British Columbia

Vancouver Island residents seek to rebuild WWII era Japanese teahouse

Canada's first Japanese garden and teahouse, which was owned by Dillon Takata's great-grandfather and great-uncle was destroyed in 1942 following the internment of Japanese Canadians.

The teahouse and gardens were destroyed in 1942 following the internment of Japanese Canadians

Thousands of visitors came to Canada’s first Japanese garden and teahouse, run by the Takata family, until their internment in 1942. (Library and Archives Canada)

A descendent of the owner of Canada's first Japanese garden and teahouse hopes a new structure will honour its history and Japanese Canadians who faced internment during the Second World War.

Dillon Takata's great-grandfather and great-uncle established the garden and teahouse in Esquimalt's Gorge Park, but it was destroyed in 1942 when the Canadian government detained and dispossessed people of Japanese descent living in B.C.

Now there are plans to erect a new Japanese-influenced building to recognize the history of the teahouse and Japanese internment.

Takata told Gregor Craigie, host of On The Island, when his grandfather used to visit from Ontario, he would take him to where the teahouse and garden once stood and would explain the history with no resentment. 

"Part of the Japanese culture, I think, is just to sort of accept when bad things happen you know you don't complain about it you just suck it up and move on," Takata told Craigie while walking around the park. 

The history

University of Victoria historian and director of the Landscapes of Injustice project, Jordan Stanger-Ross, said the Japanese teahouse was a hub of local life, attracting thousands of people. (Library and Archives Canada)

University of Victoria historian and director of the Landscapes of Injustice project, Jordan Stanger-Ross, said the Japanese teahouse was a hub of local life and attracted thousands of people. Although the park has a garden now, Stanger-Ross said it's not as big as it was in the 1940s. 

Stanger-Ross said there was widespread vandalism and the destruction of sites like the teahouse and garden in the immediate aftermath of the uprooting of Japanese Canadians on Vancouver Island.

"This wasn't officials in Ottawa or the prime minister of Canada. It was our neighbours here in Esquimalt who came through here and destroyed the garden and the teahouse," he said. 

The first Canadian Japanese teahouse is pictured here. It was later destroyed in 1942 by Esquimalt residents. (Library and Archives Canada)

Next steps

The Township of Esquimalt along with Stanger-Ross and the Victoria Nikkei Culutral Society [VNCS] are working together to come up with plans to erect a building on the site.

The VNCS is seeking feedback through an online survey about how Esquimalt should construct a multi-purpose building at Gorge Park to commemorate Japanese history. The survey is open until Sept. 29.

Takata said having a new building that recognizes Japanese Canadian history where his family's teahouse once stood would be "hugely meaningful." 

"I have a daughter now, my wife is also half Japanese and grew up under similar circumstances, and we're really hoping that this is going to be something that can help us recapture some of our culture and a way to share Japanese culture with the younger generation," he said.

To listen to full interview with Jordan Stanger-Ross and Dillon Takata, click the audio link below:

In 1942, Canada's first Japanese teahouse was destroyed in Esquimalt. Now there is a move to recognize the harm that was done and erect a new Japanese-influenced building in Gorge Park, that would recognize the history of both the teahouse and the Japanese internment. To find out more, Gregor Craigie spoke with Jordan Stanger Ross and Dillion Takata. Jordan Stanger Ross is a history professor at UVic and director of the Landscapes of Injustice project, and Dillon Takata is the the great-grandson of one of the owners of the Japanese Garden and tea room that once stood in Gorge Park. 9:15

With files from On The Island