Chatham-Kent Japanese internment camps to be commemorated with heritage markers

A group of Japanese-Canadian men were rounded up in British Columbia and brought over to southwestern Ontario against their will during WWII as farm labour, and now the municipality will be commemorating that part of local history.

Five farm sites will be marked with panels and Japanese cherry trees

A view of the building that once housed dozens of Japanese Canadian men, after the government forced to them to relocate from British Columbia during the Second World War. (Google)

A group of Japanese-Canadian men were brought over to Chatham-Kent during WWII as farm labour, and now the municipality hopes to commemorate that part of local history with markers at five of those internment camps.

A report from manager of parks and open spaces Jeff Bray, who worked with the National Association of Japanese-Canadians on the project, will be going to council Monday night.

Bray said farm labour was insufficient during the war and, to meet the demand, a group of roughly 154 men were rounded up in British Columbia and brought over to Chatham-Kent against their will.

"I don't think it's very well-known," he said. "I never learned it in school and I know my kids didn't either."

The 8907 Doyle Line site currently has a commemoration sign, which will be replaced with a new heritage marker. No trees will be planted because of the site's proximity to the road. (Google Maps)

Plaques and Japanese cherry trees will be planted at five farm sites — or approximate locations — across the municipality at the following locations:

  • Lambton-Kent Memorial Agricultural Centre in Dresden
  • The English Farm at 8907 Doyle Line in Chatham
  • The Eatonville Roadhouse
  • 4405 Middle Line in Valetta
  • Mitchell's Bay Park in Dover

Japanese-Canadian heritage groups have raised $18,000 to pay for these markers and trees, in addition to $5,000 for in-kind services.

There will be an official opening ceremony on Sept. 7 in Mitchell's Bay Park once the project finishes by end of August.

Bray said all the people he's spoken to in Chatham-Kent have been surprised of the presence of internment work camps. He himself only learned about it when he read David Suzuki's biography.

A whole culture was displaced from the west coast because of race, he said.

"It's just part of our history. I don't think things like this should be forgotten; we don't want history to repeat itself."