British Columbia

Japanese-Canadian war memorial marks 100 years

The cenotaph, located in Vancouver's Stanley Park, marked 100 years since it was built by the Canadian Japanese Association in 1920.

Grandchildren of Japanese-Canadian veterans gathered in Stanley Park to mark centenary

Japanese Canadians fought for Canada even as they were denied the right to vote. (CBC)

Remembrance Day ceremonies across Canada may have felt pared back this year to keep people safe during the pandemic, but Wednesday marked a particularly important year for the Japanese Canadian War Memorial.

The cenotaph, located in Vancouver's Stanley Park, marked 100 years since it was built by the Canadian Japanese Association in 1920. The cenotaph features the name of Japanese-Canadian soldiers who fought for Canada during the First World War, many of whom fought in the battles of Vimy Ridge and Arras Front in 1917.

The ceremony was closed to the public because of COVID-19, but streamed online.

Brad Kubota, who attended the ceremony, said he didn't know for many years that his grandfather's name was among those engraved on the cenotaph.

"Only then did I start to uncover all these wonderful stories — of [him] being born the son of a Samurai, of coming to this country when he was 17, of the battle it took to even enlist in a country to earn the respect and to vote. [...] I almost today feel like I don't know what I don't know and so I continue to search and uncover some of the stories of these fallen heroes," he said.

"[My grandfather] didn't share a lot, as many people of that generation didn't."

The cenotaph features the name of Japanese Canadian soldiers who fought for Canada during the First World War, many of whom fought in the battles of Vimy Ridge and Arras Front in 1917. (CBC)

Kathy Enros, whose grandfather's name is also on the cenotaph, said he enlisted in order to fight for the rights of Japanese-Canadians to vote. Japanese-Canadians didn't win the right to vote in Canada until 1948.

"He wanted to serve because he felt that it would help in his cause to earn the right to vote. He wanted to show his dedication to his adoptive country and so he felt by enlisting that that would truly show how much Canada meant to him, that he was willing to put his life in danger for Canada, for his new adopted country," she said.

Enros said her grandfather was also "stoic and very quiet" about his recollections of the First World War but that she remembered seeing his medals as a young girl.

"I think probably in all honesty he was quite bitter about the treatment during the Second World War, and so it wasn't a fond memory. But I do know that he was very proud of everything that he accomplished for the Japanese here in Canada, so that never went away," she said.

In 1942, the Canadian government detained 21,000 Japanese-Canadians living in B.C. under the War Measures Act, and interned them for the rest of the Second World War. Their homes and businesses were sold by the government to pay for their detention. The Canadian government issued an apology for the wrongs committed against Japanese-Canadians in 1988.

Kubota said his grandfather, even while interned, and even when he was too old to enlist, was insistent that he wanted to fight on behalf of Canada.

"I think when you're born into the samurai clan, when you're a hereditary samurai, you see yourself as a warrior," he said.

Enros said the memorial, which has undergone several renovations since it was built 100 years ago, was incredibly significant to her grandfather.

"It's surreal for me to be standing here, where I know he stood, and hopefully he's looking down on me today and proud that we're continuing his fight and sharing his story," she said.

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