Japanese-Canadian detainee tells council of Hastings Park’s darkest hours

The marathon council hearing into the proposed new Master Plan for Hastings Park, which will continue for at least another night, was sent back in time Tuesday night by the first-person testimony of Mary Kitigawa, who was interned in the Hastings Park livestock barns as a seven-year-old in the spring of 1942.

Kitigawa, her mother and four siblings were living with their father on their “immaculately clean” Saltspring Island farm when Canada began the infamous internment of Japanese Canadians in the wake of Pearl Harbour.

Her father was arrested by RCMP officers and taken away in the back of a pick-up truck “like a common criminal,” she told council, while the rest of the family, with children ranging in age from one and a half to 13 years, were taken with their mother to Hastings Park. Her mother was allowed two suitcases, each child only one.

At Hastings Park they were kept in horse stalls for a month, suffocating in the stench of urine and feces from the countless animals that had proceeded them. Mattresses were simply bags stuffed with straw. Their latrines were rough boards rigged over a ditch without screening. There was no privacy.

“We were fed in the poultry section at rough tables with tin plates,” Kitigawa recalled, “and our hair, skin and clothes were soon permeated with the stench of urine and feces. We were surrounded by barbed wire and guarded by RCMP.”

Boys over the age of 12 were later separated from women and girls and held in a nearby building with all other men, whether or not they had relatives or siblings in the group. Even her grandparents were separated.

“Even today I cannot go near the barns, the memory of having to live there is still too painful . . . I lived there for a month.”

Kitigawa was speaking in support of Judy Hanazawa, who spoke of the Japanese community’s conviction that much more must be done in the renewed Hastings Park to keep alive the memory of what must have been the park’s darkest hours.