Mitsuko Shirley Teramoto

(After our father was taken away) our mother, Tsune was left with seven children from the ages of 13 years to 9 months to manage the greenhouses and to look after the domestic animals. Yuzo, Yoneko, and Sho shouldered heavier chores at home along with their school lessons. The rest of us, Emiko, Mitsuko, Masako, and James were too young to understand what had happened except that father was no longer there!

All efforts to grow a tomato crop were abandoned with the federal order-in-council of February 24, 1942 based on Canada’s War Measures Act, which authorized the internment of “enemy aliens” within a 100-mile radius of the Pacific coast. With the help of her cousin, Setsu Kadonaga, and his wife, Tomiye, mother walked her family and their luggage (150 pounds for her and 75 pounds per child, but I doubt that we could have carried that much!) to the Active Pass wharf.

Yoneko remembers that Miss McBride, the United Church missionary who had held Sunday School classes at our house, had pinned ‘forget-me-nots’ on the lapel of each of the remaining 50 Japanese people, the young and the old, leaving the island that day! As the CPR PRINCESS MARY pulled away from the Mayne Island wharf on April 21, 1942, we left behind not only the fertile soil of the island, the bounty of the ocean, and the peaceful island life, but took with us the memories.

Many memories: of playing under the shade of the pear tree, the salty tang of Bennett’s Beach as we splashed along the shore, feeding the chickens and milking the cow, the happy grunt of the pig in the sty, father’s salmon catch, the sound of the axe splitting firewood, the boys fishing, Emiko’s broken leg, seeing our faces reflected from the many sealed jars of bright pink salmon, the wool from the island sheep drying in the sun, cousin Sumiko baking the island dungo cookies, the companionship of the cousins and friends, new clothes to wear on New Year’s Day, and the three-day marathon session by the grown-ups playing “gaji” (hana fude)!

The Assembly Centre of Hastings Park was confusing to us with people and noisome stalls and blankets draped over the upper bunks for privacy! Thirteen-old Yuzo along with a cousin of similar age was quartered in another building with the other youths and men. Mother’s constant insistence on cleanliness kept us from succumbing to the outbreaks of measles, chicken pox, mumps, and dysentery. I heard that there were school classes but I’m not sure where they were held… on the benches in the arena, someone said?

We didn’t have the manpower in our family to go to the sugar beet farms in Alberta or Manitoba or the financial resources to travel to a self-supporting camp where the internees paid for their own relocation and the leasing of farms, so mother waited for placement in one of the camps in the interior. This turned out to be a tent in October in Slocan City as the cabins were not yet ready in Lemon Creek. To this day, the smell of institutional stew instantly brings to Mitsuko an enclosed feeling within a cold and damp environment!

Previously published in Nikkei Images – Fall 2012