December 14, 2012 at 6:48 am


By Tom Matshushita
Edited by Addie Kobayashi

Some of the older settlers continued to work on farms, and a few such as the Nagami, Morimoto and Matsushita families bought their own farms. Others found employment in local industries such as Thompson Products, Lightning Fastener, Port Weller Dry Docks, English Electric, Ferranti Packard and Anthes Imperial.  Nisei Frank Toyota distinguished himself as a prominent player with the Junior “A” St. Catharine’s Teepees of the Ontario Hockey League.

Unlike their counterparts from British Columbia who moved to cities in Ontario where other Japanese Canadians had settled, the younger nisei in Niagara grew up mainly among friends who were not Japanese Canadians. Social occasions with other nisei and sansei were relatively rare. With the formation of the Japanese Cultural Society of St. Catharines (JCSSC) in 1976, and its ties to the local Folk Arts Council, the peninsula’s scattered Japanese Canadian community began to forge a common identity.

Few of the issei who settled in the Niagara peninsula have survived into the 1990s. Moreover, the older nisei settlers such as Hattie Tanouye, Asano Nagami, Chiyoko Sano, George Hotta and Toshio Uyede, are getting on in years. As a result, only a few first-hand accounts of the early settlement experiences were available for this history. The descendants of the early settlers, the sansei and yonsei (third and fourth generations), are intermarrying at a rate even higher than their contemporaries in the large cities. Now estimated to be as high as 90 percent. However, the sansei (grandchildren of the immigrant issei) are now showing interest not only in their own family history but also in the overall Japanese Canadian experience.

The second wave of Japanese Canadians to settle in the Niagara peninsula came during the 1960s and 1970s. They were post-war immigrants from Japan, many of them being successful professionals such as Dr. Chiba who came to Canada as a research scientist with Agriculture Canada and is a research professor at Brock University; and Dr. Yoshi Okita, a metallurgical engineer with International Nickel in Port Colborne. And then there are entrepreneurs like Yasutoshi Hachitori who opened a Japanese restaurant in St. Catharines, and Henry Hoshi, who owns a restaurant in Niagara Falls. Naturally, this second wave did not have to cope with the many hardships endured by the previous generation.

And the latest or third wave of Japanese Canadians in Niagara, who arrived in the 1980s and 1990s, are business people and transient workers involved in the tourist industry, and students who are studying English as a Second Language (ESL) at Brock University.

But there is another category of Japanese Canadians who have settled in Niagara. They are people who came to the peninsula from the 1950s to the present because of marriage, work or retirement. They include the Ogawa, Tanouye and Nakagawa families of Welland, who came in the late 1950s and early 1960s; the Takata, Miyata and Oka families of St. Catharines; Carolyn (lwata) Marquis, a sansei who moved from Toronto to Welland when she married Harold Marquis; and Addie and Bill Kobayashi, British Columbia-born nisei who came to St. Catharines by way of Montreal, Toronto and Waterloo and who have now returned to Toronto.

The Nipponia Home for elderly Japanese Canadians, which opened in Beamsville in 1958, also attracts people to Niagara. Several of the home’s residents have long-term ties to the area. One such couple is George and Yoshiko Miyagawa, who were interviewed for this history. The majority of residents, however, have come from many different places to live in a retirement home where the language and culture are familiar to them.

In the mid-1980s, the National Association of Japanese Canadians (NAJC) began a vigorous campaign for redress from the federal government for its unjust actions against the Japanese Canadian community during and following the Second World War. On 22 September 1988, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney offered an official apology and financial compensation to Canadians of Japanese ancestry who survived the confiscation of their properties and businesses and expulsion to different communities in Canada. Many Niagara settlers were among those compensated for wartime mistreatment.

Although the history of Japanese Canadians in Niagara is only fifty-six years old, it is still a significant chapter in the story of the different peoples who have settled in the peninsula. That history began with a gross injustice against Japanese Canadians, but as it unfolded, it became a story of success and acceptance. It is worth knowing and preserving. It is hoped that this history, especially the interviews, will be a faithful and accurate record of the lasting contributions made by Japanese Canadian pioneers to the rich and varied history of the Niagara Peninsula.

Kobayashi, Addie, Exiles in Our Own Country:  Japanese Canadians in Niagara, Richmond Hill:  Nikkei Network of Niagara, 1989