'A significant heritage item,' Chatham-Kent Japanese internment camps commemorated

During the Second World War, thousands of Japanese Canadians were forced from their homes, their jobs and their lives and sent to live in internment camps. The government claimed it was a matter of national security.

Many were brought to Chatham-Kent during the Second World War to work as farm labour

Markers commemorating the history of Japanese-Canadians brought over to Chatham-Kent to work have been installed at former farm sites. (Rose St-Pierre/CBC)

Peter ​Wakayama doesn't remember much about the time his family spent in a internment camp in B.C., after all, he was only six-years-old when they were forced to live there.

"For me it was great times being a small child growing up and having fun, it was more difficult for my parents," said Wakayama.

"My father and mother used to have a tofu-making facility in the little village where I was born in B.C."

During the Second World War, thousands of Japanese-Canadians were forced to leave their homes and their jobs and sent to live in internment camps. The government claimed it was a matter of national security.

It happened most infamously in B.C., where the largest group of Japanese-Canadians were living. But it's a little known fact that some people were sent east and many landed in Chatham-Kent — including Wakayama, who is now 82 years old.

"After the war we were required to move out of B.C.," he said.

Stony Nakano, a Japanese internment camp survivor who used to live in Chatham, was at the ceremony. (Colin Côté-Paulette/CBC)

People were forced to work on farms in the area and on Friday, five markers were officially unveiled.

Plaques and Japanese cherry trees were 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 cherry trees were planted along with heritage markers. (Rose St-Pierre/CBC)

"I think it's important to record that this happened as a black mark in Canadian history," said Wakayama. "Having this marker is a significant heritage item that we have here in Chatham-Kent."

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