Hundreds recall sacrifice of Japanese Canadian soldiers

November 11 Remembrance Day ceremony at the Japanese Canadian War Memorial in Stanley Park.

November 11 Remembrance Day ceremony at the Japanese Canadian War Memorial in Stanley Park.

It was my privilege today to lay the city’s wreath at the Japanese Canadian War Memorial in Stanley Park, where several hundred gathered to pay tribute to men who died hoping their sacrifice would win them the right to vote.

The Japanese Canadian Memorial is ringed with shields bearing the names of some of the worst battles of the First World War, including Vimy Ridge. The heroic actions of the JC soldiers in these years were recalled by Pierre Berton in his book Vimy, perhaps the finest of his works on Canadian history.

But I hadn’t known until today, standing by the memorial with community historian and writer Stanley Fukawa, that the JC volunteers from BC had been unable to enlist in this province. They marched, paraded and trained, hoping that their demonstrations of patriotism would win public sympathy for giving them the vote. They were ignored. (Less than a decade earlier, they had been forced to defend their Powell St. community from a racist mob.)

Undeterred, they travelled to Alberta, then short of its quota of volunteers, and won admission to the war in that province. Renowned for their devastating trench raids and unflinching courage, they suffered very heavy casualties. Their community did not win the vote until after the Second World War, during which their families were uprooted and dispersed after Pearl Harbour.

Of all those who deserve thanks for fighting to advance human rights in Canada, surely the Japanese Canadian community must be in the front rank.

The Canadian Japanese Volunteer Corps in Vancouver, about 1916. The volunteers had to travel to Alberta to enlist and suffered heavy casualties in the trenches. They hoped their sacrifice would win them the vote.

The Canadian Japanese Volunteer Corps in Vancouver, about 1916. The volunteers had to travel to Alberta to enlist and suffered heavy casualties in the trenches. They hoped their sacrifice would win them the vote. UBC photo.