Lakehead Japanese Cultural Association

October 1, 2012 at 6:20 pm

The Lakehead Japanese Cultural Association was honoured to be asked to submit an article for The Bulletin. The Bulletin is truly a great national Japanese Canadian publication, and it is with great thanks that the LJCA is able to introduce itself to many for the first time and to remind others that we have not faded away.

The presence of Japanese Canadians in Thunder Bay, Ontario (Fort William and Port Arthur at the time) mainly occurred post World War Two. In 1944 Great Lakes Lumber and Shipping Limited began hiring Japanese Canadians, and individuals previously working in the road camps near Schreiber sent for their families and made this area their home. In addition to the road camps the Schreiber area also housed the Angler POW camp, and many individuals from this camp also made their homes in the region. In 1996 a commemorative plaque was erected in Schreiber near the town’s cenotaph honouring those who worked in the four camps of the area.

In 1946 the Nisei Club was formed and in 1987, during the Redress movement, became the Lakehead Japanese Cultural Association. Northwestern Ontario is currently home to an estimated 300 individuals of Japanese ancestry, mainly concentrated in Thunder Bay. Thunder Bay is a city situated at the very top of Lake Superior with a population of approximately 110 000. The closest major Canadian city to Thunder Bay is Winnipeg Manitoba which is approximately 800 km to the west and approximately 600 km north of Minneapolis Minnesota.

The LJCA is mainly a cultural association which contributes and supports the mission of the National Association of Japanese Canadians. The LJCA also works closely with the Thunder Bay Multicultural Association and the Thunder Bay Sister City Committee. The Thunder Bay community is also served by the LJCA 55+ Club, and although the average age is well above 55, they are a very active and vibrant group who are the backbone of our community.

The LJCA has sought to maintain its individuality in our community by offering the members of the LJCA social and cultural activities. A great local tradition of Bon Odori, or folk dancing, has been handed down over the generations. This style of odori generally depicts historical work, for example the LJCA’s AGM is traditionally closed by a big participation dance, known as Tanko Bushi, which is a coal miner’s dance. The LJCA has also been fortunate enough to be one of the few places in Canada which practices the art of Mizuhiki. Mizuhiki was brought to the Japanese Canadian community much later in its 70 year history in the Thunder Bay area. Mizuhiki is an art form which uses silken or paper cord tied in knots to form greater objects. These items can vary from insects, to bouquets of flowers or as great as sail boats. It truly is a unique art form that has anchored itself in the local identity.

Over the LJCA’s history it has been fortunate to have two sister cites in Japan. Partially brought on through connections with the local university, Lakehead University, a relationship was formed with the city of Yanaizu in Gifu Prefecture. Unfortunately this relationship would end in 2006 when Yanaizu was merged with its much larger neighbour of Gifu City, the Capital of Gifu Prefecture. Fortunately Gifu City is now a sister city with the City of Thunder Bay and a great relationship between the LJCA, City of Thunder Bay and Gifu City has blossomed.

The LJCA moves forward by trying new events to engage the local Japanese and non-Japanese of Thunder Bay. Through help from the NAJC’s Community Development Committee the LJCA was able to bring several new events to the membership. The most exciting was the creation of a usu and kine for the LJCA’s first Mochitsuki. The LJCA commissioned by a local chainsaw artist to create the usu from wood taken from a member’s property. It is hoped that the making of mochi becomes a local tradition.

In 2011 the LJCA received a great gift from a long time friend in Yanaizu, in the form of a complete taiko drum set. The creation of Kaminari Taiko has added a dimension to the LJCA which has not been present in the local community for some time. Kaminari Taiko’s benefactor sent the drums from Japan in tow with Tenku Taiko, a taiko group from Gifu Prefecture. The group performed at an Earthquake/tsunami benefit concert and the next day conducted a workshop for 16 lucky individuals. From this workshop Kaminari Taiko has a core group of drummers and has found a sensei from Winnipeg. Fubuki Daiko travels to Thunder Bay to conduct workshops and help hone the skills of the group.
The LJCA, in combination with the traditional and the new, wishes to carry on the legacy of Japanese Canadians in Northern Ontario, and is happy to be a part of the Japanese community across Canada. .