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.
The first Japanese immigrants to settle in North Delta in the 1890s fished on the Fraser and worked in the canneries. Although they were skilled and industrious workers, they were paid much less than European-Canadians. By the turn of the century, Japanese-tCanadians formed a major part of the workforce in the canneries and fisheries.
Discrimination against Chinese labour had resulted in the Canadian government increasing the head tax on new Chinese immigrants from the original $50 in 1885 to $500 dollars in 1903. While many citizens supported restrictions to Asian immigration, industrialists like B.C.’s Lt.-Gov. James Dunsmuir wanted to bring in more immigrants to work at low wages.
The lumber and cannery industries contracted Vancouver’s Nippon Supply Company to recruit workers in Japan. In the spring and summer of 1907, 5,000 Japanese workers emigrated to B.C.
By 1919, Japanese-Canadians held half of the fishing licenses on the Fraser River. Then, because of overfishing and other factors, the number of licenses available was reduced. The portion of licenses held by Japanese-Canadians in B.C. dropped to 12 per cent by 1941.
During the same period Japanese immigration became more restricted. By 1928, only 150 Japanese immigrants, including women and children, were allowed each year.
As they lost their fishing licenses, many changed their occupations to farming. Japanese immigrants to North Delta settled in the Sunbury, Kennedy and Strawberry Hill areas of the community. Most lived on Horel Road (now 92nd Avenue), Gibson Road (now 90th Avenue) and Bailey Road (now 88th Avenue). Many had strawberry and poultry farms on their five- and ten-acre lots. Their children attended Kennedy School on Gibson Road and Sunbury School in Lower Sunbury.
Japanese-Canadians were excluded from government work such as municipal road building, and there were restrictions on Japanese fishermen using motorized boats. They were not allowed to vote in federal, provincial or municipal elections until 1949, even though many owned property and paid taxes.