Jean Shigeko Kitagawa

Jean Shigeko Kitagawa (April 28, 1921 – October 21, 2012) was born in Duncan on Vancouver Island where her parents, Toemon and Kiku, settled after emigrating from Ehime. When Jean was 3 or 4 years old, her father was hired as a carpenter at Mayo Lumber and the family moved eleven kilometers northwest of Duncan to Mayo, which became the town of Paldi…

Jean says that “at about age 10, I started experiencing pain in my leg. My mother took me to one doctor after another but seeing no improvement after two years, she decided to take me to Japan to be seen by a bone specialist at a university hospital near her village in Fukuoka. I was diagnosed with tuberculosis of the bone and treated with bone grafts… I returned to Paldi [after two year] determined to continue my education. It was not an easy return. I had to re-learn English and since there were not enough students for a high school in Paldi at the time, I finished my grades 9 and 10 courses through correspondence.

“I then moved to Vancouver to complete my high school diploma. I stayed with family friends while attending King Edward High School. I was in my graduating year when Pearl Harbor was bombed. My Nisei classmates and I felt rejected by the teachers, the other students and my own country…an enemy alien. I remember a school assembly where all the students were told to stay standing on the gym floor and when our names were called, to go and sit in the bleachers. We all stood in anticipation of hearing our names. At the end the only ones left standing were the Nisei students. I can’t remember what was said or anything else that happened except the feeling of shame. There was one sympathetic teacher, a Mr. Osterhouse, who took me and my girlfriend aside and said “if you ever need any help, just tell me.”

Beginning in March 1942 and while Jean was enrolled at the Pitman Business School, the Japanese were being rounded up and housed in the livestock buildings at Hastings Park. “My parents were among the first to be removed from their home and to be incarcerated there. Other families were being relocated to the interior and the Mayeda family with whom I was staying also had to leave. I was now left homeless. I remembered the kind offer by Mr. Osterhouse. I called him and he invited me to live with his family. They had another Japanese Canadian house guest who was also a student. When the summer holidays began, the family left the city for Salt Spring Island where they had a summer home. Arrangements were made for the other student and me to stay upstairs in the home of Mrs. Osterhouse’s sister, Mrs. Farhney (spelling?). Before long the other student also had to leave. His father had already been sent to road camp and his mother needed his help with the packing. After three weeks of being alone and scared in an empty house, I made the decision to move into Hastings Park. My parents had been housed there behind barbed wire now for several months and some of my friends were there too.

 There were guards at the entrances and a special permit was needed to go in and out of Hastings Park. I went to the BC Security Commission and asked “Can I go to school from here?” They gave me a permit that said I was a member of the hospital crew and I was able to travel into town daily to attend classes and finished my business program.

My time at Hastings Park was a very difficult period. It was such a crude place, cold. Eating in a mess hall with thousands of people, with tin cups and bowls, I felt like a convict. The food was strange too and I got sick of it. Lots of people had diarrhea, athletes’ foot and contagious diseases spread easily. There were ten shower stalls (for 1,500 women) and they had no curtains. There was no privacy. It was embarrassing and humiliating.

In total, 12,000 Japanese were processed at Hastings Park and at its peak it housed 3,000. The BC Security Commission set up a “hospital” in the Poultry barn.

Ann Sunahara describes it thus: “On March 18 public health nurse Trenna Hunter, working under BCSC medical advisor Dr. Lyall Hodgins, began 12 to set up badly needed health facilities, including a laundry, a kitchen for the preparation of infants’ formulas, and a rudimentary hospital. The last task had to be done twice. No sooner had Hunter set up one 60-bed hospital, using discarded equipment from Vancouver’s Shaughnessy Hospital, and then she lost it to the Director of Vancouver’s Tuberculosis Hospital. Anxious to free beds for use by Caucasian patients, the Director of the T.B. hospital shipped his Japanese patients to dusty Hastings Park at the first opportunity. Eventually Hunter created a second hospital, this one with 180 beds, staffed by Japanese Canadians and with wards for communicable childhood diseases, new mothers, and male and female patients.”1

Jean adds: “The ladies and men’s wards were separated by the office where I worked. There was a huge door that opened from my office and I could see the patients getting so sick right in the hallway. Mr. X was really, really sick and finally died. His wife had gone before and left their two girls and two boys. John’s (my future husband) relatives took the two boys and another family the two girls.

It was here in these miserable, inhumane conditions that Jean began her career as a medical secretary. “A nurse’s aide told me to apply for a position that had just come open. I found it intimidating at first since I had no knowledge of medical terms but I must have done alright because the doctors kept me on. My main job was taking dictation from the doctors on the conditions of the patients in the tuberculosis ward. The other job was to count the number of tuberculosis patients who died in the night and report it when I received a phone call, the next morning, from TB Control at the General Hospital”.

Jean’s memories were not all sad ones. Hastings Park was full of young people, teenagers, who were relocated from the fishing villages and pulp towns up and down the coast waiting to be sent 100 miles inland. “The hospital crew had a separate compound. My bunkmate was from Prince Rupert. She worked in the office and looked after the records of the non-TB patients. I made many friends. I also met John. We all had fun together. The guards let us come and go without any problem. We went down town to a Chinese restaurant, for fried oysters, bowling; nobody asked if we were Japanese. Some of the fellows poked the knots out of the boards and made holes to watch the guards talking to the streetwalkers. They also liked looking for empty shower stalls and would come back and tell us what they saw.”

Over the next several months, the Japanese were dispersed to the various ghost towns, shack towns, and the sugar beet fields of Alberta and Manitoba…

By the end of fall 1942, all the rest of Hastings Park was emptied out. Only the TB patients and the staff were left waiting for the sanatorium in New Denver to be built and completed. We survived the winter months with two small furnaces. On March 31st, 1943 the medical staff and the patients boarded the train. During the night there was a rockslide and the train jerked and stopped. By morning the tracks were cleared and we arrived in New Denver the following day.” That winter of 1942/43 was one the severest in the Slocan Valley…

The New Denver Sanatorium
New Denver boasted a 100-bed sanitorium for Japanese with tuberculosis. ‘The San’ was built “to be a showcase of how well the Japanese were being treated in Canada.”2 It also housed the doctor’s and dental offices, x-ray and other workrooms, a kitchen, two dining rooms (one for the staff and the other for the patients), a women’s and men’s ward, two sun porches, staff quarters and a library. Vegetable gardens and lawns were planted and cared for by Japanese gardeners. The Pavilion was added in November 1944 for patients whose disease was “arrested” and who were being readied for discharge. Jean continued her work as a medical secretary at “The San”. “Miss Boyd was my boss but I worked for Dr. Uchida. He was very good. He has studied osteo (bones) in Japan. When he manipulated broken bones, the joins were perfect. A Caucasian doctor was the head even though Dr. Uchida was there.”3

Dr. Uchida was born on October 23 1900, on Hastings Street in Vancouver and was educated in public schools there. He studied medicine in Toronto and graduated in 1926. Not allowed to intern in Canada, he was forced to go to Japan. On completion of his internship, he returned to Vancouver and set up his practice in the Japanese Canadian community. Dr. Uchida was one of five Japanese doctors in Vancouver. He was allowed to go to Hastings Park to look after the patients there. From 1942 to 1949 he worked at the Sanatorium in New Denver and the Slocan Community Hospital. He practiced in Kamloops for three years and returned to Vancouver in 1951.

In addition to the patients who were transferred from the Hastings Park hospital, patients came from Lethbridge and Taber in Alberta, and from Bridge River, New Denver and other internment camps and ghost towns in British Columbia. In a report dated December 1947 to the Director of Tuberculosis Control in Vancouver, Dr. W.K. Massey of the Kootenay Travelling Clinic in Nelson, BC provided the following statistics on the 212 Japanese treated during the five years 1942- 1947:4

# of patients on opening of Sanatorium          61

# of patients admitted since                               151

# of patients discharged                                      96 (45.2%)

# of patients died                                                  53 (25%)

# of patients in sanatorium now                       68

Jean continues: “Every three months a specialist from Nelson arrived at The San to go over the x-rays of each patient. I took the dictations and typed up the letters and reports so I probably knew more of each patient’s history than the patients themselves. Some patients thought that they did not have the disease because they were not coughing but the tuberculosis bacteria did not attack just the lungs. It settled in other regions of the body as well, in the bones, spine, and hips. The treatment depended on the seriousness of the disease: minimal, moderate or advanced. At admission, patients were confined to complete bed-rest for 3 months. They could not even go to the bathroom. The doctor decided bathroom privileges.”

Jean observed that they usually arrived on their own and visitors were rare. “Mrs. K, a young woman with TB in her spine, had to spend all of her time in bed. She had a baby and we called him “Baby K”. He was not yet walking when they were in Hastings Park. There was a woman who looked after the baby and she and her husband wanted to adopt him, but Mr. K was in a road camp or somewhere, I don’t know where, I never saw him visit his wife or their baby. Mrs. K. gave up the child. It was so sad to see them say goodbye. A year later she was discharged. I heard she had another child but I’m not sure.

At the end of the Pacific War, all Japanese were ordered to a second uprooting: exile to Japan or relocation east of the Rockies. All internment camps were ordered closed except for The Orchard. Those living there were forced to vacate to accommodate internees from the other camps who were sent to New Denver. The only exceptions were the very old without children to look after them, patients with tuberculosis and their immediate families, and staff members of ‘The San’… Jean says: “Nisei were hired as nurses because the patients were Japanese but the supervisors were all white. Irene Anderson was the matron at Hastings Park. She was young, nice. She took young girls as aides and taught them nursing skills – how to care, put on gowns, wash patients. At The San, as Nisei nurses’ aides started moving out east, there was a staffing shortage and mothers of patients took over the job and fathers became janitors and other maintenance staff.


  1. Sunahara, Ann, Politics of Racism, www.
  2. Ru;y, Ruby, Kyowakai Soceity, New Denver, A Path of Leaves, 1999, p. 35.
  3. Jean’s observation is also noted in the “The Medical Aspects of Evacuation Days 1942- 1946 (New Denver and Slocan)”, 1979 page 4) “Although the BCSC officially designated R. Francis as the Chief of Medical Services in the San, it was Dr. Uchida who did the work, along with Miss Boyd. Miss G. Reynolds assisted at the clinic.”
  4. Survey Done at New Denver Sanatorium, Dec. 17, 1947, BC Archives courtesy Linda Reid, Assistant Archivist, Nikkei National Museum & Cultural Centre

An excerpt of an article by Masako Fukawa, previously published in Nikkei Images Spring 2013.