Momiji Health Care Society and the Greater Toronto Chapter NAJC Honours the Toronto Nisei Women’s Club

December 14, 2012 at 5:22 pm

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By Mike Murakami

On November 17th, 2012, the Momiji Health Care Society hosted a hugely successful Gala Celebration to mark its 35 years of service to seniors, and the 20th Anniversary of the opening of the Momiji Senior Centre www.momiji.on.ca/ at the award winning Centre (located in the east end of Toronto).  A highlight of the Momiji Gala as MC Mary Ito noted was the honouring of the Toronto Nisei Women’s Club (TNWC). Their remarkable pioneering community service gave birth to the idea of a Japanese Canadian seniors home in Toronto.

Founded in 1954 by 15 Nisei women, the TNWC’s community service accomplishments were remarkable given that just a few years previously they had been struggling to raise young families and build careers. They found the courage to challenge discrimination through quiet persistence that ultimately benefited all Canadians. These Japanese Canadian women have not been recognized enough for their contributions to community building, and the Toronto NAJC Redress movement where many of them were active participants. Fortunately, the Momiji Gala helped change that.

Among its 40-plus members were women activists such as Order of Canada recipient Hide Shimizu, the first Japanese Canadian to earn a teacher’s certificate from the University of British Columbia in 1926. During the expulsion and internment Hide was responsible for overseeing the education in the internment camps, and former teachers such as Vi Kagetsu, Kaz Umemoto and Aiko Murakami became TNWC presidents.

Now that 2012 is the 70th Anniversary since the uprooting of Japanese Canadians from the West coast of Canada, and the 25th Anniversary of the Redress Agreement approaches in 2013 — the Greater Toronto Chapter of the NAJC was honoured to partner with the Momiji Gala organizing committee to sponsor the reprinting of the commemorative Toronto Nisei Women’s Club cookbook Treasured Recipes. It is well known that food became a physical manifestation of the intangible qualities that forged our Japanese-Canadian identity — one defined by our settlement struggles as much as by culture. How fitting that reprinted TNWC cookbooks were presented to each participant of the Momiji Gala.

Likewise, it’s worth remembering that a touchstone to our community’s collective well-being was when the NAJC, under the terms of the Redress Agreement of September 22, 1988, negotiated a $12 million community fund to assist with the rebuilding and rejuvenation of the Japanese Canadian community devastated by the Canadian Government’s wartime actions. Subsequently, the Japanese Canadian Redress Foundation (JCRF), was established in 1989 to support projects that “preserve our history, rebuild and develop our community on a local, regional and national basis, and heal, unite and assist in establishing the future direction of community development.”

Eight million dollars were granted to support capital projects such as health care, seniors’ housing, drop-in centres and cultural centres across Canada, of which $1.8 million was contributed towards the building of the Momiji Seniors Centre. Seniors wellness conferences that informed Japanese Canadians community decision-makers who had roles to play with respect to giving our seniors the opportunity to rise to their full potential in society were also sponsored. All of which were subsequently helpful to many of those who were made vulnerable and fragile by the trauma of uprooting, internment and fragmented families—may not have had access to.

The Greater Toronto Chapter NAJC Board wishes to thank the dedicated Momiji staff, the Board and its many volunteers and family caregivers for its continued commitment to Momiji’s caring and inclusive mission, and of course the hard-working Momiji Gala organizing committee. Finally, we want to express our deep gratitude to the Toronto Nisei Women’s Club members who exemplified the “Spirit of Redress” and community service in so many ways. Now as venerable seniors, they bring life experience and a healthy dose of reality to our reflections on how we might profit from their wisdom in imagining our shared future in the multi-cultural Greater Toronto Area.

Mike Murakami is a Board Member of the Greater Toronto Chapter of the NAJC