A BRIEF HISTORY OF JAPANESE CANADIANS IN MANITOBA
According to the 1941 census there were 42 Japanese living in Manitoba, 21 in Winnipeg. The first Japanese person was Terukichi Umehara who came in 1906 but later moved to Ontario. They were a small close knit community who followed Japanese traditions.
During World War II on January 16, 1942 Order in Council PC 365 under the War Measure’s Act called for the removal of all male national from the coastal defense zone. On February 24, 1942 Order in Council PC 1486 empowered the Federal Government to remove all people of Japanese ancestry from the protected area, to impose restrictions which included the right to search without a warrant, dusk to dawn curfew, and confiscation of cameras, cars and firearms.
The British Columbia Securities Commission (BCSC) was established March 4, 1942 to transfer all designated people out of the restricted coastal areas. Because of the shortage of sugar and lack of labourers, the Federal and Provincial Governments reached an agreement to relocate Japanese to Manitoba and Alberta sugar beef farms. In Manitoba it was with the understanding that they would be removed after the war. Most of them came from Haney/ Hammond and Mt. Lehman area and some from Steveston.
The first group of arrivals came on April13 after a two day train trip from British Columbia consisted of 20 families (118 individuals). Other families followed, arriving at the Canadian Pacific Railway Station and taken to the Immigration Hall where they were picked out by farmers and taken to farms to work. Usually the families with able-bodied adult workers were placed quickly while those with small children and elderly parents remained at the Hall for months. The BCSC’s forced removal plan stated that the only place a family could move together as a unit was to Manitoba or Alberta. This was a more attractive option than the internment camps in BC where families were separated.
In Manitoba the majority of families settled in the Red River Valley, an area extending from Portage la Prairie district to Selkirk, and from Altona to Steinback areas. Work on the sugar beet farms was back breaking and labour intensive with meagre income. The Japanese workers were known to work hard. The families were scattered, so socializing was restricted. Their housing conditions were inadequate in most cases, ill equipped to withstand the cold winter months. Sugar Beet Shacks were constructed from wood and tar paper. Several families often shared the same living quarters. Exceptions were made to allow some Japanese to work in the city of Winnipeg, such as domestics, and males to supplement income to support their families. In 1946 restrictions on moving into Winnipeg were lifted. However, some families faced discrimination and had difficulty getting a place to rent.
Shinji Sato, Tom Mitani, and Harold Hirose met secretly September 1942 and formed the Manitoba Japanese Joint Council (MJJC) to address concerns that the Japanese had with work and living conditions. Joined by other leaders, the Manitoba Japanese Canadian Citizens’ Association (MJCCA) was formed in 1946 to represent the interests of Japanese Canadians to participate in the wider Manitoba community. On April 1, 1949 the war restrictions were lifted. In 1951 most families (89%) moved from the rural areas into Winnipeg. The following years were spent working hard to secure an economic foothold, and also to rebuild social and religious activities within the community.
In 1977 during the Japanese Canadian centennial year, celebrations were held across the country. There was a renewed interest in the JC history with the archival documents becoming available to the public. The MJCCA held a seminar in November 1980 called “Coming of Age: the role of Japanese Canadians in Canadian Society”. Ann Sunahara’s book called “The Politics of Racism” provided the background information for the National Association of Japanese Canadians’ brief called ‘Democracy Betrayed’ submitted to the federal government in 1984. Across the country information meetings were held and the Redress Campaign grew. MJCCA representatives participated at the NAJC Council meetings to decide on the position that was taken during the negotiations with the government. The MJCCA Redress Committee was formed to fundraise and to educate Canadians.
On September 22, 1988 the Canadian Government acknowledged and apologized for the injustices suffered by Canadians of Japanese ancestry during and after the Second World War. The redress agreement included a Community Fund which enabled the revitalization and rebuilding of a community that was scattered and dispossessed. The Manitoba Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre is one of many projects and community centres that benefited from the Community Fund. Today we are losing many of the older generation of Issei and Nisei who experienced relocation. The community has a growing number of families with multi-ethnic children, but relatively few more recent immigrants from Japan come to Winnipeg. The population of Japanese Canadians remains at approximately 1800 with 900 who are of mixed backgrounds.