Memories of Greenwood

April 17, 2013 at 5:02 am

by David Fujino

In this world of emails and fast computers, someone in Vancouver can send an email message and I can read it that same day in Toronto. Email’s sure great for keeping in touch.

In early January I opened an email, and as I started to read it, my eyebrows lifted. It was from Mollie McArthur’s daughter, Sandra, asking whether I was Marion Fujino’s son, David.

Mollie McArthur—a positive name from the past. Mom often talked about Mollie as a dear friend from the Greenwood days, the place where I was born during the crazy circumstances of World War II. We interned Japanese Canadians were encouraged by the residents of Greenwood to take part fully in town life and this is how Mollie McArthur met and became good friends with my mom, Marion.

Today, Mollie lives in Vancouver in assisted living and receives The Bulletin. One son volunteers at Tonari Gumi and Mollie’s daughter, Sandra, who was raised in Greenwood, has this to say.

“My best friends are all Japanese people from Greenwood that I grew up with. My sister in law is Susan (Higashi) McArthur. Her grandfather owned the plumbing company in Greenwood for many years, in  fact, one of her cousins is still the plumber in Greenwood. There are not a lot of people left in Greenwood that grew up there from evacuation on, but some of the family members are still there:

Nancy Asahina Yamamura, Irene and Mickey Terada, Yoshiko (Shigematsu) and Shig Uyeyama, Hanna  (Hatanaka) Pasco, Sylvia (Shigematsu) and Raymond Oye, Gail (Hendry) and Gordon Shimizu. All of these people came to Greenwood either as babies or little kids and have made their home there all these years.”

At that point, I decided to email my sister in Ottawa and get her input about Mollie McArthur. I couldn’t remember exactly whether Mollie was a Minister’s wife, or the wife of a public figure in Greenwood?  Mom never described Mollie in those terms. What do we kids know?

My sister emailed back that she remembered our Mom talking about Mollie McArthur and thought Mollie was the Mayor of Greenwood’s daughter. Thankfully, within the next 30 minutes, my sister sent another email: “Hi David, Mollie McArthur was the daughter-in-law of the Greenwood Mayor”

Next, my sister emailed this from her trusty iPad: “Hi David, I found this while searching: Mayor McArthur welcomed the Japanese to Greenwood. He and his family must have been good and wise people.”

But Sandra’s email settled, for once and all, the answer to all the questions and the good-natured ribbing I’ve received through the years—“Your name’s David? Funny, you don’t look Jewish!,” or, “Do you think your parents wanted you to have a good Canadian name like David, so you’d fit in better?” Sandra’s answer is: “When mom was pregnant with my brother David Ross your mom was pregnant with you and since my brother was born first your mom wanted to know if she could use the same name.” I’ve since come to accept the fact that my parents may not have been social visionaries as much as parents faced with the practical task of choosing a name for their first newborn child. By the way, I don’t have a
problem with my name. I’ve always thought it was a good choice.

The intermediary of all these emails has been NAJC President, Ken Noma, who forwarded to me an email originally received from Sandra Latreille (McArthur), Mollie MacArthur’s daughter, in late 2012.

This is how I responded to President Noma: “Mollie McArthur is a GOOD memory and a good person from our family’s internment years history. I will contact Mollie’s daughter … Well! this New Year has already proved to be an auspicious and good one.”

And here’s my mother, Marion Fujino, in a Rough Draft of a traditional letter (envelope and stamps), written in 1980 for two school girls living in Greenwood: “May 3 – 1942, eighty-six of us boarded a train for a trip to a place east of the Cascades, a ghost-town called Greenwood. There were some Japanese already there from the first train load before ours. They came out to meet some of their friends. A few Greenwoodians came along and were mostly curious. Some of the people hadn’t ever seen a Japanese before and they imagined we’d look like yellow apes because the so-called comic books portrayed us that way: it was a small part of war propaganda to induce hatred and contempt. I realized we were hemmed in by mountains and not too much vegetation.”

In another section of the same letter, we can see the characteristically optimistic and realistic approach Mom took to life. Here’s life, as she remembered it, when she first arrived in Greenwood in 1942: “We needed to report to the R.C.M.P. to leave Greenwood for any reason and we couldn’t go beyond the 50 mile radius. We were very fortunate to have Mayor McArthur who welcomed us with open arms and encouraged us to join in all the activities. So I went to the Red Cross Meetings, knitted service men’s sweaters and socks, and I went to dances, whist, helped with drives to raise funds, and we also built a library. The ladies all accepted me and one couldn’t find a kindlier people. And the husbands and sons started coming in from the road camps to join their families.”

Then, after all the subsequent years of living in Toronto—and after she had visited Greenwood in 1979—this is what Mom wrote to the two school girls: “I also noticed that sewage pipes were laid in and roads and highways widened and improved. The little city looks prosperous and the people happy. If I didn’t have a family, I would certainly wish to live out my life there in Greenwood because, looking back, it was the happiest time of my life.

I do hope you’ll be able to use some of the impressions I’ve written down and be able to understand how I felt as a young woman, confused, apprehensive, and dry-mouthed, when it all started on December 7, 1941.”