Post WWII and the 2003 Campaign

After internment, Joy Kogawa longed to return to the Marpole house. In a 1991 article published in the Vancouver Sun, reporter Mia Stainsby describes a scene where Joy is given permission by then owners to enter her former home. Joy expresses her hopes as a child that her parents would one day be able to buy back the house. Joy even wrote letters to the owners but never received a response.

Returning to Marpole

In August 2003, Joy Kogawa drove through the Marpole neighbourhood during a visit to the city from her home in Toronto. When she spotted her family’s old home, there was a For Sale sign in front.[10] Her old hopes were reignited, and along with her friends and colleagues, she spoke to the real estate agent about organizing a public reading in the house.

Out of that event the Kogawa Homestead Committee was created to fundraise and generate awareness across Canada.[11]

It was a wonderful home. Opulent. Full of gifts and lots of people around. I had lots and lots of toys and tons of books. We didn’t have books after that, and I missed them badly. Seeing the house reminds me of the sadness and the years when I wanted to go back home so badly.
Joy Kogawa, 1991

Kogawa Homestead Committee

The Kogawa Homestead Committee worked to acquire safeguards and asked the City of Vancouver to declare the home a heritage site.[12] They set up a website (kogawa.homestead.com), fundraised and sent press releases to newspapers and magazines across Canada. Unfortunately, the campaign failed to gather the necessary funds, and the house was sold to an individual who hoped to use it as a rental property.[13]

December 2003 Newspaper Clipping

Thinking it had failed, the Committee changed focus to the cherry tree behind the house. They propagated grafts to grow on as saplings for planting around the City, including at City Hall. Joy Kogawa began to write a picture book about the tree, later published as Naomi’s Tree.

The Committee went into hiatus when its wish to have the property designated as a heritage site did not materialize; instead, as it turns out, Heritage staff added a note to the property file to contact the committee if any request for demolition came through.

City Heritage staff also intervened when the owner began to renovate and removed original wood windows from the front façade. Windows were rushed off to storage at Nikkei National Museum and Cultural Centre in Burnaby and the owner agreed to hold off on further renovations for the time being.

The Kogawa Homestead Committee was now willing to wait as they intended to purchase the home later should it ever go on sale.[14]

Obasan’s Home

A December 22, 2003 Maclean’s article titled “That’s Obasan’s Home” highlights the goals of preserving the home and quotes then Kogawa Homestead Committee member Linda Ohama who points out the home’s symbolic importance, “Joy has brought that whole subject of what happened to the Japanese Canadians to the forefront in her literary work. So the house is a symbol – not only for Joy, but I think for our whole community – that our history makes it important enough to be saved for future reference.”[15]

The awareness generated would become crucial when the campaign was reignited in 2005.

The house is a symbol – not only for Joy, but I think for our whole community – that our history makes it important enough to be saved for future reference.
Linda Ohama, Kogawa Homestead Committee

[10] Gregory Dean Gibson, “Moving Forward: The ‘Save the Kogawa House’ Campaign and Reconciliatory Politics in Canada,” Electronic Theses and Dissertations University of British Columbia, 30.

[11] Gibson, “Moving Forward,” 30.

[12] Gibson, “Moving Forward,” 31.

[13] Gibson, “Moving Forward,” 31.

[14] Gibson, “Moving Forward,” 32.

[15] Barbara Wickens, “That’s Obasan’s Home,” Macleans, December 22, 2003, 36.