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Memoir Celebrates Yoneyama Family of Haney, B.C.

The hands that brought me into this world were Dr. Misao Yoneyama’s at Toronto’s Women’s College Hospital and it was about 30 years later that I met her and husband Dr. Wes Fujiwara during the Ghost town bus tour that was part of Homecoming, outside the Ainsworth Hot Springs Hotel in B.C.

As Dr. Yoneyama was my mom’s gynecologist, I grew up hearing the name always spoken with a great deal of respect and reverence. Mom also pointed out that her two sisters, Yachiyo and Mitsue, were also doctors: a dentist and optometrist, respectively. I first met Yutaka Harold Yoneyama, 84, the youngest and only Yoneyama brother at the late Bill Hashizume’s History of Haney Nokai book launch in 2006. It was then that he told me of his intention to write his memoir.

Recently, I got a call from Mr. Yoneyama telling me that true to his word he had completed the project.

An Evacuee’s Memoir is a wonderful celebration of Japanese Canadian history and the contributions that our community continues to make to Canada. It helps to fill one of the huge gaps in our immigrant story as well. Even a cursory overview of the available literature tells that collective experience as immigrants, World War Two internment and post war dispersal program east of the Rockies and to Japan and even Redress (to a lesser degree), is still largely untold. Sansei and Yonsei grew up not hearing these stories from their parents and more are ending on the obituary pages of newspapers these days. As a national ‘community’ we seem oblivious to the reality that our story remains still a very much an ‘unvoiced’ one, there is a lack of urgency to record these stories while the tellers are still able. The result of this lack of closure regarding World War Two internment and the consequent issues (e.g., resurrecting JC communities and piecing together a meaningful Nikkei identity) is that old and even newer members have an attitude that they would rather ‘get-on-with-business-of-being-Canadians’ while overlooking what that might mean for ‘culture-conscious’ Nikkei.

In the Preface, Yoneyama writes: “I felt that it was important that my daughters (Linda Diane and Norma Jane) and grandchildren (Matthew, Lauren, Marcus, Andrew) be made aware of my childhood days on the farm and how as a Canadian born of Japanese ancestry, I was uprooted in 1942 from my birthplace by the federal government, soon after Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941.”

From Kanagawa-ken to Vancouver in 1907

The only son of Rikizo and Yone Yoneyama, his father immigrated to Canada in 1907 at 20 years of age and became a naturalized Canadian four years later. After working at a saw mill in Abbotsford, he moved to Vancouver in 1912 where he worked for Georgia Pharmacy. Just before the outbreak of World War One, Rikizo returned to Kanagawa-ken where he married Yone (nee Kataoka), then returned to Vancouver where Misao was born in 1915 and Yachiyo (“Yacht”) in 1917.

The family story of the “First Farm” (1918-1939) is a fascinating one of life on the 7.5 acre property on the west side of Lillooet Road (now 232 Street) and 117 Avenue, where Mitsue was born in 1920 then Yutaka in 1924. The Yoneyamas raised chickens and pigs as well as fruit trees (apples, pears, plums and cherries), canes producing raspberries, blackberries and loganberries. Strawberries, lettuce, carrots, cabbages and beets were grown north of the farm house. Water was drawn from a hand-dug well and there was a fire-heated bath that Yoneyama describes with amusing detail:

“In the bath house there was a washing area adjacent to the tub where I would sit on a three-legged milking stool and be thoroughly soaped, washed and rinsed by my mom before entering the tub. Because I was a runt, I sat on another stool in the tub and the bath water would be up to my chin. About five minutes of soaking in the 80-85F hot tub was plenty.”

An Evacuee’s Memoir is full of rich detail of life in picturesque Haney. Yoneyama recalls his grade six teacher, “the chalk-throwing, knuckle-rapping, slap-over-the-head, leather-strapping Mr. Hector Roland Ferguson. I was the victim of all antics, not that I didn’t deserve them.”

The tone of his story really takes a turn in the “Evacuation” chapter. While the RCMP allowed the family to harvest the 1942 crop, confiscating specific possessions (e.g., cameras, firearms) and being placed under a curfew imposed as were all Japanese Canadians living on the coast. As Misao and Yachiyo were in Edmonton studying at the university, the family chose the “Special Project (dispersal policy)” option and moved to the R.D. Ranch, a farm owned by Mr. P.H. Ashby and family, south of Edmonton.

After his application for admission turned down by McGill and Queens University, he was accepted by the University of Alberta but Edmonton City Council would not allow him to take up residence in the city because of his Japanese ancestry. While there were still restrictions on JCs being in Toronto (where Misao was now a practicing doctor), the University of Toronto accepted Yoneyama into the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering. He graduated in 1951 and married Shizue Patricia Adachi the next year.

The book also contains copies of letters from universities, old family, friends and class photos, drawings and charts that span the life and career of this engineer, member of the Weston Golf and Country Club and family man. It’s an intimate life record of a remarkable Canadian who today lives in Etobicoke, ON.

Without access to more autobiographies like this one, future generations of Nikkei won’t know the whole extent of the story of how Japanese immigrants struggled against racism, were interned for the war years then fought for Redress Settlement in 1988. We owe Mr. Yoneyama a deep debt of gratitude for sharing with us his remarkable story that will hopefully inspire more to make a permanent record of theirs too before it is too late.

An Evacuee’s Memoir is available both at the Toronto JCCC Gift Shop or by contacting Jennifer Hashimoto of Nikkei Books at .

* This article was originally published in Nikkei Voice (Toronto).

© 2009 Norm Masaji Ibuki

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