The Internment Era Field School

Nathaniel looking at the view

"The natural scenes pulled me into a state of… awe at their pristine beauty, but always in the back of my mind, an irreconcilable truth stirred: for Japanese Canadians, this was a prison." - Nathaniel, student

Cedar shack wall

"When I see the cracks on these walls and imagine how the wind whistled, how residents woke up to ice in their water buckets, I feel an urge to close my eyes.” – Jennifer, student

Fenced field

"At first glance, there is no vivid evidence that this fenced area was once an internment camp… Jean and I searched for her grandmother’s home. As soon as she discovered it a memory came flooding back of running along the gravel path to the house to go to the bathhouse to swim." - Lindsey, teacher

In July 2019, ten students and ten elementary and secondary school teachers traveled alongside members of the Japanese Canadian community on Nikkei National Museum’s bus tour as part of UVic’s Landscapes of Injustice internment era field school. Their photos and insights from this immersive experience illustrate just how powerful it was.

In 1942 the Canadian government uprooted over 21,000 people of Japanese ancestry from coastal British Columbia. The internment was accompanied by widespread dispossession—loss of property and possessions—which is documented in 15,000 case files and tens of thousands of transactional records. These large numbers convey the scale of the injustices, but not the personal hardships experienced by those uprooted from their home and belongings. The field school—which is open to both students and practicing elementary and secondary school teachers—is the first course dedicated to this aspect of Canadian history. Donations subsidized the costs of the field school, minimizing barriers for those wanting to participate in this unique educational experience.

One of the donors was the Frank H. Hori Charitable Foundation, established by the late Frank Hori. Frank grew up on Powell Street in Vancouver, BC where his family were merchants, but in 1942 the family was sent to Slocan Internment Camp, where over 500 Japanese Canadians were housed in abandoned buildings and mine houses. For two years Frank attended a makeshift school. Eventually the family relocated to Regina, and Frank went on to attend McGill University and establish a successful career.

Dr. Jordan Stanger-Ross, the Director of the Landscapes of Injustice Project and creator of the field school, says this donation from the Frank Hori Foundation is a vital contribution to ensuring the history of Japanese Canadian internment and dispossession reaches students today.

Field school participants stand by the bus
Field school participants stand by the bus

Before the field school, graduate student Nathaniel Hayes spent months digitizing custodian case files and transcribing oral histories as a research assistant on the Landscapes of Injustice project.

Having the opportunity to visit these sites of internment showed me that this history is real. It happened right here in BC. But what had the biggest impact on me was hearing first-hand stories from the Japanese Canadian community members. - Nathaniel Hayes

Nathaniel recalls one participant locating the empty field where their house once stood. As they returned to the bus, that person was visibly moved, which in turn affected him. The bus journeys from sites were often marked by quiet contemplation. But at other times, touring the sites with former internees and their family members allowed for rich interactions.

A small shack at the museum in New Denver
An original building at the Nikkei Internment Memorial Centre in New Denver 

Jennifer Landrey, then an undergraduate student, worked on the Landscapes of Injustice project as the Frank H. Hori Fellow. During the field school she met some of the interviewees whose oral histories she had transcribed. She remembers that, while touring the memorial centre in New Denver, a museum staff asked a woman named Kimiko, “You think you lived in one of our shacks?” and Kimiko replied, “I know I lived there.”   

Touring the Kootenays with both my peers and elders is one of the most enriching learning experiences I have had during my academic career, one filled with fruitful conversations and shared learning that could not have happened in a regular course. It’s an important part of Canadian history, and I’m glad I had the opportunity to take my theory from the classroom out to these real places. - Jennifer Landrey

The second half of the field school built on these learnings through an intensive week of seminars held at the University of Victoria, a group project and personal assignment. For their group project, Nathaniel, Jennifer and fellow group member Natsuki Abe created a choose-your-own-adventure educational game that puts today’s young learners in the shoes of the children who were uprooted, developing their historical empathy and understanding of concepts of racism and human rights. The group won the Peter Liddell Award in Humanities Computing scholarship for this project.

After the field school, many of the students have maintained a focus on Japanese Canadian history in their academic research. They are inspired to unravel and share these formerly untold stories, believing in a central premise of the Landscapes of Injustice project—that through recognizing and confronting this aspect of their past, Canadians will be better equipped to deal with the injustices of the present and future.

The bus tour group stand by the memorial plaque in East Lillooet
Participants on the tour stand by the memorial plaque at East Lillooet

Teachers who participated, like Roxanne Charlebois, are also committed to take this experience forward.

It was really humbling to hear history from the people that have lived it. It gives a whole other perspective on the subject matter. I definitely wanted to learn more, and bring back that learning to Quebec teachers so that they can teach it to their students. - Roxanne Charlebois

Dr. Stanger-Ross hoped for these outcomes when he created the field school, which is why he’s grateful that donors like the Frank Hori Foundation made the school more affordable and accessible.

This history remains relevant to young people growing up in a world still grappling with racism, but students need instructors who can teach it the right way. The graduates of our field school—teachers from across Canada—are equipped to tell this history with passion, sensitivity, and precision. Thank you so much to the foundation for helping to make this dream a reality.