The Success of the 2005–2006 Campaign

By 2005, the new owner had had little success renting out the property and began to inquire at City Hall about demolishing the house to build a new home.[16] That note on the property file prompted Heritage staff to reach out to earlier organizers and the “Save the Joy Kogawa House Committee” was formed. In cooperation with the Vancouver Heritage Foundation, they set up a donation page on the Foundation website to gather funds to buy out the current owner in order to save the home.[17]

120-day Demolition Moratorium

While the owner was at first not agreeable to selling,[18] once a 120-day moratorium on demolition was proposed by City senior planner Gerry McGough and passed by Mayor and Council in November 2005, the owner chose to support the efforts to sell the house to the committee.[19]

In December 2005, The Land Conservancy joined the fight and launched a major fundraising campaign. Now there was just the matter of raising the $1.25 million required to save the home. This required a vast grassroots effort by impassioned citizens.

As with the earlier campaign, the connection to Joy Kogawa’s works Obasan and Naomi’s Road was essential. The symbolism of saving “Obasan’s Home” meant that the heritage house could become an inspiration to Japanese and other people across Canada. To support the campaign, Joy Kogawa appeared at fundraising events and meetings.

Joy Kogawa Cherry Tree Planting at Vancouver City Hall: Joy Kogawa, City Librarian Paul Whitney, Vancouver Opera General Director James Wright, City Councillor Jim Green – photo Deb Martin

Joy Kogawa Cherry Tree Planting at Vancouver City Hall: Joy Kogawa, City Librarian Paul Whitney, Vancouver Opera General Director James Wright, City Councillor Jim Green. Image Credit: Deb Martin

Obasan Recognition in Vancouver

In 2005, Vancouver Public Library chose Obasan for One Book, One Vancouver, a book club for the entire city. Throughout the summer people read, discussed, and celebrated Kogawa’s novel and explored the Japanese-Canadian experience in Canada.

That fall, Vancouver Opera launched “Naomi’s Road,” an opera for young people based on Kogawa’s children’s book, Naomi’s Road. The opera toured schools around the province, performed at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, and performed in other locations across Canada and into the United States.

Joy Kogawa also read passages from Obasan at the City Council meeting on November 3, 2005, when City Council declared its 120-day moratorium.[20] On November 26, 2005, she gathered with dignitaries at City Hall to plant a Kogawa cherry tree for honorary Joy Kogawa Cherry Tree Day.

Local, National, and Global Support

A significant effort was under way to generate outreach and donations. The effort went local, national, and global. A concert event organized in the Alice Mackay Room at the Central Library was covered by CTV and gained outreach that way.[21] There were newspaper articles in the Vancouver Sun and local MPs spoke out in support.

Joy Kogawa and Ann-Marie Metten were interviewed on CBC Radio on Boxing Day in 2005 and discussed their dreams for the house.[22] Joy Kogawa and Tamsin Baker of the Land Conservancy were interviewed on Global News, where Baker highlighted how the house would become a landmark for writers in Vancouver.[23]

Then Member of Parliament for Vancouver South Ujjal Dosanjh supported the fight in a press release directed to Heritage Minister Bev Oda, arguing that the house was to be preserved as a “reminder of a shameful episode in Canadian History.”[24] Dosanjh also referenced the writers-in-residence program as one that would have “significant cultural value.”[25]

Save Kogawa House Campaign materials - Photo by Todd Wong

Save Kogawa House Campaign materials by TLC. Image Credit: Todd Wong

Nationally, media coverage came from The Globe and Mail, The Tyee, and The National Post. A surprising element was the international support raised. Eva Rein, assistant lecturer for the Canadian Studies Program at the University of Tartu in Estonia, supported the fight with a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper that stated the following:

Joy Kogawa’s childhood home… is a site of the writer’s personal memory as well as literary, cultural and historical memory of Canada. Moreover, its significance extends far beyond Canada, as does that of her works.[26]
— Eva Rein, Assistant Lecturer, University of Tartu

However, none of this media attention would have been possible without the massive outreach campaign by the Save the Joy Kogawa House Committee, the Land Conservancy, and everyone else involved. They worked hard to highlight the importance of this rescue and spread word across Canada and internationally.

Tomsett Elementary

One of the most impactful moments came from a class of children. Grade 3 and Grade 4 classes from Richmond’s Tomsett Elementary School visited the home in early March 2006.[27] The students came to visit after a reading and literature review of Naomi’s Road inspired them to take part in the fight.[28] The students made drawings and wrote letters to then Mayor Sam Sullivan, joining the campaign to rescue the home.[29] Of this student contribution, Joy said the following:

I am deeply moved that these young children, responding to a book and the opera Naomi’s Road, have gathered donations to save the house and the cherry tree in the backyard. I wish to thank them and so many others for their action . . . These children are the future, and it is important for them to understand our past to ensure it doesn’t happen again.[30]
— Joy Kogawa

Joy Kogawa with students from Tomsett Elementary in Richmond at Kogawa House. Image Credit: Joan Young

Final Rescue

All these efforts combined to lead to the final rescue. By Spring 2006, the 120-day no-demolition moratorium was nearing deadline. The moratorium was extended another thirty days on March 15.[31] Yet the campaign had raised only $625,000 of the required $1.25 million. Then on April 25, a miracle happened. An anonymous $500,000 (later identified as then Senator Nancy Ruth) came in to complete the funds required and to everyone’s great relief the house was purchased.[32]

The efforts of individuals, the community, impassioned students, and individual outreach is what resulted in the home being available to generations future. It stands today as a symbol of the time and Canada’s troubled past, as a resource and educational opportunity for students to learn about the past, and as a home where writers-in-residence live and work as they contribute to Canadian literature. None of this would be possible without the passion of that grassroots committee. Those involved sought a measure of justice for Canada’s past, and it was the importance and impact of Joy’s literary works that made it so impactful.

About Nancy Ruth

Nancy Ruth is a feminist activist, philanthropist, and former Conservative Senator. The Kogawa bungalow in Marpole, Vancouver, was just days away from destruction in 2006, when Nancy Ruth donated $500,000 to TLC, The Land Conservancy of BC. Her donation enabled The Land Conservancy to buy the house and establish a writers’ residence.

Nancy Ruth’s gift was a tribute to Joy Kogawa and her work. Nancy Ruth remembers weeping at the pain of Obasan, Joy’s award-winning novel about the tragedy of the Second World War Internment of Japanese Canadians in British Columbia. Despite the pain she suffered, Kogawa retains a deep faith in humanity and a belief that reconciliation and hope are still possible, even in the face of terrible adversity. As such, she is an inspiration to writers in residence at Kogawa House.

How can you sit at a desk and look out at that cherry tree and not think from whence it came?
— Nancy Ruth

Nancy Ruth with Joy Kogawa. Photo by Todd Wong

In this picture, Senator Nancy Ruth and Joy Kogawa relax together following the April 28, 2008, event acknowledging Nancy Ruth as our anonymous donor. Image Credit: Todd Wong

 

[16] Gibson, “Moving Forward,” 33-34.

[17] Gibson, “Moving Forward,” 33-34.

[18] Todd Wong, “Can We Save the House? Can We Move the House?” October 19, 2005.

[19] Gibson, “Moving Forward,” 34.

[20] Gibson, “Moving Forward,” 35.

[21] Todd Wong, “Save Kogawa House Concert,” November 13, 2005.

[22] Historic Joy Kogawa House, “Interview with Joy Kogawa,” December 27, 2005.

[23] Todd Wong, “Global News: Interviews with Joy Kogawa and Tamsin Baker,” February 16, 2006.

[24] Ujjal Dosanjh, “UJJAL DOSANJH CALLS ON GOVERNMENT TO SAVE JOY KOGAWA HOUSE,” March 28, 2006.

[25] Dosanjh, “UJJAL DOSANJH CALLS ON GOVERNMENT TO SAVE JOY KOGAWA HOUSE.”

[26] Eva Rein, “Estonian Association for Canadian Studies Resolution Concerning Joy Kogawa House,” March 27, 2006.

[27] Rod Mickleburgh, “Out of the mouths of babes, a plea for Kogawa’s House,” The Globe and Mail, March 2, 2006.

[28] Mickleburgh, “Out of the mouths of babes.”

[29] Mickleburgh, “Out of the mouths of babes.”

[30] Mickleburgh, “Out of the mouths of babes.”

[31] Gibson, “Moving Forward,” 35.

[32] Gibson, “Moving Forward,” 35.