Victoria’s Japanese community remembered on internment anniversary

Councillor Charlayne Thornton-Joe moves to have the city rescind offending legislation

Anita Malkiewicz

On April 22, 70 years ago, a ship called the Princess Jones took Victorians of Japanese descent away from their homes for good.

To mark the occasion on Sunday, historians Ann-Lee Switzer and her husband, Gordon, launched their new book about this vanished community at Victoria City Hall.

The Switzers discovered the need for the book while researching the Japanese cemetery in Victoria.

“We thought that we could just look up the history of the Victoria-Japanese community and put it in our book about the cemetery,” Ann-Lee said. “But there was nothing … so we got to work.”

Gateway to Promise: Canada’s first Japanese Community, covers the history of the Japanese community in Victoria until April 22, 1942, when they were exiled to internment camps on suspicion of espionage by the Canadian government.

The book covers the Japanese Tea Garden on the Gorge, the donation of cherry trees, the Methodist church and other contributions.

“Although it was a small community, they were integrated into the (greater) community,” Ann-Lee said.

After the Japanese military bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, many Victorians expressed sympathy for their Japanese neighbours, she added. Through the research project, the Switzers got in touch with many of the survivors who left Victoria for good as teenagers.

“Mostly they had happy memories of Victoria … and they didn’t, most of them, carry much bitterness,” Ann-Lee said. “Many of them still keep in touch with their  friends in Victoria. It’s amazing.”

Did you know?

• On Feb. 27, 1942, Victoria city council voted to endorse a resolution passed by the City of Kelowna stating, in part:

“… that all male Japanese of military age should be interned; that any evacuation of other Japanese to east of the Cascade Mountains should be under strict supervision of the Dominion Authorities … and should be effected in a manner that would not arouse popular indignation and outrage.”

• This month Coun. Charlayne Thornton-Joe told council she would be introducing a motion to rescind council’s original motion from 1942.

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