Family heirlooms that once belonged to a prominent Japanese-Canadian family are now back in B.C.

Eikichi Kagetsu came to Canada in 1906. He was the founder of Fanny Bay Oysters on Vancouver Island and also owned a railway track, logging operation and a family home in Vancouver.

His empire was destroyed when his property, worth $8 million in today's dollars, was forcibly seized by the Canadian government during World War II. 

Scroll from  Eikichi Kagetsu collection

A scroll from the Eikichi Kagetsu family collection. (Nikkei National Museum)

Now, documents, diaries, photos and art belonging to the family are back in the province as part of Landscapes of Injustice, a seven-year, multi-million dollar research project that looks at the history of the dispossession of property suffered by Japanese Canadians in the 1940s. 

The collection was donated by Kagetsu's family. His son Jack spent a number of years doing extensive research on his father's life. He gathered everything from journals to artifacts from the family home, including a scroll given to Kagetsu on a trip to Japan. 

The project is being led by researchers at the University of Victoria and the Nikkei National Museum and Cultural Centre in Burnaby.

Jordan Stanger-Ross is a UVIC historian and the project director. He said Kagetsu was a remarkable example of an immigrant entrepreneur. 

"He was one of Canada's representatives at the unveiling of the Vimy Ridge memorial," said Stanger-Ross. "He had dined at Buckingham Palace with the King."

After the war, the Kagetsu family relocated to Toronto. Stanger-Ross said having the Kagetsu family collection will add to the story of the Japanese-Canadian experience in the 1940s.  

"We're going to analyze and work on this material and integrate it into the larger history of the dispossession."

An exhibit of the collection will tour Canada in 2021.


To hear the full story, click the audio labelled: Property stolen from Japanese-Canadian family in 1943 back in B.C.