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Day 2: Greenwood

Updated: Jul 18, 2019

Greenwood, a small abandoned copper mining town of 200 residents, became the first site of Japanese Canadian internment on April 21, 1942. Amidst the ongoing racism the town’s mayor, W.T. McArthur, welcomed the Japanese Canadian internees. The peak population of Japanese Canadians was 1,203 by April 1943, vastly outnumbering its former 200 residents.


Greenwood was the only site of internment where all education was provided by a church group, the Catholic Sisters and Fathers of Atonement. Families were housed in cramped rooms in its empty hotels, and business buildings- forced to share communal kitchens and shared plumbing. Many of the Japanese Canadians found employment from a neighboring sawmill in Midway (13 km to the west) and in many Doukhobor farms in Grand Forks (41 km). The Japanese Canadian men also built a bathhouse and Catholic convent in the town. After the war, many Japanese Canadians opted to stay in Greenwood, because they felt more welcomed there than any other internment site.


 

Photo by Aya Timmer

"Upon arriving to the smallest city in Canada, it didn't seem very remarkable beyond its claim to have the best tasting tap water. Prior to the war, Greenwood's population was approximately 60 people, and the forced relocation of 1200 Japanese Canadians to the site arguably allowed the city to sustain and support its existing population. By the end of the war, almost 50% of the businesses in Greenwood were owned by Japanese Canadians. Post-war, Greenwood residents wrote a letter petitioning the government to allow Japanese Canadians to stay in the city, despite the government ultimatum solicited that Japanese Canadians either “go home or go East”. In spite of all the darkness surrounding internment history, I was pleasantly surprised to learn about this act of solidarity- a history I am so glad to hear included in the internment narrative that highlights themes of resiliency and community. Indeed, Japanese Canadian history is not solely defined by the darkness of the internment. It would be a shame if a community’s history is only remembered for its struggle and anguish, without recognizing its resilience and moments of brightness." -Dominique B.

 

Chuck Tasaka. Photo by Natsuki Abe.

"Chuck guided us around Greenwood and had so many great stories to share. He told of the fun he had a boy playing baseball and sledding down a hill and living in this integrated community. Chuck was knowledgeable about the Japanese Canadians in Greenwood. His stories were similar to any grandfather talking about his childhood. He continues to live here today." Tambourine T.C.

 

Photo by Aya Timmer

"The museum in Greenwood had its own exhibit and display commemorating the Japanese Canadians that lived in and contributed to their community. My interpretation of this display is generated by the child weeping in his mother’s lap. This was a heavy reminder to me of the forced separation of not only friends and communities, but also of the separation of families and of home. I was taken back with how even small children had to face the realities of the internment, at a time in their life when they did not have the capacity and full ability to understand why these things were happening to them." -Aya T.


 

Source:

Adachi, Ken. The Enemy that Never Was. Toronto, 1976.


Kawamoto, Linda Reid and Beth Carter. Karizumai: A Guide to Japanese Canadian Internment Sites. Nikkei National Museum and Cultural Centre, 2016.


Sunahara, Ann Gomer. The Politics of Racism: The Uprooting of Japanese Canadians during the Second World War. Toronto, 1981.

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