A Year in Five Minutes: Vancouver 1942
[caption id="attachment_6292" align="alignleft" width="290" caption="Children looking in the window of a Japanese store, closed after the internment of Japanese nationals. Photo by Jack Lindsay. Item # CVA 1184-1537."]
The war continued to have a major affect on the lives of locals including the forced internment of Japanese Canadians.
By Chuck Davis, The History of Vancouver
Photos courtesy of Vancouver Archives
Expulsion of the Japanese
1942 began on a solemn note when, on January 14, the Canadian government invoked the War Measures Act. Ottawa announced that all Japanese—Canadian-born or otherwise—would be removed from the west coast to government camps. The Pearl Harbor attack had spooked people all along the Pacific coast of North America, and there were rumors that collaborators might be lurking within Japanese-owned fishing boats in Steveston. On February 26 all British Columbia’s Japanese were ordered interned, and in March Exhibition Park in Vancouver became an internment camp. It was closed to the public and turned into a “processing centre” for more than 8,000 Japanese Canadians. (After they left Hastings Park would serve as a military facility until 1946 when it would be renamed “Exhibition Park.”)
Soon Japanese- Canadians began to be moved from the west coast to camps in the interior and points east. The government “took into custody” 1,337 of their fishboats, as well as houses and other property. The owners received little or no compensation. Other businesses, radios, cameras and cars were also confiscated. Japanese-language newspapers were suppressed and language schools were closed. Steveston, home to many people of Japanese descent, was particularly hard hit.
A light in a Stanley Park monument built to honour Japanese-Canadian soldiers who had fought bravely and with high casualties for Canada in the First World War was switched off December 8. That monument, surrounded by cherry trees, was a tribute to 196 Japanese-Canadians who had volunteered to fight for Canada. At Vimy Ridge, fought over four days in April, 1917, one of them, Sergeant Masumi Mitsui of Port Coquitlam, led his troop into battle with such distinction that he was awarded the Military Medal for Bravery. Of those 196 volunteers, 145 were killed or wounded. Now, 25 years later, Mitsui was so enraged by the expulsion order he threw his medals down onto the desk of the confiscating officer. His family was moved from their seven-hectare Port Coquitlam chicken farm and new house to an internment camp in Greenwood, northwest of Grand Forks. The monument’s flame would stay dark for more than 40 years. (In August 1985, Masumi, then 97, would be the honoured guest at the relighting of the lantern in the park monument.)
On June 20 a Japanese submarine, the I-26, surfaced off Estevan Point on the west coast of Vancouver Island and unsuccessfully lobbed more than 25 shells at the lighthouse there. These and other raids by the I-26 and other subs further down the coast were the first attacks on North American soil since the War of 1812. (The I-26 was herself sunk in October, 1944 by a US destroyer escort during the Battle of Leyte Gulf in the Philippines.)
On October 6 the last Japanese-Canadians left Vancouver for the interior. The well-known 1981 novel Obasan
, by Joy Kogawa, gives an excellent and poignant account of life in the camps. Ms. Kogawa, born in Vancouver June 6, 1935, was sent at age 7 with her family to Slocan.
Another locally prominent Japanese-Canadian, Dr. Masajiro Miyazaki, who had arrived in Vancouver June 29, 1913, aged about 13, and who took part in UBC's Great Trek in 1922, was sent to an internment camp in the Bridge River-Lillooet area. He served as the doctor for 1,000 internees. In 1945 the town of Lillooet would petition for his release to replace its deceased doctor. Miyazaki would receive the Order of Canada in 1977.
To fill the gap left by the departure of the Japanese-Canadian workforce many people came from the Prairies, which had been slower to recover from the Depression. Much of Surrey's strawberry crop was lost with the departure of the Japanese farmers. The fishing industry—strengthened for white fishermen by the departure of the Japanese—was declared an essential service, with its workers exempt from conscription. Even more men were needed, so a few convicts were released to work on the fish-boats.
A total of about 20,000 Japanese were interned during the war. The internment administration was conducted by a body named the B.C. Security Commission, under chairman Austin Taylor. In 1947 Taylor would be awarded the CBE for his wartime service.
More than 65 years later it’s easy to be critical of the actions of the government concerning the expulsion, but the country was at war and the majority of the Canadian public was in favour of the action. The author had a conversation in the 1980s with a prominent public figure who strongly supported the Japanese expulsion on the grounds they were an “enemy race,” and many veterans contrast the internment with the inhuman treatment by Japanese guards of Allied servicemen during the war.
Not one British Columbian Japanese was ever shown to have acted treacherously during the war. On September 2, 1988 Prime Minister Brian Mulroney formally apologized to Japanese Canadian survivors and their families.
Turning to other war-related events of 1942: Vancouver's Cecil Merritt became the first Canadian in the Second World War to win the Victoria Cross. His citation reads, in part, “For matchless gallantry and inspiring leadership whilst commanding his battalion during the Dieppe raid on the 19th August, 1942. From the point of landing, his unit's advance had to be made across a bridge in Pourville which was swept by very heavy machine-gun, mortar and artillery fire: the first parties were mostly destroyed and the bridge thickly covered by their bodies. A daring lead was required; waving his helmet, Lieutenant-Colonel Merritt rushed forward shouting, ‘Come on over! There's nothing to worry about here.’”
Here at home, A.E. McRae’s Hycroft mansion in Shaughnessy, built at a cost of $109,000 in 1909 (a colossal amount for the time), was sold August 9, 1942 by the McRaes to a grateful federal government for $1. (The McRaes were faced with rising costs and the war made hiring of staff difficult for this very big house—in its original configuration Hycroft had 30 rooms, 11 of them bedrooms, with a coach house, stables, a swimming pool, an Italian garden and more, all on 5.2 acres.) Hycroft was put to immediate use to handle the overflow of patients from Shaughnessy Military Hospital, full to bursting with convalescent soldiers. It would serve as an auxiliary to the hospital for 18 years. Then a new wing was added to Shaughnessy and Hycroft was emptied. It would sit vacant for two years, until 1962 when the University Women’s Club would buy it. They have occupied it ever since.
The Shaughnessy neighborhood was affected by the war in another way: wartime housing shortages prompted the federal government to issue an order in council allowing Shaughnessy homes to be split up into smaller units. That order in council would not expire until 1955.
Women at Work
A faint precursor of a postwar phenomenon appeared September 30, 1942 when the first group of women workers was hired by Burrard Dry Dock in North Vancouver. At the peak of wartime activity 1,000 of the yard's 13,000 workforce were women. When the war ended those women would be let go to make room for returning servicemen, but their taste for good-paying jobs would linger.
On July 28 the Nine O’Clock Gun was silenced to save gunpowder.
In April gasoline was rationed. Then, on August 24, the Wartime Prices and Trade Board began the issue of ration books covering purchase of sugar, coffee and tea. Butter, meat, coffee and other foods would follow. More than 11 million ration books would be issued across Canada during the war, and there were lineups outside liquor stores for rationed beer—when it was available. The federal department of agriculture broadcast shows on how we could make do with less, and suggested canning our own food. Housewives were encouraged to make their own butter and restaurants observed meatless Tuesdays and Fridays.
And on September 13 some Second World War excitement of a somewhat farcical nature occurred. Writing in The Vancouver Book
(1976), Peter Moogk relates: “It was a hazy Sunday when a fish-packer sailed in across the ‘examination line’ from Point Atkinson to Point Grey, oblivious to the wartime crisis. As the boat chugged on towards the First Narrows, the gunners at the fort received a message to fire a ‘stopping round’ ahead of the boat to compel the master to come to a stop and to identify himself. It was customary on such occasions to fire a non-explosive, solid shell that would kick up a large splash in front of the offending vessel . . . When one of the 12-pounder guns of the fort fired the ‘stopping round,’ the shell hit a wave and started to ricochet across the water at an oblique angle. Beyond the fish-packer in English Bay was the Fort Rae, a 9,600-ton freighter that had been launched the month before and was still on its sea trials. The skipping round hit the freighter above the waterline. As the shell passed through the number 3 hold it turned sideways and punched out a hole below the waterline on the other side. At first this was not noticed. The ship was evidently on its way back to the Burrard Drydocks when the captain received word of flooding in the hold. He beached the freighter on the north shore, just inside the First Narrows. It remained there, on the tidal flats, until it could be patched up and floated off . . .”
[caption id="attachment_6293" align="alignright" width="290" caption="The St. Roch locked in the ice in its Trans-Arctic voyage. Item # Bo P305."]
At the other side of the country, the St. Roch ended her gallant trans-Arctic voyage in Halifax October 11. It had taken two years and four months. (In 1944, St. Roch would return to Vancouver via a more northerly route of the Northwest Passage and make that run in a relatively meteoric 86 days.)
There was nervous excitement in town on November 6 when one of the lions in front of the provincial courthouse, the one on the west side, was damaged by a bomb. The culprit was never caught.
On November 11, Armistice Day, homage was paid to the men of an earlier war. The 29th (Vancouver) Battalion, “Tobin’s Tigers,” named for its organizer, Col. H.S. Tobin, gathered at Hastings Park to pay tribute to former members of the battalion who had died in the First World War. There is a monument to the battalion at the park.
The Alaska Highway was officially opened November 20, 1942. There had been calls for such a highway for years in BC—mostly because of the potential for increased tourism. In fact, proposals for such a road had been kicking around since the 1920s. The Canadian government hadn’t been particularly enthusiastic about the idea, even though much of the route would pass through Canada, because in their view it would benefit only a few people in the Yukon.
The attack on Pearl Harbor, and the scattered attacks by Japanese submarines on the Pacific coast that followed, changed the government’s mind. The US Army okayed the construction on February 6, 1942 and the Congress approved it just five days later. Says a web site about the project: “Canada agreed to allow construction as long as the United States bore the full cost, and that the road and other facilities in Canada be turned over to Canadian authority after the war ended.” (That would happen in 1946.)
Construction started March 8 “after hundreds of pieces of construction equipment were moved on priority trains by the Northern Alberta Railways to the northeastern part of British Columbia near Mile 0 at Dawson Creek.” Crews (made up mostly of men from the US Army) worked from both the southern and the northern ends of the highway, their work spurred on by reports of a Japanese invasion of Kiska and Attu Islands in the Aleutian chain. (Attu would be briefly occupied by the Japanese.) On September 24, 1942 the two crews met at Mile 588 at Contact Creek and the highway was dedicated on November 20, 1942 at a place called Soldiers Summit.
The speed of the construction (2,704 kilometres in a little over six months!) meant that the road was pretty crude. In fact, extra contracts were let to upgrade the highway after its “completion,” and it wasn’t useable until 1943.
Even more war
Here in British Columbia, humbler wartime events were occurring: Granville Island was declared crucial to the war effort and closed to the public to protect island industries from saboteurs; the federal government announced plans for an RCAF storage depot on the Kitsilano Indian Reserve west of Burrard Bridge; a young fellow named Stuart Keate, a future publisher of the Vancouver Sun
, aged about 28, began service as an information officer in the North Atlantic and Pacific theatres. He would serve in that capacity until 1945; Saba’s, the largest retail house in Western Canada specializing in silks, experienced a riot when 500 women stampeded the store to buy 300 pairs of nylon stockings (no one was hurt).
The bombing in 1942 of England’s Canterbury Cathedral had a unique local outcome. Shattered fragments of the 11th century stained glass from the cathedral were given to wartime parishioner Archdeacon Greig, who would later settle in Vancouver. The Sanctuary and Chancel Memorial Windows at St. John's Shaughnessy Anglican Church at Nanton and Granville Streets are made of those fragments. “They were taped together by matching colors,” wrote Faith Bloomfield, “and the windows, measuring two feet by seven feet are now installed in the sanctuary above the choir stalls.” (Faith Bloomfield is a member of the Bloomfield family, which contributed so much to stained glass work in this city.)
Canadian Pacific Airlines was born May 1, 1942 with the amalgamation of 10 northern bush plane companies by the CPR. Their first planes were Canadair C4 Argonauts and DC3s. The new company focused at first on servicing routes within the province from the airport on Sea Island, would later expand into the far northern reaches of the other provinces and territories.
On May 20 the Crosline, a vessel launched in Seattle in 1925 for the Crosby Direct Line Ferries Company, arrived from Seattle to join Burrard Inlet ferries. She could carry 300 passengers and 65 cars, was purchased because of the need for more ferries to take shipyard workers to the north shore. In 1947, after the war, the Crosline would be sold to the ferry system of the Washington State Department of Highways who would rebuild her.
The Dollar Mill at Roche Point on Indian Arm closed down this year. The mill had been established in 1916 by shipping magnate Robert Dollar and was a major employer for many years.
Straits Towing was formed by Harold Elworthy and Stan McKeen out of the one-tug Preston-Mann fleet and McKeen's Standard Towing.
The Ovaltine Cafe opened at 251 East Hastings. The cafe has survived intact with coffee counter, booths, mirrors and varnished woodwork. It was often seen during scenes on CBC-TV’s terrific hit series of the early 2000s, DaVinci’s Inquest
Commercial blueberry farming began in Pitt Meadows.
Baseball's Athletic Park, dedicated in 1913, was renamed Capilano Stadium this year, just in time for the Capilanos—named after the brewery owned by beer magnate Emil Sick of Seattle—to stop playing because of war-time travel restrictions. Play would resume in 1946.
Con Jones, an ex-bookie from Australia, a tobacco retailer—he was known for the slogan “Don't argue: Con Jones sells fresh tobacco”—and sports entrepreneur, died. In 1908, says a web site citing him, Jones had “helped form the Pacific Coast ‘Association Football’ League consisting of teams from Vancouver, Victoria, Nanaimo, Ladysmith and Seattle. By 1910 seventeen senior teams were playing on the Lower Mainland . . . In 1912 he built Con Jones Park, a wooden structure completely surrounding the field of play, bounded by Renfrew, Oxford, Kaslo and Cambridge Streets, across from the Pacific National Exhibition grounds, for his Vancouver field lacrosse team and for soccer. Con Jones Park was destroyed by a night fire July 29, 1934, but was rebuilt soon after.”
Civic and Provincial Affairs
On January 13 his first speech in the legislature was made by Conservative W.A.C. Bennett, 41, a successful Kelowna hardware merchant.
On January 10 the Vancouver Fire Department's ‘inhalator’ crew, the Rescue and Safety Branch, was put in service. Over the years, these men would save the lives of many, many people.
On March 3, 1942 the City of Vancouver began the acquisition of land from Stanley Park to Burrard Street.
Gordon House opened in the West End, one of the city’s oldest neighborhood houses. (Alexandra House preceded it by four years.)
Burnaby finally came out of its Depression-mandated receivership: from 1933, Burnaby had been administered by the provincial government through a Commissioner. Now residents once again could elect a reeve and council.
John Murray Jr., known as "Mr. Port Moody", and who named the streets of the municipality, died, aged about 83. His father John Sr. was Port Moody’s first settler.
Emily Carr donated 145 paintings and sketches to the Vancouver Art Gallery.
Earle Birney won his first Governor General Award for his poetry collection David and other poems. The title poem “featured the rugged geography of Canada's west.”
[caption id="attachment_6294" align="alignleft" width="270" caption="Essondale Mental Hospital. Photo by Charles Edgar Stride. Item # M-17-2."]
At Essondale Mental Hospital 34 patients died this year from tuberculosis. This was also the year electro-convulsive shock therapy (ECT) was introduced at Essondale.
The Shriners’ Gizeh Temple was moved from Victoria to Vancouver.
Vancouver’s first Kinette Club, a women’s counterpart to the Kinsmen Club, was established.
first appeared. It’s a semi-annual publication featuring articles and news for alumni of the Seminary of Christ the King, owned and operated by the Benedictine Monks, and for those interested in Roman Catholic seminary education. (It issues today from Westminster Abbey in Mission.)
Chuck Davis is a Vancouver writer who has written, co-written, or edited 15 books. Most of them are on local history, and he describes his next book, The History of Metropolitan Vancouver, as the capstone of his career.