In the early spring of 1942, the Canadian government, following the United States government’s reaction to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, started evacuating Japanese from the coast. On March 19th, the Japanese living in Tofino and Stubb’s Island (Clayoquot) were herded onto the SS MAQUINNA and transported to Vancouver via Port Alberni. We were taken by bus to the Pacific National Exhibition buildings at Hastings Park, a hastily designated detention centre for the evacuees. The women were separated from the men and housed in the Livestock Building, which was divided into stalls with iron pipes and filled with bunkbeds, each with a straw mattress and a couple of grey blankets. As we were about the first to arrive and had a choice, we picked a stall closest to the washroom. I shared this stall with my mother (Ine), sister-in-law (Mary) and two young nephews (Ken and Bud). Everyone hung blankets on the stall pipes to provide a modicum of privacy. We walked to the mess-hall in another building and lined up for our daily meals with tin plates in our hands.
After ten days in Hastings Park, many men, mostly from Vancouver Island including my brothers, husband and friends from Tofino, were sent to a road camp in Schreiber, Ontario. A plaque was placed to commemorate this event a few years ago in Schreiber. My one pleasure during this period was to receive letters from the men, but they were heavily censored and took ages to arrive. A permit from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police was required if one wanted to go out to the city. Friends and relatives from Steveston and Vancouver came to see us with obento, but they could not enter the exhibition grounds and we could only meet with the fence between us.
During my stay at Hastings Park, more and more people kept arriving with every passing day, creating much confusion as the administration was not adequate to organize this amount of people. However, with the passage of time, people with either connections to families in the city or who could afford to go to self-supporting communities would leave, so that the population gradually declined.
We were finally taken from Hastings Park in August 1942 and transported by rail to the Popoff Farm in the Kootenays. Hidekichi Ezaki, Ine’s younger brother and one of the carpenters who built the cabins at the farm, was waiting for us with a cabin, which we shared. My stay in Hastings Park was rather carefree as I was young. However, I can imagine the many hardships a mother with children had to cope with everyday, without the aid of relatives and friends. These women deserve a hearty round of applause!
Reminiscences of My Stay in the Livestock Building by Frances Kuniko Nakagawa (First published in Nikkei Images, Summer 2013)