Tom I. Tagami

Tom (Itsuro) Tagami was born on February 10, 1920 in Koksilah, BC. He was the son of Jirosaku Tagami and Koyoshi Tagami (nee Yamamoto). Tom grew up in Paldi, BC where he attended school up until the eighth grade, then worked for the Mayo Bros. Timber Co. In 1949, Tom and his family opted to stay in Slocan and he and his brothers started Tagami Bros. Lumber. Tom passed away December 3, 2003 in BC at the age of eighty-three. 

These are my memories of our stay in Hastings Park, and our subsequent move to Slocan City, an internment camp in the interior of British Columbia. Hastings Park was not a comfortable place to be in, as a person never knew when you’d get a paper to sign with no choice given. I could name quite a few who sided with the British Columbia Security Commission in order to better their own position, but I will keep it confidential. I spent close to three months in Hastings Park. There wasn’t a moment to relax. In the middle of our sleep, around 3:00 a.m., they would come around with a sprayer and spray us with disinfectant to prevent any serious sickness in the park. Other times they would demand that we show them our identification cards to see if we were legally in the park. For breakfast we lined up outside, rain or shine, to get a serving of cold mush in a tin bowl and greasy bacon with a cold fried egg on a tin plate. It wasn’t very appetizing and most of it went in the garbage. The only thing that anybody wanted from the kitchen was a slice or two of buttered bread to fill their stomachs. I was one of the janitors in the kitchen and one day they had a hunger strike due to the poor food. It kept six of us busy hauling garbage cans out to where a truck came to pick it up. Everybody complained but it didn’t do much good. They called the food by some fancy names, such as Salisbury steak or shepherd’s pie, but it was always plain old hamburger with chunks of vegetables cooked together. My brother and I were on the afternoon shift and the cooks always had some salmon or good meat put away for us, so it made up for the sloppy cans of garbage we had to wheel down a ramp. One Saturday evening after we finished our work, I sat by the window looking across Hastings Park at a dance hall called Happyland. The dance hall was just on the other side of the fence, where people were allowed to come and go freely. I watched a lively bunch of young people about my age – Caucasians – dancing to the popular music of Glenn Miller, such as In the Mood, Moonlight Serenade, and other songs. It was such a contrast to the miserable living conditions we were experiencing inside Hastings Park. It really hit me how unfair it was, that even though we were Canadian born, just because we were a visible minority, we were held in a barbed wire enclosure under guard. I was saddened at the thought that I was as Canadian as they were, but I was completely segregated from them.

By far the saddest part of Hastings Park was seeing women with three or four children and about a six-month old baby strapped to their backs, stuck in the smelly old livestock buildings, trying to dry diapers in the rainy weather. Their husbands were stuck in the road camps in the Rockies, so the onus was on them to do things themselves. However, over time, Hastings Park was getting filled up. The authorities decided to recall the married men from the road camps, and sent them to ghost towns to help the carpenters build tar paper shacks and renovate the old hotels, so that the families in Hastings Park could be moved away from the coast. Once approval came through for families to live together as a group in the internment camps, the BC Security Commission needed loggers to cut wood and carpenters to build shacks to accommodate the people stuck in Hastings Park. My older brother and I decided to venture out to parts unknown and signed up with about three hundred married and single men to go to Slocan City. We left Vancouver on June 29, 1942 and arrived in Slocan City on a hot 100-degree day on July 1.

Confinement in Hastings Park
(Tom I. Tagami’s Statement to PNE Board – June 22, 1987)

The use of the former stables and cattle stalls of the Livestock Building, only hastily improved for human habitation, was, perhaps, symbolic of the entire evacuation movement.

The RCMP with the assistance of the army transported the first group of coast Japanese to the park beginning March 16, 1942, “herded together like a bunch of cattle”, as many complained.

On arrival at the park, they were registered, searched and issued tow army blankets a piece for bedding.

Husbands and wives were segregated by sex in dormitories and mess halls. Women and children slept on steel double bunk beds with straw-filled mattresses in the Livestock Building where the strong stench of cattle still hung in the air.

Early in the morning of April 21, 1942, our family of eleven, with father partially paralyzed by a stroke were in the group of 400 Japanese Canadians and Nationals evacuated fro the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island. We arrived at Hastings Park around 5 pm the same day. Father and mother were taken to a so-called sick bay, a partitioned six by eight-foot horse stall with twin beds for each couple where there were other sick people as well. The stench from years of horse urine soaked in the floors was enough to make a health person ill but further complaining did no good.

Men and boys, 16 years and older, were bunked in an overcrowded dormitory in the building next to the Forum.

The day after we arrived in the park, we had to report to the Security Commission office, where we were interviewed. Married men with children were given temporary work in the park. Single men, 18 years and older, were forced to sign up to go to road camps right away. Those who refused were taken to the Immigrations Building at the food of Granville Street near the CPR tracks and later shipped out to prisoner of war camps in Ontario My younger brother and I tried to get out without signing anything but the guards would let nobody out. So we signed to go to a road camp just to get out. We went back the next morning and explained that our father wasn’t well so we would have to relocate as a family unit. After interviews with three or four officials, they finally gave us jobs and let us stay until suitable family housing projects were available.

The food served in tin plates and bowls was terrible and due to unsanitary conditions, everyone in the Park suffered with severe cases of diarrhea. One day we protested by staging a one-day hunger strike. Everyone went to the mess hall, got their food and duped it on the table and left. But it didn’t do much good.

In the middle of the night we would be rudely awakened by the glare of a flashlight held by an RCMP with a list of names asking for our ID card. On other nights, we were awakened by disinfectant being sprayed in our faces and bed. There were some angry words exchanged in the middle of the night. Whenever we strolled around on the Renfrew Street side, we were forever being stared at by hundreds of curious bystanders on the other side of the high wire fence. Some were sympathetic but most would jeer at us as if to say we’re finally getting rid of you guys. At this moment, I thought of all the wild animals and monkeys in cages at Stanley Park being stared at by thousands of people and how they must feel being caged up. At least, they got free peanuts and food from the onlookers.

Whenever we were hungry we had to buy our own from a confectionary store across the street who had their whole family going back and forth, handing us the chocolate bars, potato chips, etc. through holes in the fence.

I was a 22-year old Japanese Canadian Nisei stripped of all my rights as a Canadian citizen, a prisoner of my own country of birth. We were confined inside the high wire fence of Hastings Park just like caged animals. Victimized by a Canadian government that was motivated by racist hysteria and politicians who sought to capitalize on racism.

I was confined in the Park until June 29, the day my older brother and I were relocated to Slocan City to find suitable housing for our family. This is where it all took place – husbands shipped away to road camps leaving wives all alone to look after small children and wondering when they would be together again, families split apart, “all a part of Canadian history that cannot be suppressed.”

In the Vancouver Sun, May 21, 1987, I read an article stating that the PNE board refused to permit the erection a plaque, offered as a gift by the government of Canada, commemorating the internment of Japanese Canadians during the second World War on PNE grounds.

What are your reasons for not wanting this plaque erected on PNE grounds? It might be embarrassing for the people of British Columbia, especially of Vancouver for reminding them of the shoddy treatment of their fellow Canadians in 1942.

The board of the PNE is attempting to suppress the facts of history, but it is an actual fact of history that took place on these very grounds which 8000 evacuees, including myself, experienced by September 30, 1942. Most affected were the women, children, and sick people who had to live in the smelly Livestock Building throughout the hot summer months.

A plaque erected here explaining what took place would be a reminder to the future generations of what could happen to any one of them at any given time.