The lessons of a shameful era in Canadian history won’t be forgotten in the Kootenays.
Three signs marking the internment of Japanese Canadians from 1942 to 1949 were installed in Kaslo, New Denver and Slocan on Friday.
The signs were the work of the Japanese Canadian Legacy Committee, which is in the process of installing eight such signs around the province to mark internment site clusters and road camps.
Twenty-two thousand people were interned in B.C., with close to 10,000 in the Kootenays. Laura Saimoto, the committee’s chair, said the history can be eye-opening for Canadians who haven’t previously read it.
“It’s always good to go to these sites where things actually happened,” said Saimoto, who had family interned at a site near Lillooet as well as an aunt at New Denver’s former sanatorium.
“Even for myself, as a descendant of the internees, when I first went to the internment sites I really felt the shock of it and how physically it must have been so traumatic. My grandparents just swallowed all of that and said, you know what, we’ve got to deal with it, and just kept giving to their kids so they would have a life.”
Saimoto said the events in Kaslo, New Denver and Slocan drew close to 200 people including local mayors, students and Kootenay East MLA Tom Shypitka. The signs aren’t the first markers of the history in the region — New Denver is also the home of the Nikkei Internment Memorial Centre.
Attendees were surprised, she said, by the resourcefulness of those interned that’s depicted in pictures on the signs.
“They built their own schools, hospitals. They had their own community festivals, parades, sports. They basically rebuilt their community in very difficult circumstances with very little.”
Signs have already been installed at the Tashme internment site near Hope and at Lillooet. Greenwood will get its own sign in July, while two more signs will be installed in the Hope-Princeton area as well as the Revelstoke-Sicamous area.
Saimoto drew parallels with the history of internment to the current United States government policy of separating children from parents at the Mexican border. She hopes the signs show how the same thing can occur in Canada.
“The same thing is happening down south and so it can easily happen again, so it’s our responsibility we don’t repeat the same mistakes because it’s happening now,” she said.