Harold Miwa

Around February of 1942, there was a knock on the door and some men, some Mounties I guess, they took my father away… Not just my father, but a lot of the fathers. We didn’t know where he was. We found out where my father was eventually, because he wrote a letter. And he was way up in BC/Alberta border, up north somewhere in the road camp…. So in the meantime, we moved to Hastings Park. It was all the Japanese from Paldi, from Duncan, from Chemainus, all that area (on Vancouver Island). We all went on the same boat and went to Hastings Park. Maybe there were about 15 families I guess.

All the women and children and the boys under 13 years old were in one building. That was the livestock building. The worst one of the buildings, because they used to use it for horse racing, a lot of horses were kept in there. Boys 13 to 18 were in another building. And 18 and over, the men were in another building.

We were all teenagers right, from 13 to 18. Actually, it was an adventure, ha ha. You know, when you are 13 years old you’re not worried about too many things. Of course my parents were I guess. So while we were in there, it must have been about July, end of July… I see a man coming in from, walking in from the front gate and I’m looking at him and god, sure looks like my father… and it was him! And the first thing he said to me was “who’s sick?” I said nobody, I said why? He got a notice from the commission to leave this camp and come to Hastings Park because a member of his family is not well… Now, once he came back to Hastings Park my dad looked around and he didn’t like the condition. We were bumming around doing nothing. There was suppose to be a school but nobody bothered going. So he said, “this is not good for you, we have to get out of here.” So the only place we can go is one of these relocation camps, right. But from what I heard later, if you volunteer to go rather than being shipped out by order, you have a choice which camp you want to go to. So he chose Tashme because number one, it was close to Vancouver, that’s the closest one to Vancouver.…

I don’t remember what we did… hardly anybody went to school. … I remember I was playing baseball there… they had a big open space… there were juniors, seniors, intermediate, whatever, all different age groups. Actually it was softball, is what it was.

… People living in Vancouver city didn’t have to go into Hastings Park. The reason being that people in Hastings Park came from all over: the islands, farm area, north… But people living in Van, they knew where they were… so I guess they didn’t have to bother putting them in Hastings Park. Quite often some people still had friends living in the city of Vancouver and they would come to visit.

They had a little store within Hastings Park, so if you had to buy something you had to have some money. So, we had to go see mom to get money. But you can’t just go walking into the building to see mom, you had to have a pass to go to see your own mother. So to get a pass we had to go to this office building and then request a pass. And uh, okay you got one hour and he’ll [look at his watch] you got ten to twelve, okay ten to one you’ve got one hour. Okay, go on in and you get your pass. And as you go to the building there’s some kind of a guard sitting there, a man, and you show him the pass. Fine, you go inside, then you look and you go see your mother. Then you’re talking to them or whatever and the hour goes so fast sometimes, you know. So when you’re wandering around, the matron within the building… they say “let me see your pass”, so you show them the pass. It must be two o’clock and [they say], “you’ve over stayed, get out”. Then you have to leave, get out get out.”

Yah, so it was hard to go, too much of a work to go see mother. You know go get the pass, then go over and then. So anyways, that’s how it was so not much we could do. But I still remember one time, now this worked out real good, was I went to get a pass to see my mother and this girl working there to write out the pass she said “just a minute” and so she went somewhere. So, I looked around on her desk and she had all these passes, you know paper, so I grab a handful and put them in my pocket. And then she comes back and she says, “Okay, how long do you want to go see your mother?” I said I changed my mind. So I went back to the dorm and I said to all the guys, hey you want to go see your mother? Five cents. They said, “what do you mean five cents?” I said, I can give you a pass for five cents and you can stay as long as you want, I’ll mark down the time. So somebody said, its twelve o’clock, I’ll stay until three o’clock. So [I wrote] twelve to three right, ha ha. And then, five cents and away they go. So I was making money, ha ha.

There used to be a Mountie office/guard house…There’s a front entrance to coming into the park and along the side of the road there’s another entrance for trucks bringing supplies and things… So they built a guard house right there, so anytime a truck or something came in they could stop them to see what they were bringing in or taking out… Right behind the building was a wire fence. Between the guard house and the fence there was a space about this much [about two feet], just enough for the guys to squeeze into. Well somebody cut a big hole in the fence, so that I don’t know who cut it but it was there and everybody was using it, the kids. So we would go through the hole and cross the street, and directly across the street was a confectionary store. So we would go buy popsicles or whatever, you know, back and forth. And the Mounties couldn’t see us because the building was built such a way that the windows were always in the front part where the trucks go by… So everyday the traffic is back and forth, and I think the store keeper is doing pretty good business.

So one day, the Mountie, one of the Mounties, was standing away from the building and he could see on an angle, see the kids coming and going. So he’s watching and he thinks, now where the hell did they come from and where are they going? So he came right around to see and luck would have it, I’m coming back with maybe two or three kids. Now, I didn’t make the hole, my luck is like that, I always get caught for something. So as I was coming through the hole, and I looked up and there he’s standing there [with his arms crossed] and he says, “yah, well?” Ha ha, what am I suppose to say? So he took three of us aside and he said, “Who made that hole?” [I said], “honest, we didn’t know who made that hole.” [The Mountie said], “so what are you doing?” I said, “We’re just going across to the store. We’re not running away we’re coming back. Well, back and forth.”

So anyways [the Mountie said], “okay, so what am I going to have to do with you guys?” The penalty, right? [The Mountie said], “so I want you to fix the fence.” [I said], “well, how am I suppose to fix a fence, we’re kids.” He said, “I don’t care, get your coat hanger or whatever and straighten it out. Patch it up or whatever.” [I said], “okay.” [The Mountie said], “and then, after you’re finished that, way back at Hastings Street way at the other end, make a hole there.” I said, “why?” [The Mountie said], “to go out to the store.” I said, “no, we’re not going to make a hole there. if we make a hole way back there, we have to walk all the way, almost a block. Then come all the way, that’s two blocks we have to walk, so we’re not going to make a hole there. This is closest to the store right across.” “Well in that case,” he said, “you’re not going to go to the store anymore, you can’t go.” Actually, we didn’t fix the hole. We didn’t know how to fix it anyways, right. So that was it, we thought.

Eventually, one of the superior officers said, “let them go, let them go through the front. They’re just going across the street, back and forth. So as long as we see them going back and forth it doesn’t matter, right.” But when that happened it’s so funny, you don’t feel like going anymore because there’s no adventure or whatever. So a lot of kids didn’t bother going because they know now you could go anytime you want.

So one time, a guy got money from his mother and he bought a great big watermelon. Gee it was so funny, he bought a whole watermelon. I don’t know how much it cost in those days, but he brought it back to the dorm. He said, “look we got a whole watermelon” you know. Alright let’s eat, but nobody had a knife… I remember eating it. We had put the paper on the floor and spit the seeds on the floor and [fold it up to] take it away. Living in the dorm like that, we could leave to go outside [the building] if we get a permit to go outside. But in order to get a permit, if you had a mark against you, you can’t get a permit. The mark against you means you get caught coming home after curfew. Even outside the building, coming home means you’re still in the park. Or every morning we had to make our bed, every morning. It had to be so [smooth], you know how they throw the quarter and it bounces, almost like that. If it wasn’t made right, you don’t get a pass.”

They had this curfew. Even in the city I think they had this big blackout. And uh, what you call it, it’s not a rehearsal but you know how they practice to see how dark. They had an airplane flying apparently to see how dark the city is. Not just Hastings Park, but in all the city everybody had to turn their light off. They had this several times, so we would go out in the park with a flashlight and we would shine the flashlight [up] at the airplane. I don’t know whether they saw the light or not but we were bad that way.

I guess they must have had maintenance workers. Oh, sometimes they had different crews, like adult, they had garbage crew they worked with all the garbage trucks. They had some people working, like… girls working in the office. I think they have a little hospital and a nurse and nurses aid working there. So they had jobs within the Hastings Park that you got paid for, paid job like $0.50 cents an hour or something like that, you know.

The washroom was something out of this world. The washroom was a huge long room and there’s a trough running all along and the water is rushing down there constantly. And then they put a partition [up] and put a seat in each one and there’s your washroom and the waters always running… I remember they had a big… food poisoning I guess or epidemic or whatever, and everybody got sick. Fortunately for me, I happened to be in that clinic or hospital and I was eating hospital food. The people outside were eating this food or whatever, and they all got sick… So when I came out of the hospital…One of the guys was telling me he went to the washroom twenty-five times. Finally he took his pillow with him, you know, to sleep there. But all the time the water is gushing in. That day, every stall was taken … So some bad kids got a… whole bunch of rolls of toilet paper and set it on fire and put it on the water. And the water is gushing down, so it’s a paper burning gushing down and everybody is just sitting there. And hey, can you imagine the fire going right underneath you, ow, ow, ow, ow, ow, all the way to the end. That was bad but somebody would think of a thing like that. And the finger was sort of pointed to me because I wasn’t sick so I would be one of the ones doing that, but I wasn’t.

And another thing, you talk about eating. Mess hall, we used to go to the mess hall. You get a tin cup and a tin plate; everything is made out of tin. And then you grab your plate and you go along and the older guys who would be working [would serve you food] and as you go along they give you whatever. So when you’re thirteen/fourteen you eat a lot, right. You stop, and they give you something or whatever and [then they say], “what are you waiting for?” [I said], “I want some more.” They said, “no, comeback, after.” So we used to go through all of this and then to eat, [we would] go back and they got long, long tables and benches, you sat there and ate. Then when you’re finished, you take your dirty plate and throw it in this [tub], there are some dishwashers there. Then we would walk out, go around front, and come back in again, grab a new plate, and go back in again. Because these guys said ‘come back later’, right, so we go around twice.

And another thing about that, if you were working, you wouldn’t have to line up because you had to work. So in order for people to know, different jobs had different colour ribbons, and everybody got a ribbon that was working. See a red ribbon meant that you were working as a garbage crew, or a blue ribbon meant you were working in the office or whatever. So this one kid, he got a job as a messenger and he had a purple ribbon. So he used to have that [tied around his upper arm]. So I said, “come here, let me see your ribbon.” So he showed it to us and it was about that [three inches] wide, so we tear it in half and we got two ribbons out of that right. So then this guy, we returned his ribbon [to him] and we got one. If I was to put it on first and then I go walking in. Then, I would pass the ribbon onto the next guy and he would put it on, so we were always walking in, ahead of the people lined up. So when we go back for the second time we don’t have to line up again, just walk right in again with this ribbon.


Interview courtesy of Sedai Project www.sedai.ca