In 1942, a young girl named Osono (whom local friends may know as Sally) and her family left her father’s farm in the Vancouver area to live in an internment camp in the interior of British Columbia—along with thousands of other Japanese Canadians. The children did not understand what was happening, only that their parents felt unhappy about the move. Born in Canada, the kids had no reason to think they were different than any other Canadians. They didn’t understand that Japan had dropped bombs on Hawaii, or how that act made them suspect. They couldn’t grasp that both American and Canadian governments had decided their parents could no longer be trusted. They were innocent of the prejudice all too prevalent in the world around them.
Once in the internment communities, many of the children reported that they enjoyed the time as though they were off at summer camp. School and recreational activities were provided, and they spent plenty of time with other kids—all of whom looked like they did. While the kids knew that “somewhere, far away,” a war was being fought, it had little to do with them. The only real down side was that, for many, their fathers were away much of the time, working in lumber camps.
Meanwhile, here in Manitoba, farmers were overwhelmed because so much of our workforce had joined or been drafted into military service, leaving farms without laborers to bring in the harvest. The Canadian government decided it could solve two problems by offering the Japanese Canadians the opportunity to come to Manitoba to work on farms. That way, they could keep their families together. To Osono’s parents and many others, it sounded like a better alternative in a horribly confusing time. They’d already lost their homes, property, businesses, and dignity. How could this be any worse?
|Photo - Art Miki (third from right)|
Osono remembers making the long trip by train and how she had no desire to work on a farm or be separated from her friends. She recalls her dismay at seeing miles and miles of “nothing.” Her family ended up on the Tully family’s sugar beet farm near Oakville, Manitoba. What Osono could not possibly have known is that Mr. Tully endured ridicule from neighboring farmers for taking so many of these workers. Or that she would eventually elope with one of the Tully sons. Or that doing so would cause a major scandal in the community. Or that the birth of her twin boys would restore peace and bring the families together.
By the 1970s, younger Japanese Canadians, most of whom had been sheltered from the reasons behind the move to Manitoba, began uncovering the truth of their family history. More than 22,000 Japanese Canadians had been forced into this situation, and returning to their former lives, even after the war ended, had become impossible. Their properties had been sold to cover the cost of their own internment and relocation!
It’s an astonishing story, and I wanted to share it with you in the hopes that you’ll watch a fascinating documentary being aired this weekend. On Saturday, July 28, at 7:00 p.m., CBC will air the hour-long film called Facing Injustice: The Relocation of Japanese Canadians to Manitoba. Osono and her son Terry Tully both appear in the film. Produced and directed (and originally narrated) by Aaron Floresco, the version you’ll see on CBC is narrated by Dr. David Suzuki. Through interviews and archival photos and footage, Facing Injustice tells the personal stories behind this little-known period of Canadian history, and shows how one community reconciled the past and organized a national redress movement.
If you miss the broadcast, most of CBC’s documentaries are available online after they’ve aired. Until then, you can see a short trailer from Facing Injustice HERE.
*The title of this post was borrowed from the book by the same name by Ken Adachi. I’m reading it now.