'The history is not safely in the past': play explores wartime Japanese detainment

Eight thousand Japanese Canadians were incarcerated during the Second World War in Hastings Park, the site of a new play called Japanese Problem.

Roughly 8,000 women and children were incarcerated at Vancouver's Hastings Park

Yoshié Bancroft is the producer and actor of the show, which is set in the livestock barns at Hastings Park. (Peter Scobie/CBC)

It's a dark chapter in Canadian history: Seventy-five years ago, thousands of Japanese-Canadians were exiled from their homes and sent to internment camps as a wartime measure.

Many were first incarcerated at Vancouver's Hastings Park.

That park — and more specifically the livestock barns where 8,000 Japanese Canadians were incarcerated during the Second World War — is now the site of a new play called Japanese Problem.

Japanese-Canadian women serve children a meal in Hastings Park in 1942. (City of Vancouver Archives)

In 2015, Yoshié Bancroft, the producer and an actor of the show, took a walking tour of Hastings Park. Though vaguely aware of the history, standing in an animal stall in the Livestock Building where women and children had once slept, made it very real.

"You can walk in and smell the animals, so to make that connection that that this is where the livestock were held during the PNE, and this is also where the women and children were held...so that's very powerful," she said.

The women and children's dormitory in the Livestock building during the Japanese-Canadian internment. (City of Vancouver Archives)

"I was quite surprised when I found out that people were incarcerated at Hastings Park and I felt that wasn't necessarily common knowledge."

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The show is a historical reenactment following one of the women, with most of action taking place in two stalls. 

"There would have been rows and rows of bunk beds, and in order to have some privacy, people would hang bed sheets that they had brought from home."

Vehicles confiscated from Japanese nationals at Hastings Park in 1942. (Jack Linday, City of Vancouver Archives)

Bancroft believes it's important not to forget the implications of that history.

"Racism is still alive and well today," she said. "This history is not safely in the past."

The play opens Friday in the Livestock Barns at Hastings Park, and runs until Sept. 30.

With files from Margaret Gallagher