Saving the Kogawa House: Background

Joy and Tim in front of the house circa 1938

Joy Kogawa with her brother Timothy in front of the house, circa 1938.

Japanese Canadian Community

Historic Joy Kogawa House is situated on the North Arm of the Fraser River in the Marpole area of Vancouver.

Japanese Canadian communities had settled here since the 1910s when the Eburne Sawmill was built, and by the 1920s, fishermen and boat builders who worked at Sea Island had joined the community.[1] By the 1940s, the community had grown quite large and included many businesses, schools, temples, and much more.[2]

A strong sense of community brought people together to continuously work for the benefit of everyone involved.

Discrimination and Racism

Meanwhile, discrimination from outside presented itself in many ways, including through racism directed at Japanese Canadian students at David Lloyd George Elementary. Joy Kogawa attended the school in her primary year and describes how she felt at school.[3]

People would look at us in a kind of unpleasant way… we were being looked down on for some reason.”[4]
— Joy Kogawa

One act of racial discrimination came when the school decided to segregate Japanese kindergarten students into a separate building.[5] To counter this, a Kindergarten was set up at nearby St. Augustine’s Anglican Church. Children’s education was extremely important to Japanese parents.[6] Those in the community supported each other to the best of their ability.

Grade 1 class, David Lloyd George Elementary, 1941

Grade 1 class, David Lloyd George Elementary, 1941. Joy Kogawa stands next to the teacher in the second row. Image Credit: Kogawa House Archives

Internment

Discrimination would unfortunately reach a peak when Canada declared war on Japan following the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Internment was implemented for Japanese Canadians, who were now defined as enemy aliens. Robbed of their Canadian citizenship, a total of 21,640 Japanese Canadians were uprooted from British Columbia’s coast.[7] Their property was appropriated and sold off to pay for resettlement in abandoned ghost towns and hastily built internment camps in the interior of the province.[8]

 

Joy Kogawa and her family were forced out of their home in Marpole. The family was moved to the Bay Farm Internment Camp at Slocan in the shadow of the Selkirk Mountains. The Marpole community reacted against this removal. In their local paper, the Marpole-Richmond Review, they question the plans of the government and the negative treatment towards Japanese Canadians.

People’s homes were stolen, and the outcry was completely ignored. Most would never be able to return home again.

Fathers, husbands, brothers being removed each day; livelihood and means of sustenance going and gone; ordered to ‘leave the protected area forthwith’ and yet ordered to ‘remain quietly in their homes,’ forbidden to stir into the street after dusk on penalty of six months at hard labor; automobiles, radios, camera confiscated – the 20,000 feel the heavier blows of war every hour.
— Marpole-Richmond Review,
April 1, 1942[9]

[1] Masako Fukawa, “The Japanese Canadian Community in Marpole,” March 2016.

[2] Fukawa, “Japanese Canadian Community.”

[3] Historic Joy Kogawa House, “Joy’s Journey.”

[4] Historic Joy Kogawa House, “Joy’s Journey.”

[5] Fukawa, “Japanese Canadian Community.”

[6] Fukawa, “Japanese Canadian Community.”

[7] Landscapes of Injustice, “The Dispossession of Japanese Canadians,” 2019.

[8] Landscapes of Injustice, “The Dispossession.”

[9] Lorraine Graves, “Snippets from the Marpole-Richmond Review, March 11, 1942,” Richmond Sentinel, May 9, 2017.