Japanese Internment Camps

There were ten internment Camps in total; they consisted of: three road camps, two prisoner of war camps(POW), and five self supporting camps scattered throughout Canada during the second World War. Prior to World War II, 22,096 Japanese Canadians lived in British Colombia; three quarters of them were naturalized or native born Canadians.
Taken from:(www.lib.washington)
This notice was distributed throughout British Columbia. If any Japanese were found in the prohibited areas listed, they would be incarcerated.

Many historians believe internments camps came about because of racist attitudes Canadians held towards Japanese Canadian's-many of whom lived in BC. Once the bombing on Pearl Harbour happened racism came to a head. British Columbians started to blame all their troubles and problems on the Japanese. Japanese people were blamed for everything from a bad crop to a flat tire. The scared people of BC cried out, wanting the BC Government to deal with the problem as they saw it-Japanese Canadians. The people of British Columbia wanted to feel safe in their homes again and they wanted Prime Minister Mackenzie King to rid Canada of people of Japanese orign. They were causing a threat to Canada (or so it was believed by the public.) Mackenzie King wanted the votes from B.C. so he was more than happy to do what they asked. Mackenzie's first order of business was to incarcerate all Japanese males between the ages 14 and 45. They were ordered to move more than 160 km inland. This was to "safe guard" the pacific coast from Japanese spies. The Canadian government took away all of the Japanese fishing fleets, in order to protect Canada.

Over a nine month period 22,000 people were taken from their homes and scattered throughout BC. By October 1942, the Canadian government had set up 8 internment camps in interior BC. They were in Kaslo, New Denver, Tashme, Roseberry, Slocan City, Lemon Creek, Sandon, and Greenwood. Tashme was named after the 3 leading BC's security commisioners; TAlor, SHirras, and MEad.

The war caused a large labour shortage for farmers, especially sugar beet farmers. The Security Commission Council organized sugar beet projects to combat the labour shortage. This gave the Japanese males a choice. The choice was to work in road camps as slaves or go to the beet camps and be with their families. Working in the beet camps was the choice taken by the majority of Japanese married men.

Japanese Canadians were being punished for a crime they didn't commit. Canada's only defence for it's actions was that Japanese people were not white and they "could" be Japanese spies. Innocent Japanese Canadians were stripped of their rights, issued special clothing, humiliated, thrown behind barb wire fences, and were forced to do manual labour.

Living in interment camps was a hard life to live. Many families were forced to live in cramped quarters with ten other families sharing one stove. Some camps such as Slocan city; didn't have the resourses to house the huge amounts of people coming into the camps. Many Japanese were placed in tents until there were houses available. One would think that moving from a tent to a house would be a step up, but this was not true. Most houses consisted of panal board with no insulation, rickety walls and maybe a stove. During the harsh cold winters many Japanese put lanterns under their beds to try and keep warm.

A story from Hideo Kukubo tells what life was like during the war: 

  • "Japanese Canadian Centennial Project.1877-1977 the Japanese Canadians a Dream of Riches.Vancouver: Gilchnist Wright,1978"

    "I was in that camp for four years. When it got cold the temperature went down to as much as 60 below. The buildings stood on flat land beside a lake. We lived in huts with no insulation. Even if we had the stove burning the inside of the windows would all be frosted up and white, really white. I had to lie in bed with everything on that I had... at one time there were 720 people there, all men, and a lot of them were old men."

    In the years that followed the Japanese Internees were able to make the camps feel more like home. They petitioned the Royal Commission for better housing and more stoves. After the Japanese petitioned and protested the Government allowed a few changes. Families were able to grow vegetable gardens, dig basements and create extra rooms. Japanese internees countinued on with life, putting on festivals and musical events. The BC Government refused to fund education for young Japanese Canadians. Then the Federal Government stepped in and helped out the Japanese and arranged classes from grades 1-10. With the help of the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Church, and the United Church high school became a reality so grades 11-12 came into effect as well. The first place to get a school up and running was in Lemon Creek.

    Before the bombing of Pearl Harbour, young Japanese Canadians were allowed to enroll in the Canadian Army. Once the bombing occured the BC Government would not allow the Japanese to enroll into the army. Some Japanese Canadians decided to fight for the British, this made the BC Government change their minds, as Buck Suzuki tells:

  • "Japanese Canadian Centennial Project.1877-1977 the Japanese Canadians a Dream of Riches.Vancouver: Gilchnist Wright,1978"

    "Many of us had volunteered for the Canadian Army. But we had been refused till finally the British got desperate and sent a man out from England to see if they could recruit Nisei (Young Canadian Japanese). So thats fine, if we can't go as a Canadian we'll go in British uniform. So we joined up in the British Pioneer Corps as corporals. We were going to go overseas, and dammit, we waited and waited and nothing happened! We found out there was a terrific wrangle in Parliament that says we can't-they can't go overseas in foriegn uniforms!... And apparently during the debate somebody got the bright idea, if they're going to go, they're going in Canadian uniforms. So at the last minute they changed their mind and demoted us to privates in Canadian Intellegence and we went over-seas. They said, what's the matter with you, are you crazy? They've taken away everything you own, moved you by force out of the place you lived at and insulted you in every way possible-and you're going to go and take some more of it?"


    An even bigger insult occuredto the Canadian born Japanese. Canada sold all of their worldly possesions. In 1943 the Canadian "Custodian of Aliens" liquidated these worldly possesions without the owner's permission. The Custodian of Aliens held auctions for these items. These items would range from farms and to houses, to people's clothing. They were sold quickly and prices were insultingly cheap. The money that was raised from these auctions went to the realtors and the auctioneers; then it went to paying for storage and the handling charges. The Japanese had to pay for their stay at these horrid camps. While under the Geneva Convention prisoners of war (POW) didn't have to pay for their camps. In comparison to what the American Governement paid for their internment camps, Canada paid a quarterof what than the USA did.

    In 1944, with an election coming up, King re-instated the fear of Japanese in BC. Even after saying in August 1944, "it is a fact no person of Japanese race born in Canada has been charged with any act of sabatoge or disloyalty during the years at war".Japanese Canadian Centennial Project.1877-1977 the Japanese Canadians a Dream of Riches.Vancouver: Gilchnist Wright,1978. King still passed the law stating that the Japanese could be deported to Japan if they did not leave BC. This was called repatriatism. People could be deported to Japan even if they were not of Japanese origin. Those Japanese who moved east to get away from deportation were prohibited to buy land; they had to lease land, and to grow crops they needed special licsences. These licences were upheld until April 1946. Some Japanese Canadians signed papers stating they would leave Canada after the war was over. Of the 22,000 Japanese Canadians placed in the internment camps 4,000 were stripped of their Canadian citizenship and then deported to Japan. Then after the war, 6,000 people were sent over to Japan.

    In 1945 the deportation orders were contested in the BC Supreme Court. Justice Manson dismissed the case on a technicality, ruling that because the Security Commission had since dissolved, no suit could be brought against it. In 1946, the government upheld the Security Commission's decision to deport Japanese Canadians to Japan.

    In 1988, 46 years after the first Japanese Internment Camps, Canadian Japanese were compensated for all that they had endured during the war. Prime Minister Brian Mulroney signed a compensation package giving $21,000 for each internee's survivor. In total 12 million dollars were paid out.

    Ten internment camps and 68 years later, Canada is still paying for what it did to fellow Japanese Canadians. Despite their race, they were still Canadian citizens, but Canada chose not to recognize them as equals just because of the war. Many believed that the internment camps were manifested out of British Columbian's hatred for the Japanese. Lets hope that generations to come can learn from our mistakes, our ignorance, and realize that just because something comes in a different colour or a different shape doesn't mean it is bad, or that it is wrong.

    1. Chronicle of Canada.First edition/1987, P 692-1023
    2. Enomoto Randy."Prisoners of Prudice".Canadian Horizon1987:pg#1262-1267
    3. Japanese Canadian Centennial Project.1877-1977 the Japanese Canadians a Dream of Riches.Vancouver: Gilchnist Wright,1978.
    4. Sunahara, Ann Gomer. Politics of Racism.Toronto:James and Lorimer and Company,1981
    5. Wand W. Peter.White Canada Forever.Montreal: McGill-Queen University press,1978.
    6. http://www.mail-archive.com/fukuzawa%40ucsd.edu/msg05364.html
    7. www.lib.washington.edu/subject/Canada/internment/intro.html