the Niagara peninsula.

Some settler families found economic relief when their children were taken into the homes of prominent local families as “schoolboys” and “schoolgirls.”In return for room and board, they provided domestic services that included housekeeping, cooking and baby-sitting. One nisei even acted as a chauffeur and was able to use his employer’s car for outings with other schoolboys and schoolgirls. Rigby, Burrows, Guest, Rankin, Feasby, McLaughlin, Grass, Jackson and Bennett – these were some of the family names of people who took in young Japanese Canadians. The nisei schoolboys and schoolgirls included Toshio Tanouye, Jack, Jean and David Kobayashi; Tak, Alvin and June Sano; Kei (Kaye) Hayashida; Roy Matsushita; Mickey and Kay Morimoto; and Eiko Nishimura. Jack Kobayashi remembers that schoolboys and schoolgirls were well treated for the most part, and in many cases the host families influenced their choice of careers.

The social life of the early settlers was limited because most of them were on isolated farms, and they had little access to transportation or even telephones. Visits by the United Church minister, Reverend K. Shimizu, or the Anglican minister, Reverend G. G. Nakayama, or the Buddhist priest, Reverend T. Tsuji were often occasions for social gatherings. Also, visitors from Toronto or other large cities usually brought news about Japanese Canadians now scattered across the country. Japanese Canadians of high school  age held parties at Memorial United Church Hall in St. Catharines, or in the private homes where schoolboys and schoolgirls lived. For most younger nisei, life was more stable and worry free than it had been for their parents and older siblings. Many of them achieved a higher education and entered various professions, including architecture, dentistry, pharmacy, engineering and education.  To be continued…

Exiles in Our Own Country:  Japanese Canadians in Niagara,
Nikkei Network of Niagara 1989 .