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Our Trip to New Denver, BC ブリティッシュコロンビア州ニューデンバーへの旅

Recently, we watched a program on the Knowledge Network about Japanese gardens in Canada. UBC Nitobe Garden in Vancouver, Japan Canada Yukoo Garden in Lethbridge, Alberta, and Kohan Reflection Garden in New Denver, B.C. were introduced. There were some explanations of who, how, and why these gardens were created. Histories, ideas, and some background behind these gardens were briefly mentioned.

I have to confess that although I have 32 long years of living in Canada, somehow, I never had the chance to learn or even be interested in the history of Japanese Canadians. Watching this program was an eye opening experience for me.

We had a long and beautiful summer this year. Neil and I were thinking of going somewhere on a driving trip with our two dogs before rain arrived. It would be perfect to go to New Denver to visit the garden and learn the history.

When I told our dear friend, Allen, about this idea, he said I must read Obasan by Joy Kogawa before the trip. It was indeed excellent advice!

So a sunny day in mid September, we departed our house in Powell River and started our week-long driving trip to the interior of BC.

New Denver was far. We stayed at a motel in a quiet little village called Fauquier after crossing Arrow Lake by a cable ferry.

We arrived in New Denver the next day. It is a picturesque old little town by Lake Slocan. Nikkei Internment Memorial Centre and Kohan Reflection Garden were on the other side of a river, separated from the town by a bridge.

We saw a big bear in the park near the Kohan Garden, devouring something from a garbage box.

In this quiet old town about 1,400 people live. There are some more small villages and ghost towns in this area surrounded by mountains and lakes. It was hard to believe that in the 1940’s 22,000 Japanese Canadians were squeezed in this small area.

They were all uprooted from their houses and businesses on the west coast of BC. They were first stuffed in the smelly animal sheds in Hasting Park in Vancouver for months, then brought to Slocan by train, then to New Denver area by boats. Amazingly, 75% of those people were Canadian born or naturalized Canadian citizens!! Men between ages 20s to 60s were sent to physical labor camps, forced to construct railroads or highways. Women, children, and older people were sent to these internment camps.

…..What?…. I have heard that many Chinese laborers were brought from China to work on the railroad constructions. I didn’t know Japanese Canadian men were forced to work in such construction sites as well……Many of them were fishermen or farmers. They were removed from their works, properties, and families, and shipped to work in those constructions….and they were all legal Canadians… how terrible….I didn’t know….

Their properties which they had worked so hard to earn …including tools, boats, cars, radios….were taken away, looted, and auctioned off. The government approved to sell their belongings, THEN charged them the handling fees for selling!

They could not return to their houses… ever. They were not even allowed to exist in the west coast of BC for several years even after the war.

People were allowed to take their necessities as much as they could carry by hand. They had to watch from the bus windows as their houses were looted as their buses drove away.

Apparently, discriminations towards Japanese Canadians started way before the Pearl Harbour. There were various systematic legal discriminations against them, e.g., taking away and banning their rights to obtain fishing license, not allowing them to engage in certain occupations like lawyer, medical doctor, teacher….etc. As they became successful in their fields, regulations were put on to prevent their success. The systematic discriminations were already escalating and broadening by the time Pearl Harbour happened. Pearl Harbour only provided a good reason for their removal.

They were Canadian citizens whose ancestors came from a country which happened to become an enemy…just like German Canadians or Italian Canadians. Imagine the lives of immigrants; they must work extra hard from zero in the new land, in an unknown environment, with an unfamiliar language, to build up their means of survival. And then everything they had built was taken away…just to make them suffer….just because they were Japanese descendants………..

Older people, children, and women were sent to interior BC like New Denver. They had to live through the first winter in thin canvas tents. Materials and tools to build the camp did not arrive for many months.

How did young mothers with babies live without privacy? How did sick people survive in such poor conditions?

There were voices amongst white Canadians, “Japs deserve to suffer, they should suffer to the maximum”

This is certainly not the Canada I know. How sad…

After the war was ended, Japanese Canadians were uprooted again. They were forced to make a choice of moving further east and work in places like sugar beet farms, or board ships taking them back to Japan.

For most of the Canadian born people, Japan was a foreign country. They didn’t speak the language or have anybody who could help them. Moreover, Japan was in total chaos. Many cities were bombed out heavily, people had lost their places to live, no food to eat….they themselves were struggling to survive.

Despite all that, many Japanese Canadians chose to board the ships out of deep despair. They felt there was no future, no hope for them in Canada.

After people left New Denver, the internment camp was bulldozed over to a bare field, as if nothing had happened… In 1989, the Japanese garden called Kohan (it means Lakeside) Reflection Garden was created. A young garden designer from Japan transformed this land of tears and sorrows to a beautiful garden. It is now a public space, open to everybody.

Beautiful town, beautiful park, with a sad history….

This was such a moving trip. I am still reading more books about the Japanese Canadian history. I would love to go back there again.

最近、テレビでカナダにある日本庭園を紹介する番組を観た。バンクーバーのニトベガーデンやアルバータ州レスブリッジの日加友好ガーデン、ブリティッシュコロンビア州の内陸部ニューデンバーにある湖畔ガーデンが紹介された。なぜ誰が何を想ってつくった庭園なのか…日系カナダ人の歴史についても簡単な説明があった。

私は今まで日系人の歴史については知識もなく、大して興味もなく、カナダに住んで32年にもなるというのにあまりにも無知だった。この番組に啓発されてニューデンバーに行ってみたいと思ったのだ。

折りしも夏の終わり、ちょうどドライブ旅行をしたいね、とニールと話していたところだった。

ニューデンバーに行って日系カナダ人の歴史に触れたいと友人のアランに話すと、「それは良い。行く前に絶対ジョイ・コガワの『おばさん』を読みなさい」とアドバイスしてくれた。

素晴らしい晴天の続く9月の半ば、私たち2人と2匹はパウエルリバーの我が家を出発、約1週間のドライブ旅行に繰り出した。

ニューデンバーは遠かった。アロウレークという湖にあるケーブルフェリーを降りてすぐの静かな村でまずは一泊、あくる日やっとニューデンバーにたどり着いた。スローカン湖のほとり、歴史を感じさせる古い建物が並んで絵のように美しい。日系カナダ人のメモリアル記念館は川を渡って、町の中心部とは離れたところにあった。

大きな熊が近くの公園で残飯をあさっている。

こんな平和で一見、昔から何も変わらないように見える町、現在の人口は約1400人だという。40年代にこの町と周辺の山奥の村やゴーストタウンとに合わせて22000人もの日系カナダ人が収容されたという。しかもそのうちの75%がカナダで生まれたれっきとしたカナダ人だったという。20歳から60歳くらいまでの男性は鉄道工事や道路工事などの労働に強制的に送られ、女性、子供、老人はこれら山奥の収容所に送られたそうだ。

え? 中国人の労働者が鉄道工事のために中国から連れてこられたという話は聞いていたけど、日系人も強制労働させられたんだ……全然知らなかった…

日系人たちは住み慣れた土地家屋を没収され、車やボート、ラジオなどの電化製品も取り上げられた挙げ句、政府の手でそれらを二束三文で売り飛ばされ、そのうえ売却手数料まで差し引かれて、文字通り無一文になってしまったそうだ。

自分の手で持てるだけの荷物のみを持ってくることを許されたという。

しかも戦争が終わったあとも数年にわたってブリティッシュコロンビア州に戻ることは許されず強制収用は続き、家や家業を取り戻すことは結局生涯できなかったという。

しかも、日系人に対する差別は、戦争時に始まったことではなく、その前から様々な形で表れていたそうだ。漁業、農業従事者に対してはもちろん、弁護士、医者、教師などの職業に就くことを禁じられるなど、多岐にわたったらしい。日系人がカナダで成功することを妨げる法律が次々と認定されて差別がエスカレートされていったという。そこに真珠湾攻撃が起こり、日系人を追い出す格好たる口実ができたというわけだ。

何の罪もない人たち、ただただ懸命に働いて豊かな生活を築こうとしていた人たちをここまで苦しめていたとは…ショックで言葉が出ない。

老人、子供たち、女性たちが送られたニューデンバーでは住居のキャンプが間に合わず、最初の冬は厳しい寒さの深い雪の中、薄っぺらい布テントで寝泊まりさせられたという。

「ジャップは最大限苦しめばいい」と叫ぶ声も多々あったらしい。

ショックで胸がドキドキしてくる。これは私の知っているカナダではない…

プライバシーもないに等しいところで、赤ちゃんを抱えた母親たちはどうやって過ごしていたのか。お年寄りや病人たちは厳しい寒さの中どうやって耐え抜いたのか。

戦争が終わってからも日系人たちはさらに東方の収容所に移動して砂糖大根などの農場で働くか、敗戦後の日本への船に乗船するかの選択を迫られたそうだ。多くの人々にとっては日本は見知らぬ所で知った人もいない、言葉もわからない外国、しかも日本は敗戦後の混乱で食べるものもなく焼け野原で住むところもないような状態、それでも多くの人たちが、収容所生活に絶望して日本に向かったという。

そんな日系人たちの血と涙で塗り固められた収容所の跡地にこの『湖畔ガーデン』は造られた。収容キャンプは跡形もなく撤去され、美しい日本庭園に変身して、一見何事もなかったかのように見えるニューデンバー。そこに眠る悲しい歴史。

なんだか深く感じ入るところがあって、旅の後も引き続き日系人の歴史に関する読書を続けている…

もう一度行きたいな。

今度行くときはまた違った印象を持つかもしれない。