Building bridges: Far from home


- Jenny Manzer

A group of students and teachers from the Landscapes of Injustice Field School visit the site of a former internment camp in Lillooet, BC. Credit: Margaret Yahiro

Students at a new field school learn by visiting the sites where Japanese Canadians were held in internment camps during the Second World War.

One July evening in 1942, as a war raged around the world, a little Canadian boy went for a swim in Slocan Lake with some friends. The nine-year-old had only recently arrived from Vancouver and was new to the Slocan Valley. Tragically, the boy drowned. His name was Takeo Kinoshita. He was one of the 22,000 Japanese Canadians forcibly uprooted from the coast, most ending up in internment camps from 1942 to 1946. Unable to return to the coast until 1949, they had their homes and possessions sold against their will in the name of national security.

Young Takeo’s story is just one that students might discover at “Canada’s Internment Era: A Field School,” a new opportunity that combines hands-on-learning at the former sites of internment camps with on-campus work and collaboration. The school starts with a week of bus travel, including stops at Hastings Park (once a detainment and processing centre for Japanese Canadians) and former internment and self-supporting sites such as Tashme, Greenwood, Lemon Creek, New Denver, Kaslo and East Lillooet.

The group of adult learners is met at each location by experts in the area, often Japanese Canadians with personal knowledge of internment. After the tour, the field school continues on the UVic campus with group work on creative projects, such as developing a “choose your own adventure” game for elementary students to teach them about the era.

The field school is a collaboration between the National Nikkei Museum in Burnaby and University of Victoria’s Landscapes of Injustice, an ambitious seven-year multi-partner research project that seeks to develop education materials; both narrative and digital-archive websites; oral narratives and a touring museum exhibit.

Mike Abe, Project Manager for Landscapes of Injustice, attended the field school with his daughter, Natsuki, a UVic History student, and his great aunt, Kimiko Yamada. His family had been interned at Lemon Creek in the Slocan Valley, and during the tour he saw, for the first time, where the ashes of his great grandfather, Takejiro Toyota, were buried.

When viewing the livestock pens at Hastings Park (home to the Pacific National Exhibition in Vancouver), his great aunt suddenly remembered being there, at age three, when it was used as a processing centre. She’d thought her family was going to the zoo, but then realized it was where they would sleep. Abe says Landscapes of Injustice has been able to connect participants who had experienced internment with their own digital records, since thousands of them have been collected and archived as part of their work.

Kaitlin Findlay (MA ’18), research coordinator for Landscapes of Injustice, says during the field school she was struck by how isolated the camps were, surrounded by mountains and wilderness: “People lived in shacks in a field for years.” She’d seen many photographs of the camps, but being there was different.

The new field school, started in 2019, built on an existing tour offered by the National Nikkei Museum, adding the week-long campus component led by UVic’s Jordan Stanger-Ross, an associate professor of history. It will be offered again in 2021 and 2022 with 50 spaces for teachers from across Canada, community members and UVic students. The upcoming final years of Landscapes of Injustice project will see their narrative and digital archive websites launched. The museum tour started in August at the Nikkei National Museum and will end at Victoria’s Royal BC Museum in early 2022.

Takeo Kinoshita is buried in a cemetery in the Slocan Valley. Findlay says the Nikkei National Museum staff brought a new marker along with them, a memorial for those who died at an internment camp, including Takeo.

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In this story

Keywords: alumni, field schools, racism, war, community, human rights, immigration

People: Mike Abe, Natsuki Abe, Kaitlin Findlay, Jordan Stanger-Ross

Publication: The Torch

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