Hidden history of Japantown

japantownposter1Perhaps the most remarkable feature of Vancouver’s Japantown, the neighbourhood centred on Oppenheimer Park, is it’s stubborn refusal to die. A Japantown Multicultural Neighbourhood Celebration celebrates that fact March 28 with a day-long program of cultural events and public forums that “reflect upon the journeys of the past, the diversity of the present and the promise of the future.”

In November 1941, the Interurban trams that trundled along Powell St. to Burnaby passed through a community of 5,000, with a full range of stores, three daily papers and a vital community life that spanned the political spectrum. In Vancouver and Steveston, the Japanese Canadians had their own hospitals. Stanley Park held the memorial to the Japanese Canadians who formed their own regiment in the First World War, suffering up to 90 percent casualties at Vimy.

In the wake of Pearl Harbour, this 60-year-old community was utterly destroyed. Between December 1941 and April 1942, every single property and home except one — the Japanese Language School on Alexander St. —- was seized and its owners or residents deported to internment camps. Every boat, car, truck, piece of furniture and all but 150 pounds per person of personal effects was expropriated and then sold or destroyed.

Despite this Canadian act of apartheid, the community persists, albeit in very different form. On March 28, I’ll be leading a walking tour, with my friend Lorene Oikawa, of the labour history sites that dot the neighbourhood. The research for this little project has given me a fascinating glimpse of our city’s past. Join us at Chapel Arts at Powell and Dunlevy at 10 a.m.

More details of the rest of the day’s events can be found here.