Valemount Community Album
The first known Japanese immigrant arrived in Canada in 1877. The majority of Japanese immigrants arrived in Canada at the beginning of the twentieth century, leaving farms and fishing villages in Japan to settle on the West Coast of Canada in small fishing villages and farming areas. They did well, understanding the sea already and adapting to Canadian farming methods. The Japanese communities grew strong in places such as Steveston. Japanese immigrants did experience continuing racism, being combined with the Chinese Canadians and typified as the "yellow peril!"
When the nation of Japan entered World War II on December 7, 1941 as an opponent of the Western powers, racial tensions increased. The Government of Canada was pressured by commercial and community leaders to remove Japanese Canadians from the West Coast, confiscate their property and incarcerate them in work camps. The War Measures Act was used to displace more than 21,000 Japanese Canadians. Minister of National Defence J.L. Ralston, on February 2, 1942, moved to classify all Japanese resident in Canada as "Enemy Aliens". He required that every male between the age of eighteen and forty-five be removed from the Coast by April 1st and sent at least one hundred miles inland. Some went to small West Kootenay communities such as Slocan, Rosebery, New Denver, Salmo and Sandon. Others were removed to Invermere and other East Kootenay towns.
In the initial stages of relocation many families were dislocated and the men were dispatched to Road Camps to perform construction work on mountain roads. The camps at Rainbow, Lempriere, Lucerne, Tete Jaune Cache, Albreda, Red Pass and near Valemount were all Road Camps. Nearly 250 Japanese Canadian men were placed in the area. They worked on upgrading abandoned railway bed into a truck road and building bridges. Some 40 km of new road was also constructed.
All the original property owned by the Japanese Canadians - fishing boats, trucks, homes, etc. - was confiscated and sold at auction to defray "relocation costs." Wages were paid to the Japanese labourers in the camps at 25¢ an hour, ranging to 35¢ an hour for skilled carpenters. They were charged 25¢ a meal and $1 a month for medical.
Perhaps the most notable feature of this dark situation were the incredible gardens and teahouses constructed in the camps by Japanese workers on their own time. They crafted environments of contemplative beauty and injected colour into the drab circumstances of their camp life. It is a paen to the deep wellspring of human hopefulness that these men, not knowing how long they might be confined to their labour camps, quickly chose to create and craft a scene of hope. It was a well-intentioned promise to the rich multi-cultural future of Canada.