Ottawa unveils plaque in Prince Rupert after historic cherry trees chopped down in error

The federal government has dedicated a plaque to a former Japanese-Canadian resident of Prince Rupert after a federal work crew mistakenly chopped down several cherry trees he'd donated to the town nearly 60 years ago.

Trees donated nearly 60 years ago by Japanese-Canadian internment survivor

Greg, left, and Henry Shimizu at the plaque dedicated to Shotaro "Tom" Shimizu, who donated more than 1,000 cherry trees to the city of Prince Rupert around 60 years ago. (George Baker/CBC)

The federal government has dedicated a plaque to a former Japanese-Canadian resident of Prince Rupert after a federal work crew mistakenly chopped down several cherry trees he'd donated to the town nearly 60 years ago.

The plaque was unveiled Thursday at a ceremony and attended by the descendents of Shotaro "Tom" Shimizu, a Japanese immigrant to Prince Rupert, who opened a hotel there in 1915 until it was seized by the federal government during the Second World War.

"I really think that is an acknowledgement that he actually did offer these trees to Prince Rupert back in 1959 and 60," said Henry Shimizu, the 90-year-old son of Shotaro.

Donated trees after war

"The only thing that is missing is the fact that the history of the trees were lost somewhere along the line," Shotaro told CBC's Daybreak North on Friday.

Several cherry trees were chopped down and others were aggressively pruned by contractors doing landscaping work outside the Department of Fisheries and Oceans building in downtown Prince Rupert in March. (George Baker/CBC)

Shimizu donated 1,500 cherry trees to the city of Prince Rupert in 1959 and 1960 following his release from an internment camp during the Second World War. The origin of the trees and why Shimizu decided to donate them is unclear, according to his family.

In March of this year, several of the trees were chopped down, while others were aggressively pruned by contractors doing landscaping work outside the Department of Fisheries and Oceans building in downtown Prince Rupert .

The destruction of the trees caused an uproar in the town among people who enjoyed the look of the trees as they bloomed in spring and summer.

Plaque cements grandfather's legacy

Greg Shimizu, Shotaro's grandson and the son of Harry, is making the most of the unfortunate incident. He said it has allowed him the opportunity to learn more about his grandfather's legacy.

"For us, as a family, coming out here is delving into our mythical family history," Shimizu said. 

He is also collecting wood from the downed trees and plans to transform them into bachi — drumsticks used to play taiko, Japanese percussion.

Shimizu performs in a group called the Blooming Tree Taiko, a Japanese percussion group whose name is inspired by his grandfather's donation.

The federal government says three remaining cherry blossom trees may still regain health and bloom once more.

Listen to the full interview below:

90-year-old Henry Shimizu hasn't seen Prince Rupert since his family was sent to an internment camp during World War II, but his father never forgot the North Coast city. He donated many cherry trees later in life, but earlier this year some of them were destroyed. Now a new plaque honouring his legacy has been unveiled, and Henry and his son Gregory returned for the ceremony. 9:13

With files from Andrew Kurjata and Daybreak North