Annieville Elementary School in North Delta, circa 1960. (Delta Museum and Archives Society Photograph #1979-026-354)

Annieville Elementary School in North Delta, circa 1960. (Delta Museum and Archives Society Photograph #1979-026-354)

North Delta history: Japanese-Canadian history hits home

Fourth in a series commemorating the 75th anniversary of the internment of Japanese-Canadians in WW2

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the internment of tens of thousands of people of Japanese descent by the Canadian Government during the Second World War. Though few people may be aware of it today, North Delta once had a thriving Japanese community before racism and the fear of “enemy aliens” operating along our coast robbed them of their property and livelihoods.

To commemorate this dark chapter in our shared history, several members of the Delta Museum and Archives Society contributed to this month’s North Delta History feature to help shed light on the Japanese Canadians who helped build North Delta in those pre-war years.

Check out the rest of the series here.

By Mark Boyter, Delta Museum and Archives Society

History too easily can feel at arm’s-length, and the longer the arm, the less invested we feel. So it was for me and the history of the Japanese-Canadian internment.

Until it wasn’t.

In September 1966, I started Grade 3 at Annieville Elementary. We’d moved here in August.

Miss Katsumoto was new to Annieville too. Fresh out of UBC, Annieville was her first teaching job. She was young and beautiful and kind and keen. Everything you need in a Grade 3 teacher.

All that is in hindsight, of course. In 1966 she was just my teacher, and she was “Miss” and not “Mrs.” It never struck me she was a Japanese-Canadian.

One day I did the math. It’s funny how something can stare at you unnoticed until it is, and then you wonder how you ever missed it.

If Miss Katsumoto’s first teaching job out of university was 1966, then she was born in 1945, more or less. For Japanese-Canadians in B.C., 1945 was not a good year.

In February 1942, when Order-in-Council PC 365 created a 100-mile coastal “protected area” and the evacuation of Japanese-Canadians began, the options were repatriation to Japan or internment camps in the ghost and near-ghost towns of the Kootenays: Greenwood, Slocan, Kaslo, Sandon, New Denver. Once those filled, there were tents and hastily built shacks in the fields at Lemon Creek, Roseberry, Popoff, Bay Farm.

Miss Katsumoto’s family was from the Fraser Valley. They were berry farmers: raspberries, gooseberries, strawberries. Japanese-Canadian farmers had a third option; farming sugar beets in Alberta or Manitoba. Farming allowed families to stay together. Her family choose southern Alberta. Such were the hardships that a year later they moved to a sawmill town north of Lake Superior instead of spending another year farming. She was born there.

In April 1949, when the protected zone was lifted, her parents didn’t return to B.C. Their farm was long gone, their lives somewhere else.

Annieville is famous in the Japanese-Canadian community. In December 1941, when the RCMP began the confiscation of fishing boats, Annieville slough is where they were brought, just down the road from the school, about half a kilometre.

Miss Katsumoto was kind, and keen, and young. And I remember.

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