Victoria, Victoria …

November 30, 2015 at 5:31 pm

Victoria, B.C. mapby David Fujino

On a sunny weekend from September 25 to 27, I was in Victoria to attend the National Association of Japanese Canadians’ AGM (Annual General Meeting) where, to my surprise — beyond the full Agenda of items to discuss — I also experienced a series of personal eye-openers.

It so happens that my mom, Marion Noda, was born and raised in Colwood, a suburb of Victoria, so this was my chance, however brief, to catch a glimpse of my mother’s roots in the still genteel and urbanizing city of Victoria (the capitol of British Columbia), a place “where you could smell the flowers” in each of the four seasons, as my mother used to say with a peaceful look on her face.

After arriving at the Chateau Victoria hotel on September 25, I freshened up, and since I had some time to spare, I took a stroll along Douglas Street, fully planning to arrive at Fisgard Street and have dinner in Chinatown, but I only got as far as their City Hall, which reminded me of Hamilton’s city hall — very modest in size, nothing ostentatious or overly official.

Then my stomach told me the Green Leaf restaurant on Douglas was a good place to stop. It looked to be a newly opened Vietnamese restaurant, staffed by young and efficient women. The chicken rice plate was good (I really love the aroma and flavour of lemon grass) and the restaurant was peaceful and shone with clear afternoon light.

But on Day 2 of the AGM, the local historians, Anne-Lee and Gordon Switzer, delivered an intriguing history of the Japanese arrival and settlement in Victoria, accompanied by terrific photographs and stories from the time. They lightly and politely pointed to their books, Gateway to Promise: Canada’s First Japanese Community (2012) and their newly released follow-up book, Sakura In Stone: Victoria’s Japanese Legacy as they gave us a real taste of the early Japanese settlers’ lives in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.

(As a sidebar, I should mention that the personable Consul General of Japan in Vancouver, Seiji Okada, had preceded the Switzers and spoke about his long-time interest in the history of Japanese Canadians and specifically the history of the Consulate General Office in Vancouver. He produced documents dating back to the first opening of the Consulate-General’s office in the late 1800’s as well as some references that indicated the office was first in Victoria. Okada-san also suggested that Mikuni-san, of Mikuni Point, was likely the first Japanese Canadian settler, and in a phrase, he overturned the standard notion that Manzo Nagano was the first Japanese Canadian. Oh well, history exists to be rewritten.)

You know, I really hadn’t thought about it before — of course, Victoria, and not Vancouver, would have been the first port of entry for Japanese immigrants to Canada. This made me smile, especially when a quiet rivalry between Victoria and Vancouverites kept emerging from various speakers and people in the audience — ‘Victoria’s food is better. Unlike Vancouver, we don’t have to prepare food [for big events] in such large quantities and freeze it.’

In the meantime, while sitting in the audience, a note was passed to me from Midge Ayukawa’s daughter whom I’d been chatting with. Seems she’d scooted out of her seat and done some quick impromptu research on the Nodas of Victoria. I was handed the Switzers’ business card with an attached handwritten note, stating that “Noda — worked as a gardener for Hatley Castle Garden (Japanese & other gardens) and for James Dunsmuir, now Royal Roads. He lived there for a while.” Now, I suspect, like a lot of grandchildren, I’ve simply accepted the few tidbits of information gained from the family and left it at that — but wouldn’t you know it? I also received an email from my sister in Ottawa when I was back home in Toronto, saying she’d ordered on her own a copy of Gateway to Promise: Canada’s First Japanese Community. She’s always been quite interested in the Noda family history (mom’s family) and was already conducting her own research into the Noda family’s life in Victoria. What can I say? Victoria was certainly the right place to be on that sunny September weekend.

But I’d have to say the biggest eye-opener at the AGM for me — hands down — was the University of Victoria-based historical project, Landscapes of Injustice (which can be found online at www.landscapesofinjustice.com. Two of their organizers presented on this project. Funded by a Partnership Grant from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada, this academically-based project has conducted oral history interviews with JCs about the forced sale of their property during the Second World War and has finally come up with a practical use for all the information they’ve collected.

Now they can provide answers for the questions Japanese Canadians have often asked: What happened to the family’s house? Who benefited from its sale? Well, now you can find out, especially if your house was sold in 1942. Records of these estate sales are now available!

I must say, a huge thanks! is definitely due to the various team members for all their research and to the Project Manager, Michael Abe, mkabe@uvic.ca and the Project Director, Jordan Stanger-Ross, jstross@uvic.ca, who can be contacted at their email addresses. I’m sure these two gentlemen would be glad to hear from you and would love to answer your questions.

This is truly a landmark coup for Japanese Canadians, and it’s happened all because of the efforts of the ‘Landscapes’ team based out of the University of Victoria. The good news is that this project is slated to continue onto 2021. Who knows what else they’ll unearth? What a wonderful accomplishment so far.

Thank you.

Finally, in an effort to humanize the Landscapes of Injustice project, I want to share with you the words of Mary Kitagawa (of Tosh and Mary Kitagawa) who spoke about her father’s treatment from the RCMP during the dispossession of his home:

… “The history books keep talking about how the men were separated from their families, and I keep seeing my father being manhandled, and I was seven at the time. I keep seeing the RCMP guns and the holsters … Japanese Canadians often wonder what happened to their houses during the internment.”

Thank you, again, to the ‘Landscapes’ project. You’ve already done so much to right an historical wrong. As you’ve said in your literature: “THIS HISTORY STILL MATTERS … A society’s willingness to confront the past provides a powerful gauge of democracy … We will share this history with all of Canada.”

Gateway to Promise: Canada’s First Japanese Community

by Gordon and Ann-Lee Switzer

TI-JEAN PRESS, 2015   www.tijeanpress.ca

 

– end –