Japanese camp unearthed in North Shore mountains was likely an escape from racism, until internment intervened

Interesting part of our history:

Hidden away in British Columbia’s North Shore mountains are the remnants of a Japanese-Canadian logging camp, shrouded by forest and veiled from memory after it was apparently abandoned because of internment during the Second World War.

Since 2004, Vancouver archeologist Bob Muckle has been visiting and excavating the site; almost everything had been swallowed by the forest and has been gradually and carefully uncovered. There are as many questions as answers, still, but Muckle has a theory that it was an oasis of Japanese culture, on the fringe of Vancouver, decades ago, that was heretofore unknown.

Sherri Kajiwara of the Nikkei National Museum in Burnaby, B.C. says there is no record, yet, of anyone remembering living there, or remembering that their ancestors resided there, although there were plenty of Japanese-Canadians in Canada at the time.

“By the 1940s the community was very established and spread across metro Vancouver and the province,” Kajiwara said.

More than 1,000 artifacts have been collected at the site, researchers say.Bob Muckle

Her museum is putting together an exhibit about the history of Japanese-Canadian internment, and one of the main characters is Eikichi Kagetsu, a successful businessman who had logging rights in the area where Muckle found a settlement.

Muckle’s involvement with the camp began as a search for an area where he could teach his Capilano University students about proper excavation. He found one, a logging camp, by the looks of it, since there were bits of saw blades around. But, the excavation soon revealed it “was not really a typical logging camp at all.”

A typical camp, Muckle explained, would have bunk houses and a mess hall for the men working there. This one has 14 locations that were, to Muckle’s eyes, houses. There is also evidence of a shrine, a garden space and a water reservoir system.

“The most significant find is evidence of what may be a Japanese bathhouse,” Muckle noted. “Very few bathhouses have been excavated outside of Japan.”

Though he doesn’t “have the smoking gun yet,” Muckle’s hypothesis about the origin and life of the camp is that Japanese-Canadians moved to the logging camp around 1918, and remained there even after logging activity ceased. He was most recently on-site for several weeks in May and June.

“In the Vancouver area, where we are, in the 1920s and ’30s there was pretty explicit racism against both Chinese and Japanese, so this would’ve been an escape from that.”

Here they lived, with the men commuting into Vancouver for work, Muckle suspects, until February 1942, when they would have left for internment camps, a policy put in place during the Second World War that relocated families from the B.C. coast.

The evidence for the timing, and reason, for the camp’s abandonment, even in the absence of clear artifacts from the 1940s, is that the departure seems to have been reasonably orderly. Everyone there just walked away, leaving behind clocks, watches, pocketknives, dishes and stoves. There are about 1,000 artifacts in total: beer bottles and teapot pieces and evaporated milk cans, suggesting the presence of children.

“I think (internment) explains why we have so many personal items left behind,” Muckle said. “The dishes tend to be in really good condition, which you wouldn’t expect if people were normally abandoning their site.”

And, some items were hidden, such as a valuable stove secreted away off-site and parts of an early-1900s camera that were inside the walls of the bathhouse.

“I’m thinking this is probably my last season there,” he said. “I’m going through the process right now of figuring out what’s going to happen to all the artifacts.”

Certaintly, some of them are going to go to Kajiwara’s museum. For her part, she’s heard from a number of people about the settlement, as it has received more press, including someone from Japan. “It’s really been quite remarkable that the word has gone out sort of far and wide,” she said. “We’re starting to slowly collect names.”

“That whole generation really didn’t talk about the experience for decades and it’s only now, it’s only recently, that the stories have started to be revealed or shared,” she said. “It will be interesting to see if we can track down any of the descendants.”

Source: Japanese camp unearthed in North Shore mountains was likely an escape from racism, until internment intervened

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: