Nikkei Internment Memorial Center

During our Trip in Nelson I got a chance to see the Nikkei Memorial Internment Center in New Denver. Sara and I went there with her friend Wendy Tagami, whose parents had met near there during the war. Over 22,000 Japanese-Canadians were interned at New Denver. Wendy told us that many of the small houses on the outskirts of town were converted from the cabins that they had to live in. The center consisted of several of the wartime cabins surrounded by a wood fence and a Japanese-style stone garden.

The garden was so beautiful you could almost forget the circumstances by which people came here. At the time, Japan had already taken over Hong Kong and bombed Pearl Harbor. The government felt it couldn’t afford to offer Japan any other gains, so it went so far as to round up its own citizens with any racial connection with that country. Many of the Japanese-Canadians, in the very spirit of “stiff upper lip” calmly signed over all their possessions and reported to Hastings Park in Vancouver, where the PNE is now. From there they were sent off to the BC interior, far from any critical civil or military infrastructure.

Many of the first nights were spent in cast-off army tents. Soon, small cabins the size of most modern kitchens were built with walls so thin that the winter ice served as the only form of insulation. The internees did everything they could to keep life going on as normal as possible. At the memorial center you can see the photos of the dances, the baseball games and the Buddhist church that still stands today. When the war was over, the internees found that most of their possessions had been sold to pay for their internment. There would be no redress until 1988.

It’s easy to deride the decisions of the government at the time as racist and opportunistic. By our standards, they most certainly were. The repatriation and redress of the Japanese-Canadians was just and lawful. However, the policy of current governments apologizing for the mistakes of past governments unnerves me. It is a great way to garner cheap political capital without having to address the mistakes we have made recently and are still making now. We in the present love to inform the past, but how often does the past inform the present?

Have we truly done away with the mindset that caused us to unlawfully sell off millions of dollars of personal property to balance a budget?

Do we still favor solutions that are more convenient than effective?

Instead of trying to distance ourselves from history, we should be trying to find similarities with it. If you think about it, all people in history are just like us. They have a lot of bad past decisions weighing them down, ideals that are impractical, and an uncertain future that’s hurtling at them at the speed of time. At so many points in history you will see people who’ve learned from the mistakes of the past, lived up to the ideals and accepted a future that will outlive them. It shouldn’t be hard for us to be like those people. They often have a lot books written about them.