Backgrounder: Landscapes of Injustice


Project partners

The seven-year, multimillion-dollar research and public history project, Landscapes of Injustice, is led by the University of Victoria (UVic) and involves 15 other partner institutions from across Canada: 

  • Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21
  • Canadian Immigration History Society
  • Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre (JCCC)
  • Land Title and Survey Authority of British Columbia (LTSA)
  • Library and Archives Canada (LAC)
  • National Association of Japanese Canadians (NAJC)
  • Nikkei National Museum & Cultural Centre (NNMCC)
  • OAH/JAAS Historians’ Collaborative Committee
  • Royal British Columbia Museum
  • Ryerson University
  • Simon Fraser University
  • University of Alberta
  • University of Winnipeg
  • Urban History Association
  • Vancouver Japanese Language School & Japanese Hall

The project has benefited from the contributions of a research collective consisting of over 100 members from universities, community organizations and museums. 

One of the largest humanities-based research projects in Canada today, it is based on the UVic campus at the Centre for Asia-Pacific Initiatives and brings together researchers in two faculties at UVic—humanities and social sciences. 

The exhibition showcases the personal histories of people from seven families out of the 22,000 displaced Canadians who were interned during the Second World War. 

See further below for more on their stories. 

Educational resources

The project team also designed an educational module that has already been used in 30 classrooms in Vancouver, Coquitlam, Toronto and other districts. 

In 2019, it launched a field school that gave teachers from across Canada opportunity to visit former internment sites and learn the full history of dispossession. 

New this week are additional resources for secondary school teachers, available now online. 

Project phases

The first four years of the project (2014 to 2017) comprised the research phase, which included traditional archival historical research combined with extensive real-estate title searches, oral history interviews and geo-visual mapping. This phase focused on four locations—Powell Street in downtown Vancouver; Steveston and Maple Ridge, also in the Lower Mainland of BC; and Salt Spring Island near Victoria. 

The second phase of the project (2018 to 2021) involves the national and regional museum exhibitions revealed today, the narrative-based website and a virtual tour soon to be available online of the opening exhibition at NNMCC, as well as the teaching resources for elementary and secondary school instructors. 

Community consultations

“Broken Promises” is the product of a new, highly innovative way of learning and teaching a history of injustice that enables those with lived experiences to tell their own stories in a way that speaks to a broader, collective history. 

In addition to conducting regular meetings with a community council comprised of Japanese Canadians from across the country, the Landscapes of Injustice team also worked closely with survivors and descendants of the dispossessed, sharing individual case files and generating over 100 new oral histories over years of consultation and relationship building. 

Grounded by community-based knowledge and priorities, the process behind this exhibit is unique for placing community-based sources alongside official government records, bringing research findings into dialogue with community concerns and reflections in the exhibit-making process. 

Seven families

The exhibit announced today frames seven distinct stories out of thousands of family histories impacted for generations by forced displacement and dispossession of Japanese Canadians in the 1940s. 

Kaoru Atagi

Kaoru Atagi (b.1912) grew up in Steveston, a thriving fishing town. He watched his father, Tsunematsu, fish in the summers and build boats in the winters. The Atagi Boatworks opened in 1905. Atagi understood that one day it would be his. The family remembers his father as a master of his craft. “It was amazing what he could do with those tools.” 

Eikichi Kagetsu

Eikichi Kagetsu (b.1883), an immigrant labourer, slowly built a logging empire on Vancouver Island. He became a community leader. In 1936, he laid a wreath for fallen Japanese Canadian soldiers at Vimy Ridge, France. Kagetsu’s wealth was hard-won. “The tree trunk can be my pillow,” he wrote in his diary, “while I go into the woods to survey the trees.” 

Teiji Morishita

Vancouver's Ebisuzaki Shoten, or store, served Japanese Canadians across coastal BC. Its motto was "Thin profit, thick trust." Born in 1903, Teiji Morishita owned the story with his older sister, Hide Ebisuzaki, and her husband, Masataro. All lived and worked together. Morishita's daughter remembers it as a "crazy" busy home, a "big house with lots of people in it." 

Keiko Mary Murakami

When the British King and Queen visited Victoria in 1939, they were served Murakami strawberries. The farm, on Salt Spring Island, was cleared by Keiko Mary Murakami’s father. He used dynamite on the largest stumps and built their home by hand. For Murakami (b.1937), it was an “ideal” childhood of comfort. “We were free to roam.” 

Hiroshi Okuda

Hiroshi Okuda (b.1914) inspired his Cumberland classmates with his sportsmanship. A letterman athlete at school and a varsity player at the University of British Columbia, he continued to shine. Okuda earned two degrees before becoming an accountant in the 1940s. 

Masue Tagashira

Masue Tagashira (b. 1908) was an immigrant mother widowed by a logging accident in 1933. Her mother urged Tagashira and her two children to return to Japan. Instead, Tagashira stayed, telling herself, “I’m struggling now, but someday the springtime of my life will come. Then I can smile.” For years, she worked at Vancouver’s Tagashira tobacco and candy shop. In the Powell Street neighborhood, she met her future husband, Rinkinchi. 

Tsuma Tonomura

Tsuma Tonomura’s (b.1898) mother died when she was 10. She lost contact with her father. With few opportunities in Japan, she married a Canadian, Moichiro Tonomura. In 1928, she joined the Tonomura clan, the first Japanese Canadian farmers in Mission, a rich plain near Vancouver. She cooked for everyone. Steaming sukiyaki, a Japanese hotpot, was a family favourite. 

Find out more

< Back to Release

In this story

Keywords: racism, history, community, administrative, student life

People: Jordan Stanger-Ross

Related stories