New plaque honours Japanese-Canadian WW I veterans
Despite facing discrimination, hundreds of Japanese-Canadians enlisted to fight for Canada during WW I
A new plaque and dedicated historical walking tour will commemorate the contributions of Japanese-Canadians who fought during the First World War.
Linda Kawamoto Reid is a research archivist with the Nikkei National Museum and Cultural Centre.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of their enlistment and the plaque is being erected in Mountainview Cemetery because many Japanese-Canadians — including veterans — are buried there, she said.
It will complement a historical walking tour through the cemetery detailing the lives of the veterans.
"There are 20 men buried or cremated here in Mountainview who are First World War veterans, [including]...two military medal winners," she said.
Forced to enlist in Alberta
The veterans faced great challenges to be able to fight for their country.
For example, even though the men were trained in Vancouver — at the expense of the Canadian Japanese Association — the B.C. government refused to accept Japanese-Canadian recruits, Reid explained.
Instead, she said, the group of 227 Japanese-Canadian men travelled one-by-one to Alberta in 1916 to enlist.
"The politics in B.C. were very racist at the time, very discriminatory," she said.
"[For example] they needed to have a naturalization certificate in order to carry a fishing licence, and they couldn't vote."
The men who enlisted soon gained a reputation for commendable fighting.
"A lot of them ended up in the Fighting 10th Battalion. We know how fierce that battalion was. They were the ones who made a difference in winning Vimy Ridge," she said.
Fifty-four Japanese-Canadian men lost their lives during the war, Reid said. They are buried in France.
Upon the surviving veterans return, the Canadian Japanese Association raised enough money to build a cenotaph in their honour in Stanley Park in 1920.
The new cemetery plaque will be twinned with that monument.
A battle for the vote
But the fighting did not stop there for some veterans.
"Really, Japanese-Canadians were fighting two battles," Reid said.
"They were fighting for their rights as Canadian citizens and were willing to lay down their lives and fight for Canada in spite of all odds."
Sgt. Masumi Mitsui, a decorated First World war veteran, led the charge for the vote for Japanese-Canadian veterans.
In 1931, they succeeded, becoming the first group of Asian-Canadians to win the right to vote.
With files from Margaret Gallagher.
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