Presentation by Todd Wong to Vancouver City Council’s Standing Committee on Planning and Environment
November 3rd, 2005

Hello Council members and guests.

Thank you for receiving our request for a delay of demolition  for 1450 West 64th Ave, known as “Kogawa House.”

Thank you also to council for attending the Joy Kogawa Cherry Tree planting and ceremony that took place here on Tuesday.

Save Kogawa House Committee is a local and national advocacy committee in existence for two years since Kogawa House first came on the market.

We also thank the owner and representative, for working together with us to seek a peaceful resolution and a win, win, win situation for all parties involved.  The current owner of the house, the Save Kogawa House committee, and the citizens of Vancouver, and throughout Canada.

It is our vision to purchase the house from its current owner and transform it into a writers-in-residence centre, to give writers a taste of Vancouver’s multicultural diversity.  This will give special attention to writers of conscience, who can address human rights issues like those that removed Joy and her family away from their home to internment camps for the Japanese Canadians.

I am 5th Generation Vancouverite, my family has lived in Vancouver for 7 generations.  We suffered the racism of early Vancouver, and paid the Chinese head tax, clustered in Chinatown for protection.   After the Japanese Canadians were interned in camps, we were all afraid that what happened to the Japanese-Canadians, could happen to the Chinese too!  The experience shaped our Asian-Canadian pioneer communities, and we tried to be good Canadians, to integrate, and not cause trouble.

As I grew up in Vancouver, I have always related to the Japanese Canadian experience as a shared Asian Canadian experience, due to racism that lumped all Asians together.  But as my family intermarried into the many other ethnicities of Vancouver, I have come to understand that as Canadians, we are no longer two solitudes of English and French, but inclusive of Scottish, Irish, First Nations, Chinese, South Asian and Japanese culture.  Nor are we solitudes at all, but one family that is intermarried to each diverse immigrant group.

Kogawa House is not a Japanese Canadian issue.  It is a Canadian issue.  Kogawa House is not just a Japanese-Canadian Internment Redress issue, it is a literary legacy for all Canadians.  By truly embracing the stories of Joy Kogawa’s works and the story of Kogawa House, we can truly say “never again” to a sorry episode in Canada’s history.

I was on the inaugural committee for the Vancouver Public Library’s One Book One Vancouver program, that introduced Vancouverites to Wayson Choy’s “The Jade Peony”  The program made the book come alive through many programs and events from May to September.

Since January of this year, I have been enthused by the idea that Obasan could be the 2005 choice.  I wrote an article citing 20 reasons why Obasan was the best choice including:

1) Roy Miki stating that Obasan is the most important book written to understanding the Japanese Canadian experience;
2) that Quill and Quire named Obasan one of the most influential Canadian works of fiction;
3) that Joy was born in Vancouver and received the Order of Canada in 1986.

Obasan is a book that every Vancouverite should read.

In September, Asian Canadian Writers’ Workshop hosted the Ricepaper Magazine 10th Anniversary Dinner, attended by councillors Roberts, Woodsworth, and Sullivan.  And we celebrated Joy with a Community Builders’ Award.

Joy is an author that every community should be so lucky to have.

I attended the Vancouver Opera world premiere of Naomi’s Road.  It brought tears to my eyes, and I wrote a review.  It is the story of two young children who were separate by their parents.  Their aunt takes them on a vacation, and while on the train, they come to the understanding that it isn’t a vacation at all – they are going to an internment camp.  During the next 3 years, they will be branded enemy aliens, and they will never see their home again.

Naomi’s Road is an opera that every Vancouverite should see.

We would like to demonstrate our vision for Kogawa House, as a vision for Vancouver, and for Canada.  We will share with you how we will do this, and how writers and Canadians across Canada feel about this, and we hope to touch your hearts and inspire joy in your lives for this city we love. I hope that we can say that Vancouver loves this book so much that we bought the house and we saved it.

Thank you.

Oh – one more thing….

Just as I arrived at City Hall today, house genealogist James Johnstone gave me a house history of Kogawa House.  He just decided to do this two days ago.  He found that it is one of the oldest houses in Marpole, and lists all the owners to present.  This is just one of the examples of how much this book and this house have moved people.

Thank you.

In the above image: Rev. Tim Nakayama, Prof Roy Miki, Joy Kogawa and Todd Wong at the One Book One Vancouver launch May 24