Former home of Japanese Canadians interned during war could be torn down
An old hotel building that once housed dozens of Japanese Canadian men working in an internment camp in southwestern Ontario during the Second World War could soon be demolished.
Local heritage experts say 55 men stayed at the old Eatonville Roadhouse in 1942 and 1943, after they were relocated by the Canadian government from British Columbia during the war.
Decades later, the building where they once lived near Morpeth is in decay and the current property owner wants to tear it down.
The building had been put on a municipal heritage registry a few years ago, which meant the owner had to get permission from town officials in order to proceed with any proposed demolition plans.
'We were devastated'
And while the Chatham-Kent Municipal Heritage Committee wanted to see the site designated as a heritage property under a provincial act, council did not agree. In a 17-1 vote this week, councillors opted to remove the property from the municipal heritage registry.
"We were devastated," said John Taylor, the chair of the municipal heritage committee, when describing how he felt about council's decision.
The building is believed to be among the last of its kind in Ontario, when it comes to the experience of the Japanese Canadians who landed in this province after being forced to leave B.C.
As the heritage committee said in its report to council: "Eatonville is the last surviving building associated with this history in Chatham-Kent and may be the only remaining structure in Ontario."
In a telephone interview, Ken Noma of the National Association of Japanese Canadians said he was not immediately aware of any buildings still standing elsewhere in the province where these men were housed during that time period.
And given the apparent lack of other surviving structures from this part of history, Noma said it has a strong symbolic value.
'An actual building that remains'
Taylor said the men who lived at the Eatonville Roadhouse were put to work at Rondeau Park.
"They were helping clear trees, build trails, that sort of thing, in the park," said Taylor.
Within Chatham-Kent, there were a handful of other camps where Japanese Canadians landed after arriving from B.C., though Taylor said there are very few reminders today about their experiences in the past.
"Here in Chatham-Kent, we have signage on the side of a road, there is simply a very small plaque on the side of the road that designates one area and that's all there is," said Taylor.
"This is an actual building that remains from that period of time."
Taylor was among a group that travelled to the Talbot Trail property on Wednesday, in a bid to document the surviving structure before it is gone.
While Taylor said the owner has said the building will not be torn down immediately, he said "the owner has the right to tear it down any time."
In 1988, the Canadian government formally apologized in the House of Commons for the treatment of Japanese Canadians during the war.