British Columbia

Staying local? Take an opportunity to learn about B.C.'s internment history, says advocate

As more British Columbians stay local this summer, the Japanese Canadian Legacy Committee hopes more of them will take the opportunity to learn about the history of the internment of more than 22,000 Japanese-Canadians in the province.

During World War II, over 22,000 Japanese-Canadians were forcibly evicted and sent to internment camps in B.C.

A group of interned Japanese-Canadian men at a road camp on the Yellowhead Pass, March 1942. Much of Highway 3, from Hope to Princeton, B.C., was built by forced labour from interned Japanese-Canadian men. (Library and Archives Canada)

As more British Columbians stay local this summer, the Japanese Canadian Legacy Committee hopes more of them will take the opportunity to learn about the history of the internment of more than 22,000 Japanese-Canadians in the province. 

Coinciding with the Second World War, Japanese-Canadians were forcibly brought from all over the country, with their possessions confiscated by the government, and interned in camps in B.C.'s interior between 1942 and 1949. 

"Japanese-Canadian men between the ages of 18 and 45 were separated from their families, sent to labour camps. Either road camps or logging camps around the province of British Columbia," said Ryan Ellan, the founder and curator of the Tashme Museum, which is off Highway Number 3 in the Sunshine Valley.

The Tashme Internment camp was one of the largest internment camps in the province and the closest to the coast, Ellan said. 

"Tashme was really created to bring the families  — the mothers, fathers, children — closer to the Japanese-Canadian men who were building this section of Highway 3. From Hope to Princeton was really built by Japanese-Canadian forced labour from 1942 to 1945," he said. 

An interior look of the Sunshine Valley Tashme Museum outside of Hope, B.C. The museum sits in what was a butcher shop in the Tashme internment camp. (Sunshine Valley Tashme Museum/Facebook)

Ellan's museum, which sits in the camp's old butcher shop, is one way of keeping history alive.

Laura Saimoto, the chair of the Japanese Canadian Legacy Committee, hopes people will also pay attention to the Highway Legacy Sign Project her group developed with the provincial government back in 2017. 

Saimoto, whose mother was interned at one of the camps, says the sign project has been a dream for decades.

"To have markers where history happened," Saimoto said. "Otherwise ... history would be forgotten."

Many of the signs and a few corresponding sites, which point out the locations of different camps around the province along Highway 3 and 6, are easy to access.

"You'll be able to see the signs from the highway, because they're right on the pullouts," she said. 

Saimoto says it's a great time to explore these sites as many people are staying local this summer due to the pandemic.

She stressed the importance of knowing the province's history, especially since an increase in anti-Asian crime have been connected to the pandemic.

Saimoto said there was anti-Asian racism on one of the Highway Legacy signs earlier this year. 

"It was very disconcerting," she said. "It's through education of our own province's history that we can really combat racism. Learning our history is an anti-racism action. That's why we're encouraging all British Columbians to visit these sites."

With files from On The Coast

now