Three hundred letters reveal stories of dispossession in 1940s

Landscapes of Injustice

Vancouver resident Judy Hanazawa’s life began in 1947, in the shadows of her Japanese Canadian family’s internment and dispossession during the Second World War.

Born in Merritt soon after her parents and sisters left their internment site at nearby Bridge River in BC’s interior, Hanazawa, now 70, knew little about her family’s experience in the camp.

After the war, Hanazawa’s father returned to work as a commercial fisherman. She grew up in Vancouver, going onto university to become a social worker and human rights advocate, determined the wartime treatment of 22,000 Japanese Canadians would never be repeated.

300 letters of protest

Now, a discovery by UVic humanities researchers is helping give Hanazawa some of her family’s history back.

Some 300 forgotten letters of protest from Japanese Canadians whose homes, belongings and businesses were sold have been uncovered as part of the seven-year, multi-partner, multi-million dollar Landscapes of Injustice project led by UVic.

Hanazawa’s father wrote one of the letters, disputing the $14.68 he received in compensation for the unauthorized sale of cherished family possessions including Hanazawa’s mother’s sewing machine and Japanese doll.

“I’m proud of what he did,” Hanazawa said. “There was so little my parents spoke openly about so I appreciate this letter very much.”

Important lessons from the past

Project leader Jordan Stanger-Ross, an associate professor in UVic’s history department, came across the letters while researching at Library and Archives Canada. He said federal officials ignored the letters 75 years ago, and then they were forgotten.

“I’ve never encountered an historical source quite like these letters,” Stanger-Ross said. “While many in Canada today know that Japanese Canadians were interned, too few realize that the Canadian government—unlike that of the United States—seized and sold all their possessions.”

Stanger-Ross said the forced sales occurred from 1943 to 1950, with Japanese Canadians losing everything they owned.

Read more in The Ring or read the news release