Sometime this month, ornamental cherry trees will bloom at Coal Creek Historic Park. Planted in 2009, the trees commemorate thirty-one Japanese Canadian families removed from No. 1 Town during World War Two. The families are gone. Their homes are gone. The trees flower every year, holding space and honouring the former residents who lived and built a community here.
The Japanese Community
The Japanese miners who came to Cumberland in the early 1890s were not provided with housing by the Union Colliery Company. Men brought their families with them from Japan with the intention to settle in British Columbia. Paid half the rate of the white miners, many men abandoned mining and worked in lumber mills, fished, or opened stores and businesses in Cumberland. The entrepreneurial efforts of these Cumberland pioneers was a true success story.
The first Japanese-Canadian settlers built houses on leased land near the mines where they worked at No. 1 and No. 5 Town. As the Japanese Canadian community became more established, they built houses on land that they owned in Cumberland, Royston and Bevan. Businesses flourish and families assimilate into the community. By the early 1940s one-third of the elementary school in Cumberland is made up of Japanese-Canadian students, in the Cumberland high school, the ratio is almost half.
After Canada declares war on Japan in December 1941, everything changes. The War Measures Act is implemented which results in a curfew for men aged eighteen or older and the confiscation of fishing boats, cars, telephones and cameras for all Japanese-Canadians within 100 miles of the coast of British Columbia, renamed the exclusion zone. On 15 April 1942 – a banishment. Approximately 600 men, women and children are removed from the Cumberland area “for their own protection”. Adults are allowed one suitcase up to 68 kg in weight, children 34 kg. In the lead-up to the removal, people sell what they can and board up their homes in anticipation of coming back when the war is over. A custodian is assigned to look after the property of the Japanese-Canadians during this temporary situation. Home becomes a horse stall at Hastings Park behind barbed wire for six months and then transfer to hastily constructed internment camps in the interior for the next four years.
The Suyama family at No.1 Town are sent to Lemon Creek. After the war, they are given the choice of settling east of the Rockies or “returning” to Japan. They choose exile as there is nothing left for them in Canada.
“I can vividly remember Mama in tears and so hurt when my parents received a mere $60 for their Cumberland house that the government had evicted them from and then auctioned off through the Custodian of Enemy Alien Property Act. I am certain that this was done to prevent people from returning home after the war.” *
By 1949 after protests from church groups, educators and others, the punitive restrictions were lifted. Eventually, the Suyama family come back to Canada, settling in the Toronto area. When Yoshimi comes back to Cumberland years later to visit, her home, along with most of the other homes at No.1 Town, has vanished. Sold and removed to Royston, renovated and transformed beyond recognition.
Yoshimi was ten when she left Cumberland in 1942. Cumberland is still her first home even though events beyond her control erased almost every trace of her living here.
Eviction. Fire. Banishment. Adversity can’t take away our sense of home. Cumberland roots run deep and our history is the richer for it.
* Maikawa, Yoshimi (Suyama) Ba’Chan’s Story: Thoughts and recollections of a Japanese-Canadian growing up in Canada, privately published 2002