Vancouver Japanese congregation compensated for church lost during internment

The United Church of Canada is paying $500,000 in compensation to a Vancouver Japanese congregation for the loss of its church building during the Second World War.

'it's a wonderful feeling, because it was in the back of everybody's mind for so long'

"It's a relief, it’s a wonderful feeling, because it was in the back of everybody’s mind for so long," said Keiko Norisue, a board member of the church. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

The United Church of Canada is paying $500,000 in compensation to a Vancouver Japanese congregation for the loss of its church building during the Second World War.

The congregation, which now has a home on Victoria drive, lost their original church in 1952 following the internment of hundreds of Japanese Canadians. 

In 1942 during the Second World War, 22,000 people of Japanese ancestry, including those born in Canada, were removed from their homes and placed in internment camps, their businesses and properties confiscated.

Members of Vancouver Japanese United Church, who had been worshipping together since the beginning of the century, were also uprooted.

Many of them stored their belongings in their church building at the corner of Jackson and Powell streets, which was held "in trust" by another United Church congregation for ten years.

In 1977 members of the congregation came together to purchase the United Church building on Victoria Drive, where they've gathered ever since. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

But when members of the congregation returned to Vancouver in 1949, they found the church in a state of disrepair, full of junk and not fit for use.

Keiko Norisue, a board member of the church, said the congregation began moving from church to church, holding services at odd times of day to fit around other services.

She said in 1977 members of the congregation came together to purchase the United Church building on Victoria Drive, where they've gathered ever since.

"Over the years everyone was wondering what happened to the church that they had," she said.

'It's finally over'

In 1952 the United Church sold the original church property. It is now the site of the Vancouver Buddhist Temple. 

According to a release from the United Church of Canada, monies from the sale were "likely used for mission purposes by the church (the historic record on this is not clear) but the congregation did not receive any of it."

In 2009 the United Church of Canada issued an apology, and began considering compensation.

Norisue said receiving the compensation is "bittersweet," because many of the congregation members who lived through internment and experienced the loss of the church have since passed away.

"It's a relief, it's a wonderful feeling, because it was in the back of everybody's mind for so long," she said. "It's finally over."

A worship celebration and ceremonial payment will take place on Dec. 8 at 11 a.m. at Vancouver Japanese United Church at 4010 Victoria Drive in Vancouver. 

With files from Jon Hernandez